Shorebank Corp. has taken its community development plans from the South Side of Chicago to the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest.

And to make its environmentally friendly plans work, it bought itself a new bank.

The Chicago-based, $310 million-asset bank holding company bought the U.S. Bank of Southwest Washington, Ilwaco, Wash., a subsidiary of U.S. Bancorp. Shorebank's aim is to create an institution that focuses on environmental restoration and economic development in and around the state's Willapa Bay watershed.

The bank holding company's community development goals also help its banks score points with Community Reinvestment Act examiners.

"It is absolutely, definitely a good CRA activity," said John Berdes, managing director of the ShoreTrust Trading Group, a nonprofit lending company supported by Shorebank that is providing loans to local businesses in the watershed. The bank's initial investment was $2 million.

While rich in natural resources, the region, a temperate rain forest just north of the mouth of the Columbia River in southwest Washington, is economically depressed, said Roger Post, director of international consulting with Shorebank Advisory Services, and one of the Willapa Bay project's team leaders.

But Shorebank and EcoTrust, its Portland-based not-for-profit partner, aim to change that, and see small-business lending as the way to do it.

"We could see from the beginning that finding ways for businesses to access capital would be the key" to boosting the local economy, said Alana Probst, director of economic development at EcoTrust.

The companies plan to create and manage local not-for-profit and for- profit community development groups in the area and partner with other banks to share the risk of lending to local companies.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.