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Citi-Wachovia Deal Leaves Charlotte Wondering

If you ask Wachovia customers in Charlotte what they think of this acquisition, they say they're used to their bank being involved in buyout deals. And they say they're not rushing to pull their money out. Scott Goodman has banked with Wachovia for more than 15 years. He's also not concerned about Charlotte becoming a one bank town. "I feel like Bank of America already owns most of Charlotte to be honest with you! You know everything's being named after them. I'm surprised we're not just all Bank of America at this point," he says with a laugh. Charlotte is still home to the number three bank by assets, Bank of America. And fresh from unveiling a deal to acquire investment brokerage Merrill-Lynch, B of A continues to grow. UNC Charlotte Economics Professor John Connaughton specializes in the local economy. He says the Citi-Wachovia deal would indeed make Charlotte a one-bank town. "The headquarters aspect of Wachovia certainly probably be the one that's hit the most here in Charlotte. The retail side of things, some of the back office things will still stay here in Charlotte," says Connaughton. In its announcement of the plan, Wachovia said Citigroup would headquarter the retail bank in Charlotte. Connaughton says Wachovia's Charlotte-based employees should expect some cuts. "The only way that it works is if the combined company has some combined cost savings. And the easiest and simplest way and the historic way that that's done is to cut somewhere between eight and 10 percent of the combined workforce," he says. Citgroup has 350,000 employees, while Wachovia has 120,000. There are 20,000 Charlotte-based employees. Connaughton points to another impact. He says, "What happens to all of those folks that maybe work for Wachovia but don't receive a Wachovia paycheck? What I'm referring to are all the headquartered related attorneys, accountants, IT people. Those types of jobs which are clearly going to go away and be handled out of New York, which is where Citi has headquarters." Yesterday morning, some workers uptown expressed uncertainty over the greater community. One of them was Bank of America employee Devon Daly. "Scary - I mean it would affect the overall economy, but not only that - the real estate market the loss of jobs. The unemployment rates in Charlotte are bad enough, with losing pretty much its second biggest employer," said Daly. Charlotte's business and political leaders are keeping a close watch on developments. Representatives from the Charlotte Chamber, Center City Partners and the Charlotte Regional Partnership huddled with the mayor and other officials yesterday at the Charlotte Chamber. Regional Partnership head Ronnie Bryant says they all worked on a sales pitch to Citigroup. "The cost of operating here in Charlotte is very competitive to other places around the country especially New York and we also have very significant real estate assets here that I think Citigroup can take advantage of," he says. Bryant would do well to keep his fingers crossed that Citigroup makes good on its statement to maintain a strong presence in Charlotte. Because right now, 46-story tower that will anchor some major arts venues, is under construction. And several Wachovia spokespeople say its still too early in the process to determine who will own the building, which was going to be the new headquarters of Wachovia.