Dwight Utz had been evaluating ways to grow ECB Bancorp (ECBE) and improve shareholder value; now he realizes that selling the Engelhard, N.C., company was the best option.

The $917 million-asset company announced Tuesday that it would sell to Crescent Financial Bancshares (CRFN) in Raleigh, N.C., in a $51.6 million all-stock deal, or roughly $17.75 a share. Utz will become the buyer's president and chairman of the combined bank. Priced at 78% of ECB's tangible book value, the companies are selling the deal — set to close early next year — on its near-term growth potential.

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