A new bank in a seacoast town on the mouth of the Columbia River in Washington State is taking a cue from urban experiments that use seed money to regenerate communities. The difference is in the definition of community. In this case, the ecological communities of shellfish, salmon, forests and dunes.

Dubbed “the country’s first environmental bank” by its parent, SouthShore Corp. of Chicago, ShoreBank Pacific of Ilwaco, Wash., is currently reviewing its first batch of loan applications from businesses eager to use new technology to benefit both their ecological community and their own cash flow.

According to ShoreBank’s spokesman, Edward Wolf, such businesses as salmon fisheries and Dungeness crab harvesters are typical of the applications under review now. The bank, he said, is particularly interested in finding ways to encourage fishery practices that focus on rebuilding certain depleted stocks and that avoid catching stock already classified as endangered.

But ShoreBank Pacific is evaluating less typically environmental businesses as well. A dry cleaning company trying to improve its use of environment-friendly solvents is another likely candidate for a little green help from ShoreBank.

money-hundreds-fanned-alvimann-morguefileThe dry cleaner’s case illustrates Wolf’s point that “ShoreBank Pacific doesn’t apply a ‘green screen,’ saying ‘only environmentally sophisticated businesses need apply.’ We’re willing to work with a business not conventionally thought of as an environmental business, in order to apply leverage.” Loan officers from ShoreBank will scrutinize each application individually to see if the business’s plans are in accord with the bank’s ecological mission, Wolf said, adding that their goal is “to bring scientific information to bear as well as traditional evaluation of credit.

According to Wolf, ShoreBank seeks to offer “a whole array of different services to support better environmental management,” such as helping businesses assess new equipment, find suitable real estate and acquire other businesses. It is especially interested, he said, in financing entrepreneurial businesses that employ workers laid off because of environmental restrictions, as has happened in the fishing and logging industries.

ShoreBank Pacific was spawned when Chicago’s ShoreBank Corporation, an innovator since 1972 in urban neighborhood regeneration, joined with EcoTrust, a nonprofit organization based in Portland, Ore. According to Wolf, ShoreBank currently has $9 million equity capital raised from investors such as the Ford and MacArthur foundations. ShoreBank also accepts deposits from large commercial banks, which earn the bigger banks credit in the Community Reinvestment Act, a federal law designed to encourage banks to become more community oriented. Altogether, ShoreBank is approaching $10 million in deposits.

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