TRAVERSE CITY – Pending federal approvals, Huntington Bancshares Inc. out of Columbus, Ohio, will buy Empire Banc Corp., the parent company of Empire National Bank in Traverse City. Once the acquisition is complete, Huntington will have more than 130 banking offices, 200 ATMs and $4.6 billion of deposits in the state of Michigan.

Five of the 10 offices to be purchased by Huntington are in Grand Traverse County. The addition of these offices will increase Huntington’s market share in the county from the seventh-largest bank to the second-largest, behind Old Kent Bank.

“We are absolutely delighted to be affiliated with Empire,” said Bill Kleven, president of Huntington’s Northwest Region. “They have the same philosophy and cultural traits. The hallmark of Empire has been its outstanding customer service.”

Huntington, a regional bank holding company with assets of $29 billion, has no plans to close any Empire branches, Klevens said, and no immediate plans to expand Huntington branches in northern Michigan.

Founded in 1866, Huntington has 15 locations in the eastern Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Michigan. Nationwide, it has more than 600 offices in Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia, as well as in Hong Kong and the Cayman Islands.

“Huntington is pleased to have found such an attractive partner in Empire Banc, whose strong performance ratios and emphasis on high asset quality so closely match our own,” said Frank Wobst, chairman and CEO of Huntington Bancshares. “We have great respect for the banking franchise that three generations of the Dutmers family have built and the role they’ve played in the development of the area’s economy.”

The name on Empire’s door will stay the same for another six to eight months, and the approval process will likely take four to six months, said James Dutmers, chairman and CEO of Empire Banc Corp.

“It’s a large step for us and a dramatic change, but it’s in the best interest of the shareholders and customers,” said Dutmers.

Founded in 1912 in Empire, Empire Banc has assets of $505.7 million and deposits of $418.4 million. For the year ending Dec. 31, 1999, Empire’s net income was $7.3 million, with a corresponding return on assets of 1.47 percent and a return on equity of 17.03 percent.

The shareholders of Empire Banc Corp. will receive 2.0355 Huntington shares for each share of Empire Banc in a tax-free exchange. This is equivalent to approximately $43.25 per share, based on Huntington’s closing stock price on Feb. 4. Huntington plans to issue around 6.5 million shares in connection with the transaction, which are to be purchased on the open market.

When asked how the purchase will affect Empire’s 240 employees, Dutmers said “there may be some changes of personnel, but I don’t think it will be dramatic.” Dutmers will serve as an advisor/member on the Huntington regional board of directors.

In addition to benefiting shareholders, Dutmers noted the other advantage to selling to Huntington is because it’s “a leader in e-commerce.”

Huntington began offering “Web banking” about four years ago. Customers can transfer funds between Huntington accounts, pay bills, check account balances, generate reports, pay loans, access brokerage accounts, purchase stocks or mutual funds and view stock accounts all on line at

Out of the 78 banks nationwide offering on-line banking, Huntington ranks number 10 for overall services and 16th in terms of Internet transactions, according to, an e-commerce authority.

With more than $250 million in assets, Northwestern Savings Bank & Trust is now the area’s largest independent bank in the region. Founded in 1955 in downtown Traverse City by a group of local businessmen, the bank employs 175 at its offices in Traverse City, Acme, Elk Rapids, Cadillac, Kalkaska, Ludington, Manistee, Petoskey, Bay Harbor and Gaylord.

Last month the bank announced it had reached an agreement to buy the deposits of Old Kent Bank’s Interlochen and Kingsley offices.

Northwestern Savings president Harvey Calcutt commented on the bank’s philosophy of “staying local” amid an era of bank mergers. “We stay local because we believe in being a local institution,” he said. “The bank’s philosophy is to be active in communities and to be community-oriented. We haven’t thought about becoming a humongous bank. With the addition of (Old Kent’s) Kinglsey and Interlochen, we’re adding to our community involvement and community business approach.” BIZNEWS