Idaho Credit Unions Leverage NWCUF Project Grants to Support Rural Communities

There are numerous rural communities across the Northwest, each with their own unique history, geography, traditions, and demographics. In Idaho, 88% of the land area is classified as rural, and populations living in these areas have specific financial needs credit unions are helping to meet.

In early 2021, the Northwest Credit Union Foundation launched the Rural Access to Financial Services Initiative to support credit unions in deepening their understanding of the unique opportunities, challenges, and composition of rural populations, and to foster innovative approaches to serving rural households and businesses.

“The impact credit unions have on these communities is often life-changing, especially for underserved areas or those left behind by banks,” said Sharee Adkins, NWCUF Executive Director.

Making Financial Services More Accessible

Over the past decade, more than 10,000 bank branches have closed across the U.S., creating significant hardship for rural and low-income populations that don’t have access to other financial services providers.

Building upon the NWCUF planning grant it received last spring, Pocatello, Idaho-based Connections Credit Union received a project grant to support the development of a rotational Mobile Banking Unit, bringing financial services to rural communities that do not have access to brick-and-mortar financial institutions.

By establishing a Mobile Banking Unit that operates on a rotating weekly schedule, Connections strives to maximize its reach across multiple areas and expand local economic opportunities through relevant products and services, access to credit, and financial education for schools, businesses, and individuals.

“We are currently in the process of designing and purchasing the unit as well as hiring and developing a specialized team that will focus on financial education and developing targeted community relationships and strategic partnerships,” said Brian Osberg, the credit union’s President and CEO. Osberg also shared that Connections recently earned its CDFI designation and is “excited to provide this creative solution for rural and underbanked communities and populations.”

Lending a Helping Hand to Small Businesses on Main Street

East Idaho Credit Union has seen, firsthand, the lasting effects the pandemic has had on local small businesses. Dozens of restaurants, retail stores, clinics, gyms, and other businesses in its community have shuttered permanently in the past two years, and many of those still standing are struggling to keep their doors open.

That’s why NWCUF is supporting the Idaho Falls-based credit union’s mission to help small-business owners develop and scale their businesses through microloans. An NWCUF project grant is helping to offset the costs of this endeavor, including staff expenses, marketing, and loan loss reserves. Additionally, EICU is partnering with several local organizations for referrals and to provide business education to borrowers.

“East Idaho Credit Union is excited about our grant from the Northwest Credit Union Foundation,” said Dan Thurman, President, and CEO. “This grant will allow us to help startups and very new businesses gain access to small $1,000 – $2,000 operating lines that are critical for their growth and success.”

In total, the program will extend $100,000 to $150,000 in credit for the small businesses in the area that desperately need it.

“There is something magical when we are able to work with business owners in our communities to bring not only growth and prosperity to them but also to the communities that we all love,” Thurman said. “We look forward to seeing the success and growth that these businesses bring to Idaho!”

Do you have an innovative idea for a new product to serve rural small businesses, or a market research project to map out underserved areas in your membership? NWCUF planning and project grants are available for credit unions interested in making an impact in their rural communities. Reach out to Foundation Manager of Community Impact, Maija Noll, to see what resources are available to support your efforts in serving rural communities. More information can be found here.