July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:52 PM
"Sometimes a brush with bad news can prod a community to wake up and plan for the future.When InterWest Bancorp announced a new name and a new Seattle address recently, the fear of many Whidbey Islanders was that InterWest - the island's largest private employer, providing about 200 jobs - was not long for Oak Harbor. That's been the speculation ever since there was a shakeup of InterWest's top management starting last spring. The attitude was almost fatalistic: InterWest and the jobs it provides are a good thing. Good things eventually leave Oak Harbor. And InterWest is finally gone.But InterWest isn't gone.InterWest CEO Patrick Fahey recently emphasized that the company is not leaving Oak Harbor. Fahey gave assurances that all of InterWest's administrative functions that have traditionally been handled in Oak Harbor will stay in Oak Harbor. The changes that will occur at the company - the new name (Pacific Northwest Bank) and new Seattle address - are designed to make InterWest more marketable and more profitable, Fahey said.So Oak Harbor has dodged this latest economic bullet.That does not mean, of course, that InterWest is here forever. The banking industry is notoriously merger-happy. It's quite possible that a larger bank will someday snap up Pacific Northwest Bank and move it out of town.It's good to remember this as we plan for our community's future. It is imperative that we work to diversify the local economy. The city council's decision to annex the Hackney property earlier this year, and set the wheels in motion for a future business park, is a good example of the kind of projects that need to be pursued. There is no reason for Oak Harbor to be resigned to economic mediocrity. Whidbey Island offers a quality of life that compares favorably with any corner of the country. However, businesses need infrastructure. Rather than waiting for InterWest to vacate its building on Pioneer Way, then trying to fill it with a new tenant, let's be proactive. Let's decide what we want in this town in terms of a business climate, then set about creating it.That way, if InterWest ever does leave, the economic pain won't be nearly so severe.------------------School bells are ringing once againThe new clothes are in the closet. The new supplies are packed and ready. The yellow buses are back on the roads. The new school year is at hand.Coupeville students got started first this week, with their first day of classes held Tuesday. Oak Harbor students begin classes Thursday. High school athletic teams at both schools start their seasons this week. It's a special time of year in any community. We should all take a moment to acknowledge this transition in our year. Drive a little more carefully around schools. Consider attending local athletic events, which bring a community together. Say a word of thanks to the teachers and school officials you meet. Maybe even volunteer your time at our schools. "