A group of minority-owned community banks is teaming up to offer a $75 million line of credit to a large oil refinery company.

Thirty-two banks, led by Seaway National Bank of Chicago, are sharing the commitment to Equilon Enterprises LLC, a year-old company co-owned by Shell Oil Co. and Texaco Inc. Industry experts say it is the largest line of credit ever offered by a group of minority-owned banks.

Seaway would be Equilon's point-of-contact for the line of credit. The $260 million-asset bank would then divide the loan among the other banks, which in turn would use the income to make loans to local businesses and educational programming, said Walter E. Grady, Seaway's president and chief executive officer.

"Ultimately, this alliance will ... boost economic growth," he said.

Houston-based Equilon set up the line of credit with the community banks so the company would have another source in case it needs cash. Equilon has similarly structured, larger lines of credit with regional and multinational banks.

The company also wanted to support banks in communities where it does business, said Steven Meyers, finance manager for Equilon.

Equilon has until Nov. 19 to draw on the line. It is unlikely, however, that Equilon would need the loan, which is relatively small for a company with $24 billion in annual revenue.

"In the scope of all of our borrowing, this is not a major facility, but it gives us the added value of liquidity," Mr. Meyers said.

If Equilon does not use the line of credit, the participating community banks still would receive a fee for making it available, Mr. Meyers said.

Last year a consortium of 38 banks offered a $72.5 million line of credit to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. That deal was led by Gateway National Bank of St. Louis, a $23 million-asset bank that is also participating in the Equilon line of credit.

Though Wal-Mart and other large corporations often do not draw on the lines of credit they arrange with minority-owned banks, they are still beneficial arrangements, because the banks earn fee income and the corporations receive additional funding and good publicity, said William Michael Cunningham, president of Creative Investment Research, a Washington firm that tracks minority-owned banks.

Mr. Cunningham said Equilon's announcement is especially prudent for parent Texaco, which settled a lawsuit in 1996 that alleged top company executives had made racial slurs against African-American employees.

Mr. Cunningham said he hopes large companies look beyond the public relations benefits these loan arrangements offer and do their homework on the banks involved; all the participants should not only be minority-owned but also have a solid track record of investing in their communities, he said.

"Companies should look at the banks' social performance," he said. "We don't want them funding the bad actors."

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