A new outlet mall the size of 42 football fields has transformed sleepy Tuscola, Ill., into a retail behemoth -- and the town's community bankers couldn't be happier.

"It's definitely changing the face of our community," said Doug McCumber, president of First Mid-Illinois Bank and Trust's $35 million-asset branch in Tuscola. "Our economy is really taking off."

In many cities and towns, shopping malls have been condemned for draining business from local merchants.

But in this central Illinois town of about 4,300, where many people earn their living in farming or in manufacturing, the mall has meant jobs, money, and a new place to shop. Tuscola now boasts upscale outlet stores like Polo and Ann Taylor.

"You get accustomed to driving 20 to 25 miles ... to buy anything," said Lloyd Murphy, president of $90 million-asset Tuscola National Bank. "Now all of a sudden, you've got everything you can imagine here."

The mall with its initial 60 stores is expected to draw customers from a 100-mile radius. A second phase to start in the spring will add at least 30 stores and 200 employees.

While the company that built the mall did not obtain local financing, the town's community banks have reaped significant new business directly and indirectly from the mall and expect more.

"All the mall stores bank with us," said Mr. Murphy, whose bank relocated not long ago to near where the mall was scheduled to be built. The new business has flooded Tuscola National with cash, he said.

"We took on four extra people to come in the morning to count night deposits," said Mr. Murphy.

Tuscola National's loan-to-deposit ratio has increased to 60% from 50% at Jan. 1. in part from mall-related business, he said. For instance, the bank financed a new Holiday Inn Express hotel.

The more than 400 mall employees also have created a new market for housing in Tuscola, said Mr. McCumber, who also is president of the local economic development corporation.

First Mid-Illinois' projects include financing a new 238-acre development for upscale homes and a golf course, as well as a 22-unit condominium development.

The loan portfolio at the Tuscola branch has increased about 25% from September 1993 to September 1994, Mr. McCumber said.

First Mid-Illinois also is soliciting business from mall employees and negotiating to put an ATM in the mall, he said.

Both bankers expect the mall to be a continued boon to Tuscola.

"We've gone through periods where the national economy was doing well and we just weren't," Mr. Murphy said. "For the next several years, we've pretty much got a guarantee we'll be thriving."

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