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The credit union opened in Forest Grove in December as financial service options grow more scarce in rural areas.

PMG PHOTO: MAX EGENER - Wauna Credit Union opened its Forest Grove branch in December., Forest Grove News-Times - News The credit union is on a long-vacant lot at the highway junction. City officials hope other vacancies won't last. Wauna Credit Union opens in Forest Grove, other vacancies remainWhen the McMenamins Grand Lodge Hotel opened in 2000, it spurred a transformation of the around the intersection of Highway 8 and Highway 47 in Forest Grove, said Howard Sullivan, chief executive officer of the Forest Grove/Cornelius Chamber of Commerce.

"What happened? You see a remodel at McDonald's, you see a remodel at Pacific Oak Dental, you see Ace Hardware, you see three auto stores, you see the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, remodel at Doherty Ford," Sullivan said.

Although the property was vacant for years, and much of it still is, Sullivan thinks the opening of the new Wauna Credit Union branch across Highway 8 from McMenamins represents another anchor for growth at the busy intersection west of downtown Forest Grove.

"It just takes one business to do it," Sullivan said.

Debi Smiley, chief marketing officer of Wauna, said the credit union recognized it could help facilitate growth in Forest Grove, a place that is expected to add nearly 10,000 people to its population in the next 20 years, according to the city's recent housing needs analysis. But she added that Forest Grove currently fits the type of community Wauna strives to serve at a time when financial service options are increasingly limited in rural areas.

"Opportunities for financial services are diminishing in some of these rural communities," Smiley said. "So we felt that there was a need in these communities that we can assist with. It's about providing people with options."

Credit unions differ from banks because they're nonprofits, meaning their goal isn't to maximize profits for their shareholders. That allows them to focus services more on the needs of their consumers, but it also means their interest rates are typically higher.

Smiley said while larger national banks increasingly see rural communities as less profitable and continue to close branches, Wauna sees opportunity in Forest Grove, where the economy remains highly influenced by natural resource industries.

She said after more than 50 years of serving northwest Oregon's natural resource-dependent communities, the credit union has experience with the financial needs of their residents. The Forest Grove branch is the credit union's ninth location, and it's in the most populous area yet.

Smiley said the company did its due diligence to make sure there was a market need for another credit union in Forest Grove. First Community Credit Union has a Forest Grove branch about one-quarter of a mile away from Wauna.

The opening of the Wauna branch comes at a time when the company is streamlining operations that are purely transactional while bolstering its consultive services.

"More and more people self-serve, which means they use their online banking, their mobile apps, their direct deposits, their electronic fund transfers," Smiley said. "People come into the branch to get questions answered, to get guidance about lending needs, the more complex activities."

The credit union has two drive-up interactive video teller machines instead of a traditional drive-up teller window. Meanwhile, employees working inside the branch have been getting trained with a new conversational customer service model.

"We want to see these smaller rural communities proser, and we think our model will help do that," Smiley said.

Sullivan said while Wauna is already highly involved in Forest Grove's business community, he expects the credit union will serve people in the wider rural region without many financial service options.

The Forest Grove Wauna branch is hosting a grand opening at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 30. The event will showcase the branch's interactive technology and also feature activities themed around the upcoming Super Bowl LIV, which is on Sunday, Feb. 2.


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