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People's Bank to stretch reach into northern Oregon

A good deed helped seal the deal for a locally owned bank that wants to expand into northern Oregon.

Employees of Medford-based People’s Bank of Commerce and the bank itself donated at least $1.2 million to fire relief efforts after September wildfires ravaged Southern Oregon.

“That showed the commitment of our employees to the community,” said Ken Trautman, chief executive officer of People’s Bank.

The donation helped convince Willamette Community Bank to merge with and into People’s Bank, he said.

If the merger is approved, Willamette Community Bank’s branches in Salem, Albany and Lebanon would become part of the People’s Bank network, which has six branches throughout Southern Oregon. Rather than losing the name recognition, the banks would continue to operate under the Willamette Community Bank name.

The two banks announced the planned merger this month after their boards unanimously approved a deal. Shareholders will decide whether to approve the merger, which is also subject to regulatory approval.

The two banks said they expect to complete the transaction in early 2021.

The merger would allow the banks to offer larger loans for big projects, while also stepping up to help their respective communities, Trautman said.

“Those communities are like ours. They’re just great people, hard-working. Occasionally they need some help,” he said.

A handful of employees from the two bank networks would have overlapping jobs after the merger, but most will be offered new positions, Trautman said.

People’s Bank is the last locally owned, locally managed bank in Southern Oregon. Other locally owned banks have failed or been taken over as the national economy swings between highs and lows. Recessions tend to hit Southern Oregon harder, with the area suffering higher unemployment rates than more urbanized parts of the state.

Trautman said People’s Bank has long wanted to become more geographically diverse. Growing into the Willamette Valley will help achieve that goal.

People’s Bank has $500 million in assets, while Willamette Community Bank has $210 million in assets. The combined company would have approximately $710 million in assets and nine branches in Southern Oregon and the Willamette Valley, according to People’s Bank officials.

“It’s really tough in the world today. We’re competing against large regional and national banks. And size really does matter,” Trautman said.

Willamette Community Bank doesn’t have a mortgage division, so the merger would bring mortgage options to the bank’s customers, he said.

Willamette Community Bank would bring its agricultural industry lending experience to the table, said Julia Beattie, president and chief lending officer for People’s Bank.

“The executive team is really excited about the opportunity to merge the two banks into one stronger bank and really capitalize on what each one can then contribute to the other market,” Beattie said.

Trautman said the merger with Willamette Community Bank would allow People’s Bank to extend into Northern Oregon, without making a move into the Portland market.

“They’ve got a very similar philosophy to us. They’re in smaller towns like we are. They value their communities. They have great employees, and so it was just a natural fit culturally,” he said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

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