Banner Bank opens with fast track plan

Walla Walla-based bank opens first Clark County Branch, more expected

Following more than three years of planning, acquiring land, hiring and building, Banner Bank has finally opened its first Clark County branch. Banner Bank is a subsidiary of Walla Walla-based Banner Corp., which operates 52 full service Banner Bank branches and 13 loan offices throughout Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Banner Corp. has more than $3 billion in assets.

With several locations around Portland, expansion into Clark County has been on the drawing board for a long time, said Janet Balzer, senior vice president and division manager.

“It was just a natural growth pattern to be both in Portland and Clark County,” she said.

Community Financial, a Banner-owned subsidiary focused on residential development lending, has been located in Clark County’s Columbia Tech Center for about four years. Dan Clark, Banner vice president and manager of the Vancouver branch, worked out of the Community Financial office gearing up for the opening of the Banner branch for a year and a half.

“Vancouver offers a unique opportunity in that it is a growing community and offers very good business on the commercial and consumer sides,” said Clark. “The expansion has been incredible.”

The new branch is located just off Hwy. 14 on 164th Ave. It was chosen for its high growth potential, good visibility and heavy traffic flow through the area. The doors opened on Aug. 1, and a grand opening is scheduled for Sept. 13.

While many decisions for the branch – down to carpet color – are made locally, the backing of a large parent allows Banner to utilize the latest technology and offer higher lending limits, he said.

In terms of competition, Clark said there is plenty of room for a new bank in this area.

“If you look at the places where a bank is going to do best, there is probably going to be a lot of other banks there, because we are all looking for places were there is high growth and future customers,” said Balzer. “We are going to be where those customers are and need to be serviced.”

And this is just the beginning. Balzer said Banner plans to continue growing its presence in Clark County.

“The resources of the bank are focused on growing the Vancouver/Portland area; that is where you will see a lot of branch expansion,” she said. The bank has been adding two banks each year in the Portland area, and is working on finding appropriate locations to continue growing within Clark County.

Banner is eyeing locations throughout the county, including Salmon Creek, north county, downtown Vancouver and Battle Ground.

We have been scattered all over looking for the right mixture of locations and experienced bankers,” said Clark. “It is a real challenge. There are a lot of parameters that we try to take into consideration when we are looking at property.”

The greatest challenge can be finding the most qualified bankers to staff a location, said Balzer. She said she hired Clark at the same time the land in Vancouver was purchased, as the company required having someone who lived and worked in Clark County and knew the market to head up the new branch. Clark has worked in the Vancouver area for more than 17 years.

Banner may have as many as three to five locations in Clark County in the next five years, said Clark.

Most new branches are not profitable until 18 to 24 months, said Clark. But he expects the Vancouver branch to turn a profit after 12 months. He has a little friendly competition to motivate him, as the company’s Tanasbourne branch in Oregon was profitable after only eight months.

“From the day this branch opened, we already had a significant amount of business booked because of the efforts that both myself others have put into this area,” said Clark.

Banner opened its doors with an initial staff of eight employees, but has the capacity to employ 14 to 15 at the branch.

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