Daybreak finds Ronald Jones already plowing through his work.

But the organizer and proposed chairman of Magic Valley Bank is doing so from six feet above the ground. For on this crisp Idaho morning, as the sun rises over nearby Twin Falls, Mr. Jones is behind the wheel of a 12-ton Case Ferguson combine, overseeing a hearty barley crop destined for the Coors Brewing Co.

Mr. Jones has worn many hats: farmer, software entrepreneur, international agricultural ambassador. Now he says he could be of most use as Twin Falls' local banker.

"We think we can make a go of it here," Mr. Jones said. "We've had some very strong locally owned banks here in the past, and people preferred that, but they've been bought out. This area has a lot of deposits, and I think a lot of them are up for grabs."

Mr. Jones and 11 other of Twin Falls' movers and shakers have spent much of the past year working on Magic Valley Bank. Currently in the midst of a stock offering - hoping to raise $3.5 million, and about halfway there - the group wants to open the bank by yearend. Mr. Jones is still interviewing for a chief executive.

What sets this start-up apart from dozens of others springing up across the nation - most of them driven by career commercial bankers - is that none of Magic's 12 organizers have any experience jin the banking industry. Even so, they are businesspeople, and in banking they see a business opportunity.

"Big banks have chosen to walk away from loans that take a lot of on- site appraisal and knowledge of business, which has left a vacuum for a bank like ours," Mr. Jones said.

Take Mr. Jones, who is 40. Although he'd never admit it, he is somewhat of a Renaissance man. Besides raising a variety of crops, including onions, peas, alfalfa, and wheat, he owns Jones Systems, a software and consulting company specializing in agriculture. Married with two sons, he can hold his own when discussing water-rights law, knows a thing or two about the stock market, and is active in his church and the Boy Scouts.

Several years back, as part of the USA-USSR Agricultural Specialists Exchange Program, Mr. Jones spent several months assisting farmers in in Belarus and Ukraine with modernization. Along the way, he picked up more than a smattering of Russian.

Mr. Jones still finds time to manage his 800-acre farm, plus several other large plots he farms on contract each year with his brother and father.

Despite his success, he was hesitant when the idea of starting a bank was broached more than two years ago.

Research and hard work, however, have convinced Mr. Jones and the other Magic Valley Bank founders that the concept will work. They feel there's a genuine need for a new bank.

Several of the organizing members said the clincher came last year, when West One Bancorp, Boise, was purchased by U.S. Bancorp, Portland, Ore.

"In the past, everything was done with one sheet of paper and a handshake," said Lyle F. Frazier, a Twin Falls home builder and organizer. "Today, it ends up in Seattle or Portland with some rinky-dink who doesn't know who you are or what you do."

Added Mr. Jones, "When's the last time, after a big bank bought a small bank, you heard somebody say 'Boy, the service has really improved.' "

Another founder, James L. Patrick, an area farmer, said "We feel we have a niche that the big banks may not even want because it's just not efficient for them."

The Twin Falls economy features a broad range of businesses, from ranching and retail to fish farming and fertilizer production. Each business has nuances that make it unique.

Mr. Jones said superregionals, which control 87% of the state's deposits, have become so standardized in their loan procedures that serving diverse areas has become increasingly difficult. Magic Valley Bank, with its emphasis on customizing service to the enterprise, will look to fill the vacuum.

He said there are 200,000 potential customers within a 100-mile radius - an area currently being served by just a handful of community banks.

The two most notable, Farmers National Bank, Buhl, and D.L. Evans Bank, Burley, are each based less than an hour away from Twin Falls. However, notes another Magic Valley organizer, public relations specialist Sharon M. Parks: "Both of those institutions are family-owned and have been for some time.

"We feel that with the 250 or so shareholders we're seeking, that will give us 250 more people the bank can serve," she added.

Magic Valley will go after small and midsize businesses. The region - made famous by daredevil Evel Knievel's Snake River Canyon jump two decades ago - has enjoyed significant growth in its retail sector, with customers traveling from as far as Nevada to buy from the growing array of outlets.

Despite the recent diversification, agriculture remains the mainstay of the Magic Valley economy. The rich soil, best known for potato and sugar beet production, is among the best in the nation, despite the need for heavy irrigation. Farming costs continue to rise, though, stimulating the need for capital loans.

Another member of the organizing group, produce broker Gary L. Garnand, emphasized that the group is not interested in cutthroat banking.

"We're not trying to eat anybody's lunch," he said. "With projected growth in the community, we feel we can be profitable on the new growth."

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