ANOTHER HQ FOR BALTIMORE NationsBank plans regional base here


NationsBank Corp. Chairman Hugh L. McColl Jr. has anointed Baltimore as the regional headquarters for the Charlotte-based company once its proposed merger with MNC Financial Inc. is complete.

Exactly what that will mean for the city is a matter of some debate.

It probably won't lead to a substantial influx of jobs, according to banking analysts and industry members. The executive staff doesn't amount to more than a dozen or so people.

In fact, the merger will likely lead to some layoffs as the two companies are consolidated in coming months, though staff reductions are expected to be minimal in Baltimore, where there is little overlap between their operations. Heavier layoffs are considered more likely in the Washington area, where both MNC and NationsBank have strong presences.

But it might mean more corporate involvement for Baltimore, according to community leaders. Of course, the Charlotte, N.C.-based company already has pledged to be a corporate citizen that is as strong or stronger than MNC ever was.

And MNC's president and chief executive, Frank Bramble Sr., was told last fall that he would be tapped to lead the mid-Atlantic region.

One important aspect of being home to NationsBank's regional headquarters, according to several present at a dinner this month where Mr. McColl made the disclosure about Baltimore, is the prestige it would lend to a city that has suffered a series of major corporate losses in the last decade.

"It's what Baltimore had in the past, and needs again," said U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, who attended the Center Club dinner on April 7 put on by the Greater Baltimore Committee.

"I think the more corporations who are identified as having a corporate presence here the better," he said. "It adds prestige to the region and helps attract companies here in the future."

"What we most care about from an economic development standpoint," said Jeff Valentine, public policy director for the Greater Baltimore Committee, "is that they be an active lender, that they be a corporate citizen." The GBC is an economic development group whose members include most of Baltimore's larger companies.

The GBC dinner was held to show Mr. McColl how strongly the community feels about the banking company's presence in Baltimore, and to solidify Mr. Bramble's prospects for running the operation. His competition, it's widely assumed, is J. Harold Chandler, president of NationsBank's Metro Bank in Bethesda, which runs from Northern Virginia through Baltimore.

"He [Mr. McColl] said that he would make Baltimore the headquarters of the region that would include Baltimore, the District and Northern Virginia," said Maryland Bank Commissioner Margie Muller, who was at the dinner. "He said that Frank Bramble was doing a great job and he would continue to count on him in Baltimore."

NationsBank spokesmen declined to comment on any aspects of the merger with MNC, including Mr. McColl's remarks in Baltimore.

No one could say for sure what being regional headquarters will mean in terms of jobs, although some downplayed the importance of the selection. "All this fuss over where the headquarters is going to be is far less meaningful than where the [back room] operations are going to be," said banking consultant Arnold Danielson of Rockville, who has done some work for MNC.

XTC In terms of people assigned strictly to "headquarters," or executive jobs, "You're probably talking about five people," Mr. Danielson said. And those people likely will have offices in both cities, as Mr. Bramble does as head of MNC, which owns American Security Bank in Washington and Maryland National Bank in Baltimore.

MNC employs about 15 people in its executive group at 100 S. Charles St., as well as about 400 people in departments ranging from legal and accounting to property management and human resources. Most of those jobs probably would remain here whether the region was run from Baltimore or Washington. The Bethesda headquarters of NationsBank Metro employs about 275 people.

By contrast, MNC's operations center at 225 N. Calvert St. employs about 2,500 people, whereas the NationsBank operations center, in Hyattsville, consists of about 600 employees.

"I would think the operations center would be in the least expensive city," Mr. Danielson said. "That's why Citicorp went to Hagerstown" to set up a back room operation recently.

In all, the combined company will have about $7.1 billion in deposits in the Baltimore metropolitan area, and $10.5 billion in the Washington area, according to Mr. Danielson. But NationsBank's market share in Baltimore, at 23.2 percent, will be higher than the 20.4 percent of the larger Washington market, he said.

If Baltimore benefits in any substantial way, it could come from being home to one of NationsBank's many divisions, a prospect Mr. McColl has privately alluded to. For instance, after its 1991 merger with Atlanta-based C&S;/Sovran Corp., Atlanta was chosen to be headquarters for the company's General Bank, which includes all retail banking and business lending for companies with less than $100 million in sales.

NationsBank officials aren't saying what, if any, division might end up in the mid-Atlantic headquarters.

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