Lasting Commitment

Article excerpt

Grain Belt bank finds renewed vigor in standing by its community

Torn from Keith Lazar's desk calendar is the page for Dec. 29, 1995. The page hangs on the wall across from his desk in the president's office of the Washington State Bank. It is a testament to the strength of community banking in Washington, Iowa, and it is an important milestone in the history of the 64-year-old bank. That December day the bank's 380 shareholders voted resoundingly not to sell to a big rival.

Lazar recalls the strong ties shareholders-many of whom received their stock from their fathers and grandfathers-have to the community bank. "It was a combination of the stockholders' strong sentimental attachment to the past, plus the bank's plowing of profits back into the town and leadership in fund-raising and monetary contributions to the community that created a very `anti-sell' attitude," he says.

With the bank's future secure, business, although always solid, is booming. Loans, deposits and profits are up. "It is great to be part of a community that has a commitment to us, and we have a commitment to our community," Lazar says.

The unquestionable support from area residents energized bank managers to keep pace with the changes in the community. "Washington used to be a sleepy little farm town," Executive Vice President Bill D. Reha explains. "But since the early '90s, there has been a steady increase in population."

A WELCOME RESURGENCE

Small towns across the Grain Belt are experiencing similar growth as the effects of the mid-1980s agricultural crises fade. According to one study, half of the farm-based counties in the Great Plains have grown in population during the 1990s.

Economists explain the migration by citing a big increase in small-town manufacturing jobs, a stronger farm economy, quality-of-life concerns among young families and technological advances allowing people to work from home.

"Technology is becoming our friend," Reha agrees. "Anyone with a modem and a computer can connect with New York or the West Coast while living in Washington. People no longer need to be in urban areas, so they can take advantage of living in a small town."

Washington-listed as one of the top 100 small towns in the United States by the author of several small town review guides, Norman Crampton-boasts a low crime rate, reasonably low taxes, an excellent school system and the largest Amish community west of the Mississippi. It also has a community bank as committed to the community as it is to the latest banking products and services.

Reha further attributes Washington's population surge to successful economic development. …