Regional Report Charlotte October 2010

 In 2010-10

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Wells Fargo stops puttering around with golf tournament 

It takes time to change a name that’s had 131 years to make its marque, especially one so venerated in Tar Heel business. Two years after its acquisition by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., Wachovia still has its own website and branches, though signs and logos mention that it is “A Wells Fargo Company.” Full conversion of its branches, once stretching coast to coast, isn’t expected until the end of next year. North Carolina is last on the list.

But the new parent is raising its profile in what had been Wachovia Corp.’s headquarters since 2001, when First Union Corp. merged with the Winston-Salem-based company and took its name. In August, Wells Fargo put its name on the golf tournament Wachovia started in 2003 — and which Wells Fargo had held at arm’s length since their merger at the end of 2008. The Charlotte bank’s near failure, which led to it being sold at a bargain price, had rankled many, especially Wachovia shareholders. With regulators tightening scrutiny in the wake of the financial meltdown and taxpayers, stuck with the bill for bailing out troubled banks, bristling at any hint of extravagance, Wells Fargo executives felt the event “could send mixed signals about our priorities to many of our stakeholders.”

In 2009, the Wachovia Championship became the Quail Hollow Championship, after its host country club. Wells Fargo honored Wachovia’s financial commitment but vowed it would not use the tournament for “client entertainment events.” Now, with concerns about such mixed signals quieted, the company is embracing the tournament, recently renamed the Wells Fargo Championship. “That’s a good step in promulgating the brand in this area, probably part of the final stage of rebranding in the Carolinas,” says Tony Plath, an associate professor of finance at UNC Charlotte.

The company is touting itself in the Queen City in other ways, launching a local chapter of Wells Fargo Volunteers, modeled after the old Wachovia program, spokeswoman Christine Shaw says. “We have been looking at the great ‘best practices’ of Wachovia, and this was one that Wells Fargo wanted to adopt.” In early September, it revealed plans for a museum in Charlotte showcasing Wells Fargo history. It has nine others around the country. The transition is taking place slowly so not to confuse customers, Shaw says. And maybe by next year, the wounds of Wachovia’s waning will have healed. “We are the most visible and emotionally sensitive market,” Plath says. “And that’s why they are doing us last.”


Union National chooses to eschew the sick banks

Union National Corp., started earlier this year by former Queen City bank executives to buy failed and failing banks from regulators, withdrew its application for a federal charter (Regional Report, August). Instead, it will pursue investments in healthier banks. The move doesn’t surprise Tony Plath, associate professor of finance at UNC Charlotte. With so many banks struggling in the wake of the national financial crisis, bargain hunters are on the prowl. “The market for acquiring banks is becoming saturated with buyers and potential buyers.” Two other Charlotte-based companies are still eyeing distressed banks. Charlotte-based North American Financial Holdings Inc., chartered earlier this year, bought three in Florida and South Carolina. It also has reached an agreement to take control of another Florida bank. The other group, Blue Ridge Holdings Inc., is awaiting its charter.

Swisher Internationalagreed to merge with Toronto-based CoolBrands International, creating a publicly traded company that will be based in Charlotte and take Swisher’s name. Under the terms of the deal, expected to close in November, all outstanding common shares of Swisher will be traded for 48% of CoolBrands, an investment company. Swisher provides restroom-hygiene services for businesses; its co-owners Wayne Huizenga and Steve Berrard will be chairman and CEO, respectively.

CHARLOTTE Park Sterling Bank raised about $150 million in its initial public offering of stock. That gives it $600 million in assets and makes it the second-largest bank based here. It plans to buy banks with assets between $300 million and $2 billion in the Carolinas and Virginia.

MONROETyson Foods will add 60 jobs at its chicken-processing complex here within the next year, bringing local employment to more than 1,500. The Springdale, Ark.-based company also plans to spend $9 million on building improvements and equipment.

CHARLOTTEFairPoint Communications asked a U.S. Bankruptcy Court for permission to appoint Paul Sunu CEO, replacing David Hauser, who would become a consultant. FairPoint owns and operates telephone companies in 18 states and sells telecommunications services. Sunu, 54, is former chief financial officer of Hilton Head, S.C.-based Hargray Communications Group.

CHARLOTTE — A Superior Court judge ordered former District Court Judge Bill Belk to repay nearly $131,000 to his 17-year-old daughter’s custodial account, saying he had misused it. Among the violations were a $5,000 contribution in 2000 to the Republican National Committee Presidential Trust and $2,000 for a family vacation in Georgia. Belk is grandson of the founder of the Belk department-store chain.

CHARLOTTE — Regions Bank asked a U.S. Bankruptcy Court to appoint an examiner to study the finances of the EpiCentre entertainment complex. The Birmingham, Ala.-based bank lent developers Pacific Avenue and Pacific Avenue II $90 million to build EpiCentre but says they stopped making payments in December.

KINGS MOUNTAINSolaris Industries opened a factory that will employ 50 within two years. The company, part of Canada-based Delhi-Solac, specializes in steel tubing used in greenhouses, furniture, medical equipment and scaffolding. Salaries will average $32,080 a year, slightly higher than the Cleveland County average.

CHARLOTTEBank of America CEO Brian Moynihan bought 30,000 shares of the bank’s stock for just over $13 a share, signaling that he believed the stock was undervalued. BofA’s price promptly dropped and closed August at $12.46. Moynihan now owns about 450,000 shares.

TAYLORSVILLE — Local gem miner Terry Ledford found a stone that experts say produced the largest cut emerald in North America. Ledford won’t speculate on the value of the 65-carat gem, which he and partner Renn Adams have trademarked as the Carolina Emperor.

CHARLOTTERidgemont Equity Partners, spun off from Bank of America, says it plans to raise an undetermined amount of money next year and invest it in midsized companies. The firm also will manage a $1.5 billion private-equity portfolio for the bank.

CHARLOTTESompo Japan Insurance Company of America began adding 46 jobs, which will increase employment here to about 140. The New York-based subsidiary of Sompo Japan of Tokyo specializes in business and marine insurance.

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