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Idaho Voices

Layoffs belie bank’s efforts

Sun., March 28, 2010

When Sandpoint-based Panhandle State Bank announced last week that it was laying off 32 people statewide, the reaction in this town was mixed. Some questioned what happened with the stimulus money the bank received from the government, stating that it could have been used to preserve the jobs of its own employees. But others were quick to defend the local bank, stating it portrays the very essence of community.

So what did Panhandle State Bank do with the stimulus money received from the federal government? The bank received $27 million in stimulus money, which it must spend on its general liquidity and on loans and other assistance it couldn’t otherwise provide.

The money also freed up the bank’s own resources to try to boost the economy with a stimulus program of its own. Just ask Curt Hecker, CEO of Intermountain Community Bancorp, of which Panhandle State Bank is a subsidiary. It was about a year ago when Sandpoint-based Hecker knew that he needed to do something to assist the local community through the recession.

“He (Hecker) was a Boise State football player who did not want to sit on the sidelines and wait out the recession,” said Kim Diercks, a community development officer and commercial loan officer for the bank.

It was then that Hecker’s stimulus plan – Powered by Community – took off.

Diercks said Powered by Community’s goal is to partner with business leaders, nonprofit organizations and community members in the towns that Intermountain Community Bancorp serves, and together identify the biggest needs and invest dollars in the areas that will have the greatest impact.

“Every community is different,” said Diercks, emphasizing the need to seek input from citizens in each of the geographical areas served by Intermountain Community Bancorp.

Through its program, Panhandle State Bank partnered with Idaho Small Business Development Center in Hayden and put on a series of small-business workshops, covering the cost so that struggling business owners could benefit from the knowledge of business counselors.

“We had workshops on how to start a business, hitting the right target for profit, managing business finances and planning for success,” said Diercks.

According to Diercks, one of the most popular classes they presented was for nonprofit groups – Effective Boards Raise More Money.

Powered by Community does much more than just workshops. There have been many in-kind contributions including expertise, training resources and access to business development tools.

“We are pouring our money into helping businesses in our community,” said Diercks.

One example is the help the bank extended to Ponderay Surgery Center helping to publicize the surgery center and the Sandpoint area.

Through Powered by Community, Ponderay Surgery Center produced a short video that will be used to assist in recruiting new surgeons to the area.

“It promotes the outpatient surgery center and how it fills a big need in the community,” said Diercks.

Another major project is that of Bonner County Economic Development Corp.’s quest to bring a fiber optic network to this area.

“We are helping work on the grant proposal,” said Diercks who adds that if successful, it could help attract new businesses to North Idaho.

So while layoffs are difficult for management and can be devastating to those involved, people must realize that just because the banking industry received stimulus money – that does not mean they are immune from the recession and I am sure Hecker and others involved did not make their decision lightly.

So while some banks have sat on the sidelines waiting for the federal government to figure out the economic problems, I for one am grateful to have a community bank that cares about the small businesses in our area and that is available to me without having to dial a toll-free number and talk to someone who has never even heard of Sandpoint, Idaho.

Contact correspondent Patty Hutchens by e-mail at

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