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BANKING AND FINANCE : They're Thinking Big by Aiming to Serve Smaller Businesses

October 21, 1994|James S. Granelli, Times staff writer

Larry D. Hartwig can't quite figure out why there hasn't been a major community bank dominating Orange County.

The president of Southern California Bank figures that the county will become, if it isn't already, the Southland's financial center for small- and medium-size businesses. Yet no county bank has grown much beyond $300 million in loans and other assets without merging into a regional bank--or failing.

Southern California Bank, with $400 million in assets, moved its headquarters recently to Anaheim and plans to fill that void. With $16 million in cash from a recent stock offering, the bank can afford to grow 50% simply by buying a smaller bank.

"We're looking for banks that operate the same way we do," he said this week at a Center Club luncheon where he discussed the bank's strategy for growth.

The bank, with eight branches in Orange County and seven in Los Angeles County, looks to serve all the needs of its consumer and corporate customers, he said, and wants to acquire other banks that seek such long-term relationships with their customers.

Southern California Bank could grow to a $1-billion institution in the next few years and already is looking beyond that, he acknowledged. And he believes that Orange County will rise from its recessionary doldrums to spur economic growth.

"We made a corporate decision that we want to be part of the next great chapter in Orange County history," he said, "and we are confident that this region will lead California to a business renaissance in the years ahead."

Of course, the downturn in the aerospace and defense industry hit the bank's old headquarters in Downey fairly hard too. Many small businesses that served the industry have folded, and many of the bank's customers moved to North County.

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