Walla Walla bankers meet with Treasury chief

A gathering of community bankers this week in Tacoma included the heads of Baker Boyer Bank and Banner Bank.

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When Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner talked this week with community bankers from Washington state, two voices from Walla Walla were in the room.

Megan Clubb, Baker Boyer Bank president, and Mike Jones, Banner Bank president, were among a group of bank presidents who met Tuesday with Geithner in Tacoma. Also at the meeting was Gov. Chris Gregoire, who earlier toured the Port of Tacoma with the secretary.

The chief topic was what could be done to increase lending to state businesses, particularly small businesses. With community banks responsible for providing more than 50 percent of the financing for small businesses, "the focus was how to keep community banks healthy," Clubb said.

Clubb and Jones said the hour-long session was marked by a lively give-and-take between Geithner and the group. "I thought it was a very good meeting," Jones said today. Geithner "is very interested in what we had to say and what our concerns were."

After making some brief opening remarks, Geithner started the meeting by asking each banker in the group to answer two questions. "How are small businesses in (your) community faring?" and "How are your banks doing in terms of loan volume?"

Clubb said answers to the first question varied widely because while some places have weathered the recent economic turmoil well, others are still struggling.

"It really depends on where you are in the state of Washington ... it's very dependent on the area of the state," she said.

Clubb said she told Geithner businesses in Walla Walla "are weathering the storm much more successfully, but there are exceptions," such as the housing market. Overall, however, there are reasons for optimism.

In regards to the second question, Clubb said she couldn't recall a clear consensus emerging from the group. "It's partially dependent on the health of the various banks," she said.

During the meeting, Geithner also opened the floor for questions from the bankers. Clubb and Jones both said a top issue is the finance regulatory reforms now working through Congress and how they will affect banks.

"New rules are being put together so fast that they are poorly written," Clubb said. "We need to make sure this process, once it gets passed, proceeds at a pace that will result in well-constructed and effective reforms."

In closing, Clubb and Jones said they felt Geithner left the meeting with a better picture of what he could do to help community banks. "Not only was he talking, he was listening," Jones said.

Jones also said he wanted to credit Gregoire with helping arrange the gathering.

"This meeting took place with the urging and the arm-twisting of our governor," Jones said. "I think she did a great job."

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

Meeting participants

Along with Megan Clubb, Baker Boyer Bank president, and Banner Bank President Mike Jones, others at Tuesday's meeting were:

  • Carol Nelson, president, Cascade Bank
  • Jim Davis, president, Fife Commercial Bank
  • David Straus, president and chief executive officer, Fortune Bank
  • Brian Vance, president, Heritage Bank
  • Dwayne Aberle, president, Security State Bank
  • Greg Seibly, president and chief executive officer, Sterling Financial Corporation
  • Ray Davis, president and chief executive officer, Umpqua Bank
  • Jack Heath, president and chief executive officer, Washington Trust Bank
  • Jack Wagner, president, Widbey Island Bank
  • Scott Jarvis, director, Washington state Department of Financial Institutions

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