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Loss of Washington Mutual a blow to Seattle psyche

SEATTLE — First, Boeing Co. Then Safeco Corp. and the SuperSonics. Now Washington Mutual.

“Seattle lost a piece of itself today,” said Allen Stover, 60, who has banked at WaMu since he was a kid, as have his parents and grandparents.

On Friday, while withdrawing cash from a WaMu ATM machine, Stover lamented the loss of yet another Seattle institution, one with roots dating back to 1889.

“It’s kind of demoralizing,” he said. “It’s going to change the way people look at things in the city.”

The takeover of the nation’s largest savings and loan by New York-based JPMorgan Chase isn’t just a black mark on the economy but a blow to Seattle’s psyche.

In recent years, Boeing Co. moved its Seattle corporate headquarters to Chicago. Boston-based Liberty Mutual bought Safeco Corp. And the team formerly known as the SuperSonics packed its bags and moved to Oklahoma.

“We’re a bunch of losers,” joked Seattle economist Dick Conway.

As with Boeing, there will be psychological loss from WaMu, but as with Boeing the economic impact may not be so severe, he said. Boeing’s commercial airplane unit is still in Everett and retained most of the its local employees after the company moved its headquarters.

Conway, who co-publishes the Puget Sound Economic Forecaster which tracks the regional job outlook, said JPMorgan Chase will likely cut jobs at headquarters in Seattle.

While the numbers aren’t yet known, every WaMu job lost will likely result in another 1.5 jobs lost in the area economy, he said.

Overall, however, “it will have a negative but relatively small impact on Seattle jobs. But it’s coming at a bad time when Seattle isn’t creating more jobs,” he said.

“There’s no getting around the fact we’re losing a headquarter, a locally-based, hundred-year-old institution,” said Steve Leahy, president and CEO of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. “The loss of that is going to be significant and painful for the community.”

The pain will be felt in the loss of family wage jobs, as well as WaMu’s long history of civic leadership and philanthropy, Leahy said.

“It wasn’t just a source of pride, it was a source of significant positioning for this community,” he added.

Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association, said it’s tough losing a Fortune 500 company with such “long and deep roots” in the community.

“They’re probably the biggest private sector employer in downtown. So even with Seattle’s relatively hanging-in-there economy, this could be hard for us,” she said.

She noted that the region still has companies like Microsoft Corp., Starbucks Corp. and Inc.

More than 3,500 people work at WaMu headquarters in downtown Seattle, with another 800 employees in Seattle and another 1,500 in Washington state, The Seattle Times reported.

While it’s too early to know the impact on local jobs, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, in a statement, said “I am saddened that this national crisis is having such an impact on our local families and economy.”

Scott Blankenship, 44, an attorney who works in the Washington Mutual Tower in downtown Seattle, wondered what would become of the building’s name.

“One of our proud companies is no longer here and that’s kind of sad,” he said. “It’s one of our babies.”