Willamette Valley Bank expanding in Vancouver

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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Willamette Valley Bank, based in Salem, Ore., has leased office space at Vancouver's Mill Plain Plaza, 821 S.E. 160th Ave., to expand its growing residential real estate mortgage operations in southwest Washington.

The bank, with just four full-service branches, all located in the mid-Willamette Valley, currently has a mortgage loan office in downtown Vancouver. The new 4,168 square-foot space, which had been used as a Met Life loan center, gives the bank room to grow as the residential market moves into recovery, said Neil D. Grossnicklaus, the bank's president and chief executive officer.

Eight employees will relocate from the downtown office, which will be closed, to the new building. Willamette Valley will hire three new employees and has room in the building for up to eight or nine more, Grossnicklaus said. The office serves a much larger geographic area than just Clark County, he added. The new location should open by the end of next month, he said.

Willamette Valley Bank opened in 2000 and began its expansion into residential loans in 2007. It now has 11 loan centers stretching from Kirkland to Medford, Ore.

Grossnicklaus said he holds out the possibility that Willamette Valley will at some point open a full-service branch at the Mill Plain Plaza location, but said such branches are expensive to operate. Industrywide, he said, bank branch closures outnumber openings as more people use the Internet and mobile devices for their financial transactions,

Willamette Valley's expansion comes at a time of intense competition among cash-rich banks for borrowers, who remain scarce in the still-fragile housing recovery. Last month, Vancouver-based Riverview Community Bank announced an aggressive effort to market some $100 million in personal and business loans as it tries to replenish its loan portfolio. And Spokane-based Sterling Bank, which purchased the former Vancouver-based First Independent Bank, also hopes to establish a strong presence in the county.