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Published: Tuesday, 8/29/2006

Bank gets fast start in Toledo

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The new branch in Sylvania Township opened just two years after the bank entered the local market. The new branch in Sylvania Township opened just two years after the bank entered the local market.
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FirstMerit Corp. entered the Toledo area two years ago with one downtown office and a strategy of making commercial loans and grabbing personal business of downtown workers.

That approach led to more than $100 million in business loans, and recently a second area office opened in Sylvania Township to attract suburban homeowners.

"We are aimed at owner-managed businesses, but want their employees to bank with us as well," said Donald Kincade, president and chief executive of the Toledo region for FirstMerit Bank.

The bank, like others in town, has local executives with an advisory panel to help the firm grow. It has the ability to make large loans because of the financial strength of its Akron parent company, which has more than $10 billion in assets.

Tom Waltz, president of F.J. Westcott Co., a Toledo company with lighting and rain-umbrella divisions, said he doesn't change relationships easily, but is glad he switched from a national bank.

Kincade Kincade
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"We just didn't feel like we were getting the attention on the local front that we wanted," he said. "We switched and FirstMerit never missed a beat. It's the kind of banking relationship that I wanted."

R. Hal Nichols, chairman of Austin Associates in Sylvania Township, said FirstMerit is "very competitive."

"They have the size and strength to be able to go after the larger business deals that are available in this marketplace," he added.

Mr. Kincade's connections, fostered during a career as chief executive of Fifth Third Bank (Northwestern Ohio) and Capital Bank, as well as his work as a lawyer at Marshall & Melhorn, have helped his bank grow, Mr. Nichols said.

Kevin Reevey, a senior research analyst with Ryan Beck & Co. in New York City, said FirstMerit has been recruiting commercial loan officers from much bigger banks to help boost its portfolio, but problems remain.

"FirstMerit needs improvement," he said.

"It's had credit-quality hiccups the last several quarters and the earnings growth has kind of been lackluster. Toledo is a very small piece of the overall pie."

The bank also has branches in Wayne in Wood County and Tiffin in Seneca County, but Mr. Kincade said he anticipates six or so local branches within five years.

The bank has 19 employees downtown and 11 in Sylvania Township.

With two new banks locally to open in coming months, competition is expected to get even tougher.

Said Mr. Kincade: "Competition is good and healthy. The key is to distinguish ourselves."

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at

mmclaughlin@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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