MBNA sale: Pro-Belfast ball rolling

By Jay Davis | Jul 20, 2005

Belfast — The City Council signed letters to six principals in the MBNA-Bank of America merger Tuesday night, saying they should view the city as "an opportunity for growth."

The letters are the first step in a growing campaign to preserve the 2,000 jobs at MBNA's complex in Belfast and provide for a smooth transition when Bank of America's $35 billion purchase of the credit card giant takes effect in November.

The letters, drafted by City Manager Terry St. Peter and vetted by city officials and others, stress the successful relationship between the city and MBNA over the past decade. The letters end with an invitation to visit Belfast or host a meeting with city representatives in New York or Charlotte, N.C., the corporate home of Bank of America.

The Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce is close to announcing plans for a public event thanking MBNA for its citizenship and philanthropy. Jayne Crosby Giles of Camden National Bank, who is organizing the event, said it will involve the public, city representatives, MBNA employees and recipients of MBNA Foundation scholarships.

The Chamber is also assembling letters of support from local businesses, nonprofits and others who have benefited from the company's presence, Giles said.

Spokeswomen for both MBNA and Bank of America said this week details of the purchase are still being worked out, with no decision on the estimated 6,000 job cuts expected for a month or two.

The city's Business Development Committee on Monday considered hiring a staff assistant to work on the job retention campaign, though no decision was reached. Mayor Mike Hurley said, "The biggest question I have is where do we stand in relation to other (MBNA) credit card operations. I'd like to have some real intelligence-gathering, by someone in the industry."

St. Peter said, "If there's work to be done (City Hall staff) will do it, but I don't know what needs to be done." He said he doesn't know "if there's time" for the analysis suggested by the mayor, as some early decisions will be made in a matter of weeks.

The manager said the locations targeted for the job cuts will be based on business realities, not politics, as is occurring with the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, though significant job losses in Maine could affect the political standing of the state's three members of Congress who are up for re-election next year, including Sen. Olympia Snowe.

Meanwhile, the fallout from the purchase offer, which would create the biggest bank in the U.S., continues to be felt on Wall Street. Bank of America stock rose this week after it reported its second-quarter profits were up 12 percent over last year.

MBNA stock jumped 25 percent when the sale announcement was made June 30 and has been holding steady ever since. This week it reported second-quarter profits down 4 percent from last year, though they were still a healthy $632 million, or 50 cents a share, against $660 million, or 51 cents in 2004.

On Tuesday, Brunswick Naval Air Station was proposed for closing, not downsizing, in the BRAC process, and International Paper announced it wants to sell its mills in Jay and Bucksport, adding fuel to the fire for retaining MBNA's jobs here.
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