The new location will help bridge the gap between the thrift's Youngstown-area branches and its northwest Ohio branches.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Home Savings and Loan is setting its sights on the Cleveland market, with plans to open a full-service bank branch in Mentor.
The Youngstown-based thrift has filed applications with the Ohio Department of Commerce, as required whenever a bank wants to open or close a branch.
David Lodge, president and chief operating officer, said the bank expects regulators to approve the plan by mid-June, and the bank's first Cleveland-area branch should be open for business within 90 days.
Mentor is a community of 50,000 about 25 miles east of Cleveland in Lake County.
Home Savings had 14 branches in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties when it went public in 1998 with United Community Financial Corp. as its holding company.
The bank ventured into Stark, Lake, Cuyahoga and Summit counties in 2000 by opening stand-alone mortgage loan offices.
Subsequent expansions included the acquisitions last year of Industrial Bancorp, a northwest Ohio company with 12 full-service branches, and of Potters Financial Corp. in East Liverpool, with four branches and one loan office.
Now Home Savings has grown to include 33 branches, but they're all clustered in the northeastern and northwestern quadrants of the state. Bank officials have said that the next step in the company's growth plan is to bridge the gap that separates its Youngstown-area branches from its northwest Ohio branches.
The first choice, Lodge said, would be to buy one or more banks with operations in that six-county area -- Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga, Portage, Summit and Stark counties -- but so far officials haven't found a company suitable for acquisition.
For now, the bank will concentrate instead on opening full-service branches in the counties where it already operates mortgage loan centers, and the Mentor branch will be the first. The loan offices have already begun to make the Home Savings name familiar in those areas, he said, so the addition of banking services is a logical step.
The new site
Lodge said he's drawing on his experience with Metropolitan Bank & amp; Trust, based in Mayfield Heights, to plan for the Mentor branch. Metropolitan expanded into new territories by opening branches while Lodge was at the helm.
The proposed Mentor branch site is in a new strip plaza at a highly developed retail area across the street from the Great Lakes Mall. Plans call for an advertising blitz when the new branch opens, Lodge said, and staffing by experienced managers and banking personnel from the Mentor area who have a local following.
"It's a people business," he said. "Hiring experienced people can make all the difference."