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Oak Harbor's bank swallowed by Wells Fargo

A $3 billion corporation that started in Oak Harbor in the 1950s is merging with Wells Fargo & Company, one of the nation’s largest financial services companies.

Dave Straus, president of Pacific Northwest Bancorp, said Wells Fargo was looking to expand within Washington and basically made bank officials an offer they couldn’t refuse.

“We didn’t have a for sale sign,” he said. “We weren’t looking to sell, but they came after us. As a publicly traded company, we have a responsibility to our shareholders and their offer was very good.”

Once the merger is finalized early next year, Straus explained that Pacific Northwest Bank will cease to exist, at least in name. He said many of the 170 employees at the Oak Harbor office will be able to continue working for Wells Fargo, but he admitted some positions will be eliminated.

“All the employees with customer contacts will survive,” he said, “but in the support areas, some might have jobs, some might be able to move to other positions in the company and some might have to find jobs elsewhere.”

Straus said he’s also not sure what will happen to the bank’s office space in downtown Oak Harbor. Wells Fargo also has a branch office in the city, so the merged company will likely have more space than needed.

Last fall, Pacific Northwest Bank officials announced that the company was going to start outsourcing mortgage lending. As a result, about 80 bank employees, including about 40 people in the Oak Harbor office, lost their jobs.

The company was founded in 1957 as Island Savings & Loan in Oak Harbor, but the name was changed to InterWest Bank some 20 years ago. InterWest incorporated in 1994 and began expanding by leaps and bounds, aggressively purchasing other banks in the region.

In 1998, the company purchased Pacific Northwest Bank and brought the bank’s founder, Patrick Fahey, into the company fold. Fahey was appointed president, CEO and chairman of InterWest’s board of directors in 2000. Under his leadership, the company’s charter was changed to a commercial bank and it adopted a new name, Pacific Northwest Bankcorp.

Pacific Northwest, with nearly $3.1 billion in assets, currently has more than 800 employees and 58 banking locations in western and central Washington, as well as five locations in Portland. By comparison, Wells Fargo is a $370 billion diversified financial services company with more than 5,800 branches and over 6,000 ATMs.

Under the merger agreement, Fahey will become chairman of regional banking for Wells Fargo in Washington. Straus will manage business banking for Wells Fargo in the state. Executives George Brace and Joe Ward will also have administrative positions within the corporation.

The merger, announced Monday, is undoubtedly good news for Pacific Northwest shareholders. The share price shot up from $28.44 Monday to $34.75 Tuesday. Under the terms of the merger agreement, Pacific Northwest shareholders will receive $35 in Wells Fargo common stock for each share.

“Pacific Northwest Bank has a superb reputation for business banking and other financial services,” said James O. Prunty, regional president for Wells Fargo Community Banking in Washington, “and this will complement our full range of Wells Fargo financial services.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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