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Clackamas County's Town Center Bank to merge with Columbia Banking System

Buy-out leaves TCB part of larger system with more branches, products
by: david stroup, Town Center Bank President and CEO Bruce Bryant

Bank officials promise that the only change customers will see is the name over the door - and some new options and services - as Clackamas County's own Town Center Bank is acquired by Columbia Banking System of Tacoma.

'We have long set out to be a Pacific Northwest regional community bank, with the emphasis on 'community,'' said Columbia CEO Melanie Dressel. 'We look for opportunities to partner with banks that show the same culture, and help us extend our footprint.

Town Center Bank President and CEO Bruce Bryant said it's a good deal for them as well.

'We looked at it in terms of how it would impact our community, how it would impact our employees and customers, and certainly how it would impact shareholders,' Bryant said. 'It really stood out as a very positive thing for all of those constituents - and you have to try to balance the different constituents against each other.'

Positive outcomes

Columbia will buy Town Center for $45.1 million; the deal has been unanimously approved by the boards of both companies, but it must still be approved by Town Center's shareholders amd win regulatory approval.

For the employees, Bryant said, the larger organization will mean greater opportunity for advancement. Columbia has a base in the Puget Sound area and a bank on the northern Oregon Coast, opening up possibilities for employees to transfer if they want to move.

'For our customers, Columbia will bring a larger group of services - they provide things like international banking, which we now have to access through correspondent banks, so it's not as convenient for our customers. They offer a great international banking department.

'They offer things like wealth management, private banking, those kinds of services that we don't presently offer. Even simple things like Visa cards and such - we don't offer those directly through our bank, it's an affiliate program that we offer.'

In addition, eh said the larger size will mean they can offer larger loans to larger customers.

'The community - we are community owned, and we are very active in the community,' Bryant added. 'Columbia has a very impressive record of being involved in the community - not only financially, supporting lots of different activities, but their employee base, their people are involved in the community.'

For the shareholders, he noted, the deal offered a premium over current prices for their stock.

'Our stock was thinly traded before,' Bryant said. 'It will now be a very liquid stock - people can buy more, sell more, however they would like to do.'

Banking trends

Bryant noted that the trend is towards mergers and consolidation. 'Merger activity has been a part of not just baking but other businesses… for decades now.'

However, he noted, this doesn't mean the end of small banks. 'Small banks are popping up all over. And they grow, like us. We've done a good job in the community, for our customers and our shareholders - you catch the attention of a larger organization.

The merger - and another merger announced the same day, with a bank in the Enumclaw area - will result in a new bank similar in size to West Coast Bank.

Banks, Bryant noted, are feeling pressure from credit unions. He said credit unions have grown a tremendous amount, and 'quite unfairly' - he said they offer the services of a bank but don't pay income tax.

Positive reactions

Bob Pingle has been at the bank since the start, in 1997.

'We started with five employees, myself, a president, I think an operations person and some tellers,' he said. 'It started in this building' - the headquarters branch at SE 82nd Avenue and King - 'ten years ago in July.'

Since that time he's seen a lot of growth: 'We now have 35 employees and five offices. It's been challenging to do that - I thought we've done very well over time.'

Sam Allen, vice chairman of the Board of Directors, said the deal with Columbia 'is a great deal for everybody - customers, depositors, shareholders.'

He said being a part of the larger bank will mean 'bigger loans, more services.'

'Town Center is a well-run, well-managed, high-performing bank,' Dressel said. 'And culturally it is a great fit.'