ONTARIO, Ore. – Businesses today are often advised to think “out of the box” in pursuing their goals to attract consumer dollars in today’s highly competitive marketplace. Credit unions are no exception, and that’s exactly what one small credit union in eastern Oregon did to expand its membership. Malheur FCU (MFCU) in Ontario, Ore., a town of 11,000, holds assets of $27 million and serves 7,500 members. The CU’s growth was steady, about 15% per year for the past five years, but they had begun to saturate their market potential, according to Howard Benson, MFCU president/CEO since 1983. About five years ago, recognizing they were “fairly limited” in expanding much more in Ontario, they applied to NCUA to expand into neighboring Idaho across the border, according to Benson. But they were denied – this time and a second time. This didn’t discourage them, however. Malheur FCU filed their third application in January, and NCUA finally on March 29 approved the CU’s charter expansion into Payette County, Idaho, across the Snake River, which separates Oregon and Idaho. Payette County’s approximately 25,000 residents, who live in a broad and barren, but beautiful, Western expanse of 43,000 square miles, offered an excellent potential for CU growth. With the new charter expansion, Benson estimates, “We realistically have the potential of attaining about 4,000 to 5,000 members from Payette County. “We anticipate that the residents of Payette County will take advantage of this opportunity to do business with the only locally-owned cooperative financial institution in the Western Treasure Valley area,” explained Benson. “Now we will be able to serve the Payette County residents that we have had to turn away in the past, and there have been literally hundreds of them requesting CU membership.” Gene Poitras, president/CEO of the Credit Union Association of Oregon, said he favors Malheur’s expansion into Idaho. “Personally, I think it is a positive development to give consumers an additional credit union option,” said Poitras. MFCU’s expansion into Idaho won’t be setting any trend in the state, however, because it’s the only Oregon CU on the border. Benson said they are planning to build a new office in Ontario to serve that area’s members plus the Payette County residents. This new branch, which he said probably will become its main office, will be on the border of Oregon and Idaho and within minutes of both Ontario and Payette County. Benson said the CU expects to break ground for the new facility in August, and the estimated completion date is February 2002. Twenty-four years after it was founded, in 1981 the CU applied for and received its community charter. It also has a branch in a grocery story in Vale, Ore., about 12 miles from Ontario. Malheur FCU also plans to begin a direct mail campaign in August to households in Payette County about the credit union and their eligibility to join. In the beginning it plans on sending out about 800 mailers a month. “We don’t want to take on more members than we can serve until the new headquarters is completed. Right now we’re bursting at the seams,” said Benson. -

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