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HUNTINGTON — Peoples Bancorp Inc. of Marietta, Ohio, has agreed to acquire Premier Financial Bancorp of Huntington in an all-stock transaction valued at $292.3 million.

Premier Bancorp is the parent company of Premier Bank and Citizens Deposit Bank & Trust. The two banks operate 48 branches in 38 communities in five states.

Citizens Deposit Bank is based in Vanceburg, Kentucky. It has a branch at 2600 5th Ave. in Huntington and branches in Ironton and Proctorville, Ohio. Premier Bank has a branch in Charleston, and it has branches in Lincoln, Logan and Boone counties. Peoples Bank has a branch at 101 5th Ave. in Huntington. It formerly had one at 1126 20th St.

Despite the focus on growth potential in other Premier markets, Peoples Bancorp President and CEO Chuck Sulerzyski said Peoples intends to keep Premier’s branches in coal-dependent counties.

“We’re going to keep what we’ve got,” Sulerzyski said during a conference call following Monday morning’s announcement of the acquisition. Community demographics in existing Peoples Bank branches in southern Ohio and eastern Kentucky align with those of Premier’s branches in southern West Virginia, he said.

As of Dec. 31, 2020, Premier Bancorp had $1.9 billion in total assets, which included $1.2 billion in total net loans, and $1.6 billion in total deposits. If the acquisition closes as expected in the third quarter of this year, the combined company will have approximately $6.7 billion in total assets, $4.6 billion in total loans and $5.5 billion in total deposits with 136 locations in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The boards of directors of both companies have approved the merger agreement. Shareholders of Premier will receive 0.58 shares of Peoples common stock for each share of Premier common stock, and the merger is expected to qualify as a tax-free reorganization for Premier shareholders. Premier and Citizens bank locations will be rebranded to Peoples Bank once the acquisition is complete.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to join forces with one of the strongest banks in the region,” Bob Walker, president and CEO of Premier, said in a statement issued Monday morning. “Our customers, employees and shareholders will benefit from Peoples’ history of profitable growth and expertise in successfully executing acquisitions. We are also excited about Peoples’ expansive suite of products, which will provide us the ability to deliver new products and services, including insurance and investment products, to our valued customers in the communities we serve. Peoples’ community banking model, culture and commitment to high-quality customer service makes Peoples an excellent choice for Premier.”

In the conference call, Sulerzyski said Premier began looking for merger or acquisition partners about two years ago.

“We were second place in the beauty contest,” but in the end Peoples Bancorp negotiated a deal for the acquisition, he said.

Sulerzyski said the acquisition allows Peoples Bancorp to “further penetrate the West Virginia market and provide entry into other desirable communities.”

In West Virginia, Peoples is particularly interested in the Interstate 79 corridor, Sulerzyski said. Premier has branches at Bridgeport and Flatwoods, and it has a commercial loan origination office in Fairmont. The acquisition also gives Peoples access to Premier’s markets in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, he said.

The deal doubles Peoples’ market share in Kentucky, Sulerzyski said.

The I-79 corridor and the District of Columbia “have far better dynamics than most of our footprint,” he said, adding that Peoples would like to have market presence in the Lexington and Louisville areas of Kentucky, also. Peoples has a branch at Georgetown, Kentucky, which is just north of Lexington.

For Premier’s and Citizens’ existing customers, the acquisition provides increased lending capacity, access to insurance and investment services and increased digital offerings, Sulerzyski said.

When asked about Premier’s existing management, Sulerzyski said Walker will stay on “in a consultative arrangement for a number of years.”

The Premier Bancorp acquisition is Peoples Bancorp’s 23rd since 2012. Sulerzyski said. That number includes banks and other financial service companies, he said.

When asked if more acquisitions are in the works, Sulerzyski said the company probably will wait until the Premier acquisition is further along. However, there are a couple of institutions Peoples sees as “strategic imperatives” as the opportunity arises, he said.

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