UNION — A major financial void may soon be filled in Union.
Ken Olson, president and CEO of Old West Federal Credit Union, said Thursday night that his firm is seriously considering opening a branch in Union. A decision will be made within 60 days, Olson said. Should the credit union decide to come to Union, a branch could be operating there in less than six months.
“If the stars align just right, we could have a branch here by late fall,” Olson told an audience of about 50 people at a meet and greet function at Union’s city hall.
Union has not had a banking institution since Umpqua Bank closed its branch there in late June 2016.
Old West Federal Credit Union currently has branches in La Grande, Baker City, Pendleton, Hermiston, John Day, Prairie City and Burns and a loan office in Wallowa.
Credit unions are not-for-profit organizations that, like banks, accept deposits, make loans and provide a wide array of other financial services. But as member-owned and cooperative institutions, credit unions provide a safe place to save and borrow at reasonable rates, according to www.mycreditunion.gov.
Olson, who lives in John Day, said that if an Old West branch is opened in Union, it would not be in its own separate building because it would be cost prohibitive.
“What we have to do is figure out what to do with the resources we have,” said Olson. “We have to decide between what is ideal and what is practical.”
One option Old West will look into is placing its Union branch within an already operating business. The credit union does not have any of its current branches operating within businesses. One factor that Old West officials will be looking for is whether Union has adequate internet bandwidth. This is critical because of the expansive bandwidth needed to operate a credit union.
“We are a bandwidth hog,” Olson said.
People who have been pushing for bringing a banking institution back to Union include business owners who want to have a place to deposit their money daily.
Union Mayor Leonard Flint said Councilor Walt Brookshire deserves much of the credit for getting Old West to look into Union. Flint said Brookshire’s persistence has been remarkable.
The mayor believes having a banking institution in town would help businesses in Union. He said people tend to combine activities like grocery shopping, visiting the pharmacy and banking in one trip. He said if residents have to go out of town to do their banking, they may also do their shopping out of town.
Flint believes Old West Federal Credit Union would be a good fit for Union.
“(Old West is) familiar with rural communities and are used to dealing with small communities. They know what they are getting into,” the mayor said. “They know what it takes to operate in a small town.”