A host of veteran bankers have left careers with prosperous institutions to join the Portage Community Bank - an exodus that might return them to "the old-fashioned way" of doing business. "The people we bring to the table should prove the finest collection of talent at any single institution in this market," said Rick Coe, the industry veteran who will serve as PCB's president and chief executive officer after 24 years with Bank One. "Collectively, there is nearly 100 years of banking experience between us." Like Coe, former Bank One staffers Kevin Lewis, Connie Bennett and Jill Conard have joined PCB's executive management board, rounded out by James Shank, who retired from Key Bank after 20 years of service. "We've had great careers with great financial institutions," said Shank, whose colleagues echoed this thought during a group interview. "But big-city solutions don't always hold in smaller towns. We are confident the Portage Community Bank will furnish service tailored to the needs of Portage County residents." These "big-city solutions" _ strategies that maximize profit but limit exchange between banker and client _ impelled the departures to PCB. Relatively small, locally-owned institutions are making inroads in the banking industry, said consultant Gary Young of Young and Associates in Kent. "Locally-owned community banks have recently made significant strides," he said. "The growth in deposits in these institutions in Ohio has grown by 35 percent in last five years. The comparative figure for larger, regional banks is only 10 percent." "While the products are pretty much the same from one bank to another, local customers find the personalized service at a community bank appealing," he added. In the last five years, charters for Ohio community banks have been issued in Ironton, Columbus, Perrysburg, Lancaster and Cincinnati, he said. In addition, the Ohio Heritage Bank in Coshocton has amassed more than $50 million in assets in two years. "Obviously there are no guarantees, but these banks have done very well," Young said. Customers are realizing locally-owned institutions can provide the same services as their larger counterparts while maintaining an intimacy that escapes a conglomerate bank, said Ann Brode, a banking consultant at Young and Associates. In addition, a community bank's services are generally less expensive, she said. "There aren't too many things big banks offer that community banks don't," she said. Locally owned institutions are in step with technology's cutting edge and change in the banking industry _ changes such as Internet and telephone banking and check imaging." The locally-owned institution will open in early May at the historic H.R. Loomis Home, 1311 E. Main St. in Ravenna _ a site selected in part because it "reflects the (local) philosophy of our initiative," Coe said previously. PCB will offer a full array of services designed to help customers achieve their financial goals, Coe said. The institution will offer personal loans, mortgages and commercial loans tailored to small business owners. But the bank's distinctive flavor will result from an honest interest in its customers _ an interest that is unique to small, locally-owned operations, he said. "We are confident there is demand for a community-oriented bank for Portage County," said Lewis, who served most recently as a sales manager at Bank One in Akron. "People desire the personalized service a small bank affords. We have joined on here because our primary concern is serving our patrons' needs and helping them achieve their financial goals." Attention to the unique needs of individual clients, however, remains the keystone to effective banking, said Bennett, a 1988 Hiram College graduate who most recently served as a banking officer and financial center manager for Bank One in Ravenna. "At this bank, we'll be able to get back to basics, serving customers face to face _ not over the telephone." Conard, who served as financial service representative since 1986 at the same Bank One branch, echoed Bennett's thoughts. "I look forward to assisting clients with everything at my fingertips," said Conard, a Bank One employee since 1973. "Serving clients is the reason I initially entered the industry." PCB intends to make "the majority of the stockholders the very people we serve" and to immerse itself in community endeavors through investment, donations and sponsorships, Coe said. "The bank will benefit the community because its administrators know that their success is tied to the success of the community," Young said. "They are interested in seeing Portage County prosper."