Interwest Bancorp strengthened its presence in Central Washington last week with the announcement of an agreement to acquire Central Bancorp.

Interwest, whose headquarters are north of Seattle, said the deal would help it expand business lending in the central part of the state, complementing its consumer banking presence there.

"The merger ... will provide us with a proven vehicle to effectively enter the commercial banking arena in Central and Western Washington,"said Stephen M. Walden, Interwest's president and chief executive of Interwest, in a press release.

Central Bancorp., based in Wenatchee, runs Central Washington Bank and North Central Washington Bank, with 10 offices in Chelan, Douglas, and Okanogan counties.

Interwest has four offices in Central Washington; it said it would close three in a consolidation move.

The merger, likely to be completed in the first half, is expected to be accounted for as a pooling transaction.

Interwest, which recently acquired Cornerstone Northwest Mortgage, would have $1.5 billion of assets after the Central deal was completed.

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