Right now, "banker" is a four-letter word: a step below attorneys, even, according to Mark Reitzes, president of Huntington Bank's Southern Ohio/Kentucky region.

After bonuses, bailouts and new barriers to lending, it's hardly shocking that banks are on the receiving end of frustrated taxpayers' scathing remarks. But for Reitzes and Huntington, the botched decisions of the past are just that -- part of the past.

In a break from current banking strategies, Huntington has committed to loaning to small businesses. It's a move they hope will boost job growth in the Midwest. The plan includes approximately 27,000 loans and $4 billion to small businesses over the next three years, as well as adding 150 new business bankers to help borrowers navigate the lending process.

"The overriding reason [for the initiative] is that we are the bank of the Midwest. It's crucial to the health of Midwest to have small businesses lead us out of this recession," Reitzes says.

Though Huntington is the 24th largest bank in the country, it ended 2009 as the seventh largest SBA lender. It was also ranked as the highest SBA lender in four of the five markets it serves, including Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and Indiana, in the 2009 fiscal year.

The program is intended to generate $360 million dollars within the Greater Cincinnati area in loans the bank otherwise wouldn't have made. Though it might seem like a steep price for Huntington, Reitzes says taking the risk is worthwhile if it sustains the lifeblood of the region.

"It's really a grassroots effort. We need to hit the streets hard, and meet with as many businesses who need help as we can," Reitzes adds. "It's not like finding a needle in a haystack -- many businesses are in need of this help."