Ag Lending Attracts Wayne Savings Bank to Columbiana County

WASHINGTONVILLE, Ohio – It wasn’t the booming real estate market that initially drew the area’s newest bank to Columbiana County. 

Instead, it was the fertile soil and agricultural community that the area’s farmers depend on that attracted Wayne Savings Community Bank, says executive chairman of the board Mark Witmer.

“Wooster, where our headquarters is, is a small town and most of our offices – in places like Ashland and Rittman – are in smaller towns and ones with heavy agricultural business,” he says. “If you look at our footprint in Wayne County, Stark County, Holmes County and Ashland County, well Columbiana County borders Stark and it really fit well. We look to towns that have a similar cultural feel with an agricultural base.”

At 795 W. Main St. in Washingtonville, the branch sits on the main corridor between Salem and Columbiana. Driving between the two towns takes you past plenty of businesses that would fall within Wayne Savings’ targeted sector – farm markets, a butcher shop, farm equipment retailers, a milking equipment manufacturer and plenty more. 

“We’re looking for traffic and convenience. Really, it came down to the availability of an office there that lets us cover both communities in Columbiana and Salem,” Witmer says of the office on state Route 14. “They’re both towns that we think have a lot of potential and with an office in the middle, it really saves us from putting two offices in.”

While Wayne Savings participates in a wide range of commercial lending, which has also put the bank’s eye on the Youngstown market, its expertise is in agricultural finance. The team the bank has put together has it in spades, Witmer says, including his 40-plus years in the field, most recently as chief banking officer at Farmers National Bank. At the Washingtonville branch, commercial lender Jim Rhodes has similar experience, while branch manager Jesse Dailey has experience as well.

“There’s very few banks that have that expertise and want to be in ag lending,” Witmer says. “Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, when agricultural commodity prices were high, we saw other banks try to enter that arena. But it’s a risky area because agriculture itself is risky. There’s weather and commodity prices and plenty of other reasons that affect it and make it successful.”

The Washingtonville branch will be Wayne Savings Community Bank’s 12th site and the first time the institution has expanded eastward beyond North Canton. And already, thoughts are being given to further increasing the bank’s presence in the Mahoning Valley.

“Even though we’ve only been open for a couple weeks in Washingtonville and Jim Rhodes came on as a lender a few months ago, we’ve seen great success,” Witmer says. “Knowing that and having our plan from the beginning be to open one or two offices a year, I fully expect that come 2022, we’ll expand.” 

Wayne Savings Community Bank was founded in 1899. At the end of the second quarter, it had assets of $628.7 million and net loans receivable of $417.5 million. It has branches in Ashland, Creston, Fredericksburg, Lodi, Millersburg, North Canton, Washingtonville and Wooster.

A grand opening for the branch will be held Sept. 10, with food and other giveaways.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.