For Columbus, Ohio, the most disconcerting thing about Banc One Corp.'s moving its corporate headquarters to Chicago is the blow to its self- esteem.

Long considered a cow town and a distant third in the commercial capitals of Ohio, behind Cleveland and Cincinnati, the city and its metropolitan area of 1.1 million has come a long way in building its image. But that image was blemished by Banc One's announcement this month that in agreeing to merge with First Chicago NBD Corp., the corporate headquarters would leave.

While John B. McCoy, chairman of Banc One, assured civic and government leaders in Columbus that there will be no fewer jobs and no decline in contributions to the arts and social programs, more is clearly at stake.

"There is a loss of a corporate headquarters, and that is significant," said David Cole, professor emeritus of finance at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business. "Columbus has prided itself on being the headquarters to Fortune 500 companies.

But that's the price of progress, and I don't think they had any choice." Mr. Cole says that the city loses a giant civic leader in Mr. McCoy, a leadership void that will need to be filled.

For Raymond Hanley, president of the Greater Columbus Arts Council, he's worried about the prestige, the potential loss of dollars. and the loss of leadership. "I believe they will continue as contributor, but face it, when you lose the CEO, you lose the CEO," Mr. Hanley said.

For its part, Banc One said all its charitable contributions were made through each individual bank. Bank One Columbus makes decisions on local charitable giving and that won't change, said a spokesman, John Russell.

Since Banc One has a 40% share of the deposits in Columbus, it's unlikely charitable giving is going to stop.

But Mr. Hanley isn't so much worried about regular contributions to fund the ballet, opera, or the city's historic theaters-it's the hard sell he has to put on for the one-time fund-raising efforts for special projects or needs.

Banc One declined to say how much it contributes, but Mr. Hanley said the company donated $5 million toward a $125 million new Center of Science and Industry and pitched in $500,000 for a $7 million fund-raiser to provide working capital for several nonprofit cultural groups. "It's those kind of things we have to worry about," he said. Mr. Hanley's group is an umbrella organization for 70 nonprofit groups with combined annual budgets of about $60 million. Banc One is one of the five largest contributors to these organizations, he said.

Columbus is very much a new city that is growing and can never match the type of old wealth and resources of Cleveland or Cincinnati. It never had the industrial base of those cities had either.

The economy is driven by state government, Ohio State University, and financial services companies, such as Banc One, Huntington Bancshares, and Nationwide Insurance. It is also home to retailer The Limited Inc.

Mr. Hanley understands why Banc One is moving, but he still doesn't like it. "These mergers are good economically, but it does have an impact on social policy," he said.

"From a community standpoint, it's a bit of a blow," said Douglas Walouke, an analyst with Ohio Co. in Columbus. "I think it's fair to say a lot of people, particularly senior management, will be moving to Chicago."

Mr. Russell said a number of executives would remain in Columbus. The new Banc One's retail bank operations will be based in Columbus, the executives in charge of its consumer finance unit will stay in Columbus, and other operations, such as the credit card company First USA, have and will continue to operate out of Delaware. Middle-market lending will be based in Dallas.

"When they leave, there will be somewhat of a void," said Hillary Jeffers, a spokeswoman for Huntington. "There will certainly be an opportunity for Huntington and other companies to step up."

Even so, Ms. Jeffers said: "I'd be surprised if they pulled out as a corporate citizen in a big way. They have a big base of people here."

That base is about 9,000, according to Mr. Russell, who also said Banc One assured Columbus officials that any job losses in the city would be absorbed within a year through attrition and new jobs created through growth.

In response to a reporter's question, Columbus Mayor Gregory S. Lashutka said in a statement: "While it's undeniably a loss whenever a Fortune 500 company chooses to relocate from central Ohio, we're heartened by Mr. McCoy's strategic commitment to no job reductions and continued community support for our city."

For all the trepidation, a bank analyst who has witnessed cities such as Indianapolis and St. Louis lose their hometown companies said those communities eventually bounce back.

Boatmen's Bancshares, which was bought by NationsBank Corp. in January 1997, "laid off 4,000 people and the city hasn't skipped a beat," said Joseph Stieven, an analyst with Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. in St. Louis. "I don't mean to be so cavalier. It's just part of the evolutionary process and cities deal with it."

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