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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

INB increases wages, hands out bonuses due to tax reform bill

INB tellers Llea Kelley, right, and Bobbie McGarry, left, are part of the one third of all INB employees who received raises recently at the community bank in Spokane. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A Spokane-based bank gave out raises and bonuses to its 200 workers in anticipation of a windfall from corporate tax cuts.

After Congress passed a sweeping federal tax reform bill last month, INB announced it would raise its starting wage to $15 per hour and provide $500 year-end bonuses to all employees except senior executives.

“Community banks are community focused, and having businesses that can pay good wages helps the community,” Russ Lee, INB’s chief executive officer, said Tuesday.

Increasing starting wages for tellers to $15 per hour had been “an aspiration” for INB for several years, Lee said. “I started out as a teller, so I’m appreciative of what a hard job it is.”

Being a teller requires accuracy and excellent customer service skills, said Jason Miller, INB’s director of marketing. Working as a teller is an entry-level position for a lot of college graduates, who advance to other banking jobs, he said.

In addition, INB has doubled in size in three years through mergers, acquisitions and growth in customer accounts. Assets for the regional bank, which has 22 branches in Eastern Washington, North Idaho and the Portland area, have risen from $400 million to $830 million.

Bank officials wanted to reward employees for INB’s success, Lee said.

But INB’s executive team wrestled with how it would increase wages while remaining competitive in the industry. Federal tax reform provided the right opportunity, Lee said.

With the corporate tax rate falling from 35 percent to 21 percent, INB’s parent company, Northwest Bancorp, expects to see big savings in federal taxes, Miller said.

The corporate tax cut also helps banks compete with credit unions, which don’t pay federal income tax and are exempt from many state taxes, he said.

Other companies also plan to give raises and bonuses and invest in worker training as a result of the corporate tax cuts.

AT&T and Comcast said their hourly employees and low-level managers would get $1,000 bonuses. At Wells Fargo, the company’s starting wage will rise to $15 per hour. Boeing plans to invest $100 million in worker training, which officials said would benefit employees in the long run.

At INB, about one-third of the bank’s employees received raises, effective Monday. Some workers who already earned more than $15 per hour got raises, too.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 has been discussed nationally and regionally. Two Washington cities, Seattle and SeaTac, already have $15 minimum wage requirements for large employers. In Spokane, a 2015 ballot initiative sought to establish a “family wage,” which wasn’t defined, but the initiative failed.

At INB, “we’re not trying to make a statement,” Lee said. “We’re trying to do what’s best for our employees and shareholders.”

With low unemployment rates throughout the region, companies are competing for talent, he said.

“We want to be an employer of choice,” Lee said. “We need smart, hardworking employees to come here.”