Yesterday's news that PNC Financial has acquired Raleigh-headquartered RBC Bank was no surprise. The Pittsburg-based company is expanding operations and ailing RBC was ripe for the picking. Smaller banks have been getting gobbled up for years, and RBC's leadership basically admitted they couldn't cut it. With the government incentivizing scale, it's fail-safe. The News and Observer tells us to expect only minimal job losses. And while that is a relief in the short term, it leaves us pondering the impact of corporate citizenship on our little town.
Having big commercial headquarters in our downtown is important for the vitality and quality of our urban experience. The main reason? We need CEOs walking the streets. Executives take pride in their business headquarters and they push for improvements that benefit their employees. Sure, we can band together and fight, by attending public information sessions, building consensus, and rallying our community for change. But nothing compares to the lobbying power of big corporate tax checks, the promise of jobs, and philanthropic payouts. That executive experience becomes a catalyst for the same things we all want and need in this city, like better transit, quality retail, and investment in the arts.
The N&O touched on this:
Headquarters operations are valued in part because they tend to be leaders in philanthropic contributions. But Rohr boasted that PNC has a track record of donating more money to local charities than the banks it acquires.
PNC has taken a very friendly stance, patting our Governor on the head and consoling Rocky Mount with promises that it is still needed. They won't cut jobs; they want to expand their reach across the southeast and Raleigh is the jumping off point for that. Phew. Everyone is relieved. But it means little for Raleigh in the way of our civic fabric. PNC will likely work its Raleigh location over to maximize profit, while romantic ideals of improving our city and investing for the long term slip away.
PNC will have to continue feigning those emotions if they're going to push our city forward.