American National Bank's partnership with community leaders in an economically depressed part of Omaha is spurring development and job growth.

In the bank's $10 million, five-year lending program, business leaders help other community members get commercial, consumer, and mortgage loans from the bank.

So far, the effort has generated $2.5 million of loans and commitments, resulting in about 100 new jobs in the area, said Lindsey DeBerry, who chairs the Rebuilding North Omaha Committee, the community group that is working with the bank.

"This area was redlined without a doubt," Mr. Lindsey said, adding that chairman and chief executive officer "John Kotouc and American National Bank are to be commended on their efforts in rebuilding the community that has been neglected for so very long."

Next month is the anniversary of the $220 million-asset bank's involvement in the program.

"We think we've actually brought more people into the banking process who would have not had any contact with the bank," Mr. Kotouc said. What makes the program unique is, "this committee actually has some authority," Mr. Kotouc said.

The committee is made up of six community members and three bank employees, including Mr. Kotouc and a senior lender.

It not only generates loan prospects, but also examines loan applications. Commercial loans in this program have averaged $19,000, while home loans are averaging $44,000.

The effort evolved after community leaders began investigating how to solve the area's problems a couple of years ago. Mr. DeBerry, in charge of examining financing, found lending in the community to be "atrocious." To compound the problem, "African-Americans have been intimidated by the banks," he said of the majority of the area's population.

Now, many people interested in loans contact the community members on the committee first to discuss ideas and business plans.

For instance, Mr. DeBerry, who owns a travel agency, recently helped a borrower get a $68,000 loan for what he believes is the state's first black-owned telemarketing company.

American National entered North Omaha in 1990 when it acquired a bank with branches there. The bank that was acquired had a "needs to improve" Community Reinvestment Act rating, while American National had earned a "satisfactory," Mr. Kotouc said.

Mr. DeBerry said he approached area banks about community investment initiatives and that American National was the most responsive.

American National's lending program "is the most important effort we've got going," said Preston Love, a community activist and business consultant who spearheaded the overall examination of North Omaha's plight. "This has been the bright light in that total darkness."

Mr. Love and Mr. DeBerry both commend American National's Mr. Kotouc for his active involvement. "He didn't send his henchmen," Mr. DeBerry said. "He came himself."

A Midwest Bank's Strategy for Meeting Community Development Needs

* In January 1994, American National Bank, Omaha, starts $10 million, five-year lending program in economically depressed North Omaha

* The Rebuilding North Omaha Committee, made up of six community leaders and three American National bankers, helps find loan prospects, including those who might not otherwise use a bank

* The committee, which includes bank CEO John Kotouc and a senior lender, also has the authority to examine credits and make loans

* TO DATE: The effort has generated $2.5 million in commercial, consumer, and residential loans and commitments in the area, resulting in 100 new jobs

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