By Ilene Aleshire
Dec 12, 2014
Northwest Community Credit Union on Thursday began moving into its new $25 million headquarters on the edge of downtown Eugene, the first step in adding 170 more people to the downtown workforce.
For Sarah Bennett, president of Downtown Eugene Inc., “It’s another step in the right direction, working toward our downtown revitalization — which we’ve been working on for many years. And we will continue to work to get this type of activity in the core of the community.”
NWCU broke ground on the building in June 2013.
Since then, the credit union has continued to grow and is now approaching some major milestones, CEO John Iglesias said. It is closing in on $1 billion in assets (it currently has $930 million) and 100,000 members (it has 90,000).
“We were at $650 million (in assets) when I got here four years ago,” he said. “We’ll hit a billion real soon. We’re excited, it means we’ve been doing the right things for our members.”
The new 67,000-square-foot building will allow employees to spread out and also improve the workflow, Iglesias said. People were on top of each other in the previous Gateway location, a former retail building that was never designed for a financial user, he said.
It also will help position the credit union for continued growth, he said. The new building includes meeting space that will be available free to business organizations and nonprofits — a niche that Iglesias is hoping to grow.
Another market that he is hoping to grow is small loans to businesses. Among other things, Northwest Community will be providing business consulting services and free seminars for businesses as well as what Iglesias calls a “financial services suite” for all members.
“We will have mortgage specialists, small business specialists, investing specialists, to help our members with whatever their needs are,” he said. “That will start in the first quarter (of 2015).”
As the credit union grows, so will its downtown Eugene presence — Iglesias estimates it will eventually almost double its employee base there, to about 300.
The credit union also will bring an untold number of customers into the area, particularly after its branch opens on the ground floor in a little over six weeks, said Iglesias, who has become an unabashed downtown booster.
“We want to draw in businesses, we want to draw in consumers,” he said.
“I’ve been encouraging a lot of other small businesses to consider downtown Eugene as a location for their headquarters,” he added. “John Ruiz and the city have been really supportive, they’ve made it very easy to move into the downtown corridor.”
All of this is music to Sarah Bennett’s ears. She is part of a group that has been working for years to revitalize downtown Eugene. Attracting employers to the core is one piece of the puzzle. Other key pieces include more retail and housing for permanent residents, Bennett said.
“We’ve had very good fortune not only with the number of restaurants that have come downtown, but also that they are unique, specialized,” she said. “The next phase of our continued growth downtown is specialized retail, lots of shops and clothing stores. I think a healthy mix of local and national is what is going to give us our critical mass to get over the hump.”
Downtown Eugene has become an area where innovative businesses have begun to congregate, she said, which is good for a number of reasons, not least of them the ripple effect these type of jobs have on the community, according to one study she read.
But housing remains a key piece of the puzzle, Bennett said. “Permanent, market-rate housing is critical.”
While downtown Eugene is making progress, it still has a ways to go, she said. “It needs extra incentives and help — from the city and the community — in order to make things happen downtown.”
She knows the idea of incentives isn’t universally popular, but Bennett said they are necessary to balance out the risks businesses take in investing in an area that is still redeveloping. And, she said, long after the incentives have ended, the redeveloped properties will be contributing to local tax coffers. “Five or 10 years down the road, there will be more income than if (the land) had stayed a parking lot.”
Perhaps the greater benefit for the community as whole, though is the ripple effects of a redeveloped downtown, she said. “Any successful city has to have a vibrant urban core.”