ADVERTISEMENT
Advertise Here

Office Hours

Archive for April 2010

Itron CEO and workers meet with Obama in White House ceremony


President Obama on 2010 GDP Numbers






Itron CEO Malcolm Unsworth, along with other representatives of U.S. energy companies, met with President Barack Obama today (April 30) at the White House. (Associated Press photo found on www.whitehouse.gov)

Unsworth, who became CEO last year of metering-system powerhouse Itron last year, stands to the left of the president in this shot from a meeting in the Rose Garden. With Unsworth were two Itron manufacturing workers at the event, James Morris and Carla Reysack (far left).

The event saluted companies using federal stimulus money to help improve the country’s energy infrastructure.  A transcript of the proceedings is here.

Treasury consents to Sterling terms

The U.S. Treasury will accept a steep markdown of its investment in Sterling Financial Corp. as part of a recapitalization plan, the Spokane company announced today.

The markdown was a condition imposed by Thomas H. Lee Partners, which has committed $134.7 million to Sterling’s recapitalization.

Treasury in November 2008 invested $303 million from the Troubled Asset Relief Program in Sterling.

According to the terms of the agreement with Sterling and Lee, Treasury will get $75.8 million worth of common shares as payback, plus 6.4 million warrants to purchase shares at 20 cents apiece.

The warrants will be good for 10 years.

Sterling must raise a total $720 million in new capital to offset losses on its real estate and construction loans.

 

McKinstry buys Itron’s enterprise energy management software group

Seattle-based McKinstry, a major company in the design, build and management of energy efficient facilities, said it’s purchased the Enterprise Energy Management Suite of software services from Spokane’s Itron Inc.

The goal is using the technology to help integrate smart-grid planning into the other services McKinstry offers, the company CEO, Dean Allen, said in a release.

The Web-based EEM Suite is described as an integrating software platform that collects utility-related data (billing, energy use, times of highest consumption) so that owners and managers can better plan water and energy use. No sales price was disclosed.

McKinstry has an office in Spokane.

AmericanWest narrows losses

AmericanWest Bancorporation today reported a net loss for the first quarter of $8.5 million, or 50 cents per share, down significantly from prior quarter and prior year levels.

The Spokane parent of AmericanWest Bank lost $17.7 million, or $1.03 per share during the fourth quarter of 2009, and $14.5 million, or 84 cents per share, during the first quarter of 2009.

A $5 million provision for loan losses was the lowest since the third quarter of 2007.

Total assets, at $1.6 billion; net loans, at $1.2 billion; and deposits, at $1.4 billion, were off from first-quarter 2009 levels.

Capital levels remained significantly below regulatory requirements. The Tier 1 capital to average assets ratio was .21 percent at the holding company, and 2.78 percent at the bank, compared with the four percent required. 

Survey: 3 in 10 Washington workers worry about losing their jobs

Nearly a third of Washington residents are concerned about job security amid signs of a slow recovery, according to a new survey for Everest College.

When asked about the high unemployment rate, 29 percent of workers in the state said they were concerned about losing their job. Meanwhile, 36 percent of survey respondents say they are considering returning to school. Of those, 24 percent are employed and would like to enhance their careers, and 22 percent want to train for a new career, according to the second annual Washington State Workplace Confidence Survey conducted by Harris/Decima.

The survey indicated that 26 percent of Washingtonians indicated they would be very likely to change careers if nothing stood in their way, up from 19 percent in 2009.

“The lack of workplace confidence is understandable considering Washington was hit hard last year by the failing economy and went through one of its roughest years ever from a jobs standpoint,” said Wendy Cullen, vice president of employer development for Everest College.

The survey also found that workplace anxiety levels continue to be high, with nearly two-thirds of survey respondents claiming they suffer some form of work-related stress. The top stress factor was pay (26 percent), followed by fear of losing their job (17 percent).

The survey was conducted March 4-10 with 504 employed residents surveyed by telephone.

FDIC sponsors symposium on cyber crimes aimed at small business

Last Sunday The Spokesman-Review business section carried a story about the growing number of cyber crimes directed at small and midsized firms.

This week we find the FDIC (Federal Deposit and Insurance Corporation) is concerned about the same growing problem.

It’s hosting a day long symposium in Arlington, VA., on May 11, focusing on the increasing need by companies to work with law enforcement to contend with the threat.

The FDIC release said:  “Division of Supervision and Consumer Protection Director Sandra Thompson says the program is intended to raise awareness to the potential threats to commercial payments and explore best practices and technologies available to mitigate this risk.”

