Shortly after the news broke this week that Huntington Bancshares was buying FirstMerit Corp. of Akron, folks from competing banking companies started contacting Dave Walter, who owns Volkswagen and BMW dealerships in Akron.
His dealerships have millions of dollars of inventory. There’s the potential of money to be made for those courting his business.
For now, the wooing isn’t working.
Walter, who banks with both FirstMerit and Huntington, plans to stay the course, letting Huntington absorb the FirstMerit portion of his dealerships’ business.
“It’s going to be difficult not to hear the term FirstMerit anymore,” Walter said, acknowledging some nostalgia.
However, Walter, said, “It’s not difficult for me as a businessman to see this transition taking place.”
“I see no reason to change,” he said. “I’ve had a good relationship with both banks.”
Walter, who employs more than 100 people, is among local business operators who said the proposed deal isn’t devastating to the local economy, and there might even be some upsides to it.
The consolidation is a reflection of today’s banking world, they said, although they expressed concern about what will happen to FirstMerit employees and hate to see an anchor institution headquarters disappear.
Huntington, headquartered in Columbus, said there will be layoffs after the pending sale, and has promised to employ 1,200 people — the current number of FirstMerit employees — within the city of Akron in two years.
Huntington points out it is the No. 2 Small Business Administration lender in the country for total number of loans, and is the No. 1 SBA lender in its footprint. An SBA lender is a bank that participates in financing from the SBA.
Phil Nabors, co-founder and co-owner of Mustard Seed Market, with three area locations, noted that his mother, Betty Nabors, retired from FirstMerit (then called First National Bank), where she worked in the trust department. And he recalls opening a savings account with the bank when he was a kid.
While he has a soft spot for the bank, Nabors said, his business is not using it or Huntington.
He takes a pragmatic view: “The trend in business is consolidation, whether it’s supermarkets, banks, hardware stores. There’s this trend toward bigger and bigger and bigger. The negative of that is it becomes less personal.”
At the same time, he said, a “merger that went well for Akron,” is that of National City Bank of Cleveland and PNC Financial Services of Pittsburgh in 2008. PNC absorbed National City operations in the area. Nabors said PNC is involved in the community.
Steve Albrecht, chairman of the Akron-headquartered Acme Fresh Market chain of groceries, whose company is a customer of FirstMerit, agreed that consolidation is an ongoing trend. He, like experts in the banking industry, blames higher costs of government regulations.
Knowing that doesn’t take the sting away of losing the hometown bank.
The community, he said, will “really miss [FirstMerit’s] leadership ... the important nonfinancial aspects of helping the community.”
Akron, he said, has a lot of potential. He doesn’t want to see the consolidated operations in Akron become “another corporate ghost ship sailing through the night.”
“I hope Huntington fills [FirstMerit’s] shoes” in supporting the community, he said. “I think they probably will ... we need to look forward. Communities need to figure out how to deal with change like this in a positive way.”
Aaron Summerville, vice president and chief financial officer of the Regency office furniture company in Akron, said he thinks the combined entity will make for a stronger bank.
As a business owner, he said, you want a “breadth and depth of staffing at the bank to support businesses through a longer part of their growth.”
Summerville rejected the suggestion that without a banking headquarters Akron will lose some of its ability to attract businesses.
“The Akron area has so many great companies headquartered here,” Summerville said. “It’s not like something is wrong with Akron.”
People, he said, “recognize that this a different age, particularly in that industry.”
FirstMerit manages his company’s 401(k) program.
Mary Lyn Martin, who owns Mary Lyn’s Dance Academy in Lake Township, agrees.
Quality-of-life issues play a big factor in decisions to invest in a given area, she said. “It’s more based on services, the crime situation, housing.”
She has micro-level concerns. She notes she values the relationship she’s developed with employees at a branch she frequents; she hopes the branch remains.
“They are friendly. They know me. ... I’ve been very comfortable with FirstMerit and have been dealing with them for so many years.”
Bill Lawhorn, owner of Brittain Road Barbers, which last year celebrated its 40th year in Akron, has similar concerns. He banks at both Huntington and FirstMerit.
“If they don’t close my Brittain Road [FirstMerit] branch and they keep the Tallmadge Giant Eagle store, I’m OK,” he said.
Steve Baker, co-owner of the Ido Restaurant on South Main Street in Akron, had a FirstMerit loan for improvements he made to the Ido and its parking lot. The city, in conjunction with a street-widening project, helped put together the loan program.
Huntington no doubt would be as supportive, Baker said.
“It helps the economy to put back into things,” he said, and an improved economy “helps them.”
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com.