Layoff notices out at First Independent

Next month's cuts will affect "less than 8" percent of employees, says bank's impending new owner

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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The first layoff notices are out at Vancouver-based First Independent Bank, a consequence of the bank’s impending sale to Sterling Savings Bank.

A number that is “less than 8 percent” of First Independent’s approximately 245 employees will lose their jobs or retire at the time when Spokane-based Sterling completes its acquisition of First Independent on Feb. 29, said Marty Dickinson, a Sterling corporate communications executive.

The full conversion of First Independent’s operations into Sterling’s system will continue into July, and additional layoffs are expected at that time, Dickinson said.

Affected employees were told Thursday that their jobs were being eliminated. Dickinson said those employees were offered severance packages and an opportunity to apply for jobs at other Sterling locations, as well as moving costs if they are relocated. With some 2,500 employees, Sterling operates 177 branches in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and California, including one each in Clark and Skamania counties.

Dickinson would not comment on the types of jobs eliminated or the size of Sterling’s severance package. Sterling officials said in November, when they announced plans to buy First Independent, that they expected to maintain most branch employees, while making cuts in administration and operations.

The Sterling name will replace the familiar First Independent name and logo on or near March 1, immediately after the sale closes, Dickinson said.

In its announcement in November, Sterling said it agreed to purchase First Independent’s banking operations for an initial price of $8 million, with up to $17 million in additional payments after 8 months, based on financial performance and customer retention.

First Independent’s owners, members of the prominent Firstenburg family, will keep $49 million of existing loans and $34 million of real estate and other assets to manage through a family-owned business.

First Independent operates 14 branches, all in Clark and Skamania counties, with two limited-service offices in Oregon. It has nearly $800 million in assets.