A trip to an exclusive Midwest resort seems to have breathed new life into the Illinois Bankers Association's once-dying annual convention.

After watching attendance slip over the past decade and receiving numerous complaints about last year's convention, there was speculation the trade group would stop its annual gathering after 105 years.

"We had a lot of grousing from the bankers on the quality of the programming," said Charles E. Waterman, chairman and chief executive at South Holland Trust and Savings Bank.

Mr. Waterman, a former Illinois Bankers Association president, was chairman of the committee that performed major surgery on the convention format this year.

Modeling its new-and-improved three-day gathering after the American Bankers Association's annual meeting for community bankers, the Illinois trade group opted for a more casual atmosphere that included more leadership training and off-the-cuff roundtable discussions. And the group decided on a change of scenery-a ploy that industry observers said attracts more people to conventions.

Other banking groups seem to be doing the same thing.

The Community Bankers Association of Illinois will head to Nashville for its convention in September, and the Community Bankers Association of Georgia is mixing business and pleasure in Las Vegas this week.

To lure bankers and vendors to this year's convention, the Illinois Bankers Association booked the American Club in Kohler, Wis., the Midwest's only five-star resort.

The response was overwhelming. Attendance topped 370, about double last year's figure.

"The enthusiasm I saw was great," Mr. Waterman said. "When sessions ended, people hung around because they didn't want to leave."

R. Scott Grigsby, chairman and president at Union Bancorp in Ottawa, said he preferred the convention's casual atmosphere and emphasis on executive education.

"We're coming into a new generation of bankers, and we need to train these people," he said.

Mr. Waterman said his committee, which will remain intact to plan next year's convention in St. Louis, will look to further improve the annual gathering.

"I have about 17 things typed into my laptop computer that I want to take a look at, mainly timing issues," he said.

The committee will carefully review evaluation forms from participants and call some bankers to find out why they skipped this year's convention, hoping to draw even more attendance at next year's meeting.

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