First Financial Bank: Communication & Cooperation

Keys to Boosting Community Investment and Partnership Success
Pictured (from left): Will Hudson, Relationship Manager at First Financial Bank; George White, CEO at The CM Paula Company; and Paul Souleyrette, Senior Relationship Manager at First Financial Bank
Pictured (from left): Will Hudson, Relationship Manager at First Financial Bank; George White, CEO at The CM Paula Company; and Paul Souleyrette, Senior Relationship Manager at First Financial BankPhotography by Kerri Hines

For 160 years, First Financial Bank has been more than just a bank. It has been a trusted partner for businesses, families and individuals across Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. With 130 full-service banking centers and 2,100 dedicated associates in the region, the bank offers a wide range of financial solutions and personalized services that meet the diverse needs of its clients.

But what sets First Financial Bank apart from other banks is its mission to be a positive influence in the communities it serves. Matt Reckman, Chief Commercial Banking Officer at First Financial Bank, explains: “Everyone at First Financial genuinely cares about making a difference by helping our clients and communities to achieve their goals and grow.”

One way the bank demonstrates its community commitment is by supporting local businesses that create value and impact. A recent project with CM Paula, a local company that owns and operates four district businesses — Up With Paper, GeoCentral, Remtec Automation, and ART Metals Group — is a good example of how First Financial Bank helps its clients succeed and contribute to the local economy.

“We faced a real challenge in 2022,” explains CM Paula CEO George White. “Business was good, but that led to a need for more space. All three of our businesses housed in our Mason headquarters had grown swiftly since 2020, and business at our automation firm, Remtec, had really spiked.” Furthermore, CM Paula’s building was originally designed as a consumer products warehouse, so while they made it work for Remtec upon acquiring the firm eight years ago, there were a lot of workarounds.

“Fortunately,” White adds, “our founder had the foresight to purchase excess property around our building back in 1996, so the answer to our biggest concern was pretty straightforward — expand our building to the edge of the property and design the expansion specifically to meet Remtec’s needs in terms of floor depth, electricity, airdrops and access.”

Around the same time, the company also noted a sharp increase in its energy costs and wanted to address those as well. Considering clean energy initiatives as part of the expansion was not only a sound financial decision for CM Paula but one that was consistent with its vision of improving the human condition. “Adding a solar array to the roof of our expansion, which has made our entire Mason office Net Zero for electric use, was a perfect answer to both needs,” White notes.

What intrigues people about CM Paula is its highly differentiated nature. They want to know how a corporation can own and manage four such disparate companies — a metal stamping and coining manufacturing firm, two consumer products firms (one selling pop-up greeting cards and the other selling crystals and rocks), and an automation and robotics firm.

“First Financial understood all four and was our bank of record that made possible the acquisition of the final one (Remtec),” White continues. While many other financial institutions might shy away from enabling a company like CM Paula to make this all happen, the company’s solid relationship with First Financial Bank made the transformation a breeze.

“The bank’s relationship managers took the time to understand what is unique about our business, so they knew how to best provide the support we needed,” White says. “We were the first business in the area to add a solar array to provide 100% of our electric needs, so we needed to forge a new pathway with the local community to make it happen.

“We keep First Federal Bank informed of our growth, opportunities and concerns so no one is ever surprised,” White continues, “and we rely on their support to keep us growing.”

Open communication is fundamental, agrees First Financial’s Paul Souleyrette, Senior Relationship Manager.

“Any banker will tell you that communication is crucial, particularly when a company is considering or beginning a major investment,” he says. “Like many of our clients, George, along with Shara Stroschen, CM Paula CFO, did wonderful work explaining to us why they needed the expansion and why it made sense for the long-term success of CM Paula. Once they gave us the map, all we had to do was follow along.”

Keeping First Financial’s banking relationship managers informed of CM Paula’s opportunities and concerns made the bank a key member of the company’s business leadership team. Says White, “They have taken the time to understand the ins and outs of our business. Furthermore, First Financial never wavered in its support of our efforts to grow the business, demonstrating both flexibility and commitment when we needed it.”

“What made this a partnership so successful is that both sides understood that each had to give a bit to make it work,” says Souleyrette. “Our team had robust conversations with the CM Paula team around desired outcomes. While we agreed on most things, we made the partnership work by arriving at solutions that made both parties happy.”

It was, White says today, “a step above our prior banking relationships.”

CM Paula CEO George White inside the new Remtec section of the corporation’s headquarters. Remtec is an established systems integrator for Fanuc Robotics and a range of machine vision and controls platform providers.
CM Paula CEO George White inside the new Remtec section of the corporation’s headquarters. Remtec is an established systems integrator for Fanuc Robotics and a range of machine vision and controls platform providers.

Thriving Clients and Communities

First Financial is committed to helping its partners and contributing to the community in multiple ways. The bank helps with commercial credit and lending, treasury management and trade finance. In addition, First Financial takes pride in its support of various local nonprofit organizations, including United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber,

Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC), FC Cincinnati Foundation, REDI Cincinnati and Working in Neighborhoods.

First Financial has also made a $5 million commitment to the USA Regional Chamber Foundation through its Minority Business Accelerator Fund, and a $1 million commitment to the Catalytic Fund of Northern Kentucky. Additionally, the bank has committed to funding a housing program in South Cumminsville and providing financial support for the Collective Empowerment Group. The latter supports a Bond Hill grocery store, offers affordable housing development near that grocery store, and will create a new Roselawn financial center.

“We team up with local nonprofits throughout our four-state footprint to have a greater impact toward helping clients and communities thrive,” says Mandy Neeley, Chief Consumer Banking & Strategy Officer at First Financial. “It all happens through our ALIVE strategy, with its focus on Access, Lending, Investing, Inclusion, Volunteering and Education.”

In 2022, First Financial Bank and its associates gave more than 12,000 volunteer hours and over $4.3 million in donations to organizations enhancing the lives of individuals and communities. This continues a pattern of increasing philanthropy in recent years, including $3.9 million and 11,700 volunteer hours in 2021, and $3.5 million and 8,500 volunteer hours in 2020. Time donations are possible because First Financial offers up to eight hours of paid time off for full-time associates to pursue volunteer activities during work hours.

Moreover, First Financial has consistently worked through local organizations to support minority business development. In 2023, First Financial made an initial investment of $1.75 million in the Cincinnati Minority Business Accelerator’s MBA Fund I, enabling greater development opportunities for Cincinnati’s minority businesses. This investment, added to a $1 million investment to the J. Phillip Holloman Fund in 2020, brought First Financial’s total support to $2.75 million for the MBA.

“Above all,” adds Reckman, “First Financial Bank is committed to improving our communities and local economies, offering the services individuals and businesses need to improve their financial well-being and financial literacy, all delivered by our associates who are proud to be making a difference through a local bank.”

Pictured (from left): Will Hudson, George White and Paul Souleyrette inside Remtec. When completing the expansion, CM Paula was able to make their entire Mason office Net Zero for electric use.
Pictured (from left): Will Hudson, George White and Paul Souleyrette inside Remtec. When completing the expansion, CM Paula was able to make their entire Mason office Net Zero for electric use.

Looking for a bank that can help you grow your organization and achieve your vision? To learn more about what First Financial Bank can do for you, visit bankatfirst.com.

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