Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Good news, easily missed

Unlike the economic cataclysms that hit Clark County in the past two years (read: Bank of Clark County failure, double-digit unemployment, looming county and city budget deficits), this piece of potentially good news might be easy to miss.

For starters, it came this morning in small type, as the subject of one of around 300 emails making it through my spam filter into my Inbox everyday: “First Independent adds credit administration positions.”

“Could this be it?” I thought. “Could this be the long-awaited signal that credit, frozen for so long for small businesses in almost every economic sector across Southwest Washington, may finally be thawing (at least at First Indy)?”

I made a few calls.

“The answer is ‘yes,’” said Brett Bryant, executive vice president and chief relationship officer at the bank, before adding what has become the byword for Recovery 2010: “Cautiously.”

Bryant went on to frame this week’s hiring of Rob Davison and Gary Ehrig, banking veterans experienced in business and consumer lending in the Portland-Vancouver metro area, as part of a slow and steady expansion of its total $750 million loan portfolio, one that he said would be padded by an additional $40 million in new loans in 2010.

You heard right: Bryant said “new loans.” And while a $40 million bump in a $750 million loan portfolio might not seem like a game-changer for the regional credit market, odds are First Indy’s bullish attitude towards business lending will be contagious at other comparatively well-capitalized regional financial institutions.

However, if you’ve got a property you’d like to develop in Clark County, First Independent still does not want to hear from you. “We have no plans to grow our commercial real estate portfolio,” Bryant said. “Only manage it.”

That obvious piece of news aside, the sectors Bryant does want to hear more from represent a cross-section of Clark County’s wish list in terms of economic diversification: healthcare, professional services, technology and energy.

So with these potential job-creating sectors in mind, I’ll leave the final word in today’s Just Business to Bryant: “We are always on the lookout for good ideas … and now we have the capital to lend to them.”


Paul Leonard said...

Correction to today's Just Business, folks: First Independent's total loan portfolio is $750 million, not $3.2 billion. I apologize for the error.