Connecting where it counts

Jenny Ford stands for a portrait outside of the Idaho Central Credit Union branch under construction in Lewiston. Ford is a community development officer at the financial institution.

One of Jenny Ford’s most memorable interactions with Idaho Central Credit Union happened when she was the executive director of the Moscow Chamber of Commerce.

The first cases of COVID-19 were surfacing in the region. Many of the chamber’s members had closed their storefronts or offices to customers and moved operations online as a precaution against the spread of the illness.

An ICCU banker called the chamber and offered to help businesses that needed assistance applying for federal Paycheck Protection Program money, said Ford, who is now ICCU’s community development officer in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington.

The favor seemed almost too good to be true and Ford asked if ICCU really meant it would advise any business, not just ones that had accounts at ICCU, which at the time had no brick-and-mortar presence in north central Idaho.

“He said, ‘That doesn’t matter,’ ” said Ford, who was the only person on the chamber’s staff at the time.

“I felt like a weight was being lifted, being able to give individuals just another option, just to say, ‘Hey, this is something you could pursue if you need it,’ ” she said. “It was a really scary time. It’s not like it is now. There were a lot of moving parts to what was going on for local businesses.”

Less than a year later, when ICCU opened its Moscow branch in December 2020, Ford took a job with the financial institution, which describes itself as the fastest-growing credit union in Idaho with 475,000 members.

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While some banks such as Wells Fargo and Umpqua are closing locations in the area, ICCU continues to expand its brick-and-mortar presence.

A 6,680-square-foot branch at 429 Thain Road in Lewiston is anticipated to open in the first part of 2022, with three drive-through lanes. Two will be for tellers and a third will have an ATM.

“There’s a lot of people who still really appreciate face-to-face interactions,” Ford said. “Some financial requests, opportunities or situations are very unique and can require time. Not everybody wants to take that time on video chat or in an email.”

One of the issues ICCU employees in Moscow are helping customers navigate is Idaho’s competitive real estate market that is pricing a number of families out of the market, she said.

Low interest rates make it a good time to buy and housing prices are beginning to rise less quickly in some parts of Idaho (see related story on Page 2E), but that trend hasn’t yet reached north central Idaho, Ford said.

“There’s a lot of first-time home buyers who are unable to pursue home ownership at the moment just because the amount of homes on the market in Latah County can be limited,” Ford said.

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In addition to helping customers meet their financial goals, ICCU takes a broader interest in the economic health of the communities where it operates, she said.

Take its highly publicized $10 million contribution to the University of Idaho’s ICCU Arena, which just opened and is the home to its men’s and women’s basketball teams.

The donation, at the time, was the largest in UI’s and ICCU’s history, and helped introduce north central Idaho residents to ICCU, a credit union that was relatively unheard of in the area.

But Ford notes the arena is helping the region thrive in ways that benefit more than the UI’s students, faculty and employees.

The construction of the facility provided jobs at a time when many were out of work because of the pandemic.

Concerts and athletic games at the arena will draw crowds who will sleep in hotels throughout the area, shopping, eating and drinking at local stores and restaurants, Ford said.

That activity will “assist the local hospitality industry to try and make up some ground based on the lack of tourism in the last 20 months,” she said. “Folks really want to enjoy experiences.”

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A half-hour south of Moscow, ICCU is beginning to establish its footprint in Lewiston as it prepares to open there in 2022.

The arena at the Lewiston Roundup Grounds now bears ICCU’s name after the credit union pledged $45,000 annually for five years in 2019.

On a smaller scale, staff members are making themselves available to help in a variety of capacities.

Ford did a workshop on personal finances for employees of the Idaho Youth Ranch Thrift Store in Lewiston, a not-for-profit it contributes to through a program where ICCU matches customers’ contributions.

At the request of the participants, ICCU will return to conduct a second session going over the basics of how to file income tax returns.

“When you do those presentations, you really start to understand the needs of your community,” Ford said.

Efforts like those will multiply as ICCU grows in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington, she said.

“Being present and showing up for industries and community members is important,” Ford said. “I think we do a really good job of that. We make it engaging and fun.”

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam.lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

Jenny Ford

Job title: Community development officer at Idaho Central Credit Union in Moscow.

Age: 38.

Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Idaho.

Career history: Previously was executive director of SMART Transit, a public transportation organization in Moscow, before becoming executive director of the Moscow Chamber of Commerce.

Civic involvement: Serves on the Northwest Children’s Home Business Development Committee, Boys & Girls Club of the Lewis Clark Valley Scholarship Committee, Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport Terminal Advisory Committee, Moscow Chamber Foundation Leadership Moscow Steering Committee and Lewiston Innovation Hub Steering Committee. She is an Innovia Foundation Region 2 Leadership Council member as well as a board member of UI Operation Education, Latah County Vandal Boosters and Idaho Women’s Business Center.

Family: Married to Nick Swanson.

Hobbies: Camping, spending time with family and attending concerts.

About Idaho Central Credit Union

The financial institution was founded in 1940 in Boise. It has grown to more than 40 branches in Idaho, including one in Moscow at 525 W. Third St. The hours of the Moscow branch are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. The drive-through windows open at 8:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.