Southern regional accounting firm Carr, Riggs & Ingram has combined with Cooper Graci & Co., expanding the Enterprise, Ala.-based firm’s footprint to Austin, Texas.

The move is part of a strategic plan by the firm to expand across the South. Besides Alabama and Texas, the firm also has offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

“We feel that the Texas market is a very viable market, and there’s a need for a regional firm to expand across that territory,” said CRI chairman and managing partner William H. Carr. Ultimately he plans to set up an additional three offices in Texas.

“For CRI this puts them officially in the state of Texas and fills in one of the final states of their Southern expansion plans,” said PDI Global Inc. CEO Allan D. Koltin, who served as principal advisor to both firms. “Now that they are in Austin, I wouldn't be surprised to see deals in the near future in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.”

The two firms were in talks for nearly a year. Carr said he was attracted to Cooper Graci because of the “quality of the firm and the dynamics of their clients.” He plans to retain all four partners — including shareholders K. Dale Cooper, Albert V. Graci, Debra E. Alexander and Lisa A. Mathews —along with all the approximately 25 staff members. The partners and staff of Cooper Graci attended a CRI training session last month, even though the merger did not officially close until June 18. Overall, CRI has more than 600 employees in 21 offices.

Carr has focused on expanding his firm to state capitals like Austin to attract government-related clients. Both firms also work with insurance companies and trade associations, he noted.

Koltin believes that CRI will benefit from Cooper Graci’s tax practice. “Cooper Graci has one of the top tax boutiques in the state and brings a lot of tax sophistication and expertise to the deal,” he said. “They will now have the opportunity to add assurance services to their offering and will be well positioned for additional growth in the Austin market due to their expanded array of services. Cooper Graci had been courted by a number of firms, but loved the CRI culture and leadership, as well as their track record of successfully integrating mergers.”

CRI has been growing its revenues steadily over the year, going from $8.5 million in annual revenue when it was founded 13 years ago to $83 million in its most recent Sept. 30 year-end. The firm ranks 34th on Accounting Today’s list of the Top 100 Firms. The Cooper Graci merger should add another $3 million in revenue. Financial terms of the merger were not disclosed, but Carr described the transaction as a merger in exchange for a membership interest.

Carr said his firm’s revenue growth has been half organic and half through merger activity. CRI completed another merger in January with Roth Murphy Sanford in New Orleans, and in February with Davis, Monk & Co. in Gainesville, Fla. (see Carr, Riggs & Ingram Merges in Roth Murphy Sanford and CRI Merges in Davis Monk & Co.).

Photo: CRI managing partner William H. Carr (third from left) welcomes Cooper Graci & Co. partners (from left) Debbie Alexander, Al Graci, Dale Cooper and Lisa Matthews to the firm.

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