For years community banks have teamed up through their respective bankers' banks to make loans on projects too large for them to handle solo, but they almost always stayed within their home state.

Now a new trend is emerging in which bankers' banks themselves are banding to create even larger lending networks among community banks.

Last year a partnership of five bankers' banks, including Bankers' Bank in Madison, Wis., arranged five large syndicated loans involving 185 community banks in 12 states. And Bankers' Bank is working with several others bankers' banks to put together a syndicated loan for one of the nation's largest shopping mall developers that would include community banks from at least five states.

"A couple of years ago, if you said we'd get five [bankers' banks] together, a lot of people would have laughed," said David W. Dahlin, first vice president of Bankers' Bank and the lead negotiator on both deals. "Previously we've not explored the opportunities of what we can do together."

The partnerships are also welcomed by the community banks in them.

"It lets us diversify our loan portfolio into different geographical areas," said Earl McVicker, president of $200 million-asset Central Bank and Trust in Hutchinson, Kan.

Until Mr. Dahlin arranged the five syndicated loans, valued at $105 million, the biggest collaboration involving community banks (which own stock in the banker's banks or use them for correspondence transactions) occurred in 1999, when Bankers' Bank teamed up with 68 community banks to fund a $49.5 million loan for the purchase of the Black Wolf Lodge, a resort hotel in the Wisconsin Dells.

The four other bankers' banks in last year's syndicated loans were Independent Bankers' Bank in Springfield, Ill., Bankers' Bank of Kansas in Wichita, Bankers Bank of Kentucky Inc. in Frankfort, and United Bankers Bank in Bloomington, Minn. Four of the five loans were for the construction of apartments in Minnesota; a hotel in Illinois; six Walgreen Co. stores in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas; and a hotel in St. Louis. The fifth was an operational loan for two Walgreen stores in Missouri.

Besides the shopping mall deal, Mr. Dahlin's plans for this year include a $50 million real estate loan in Chicago and working with the developer of the two Missouri Walgreen stores to open additional locations.

Bankers' banks find potential projects through their members and their own research. Once a project is found, the bankers' bank negotiates the deal and presents it to its members with set terms. The community banks then decide whether to participate, their level of participation determined by their asset size.

"There are a lot of banks in small markets who might never have the opportunity to be in a Walgreen-like credit," Mr. Dahlin said.

Durand State Bank in Illinois is one such bank. David Nosbisch, president of the $60 million-asset institution, said it primarily makes farm loans, so it jumped at the chance to spread out its portfolio by being a part of last year's syndicated loan deal.

Plus, "It's an opportunity for us to invest in a product that's typically a better yield than we would get in our investment portfolio," he said.

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