Pasco leaders tout Bill McCurley's vision, generosity

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldMarch 10, 2013 

Car dealer, entrepreneur, philanthropist. Bill McCurley is all of these, but most of all, community leaders describe him as a man of vision and generosity.

As a young man, McCurley borrowed $500,000 and convinced a local Chevrolet dealer, W.I. "Tony" Osborne, to sell him the dealership. That was in 1981.

Through the years, McCurley, now 62, added more franchises. Now the umbrella of McCurley Integrity Dealerships includes Chevrolet, Mazda, Honda, Subaru, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz and a line of commercial Isuzu trucks. It draws customers from across the region, including Oregon, Walla Walla and all of southeast Washington.

"His business in Pasco has helped vault Pasco to what it is today," said Colin Hastings, executive director for the Pasco Chamber of Commerce. "He brings in a lot of sales tax revenue for the city."

McCurley's success has won him numerous awards in the business world. He recently was named one of four regional finalists for the national 2013 Time (magazine) Dealer of the Year.

But McCurley's tireless efforts on behalf of the Tri-City community also have earned him many awards from grateful organizations. He's a longtime member of the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, as well as local chambers of commerce. He was instrumental in bringing Washington State University Tri-Cities to Richland and was a member of the board of directors of the Tri-City Development Council from 1997 to 2004.

"He's always right there supporting economic development efforts in the Tri-Cities," said Carl Adrian, president and CEO of the Tri-City Development Council. "McCurley takes his work in the community as seriously as he does his business."

Hastings agrees.

"From my perspective, the business he built obviously centers around commerce, but there's also a huge amount of support he gives to the community and a lot of it goes unsung," Hastings said. "Over the years, Bill has done many, many fundraisers for nonprofits and encourages his employees to do the same."

Brian Ace, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties, said McCurley creates a culture of philanthropy around himself and isn't one to simply write checks.

"He allows his employees free rein to take on leadership roles in the community," Ace said. "He's extremely willing to be personally connected to the community and not just give gifts. He asks questions. What does the community need, and how are the various nonprofits and other organizations meeting those needs?

"He's very hands-on and sometimes that can be overbearing, but that's not Bill at all," Ace added. "He's always donating, sponsoring special events, giving in-kind donations, making personal investments of his time in the club."

Many of McCurley's charities and fundraisers involve children.

"I tend to look to the future and get involved with things that can influence the future," McCurley said. "Fun runs are for kids, sports are for kids. Education and scholarships are all kids; Kadlec's neonatal unit, that's kids again."

McCurley almost drove his life down another path. He hadn't planned to take on his father's Chevrolet-Buick car dealership in Valley City, N.D. He was a student at North Dakota State University -- in the pre-law program -- when his father, Wade McCurley, then 47, died suddenly in 1970.

He left school and convinced Chevrolet Motors Division management to allow him to take over the franchise. He was just 18.

McCurley never returned to college, but he has taken many marketing and sales classes. When he had to deal with tax codes, he asked a college accounting professor which textbooks he would recommend.

"I read those and taught myself what I needed," McCurley said. "That's how I treat education for myself. I find a problem, find a solution and solve it."

McCurley wound up in the Tri-Cities as a result of those problem-solving skills. In the 1970s, when he was running the family dealership in North Dakota, seven new car dealerships opened in town and the population of the region steadily dwindled.

He picked up a legal pad and made a list of 26 cities that would provide good business opportunities and a quality of life for his young family, then went knocking on doors.

"I saw opportunities in the West," McCurley said. "Pasco wasn't on the list, but I ran into a guy in Seattle who told me about the Tri-Cities."

He made Osborne an offer on the Chevrolet dealership. Osborne told him to come back in six weeks. McCurley did, and they struck a deal.

It was Osborne who built the landmark car showroom with the iconic giant dome in Pasco. It went up in 1980, according to Franklin County records. But it's coming down this spring.

"It's old and the panels, which are a type of plastic, after years of contraction and expansion, leak," McCurley said. "We can't keep them sealed. We've been battling that for five or six years. They're also brittle and irreplaceable."

The building's stairs also are noncompliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and can't be made so, he said. He's going to replace it with a new, larger building that conforms to the GMC image. He hopes to have the new building open for business this fall.

"It'll be plus or minus 17,000 square feet and have a new customer lounge, one more like what you see in an airport, with a children's area and a refreshment bar," McCurley said.

As for his future plans, McCurley said, "I'm somewhat retired. I'm not active in the day-to-day business, but I'm not gone either. I have great employees who work like a family.

"I'm always interested in expansion opportunities," he added, smiling.

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-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513;

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