North Carolina's fast-growing Triangle Bancorp plans to swallow its eighth community bank in six years, in a deal that would push it well past the $1 billion-asset mark.

The Raleigh banking company's latest acquisition target is $270 million- asset Bank of Mecklenburg, one of Charlotte's few remaining community banks. The all-stock deal, valued at $40.2 million, would give bring Triangle's assets to $1.27 billion.

Michael S. Patterson, Triangle's president and chief executive officer, said the purchase would turn Triangle into a super community bank. "You eat or be eaten in this business these days," he said.

And Triangle, which already runs 45 branches in eastern North Carolina, is still hungry.

Mr. Patterson said he's sticking to the strategy decided on in 1992: to grow-and grow quickly. The goal was to spread nine-year-old Triangle's asset risk, increase shareholder value, and get the bank's stock off the pink sheets and onto the Nasdaq national market, he said.

Since 1991, Triangle has acquired seven North Carolina community banks with $606 million of assets in all. Triangle also bought $40 million of deposits from two castoff NationsBank Corp. branches and $55 million of deposits from four branches of the former Raleigh Federal Savings Bank.

Of the $971 million of assets posted as of Dec. 31, $725 million came through acquisition, Mr. Patterson said.

"This is a ton of merging to do," said Gray Medlin, managing director of the Carson Medlin Co., a bank consulting firm in Raleigh. "That's incredible."

Triangle generally gets good marks for its multiple mergers.

Mr. Medlin said it succeeded in improving the liquidity of its stock and controlling expenses.

But Triangle hasn't yet reached its performance goals.

Rather than pushing for a specific size, Mr. Patterson said, he's trying to achieve return on equity in the 16% range. Triangle finished last year at 14%.

Although most community banks in North Carolina shy away from comparisons with the state's largest banks, NationsBank and First Union Corp.

Mr. Patterson says Triangle is emulating their growth strategy but wants to retain a community-bank feel. So Triangle won't use credit scoring in lending, he said, and it still makes business loans of as little as $5,000.

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