In a way, the merger of FirstMerit of Akron with Citizens Republic of Flint, Mich., is the joining of two traditional industrial towns. Citizens Republic has its own noble history, financing a lumber boom and then the company that would become General Motors. Now is a time of rugged change in banking, and what has distinguished FirstMerit has been its capacity to adapt, survive and even thrive. It has made the purchase in this $912 million transaction.
Doubling in size, FirstMerit now extends into Michigan and Wisconsin, adding to Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Where it has settled smartly and competitively is in the range of the “super community bank,” far from the behemoths deemed too big to fail, yet large enough to weather the challenges and costs of a brave new banking world.
All of that warrants the $3.2 million investment the city of Akron has set in motion, looking to make improvements downtown that serve FirstMerit and the community as a whole.
There was a time when Cascade Plaza was a fresh addition, a reflection of the city seeking to renew its core. That has long passed. The plaza requires a makeover, and one that reflects more contemporary ideas about bringing green space to places where people can gather downtown.
That is important to a company like FirstMerit, in attracting talent and otherwise marketing itself. More, as the bank does well, so do the rest of us, the city burnishing its reputation, acquiring a distinct sense of place. It is a reminder of the partnerships required, public and private, for traditional towns to write new chapters.