A Meeting of Values: American Heating Talks Trust, Partnerships & Growth

Cyrus Vafi (middle) of Banner Bank with Joe Paine and Brian Shea of American Heating

Brand Story – With 45 years in the industry & a new banking partner, this Portland-based design-build firm is ready to seize opportunities.

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 At American Heating, ‘long term’ is not a concept found sprinkled throughout its marketing material. It is, however, found everywhere else: in the dozens of familiar faces who have been company fixtures for more than 20 years—from its owners to its general contractors to its employees.

The design, build and service company maintains partnerships with contractors who were with them from the start, back when the founder ran the company from his Portland basement. In a world where automated, one-size-fits-all service has become the norm, those lasting relationships are a source of pride for the team.

“We used to just shake hands and trust each other. We did a lot of projects that way. People trusted us to do the right thing, and they still do,” explains Joe Paine, co-owner of American Heating. “If we’re doing what’s right for employees and customers, my opinion is that the rest will take care of itself.”

After more than four decades of solid growth, that trusting, small-company spirit lives on—no small feat for a firm with 360 employees and a robust portfolio of projects spanning health care, education, retail and beyond. Their slogan—“built on trust”—pays homage to that approach.

On track for continued growth and accustomed to generational partnerships that survive through thick and thin, American Heating’s leadership was stunned when they arrived at a crossroads with their bank of more than 20 years.

“Our monthly statements were showing profits and our backlog was strong, yet we were not seeing eye-to-eye anymore,” Paine recalls.

With hundreds of families on the payroll and large projects in the pipeline, it was vital that their access to capital was not disrupted. So they went in search of a banking partner that valued mutual trust as much as they did and brought deep contracting-sector expertise. The owners wasted no time vetting proposals from banks interested in growing with them into the future. Among them was 130-year-old Banner Bank.

“When we first met with American Heating earlier this year, it was immediately clear they were a strong company with exceptional performance and a consistent management team,” remembers Cyrus Vafi, vice president and relationship manager at Banner Bank. “We did our due diligence and liked what we saw. We provided them with a full proposal the next day and they accepted it the same week. Within a few weeks, their commercial credit was approved and funded.”

Displaying a level of agility rare in today’s banking environment, Banner Bank brought on board a full commercial banking relationship in five weeks, start to finish. Vafi attributes that efficiency to its reliance on nimble, multidisciplinary teamwork, in stark contrast to the rigid, formulaic procedures Paine had experienced with other lenders.  

“Banner is super approachable. I can talk to anyone there. If a person is on vacation, someone else can help. They’ve never told us ‘only that person deals with that and this person deals with this,’” Paine adds. “We don’t work like that, and Banner doesn’t either. I like to think that we share the same small-company mentality.”

American Heating, like Banner Bank, grew one relationship at a time, translating into countless hours of face-to-face conversation, joint problem solving and transparent cooperation. Aware that open communication fuels any functional relationship, Paine wanted a team that was local and accessible.

“I knew it wouldn’t work if we had to shoot messages off to someone in an ivory tower somewhere,” Paine says. “I’ve got the cellphone numbers of three Banner executives in my phone and all of them have offered 24/7 service. That goes a long way with me, because that’s my philosophy too. That’s how we operate for our customers. Just because the doors are locked, doesn’t mean we’re off the clock.”

Aside from a shared philosophy, American Heating needed a bank with deep industry insight. Contractors face inflexible timelines and large-scale projects that keep their liquidity in flux, so it was critical to choose a bank that understands its industry’s standard operating conditions.

JEK 2597American Heating’s extensive facility in Portland

“Because we understand the specialized nature of the contracting industry and the specific capital needs of those businesses, we stay in lock-step with them so they never miss a beat in day-to-day operations and long-term growth plans,” Vafi explains. “We’re committed to understanding the unique elements of our clients’ industries. In fact, it’s that depth of knowledge, paired with our credit culture, that kept us from turning our backs on our builders during the last economic downturn—and we’re proud of that.”

From the start, Banner offered American Heating lower fees, decreased interest rates, a new equipment facility and a larger line of credit. Today, with their change in lenders firmly in the rearview, American Heating can pour its energy solely into its core business, which continues to gain momentum.

“We’re doing more public works projects, our engineering continues to grow, and we’ve taken on plumbing, hydronics, controls and sheet metal,” says Brian Shea, co-owner of American Heating. “We keep our portfolio a healthy, diversified mix of projects that can deal with any market conditions.”

While the company anticipates growth, the focus is not necessarily to be twice as big, but to evolve and seize new opportunities as it intertwines construction, efficiency and design to create optimal products and solutions.

“The feeling I have now is that we’re not constrained. If we see an opportunity, we can talk to our Banner bankers and they will be there to help us figure out how to take advantage of it,” Paine concludes. “Knowing we have a bank that supports us gives us the flexibility we need. We’re very happy with where we’ve ended up.”

At their cores, American Heating and Banner Bank share an affinity for balancing complex industry expertise and approachable mom-and-pop care, which largely boils down to how people treat each other. Joe calls it “trust.” Cyrus calls it “character.” Both call it a good match.


Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.