Tinton Falls State Bank in New Jersey is looking for a new commercial lender. And judging by the flood of applications from former big-bank employees, it won't have any trouble at all.

"I think we have plenty of resumes to go through," said Barry B. Davall, chief executive officer of the $128 million-asset bank. "I don't think we're going to advertise."

Like community bankers across the country, Mr. Davall has his pick of executives, commercial loan officers, and branch employees tossed out of work by the wave of mergers among big banks. The industry layoffs - some 68,000 in the last 22 months - have made a vast new talent pool available to community banks.

Many community banks are jumping on the opportunity, often remaking their institutions in the process. A number of small banks, for example, have completely changed their lending departments after snapping up the new talent. And, observers say, the big-bank expertise is already improving bottom lines.

"Whatever the reason, their loss has been our gain," said William J. Vinson, executive vice president of $2.1 billion-asset Jefferson National Bank in Charlottesville, Va. He said he doesn't know how many people were laid off or quit from NationsBank or First Union, but "I just know we got some very good people."

Jefferson National says the hiring of several former NationsBank lenders has helped boost loan growth to 12% a year. Former NationsBank hands now head the bank's commercial lending departments in Charlottesville, Richmond, and Hampton Roads.

"I don't think we could have done it without the expertise of these specialized lenders," Mr. Vinson said. "We are trying to become as good a commercial bank as we are a retail bank."

At Tinton Falls, commercial loans are up 27%. Mr. Davall said Jim Kinghorn, a refugee from Fleet Financial Corp.'s takeover of Natwest Bank, is the reason.

"I would say two-thirds of our loan growth came from business that followed him here," Mr. Davall said.

Timothy G. Greene, an executive recruiter in Sherborn, Mass., said he's been busy placing castoff bankers in community banks throughout New England. He said that lenders typically have the best luck fitting into a smaller institution, especially if they are familiar with a certain region.

"Not everybody's a fit, so therefore it's not always easy for a real specialist to find themselves anything in a smaller bank," said Mr. Greene, president of Greene & Co. "Those who can - there's a big demand."

David H. Shumpert, president and chief executive of Bank of Maryland in Towson, said he feels blessed that the company was able to hire away Hunter Calloway, a top commercial real estate lender in NationsBank's Middle Atlantic region.

"It turned a lot of eyes our way that we could attract someone of his magnitude," Mr. Shumpert said.

Mr. Calloway said he saw NationsBank shrinking its commercial real estate lending division and expected a transfer to another part of the country to be in his future. He wanted to stay in Maryland, so he took a pay cut and joined Bank of Maryland.

He said that money is no longer a driving force in his career decisions. And, like many others, he does not consider a move to a community bank a step down.

"In some ways, it can be a lot more satisfying to work for a smaller institution," said Jeffrey L. Cohn, principal of M. Kraus & Co., an investment manager in Connecticut. "You can have more control of your career."

Mr. Calloway's salary and those of other veterans of large banks are still a big expense for Bank of Maryland, a subsidiary of $900 million- asset Mason Dixon Bancshares.

"Obviously, they are the cream of the Maryland banking crop," Mr. Shumpert said. "You don't get that without paying a price."

But not all community bankers are clamoring for the pool of displaced bankers in the market.

Betsy Cohen, chairman and chief executive officer of Jefferson Bank in Philadelphia, makes a point to avoid hiring employees from superregionals. And she had a good many of them come knocking. In just this year, she's received about 500 resumes from bankers in the Philadelphia area and on the East Coast, many of whom had been laid off in a merger.

"The translation of large bank culture to community bank culture is problematic," Ms. Cohen said. "In a community bank, one generally has a variety of responsibilities and large banks tend to focus the responsibility of any one employee more narrowly."

Ms. Cohen, however, does make some exceptions, especially for branch personnel.

"People in the branches are much more adaptable," she said.

Henry Royer, president and chief executive officer of River City Bank in Sacramento, Calif., said his bank has clearly benefited from hiring branch employees displaced by Wells Fargo & Co.'s acquisition of First Interstate Bancorp.

"We've had an opportunity to upgrade our staff," he said.

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