Umpqua Holdings (UMPQ) in Portland, Ore., continues to ramp up in commercial real estate lending at a time when many other banks are shying away from the sector.

The $11.5 billion-asset company has opened a new loan office in Walnut Creek, Calif., that will primarily make construction loans to developers in the San Francisco Bay area, according to the San Francisco Business Times. It is the third loan office Umpqua has opened – the others are in Seattle and Portland – since the company created a new commercial real estate unit late last year to help accelerate its loan growth.

The company has said that it is expanding its real estate lending because many banks remain reluctant to originate construction and development loans following the real estate crash, and instead are focused on commercial and industrial lending. Industry wide, the volume of construction loans on banks’ books fell by more than 25% in the fourth quarter from the same period in 2010, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., while total C&I loans rose by nearly 14%.

Umpqua’s new Walnut Creek office is headed by Bruce Lawrie, a 25-year banking veteran who had mostly recently worked at the $1.3 billion-asset Heritage Bank of Commerce in San Jose. Lawrie told the Business Times that he sees particular opportunity on making on loans on multi-family and research and development projects throughout the San Francisco and Silicon Valley regions.

The bank intends to hire two more lenders in the Walnut Creek office by the end of the year, the Business Times said.

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