By John Wolcott SCBJ Freelance Writer
EVERETT — Despite the closing of the Kimberly-Clark paper products mill on the Everett waterfront this year, the Mill Town Credit Union that served the plant’s workers for many years remains one of the strongest financial resources in the state, highly rated by government and independent agencies.
“That’s because even though we were formed in 1939 to serve mill employees, including Scott Paper Co. before it was bought by Kimberly-Clark, we’ve since expanded to serve members in Snohomish, Skagit and Island counties,” explains Laura Leuze, the credit union’s long-time CEO. Only about one-fifth of today’s members are mill workers, she said.
That’s why the closing of the mill doesn’t mean the closing of the Mill Town Credit Union. Although its name, adopted around seven years ago, celebrates Everett’s decades of history as a “mill town,” membership is open to anyone who works, lives, worships or goes to school in the three-county area.
Because the non-for-profit financial cooperative is owned by its members, not stockholders, it offers lower loan and credit card rates than most financial institutions in the area. Watchdogs include the National Credit Union Administration and the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions.
Although the small credit union office on W. Marine View Drive, adjacent to the Kimberly-Clark plant, operates on property leased from the company, no notices have hinted at a move in the near future. If that word does come, Leuze said the credit union will still operate elsewhere.
“We have a lot of loyal members and we know all of them very well so we’re helping those who have lost mill jobs but also helping all of those throughout the three counties,” she said. “We have low interest rates on auto, boat, motor home and mobile home loans, home equity second mortgages and lines of credit at rates ranging from 2.99 to 5.5 percent, plus a VISA credit card with a 9.5 percent rate.”
The Mill Town Credit Union’s Web site offers 24-hour online banking, checking, savings and credit accounts. Using the Credit Union Service Centers Network allows members to make payments, withdrawals, deposits and other transactions to any of the 1,300 participating credit unions.
According to state officials who monitor Mill Town and other credit unions, the Everett facility has the highest capital-to-asset ratio of all of the similarly sized credit unions in the state, making it a strong financial institution.
The credit union doesn’t make commercial loans but for home and consumer needs it offers a wide range of financing, topped off with a lot of personal attention that provides the kind of relationships with customers that larger institutions often find difficult to establish or maintain.
“There’s only seven of us in the office and it’s small, so we really get to know our members and they get to know us,” said Leuze, who’s been with the credit union for 17 years after several years with Bank of America locally.
“It was a unbelievable difference for me to come here form a large commercial bank,” she said. “The whole thought process between our staff and credit union members is totally different because the philosophy is so different. Profits go back to members through things like lower interest rates. We’ve had generations of families come here and we feel a real personal involvement with them. Most of our staff has been here a long time, too.”
Although the mill closure has been devastating for many of the workers, she said, “a lot of them have found work, some at Boeing, which held some job fairs for them, and some have started their own businesses and taken on new opportunities.”
She likes to tell people that Mill Town Credit Union is “probably one of the friendliest financial institutions around … We laugh and chat with people a lot and their kids open accounts, too. … Many members started accounts when they were 4 or 5 years old.”
Leuze said members also like the credit union’s “cookie days” held each month. It’s one of those things that’s become a tradition, with the staff bringing in homemade cookies.
People used to think they could only join a credit union if they were employed by the Snohomish County PUD, Kimberly-Clark or a particular business but that was years ago, she said. New regulations have broadened the membership reach for credit unions.
“We don’t have the money for big ads like the Boeing Employees Credit Union does but whenever they advertise people learn that they don’t have to be a Boeing worker to belong there either. So BECU’s advertising helps all of us in the credit union world,” she said.
To find out what Mill Town Credit Union offers, go to www.milltowncu.org or call 425-252-5139.