Spokane Journal of Business

Success requires ability to evolve, and that we have

Spokane’s business community is well positioned to continue its growth

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Publisher’s Note: This is one of a collection of stories authored by business and civic leaders in Spokane in commemoration of the Journal’s 30th Anniversary in February 2016. Please click here or on the “Anniversary Issue” tag at the bottom of this story to read the others.

Congratulations to the Journal of Business for 30 years of service to the Spokane business community! It’s both an honor and a privilege to be asked to contribute to this special anniversary edition of a publication that is anticipated and relied upon by so many. The Journal is a true survivor in this era of consolidation of media outlets and shrinking newspaper circulations, remaining award-winning, independent and most of all, relevant. Our hats are off to the management and staff who make this publication great. 

Spokane has changed a great deal since the paper was founded in 1986, and it’s my opinion that our future has never looked brighter. The city continues to grow, with a 2.8 percent population increase in Spokane County over the last four years and a business environment that continues to expand and flourish with 6,000 new jobs created in 2015—nearly double the national rate—on top of the 4,000 jobs added in 2014. 

Spokane’s business community is well positioned to continue its growth, particularly in the sectors of aerospace, manufacturing, health sciences and technology. 

Our quality of life is superb—from our beautiful surroundings, to our thriving downtown that’s blossoming with great new restaurants, to the abundant opportunities that Spokane’s higher-education institutions provide. To live and work in a growing city that’s both a great place to raise a family and a great place to do business is a truly rare privilege. Like many of us, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

In many ways, the changes in our community are mirrored by the changes at the Journal itself. The Internet was in its infancy when the paper first went to press 30 years ago. Now the Internet is an integral part of our everyday lives, a force that’s transformed how we inform ourselves and relate with others. 

The Journal’s own evolution to include robust online and mobile news coverage is a credit to the publication’s leadership and its willingness to embrace progress, innovation and change. 

Over this time, the banking business has seen just as much change. Consolidations, mergers, bank failures and other economic forces have radically transformed the industry’s landscape. In 1986 there were nearly 18,000 federally-insured banking institutions with over $4 trillion in assets in the country. In less than 30 years, that number dwindled to fewer than 7,000 banks while total assets have grown to over $15 trillion. 

Washington Trust is now the only bank remaining from the Journal’s June 1986 list of banks and savings and loans. Most of the decline in the number of banks occurred among smaller institutions: those with less than $100 million in assets. While the industry has been on a long-term consolidation trend, it’s just now that the number of physical branches is beginning to shrink, as banks look to reduce costs and customers shift to online banking and mobile technology to meet their banking needs. 

It’s clear that companies that adapt to the changing landscape are the ones that survive over the long run. We’ve seen in the last 30 years how technology has transformed industry, making businesses, including banks, more efficient, more accountable and more accessible to consumers. 

Banks provide accessibility to capital through lending which drives commerce. Yet, lending requires a certain level of personal familiarity. This is why Washington Trust will continue to be driven not only by our unwavering commitment to our customers, but also by innovation. We’ll embrace all that technology offers to make our customers’ lives easier, while never losing our passion for the personal touch that allows us to become trusted advisers for, and many times friends with, our clients.

Like Spokane, Washington Trust looks different than it did 30 years ago, and we have grown quite a bit, too. Still independent, still privately owned and operated, the bank, which in 1986 had $600 million in assets and 390 employees, now has more than $5 billion in assets and 850 employees across Washington, Idaho and Oregon. Our growth and longevity in this competitive, dynamic market reflects the commitment of our leadership team, validates our conservative approach and is testimony to the support we receive from the Spokane business community. 

While I’m most proud of the people, businesses and community organizations we’ve been able to help over the past century here in Spokane and across the Pacific Northwest, I couldn’t be happier with Washington Trust’s willingness to embrace change in order to meet our customers’ needs.

The speed of change will only accelerate over the next 30 years. Just like the Journal, the key to our success will be to remain focused on how we can deliver the innovative solutions our customers expect from us, while never losing sight of what they value from us. 

The Journal of Business has accomplished both. What a great job it has done to help make Spokane the thriving, yet friendly, business community that it is. We are excited to celebrate the publication’s 30th anniversary and look forward to the next 30 years.

Jack Heath is president and chief operating officer of Washington Trust Bank.

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