Late last year, the future looked bleak for employees of Center Credit, a small nonconforming-mortgage company in Richmond, Va.

Its Connecticut-based parent, Center Financial Corp., had been acquired by First Union Corp., and the unit just didn't fit into the Charlotte, N.C., bank's game plan, said Center Credit's top executive, Mike Lynch. He was slated to be dismissed in December, along with rest of the unit's employees.

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