FDIC analysis of Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s (FinCEN) Suspicious Activity Reports indicates that bank losses related to computer intrusion or wire transfer have increased “significantly” as of last fall.

These schemes—also known as “corporate account takeovers”—typically involve compromised access credentials to online business banking software that are used to make fraudulent electronic funds transfers (EFTs) through the automated clearinghouse (ACH) and wire payment systems.

The illicit proceeds from these activities are often funneled through some type of fraudulent work-at-home scheme involving individuals who knowingly, or unknowingly, serve as “money mules” by forwarding funds to criminals outside the United States.


 

Sterling announces private investment, other steps to meet federal requirements

A Boston private equity firm will invest $134.7 million in struggling Sterling Financial Corp. as part of the Spokane company’s ongoing efforts to raise enough money to meet requirements imposed by federal regulators.

As part of that recapitalization effort, Sterling also said it entered into an exchange deal with the U.S. Treasury that will convert about $303 million in preferred shares held by Treasury to common stock worth about $75 million, the company said in a news release.

The two deals were described as linked, with the Treasury deal depending on Sterling signing the deal that will raise the $134.7 million from Thomas H. Lee Partners, L.P.

Company executives have said in the past that it’s rare for Treasury to accept such a steep discount on its investments, made as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Hoovers describes Thomas H. Lee as a “friendly leveraged buy-out company” that prefers to work with distressed companies to improve shareholder value.

Potlatch posts lower earnings

Potlatch Corp. posted lower first quarter earnings of $1.2 million today, compared to $24.8 million during the first quarter of 2009.

Last year’s earnings included $43 million in revenues from the sale of timber land in Arkansas.

Highlights from this quarter included a strengthening in the Spokane-based company’s timber and wood products divisions. Sales of sawlogs increased slighly and prices were also higher. Lumber shipments and lumber prices also increased. During the first quarter, Potlatch sold 2,435 parcels of rural recreational land for approximately $3.1 million.

Potlatch is a real estate investment trust with 1.6 million acres of timberland in Idaho, Arkansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.  

 

 

Pend Oreille PUD gets $27 million for broadband projects

The Pend Oreille Public Utility District is the recipient of $27 million in federal stimulus money.

Announced today by Wash. Sen. Patty Murray, the money will be used to create last-mile fiber to businesses and residents in the service area of the Pend Oreille PUD, which is based in Newport.

The plan is to provide fiber services and high-speed broadnband to as many as 3,200 homes, 360 businesses and 24 community groups and institutions, including schools.

This is the third in a string of broadband grants announced for regional recipients. The most recent announcement included a grant to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

A total of $87 million has been set aside for federal broadband stimulus projects.

 

Construction contracts multiply

The value of permits for future construction in Spokane County more than doubled in March, but was flat for the first three months of the year, according to McGraw-Hill Construction, an industry publication.

Activity in Kootenai County increased in March and during the quarter.

Although non-residential construction for the quarter fell 48 percent to $19.1 million in Spokane, that decline was more than offset by an 81 percent jump in residential construction, to $39.8 million.

The 2010 total was $58.9 million, compared with $58.7 million for the first quarter of 2009.

In March, non-residential construction rose 59 percent to $12.2 million. Residential permits almost tripled, to $22.4 million.

Total construction permits for the month were worth $34.6 million. 

In Kootenai County, permit value climbed 61 percent in March, to $20 million. Non-residential permits increased 89 percent to $4 million, residential permits 55 percent to $16.1 milion.

Permits for the first quarter grew 59 percent to $42.5 million, with non-residential work more than tripling to $13.3 million, and residential 29 percent to $29.2 million.   

Walmart hands out more than $5 million for state programs

Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and its charitable foundation contributed more than $5 million to Washington state programs during the fiscal year that ended Jan. 31, 2010.

The Eastern Washington area got some of the love. The Second Harvest Inland Northwest food bank, based in Spokane, received about $60,000 for its mobile food program, according to a company spokesman.

And the Inland Northwest Blood Center received $40,000 for its Growing the Be The Match blood type registry.

Aware of the condition of the economy, the Walmart foundation doubled its donations to U.S. s to food banks at a time when they are being accessed more than ever. Giving more than 127 million pounds of nutritious food—the equivalent of nearly 100 million meals—from Walmart stores, Walmart distribution centers and Sam’s Club locations, Walmart increased food donations by 81 million pounds over the previous year’s amount. 

Sterling stock rockets

Shares of Sterling Financial Corp. climbed more than 65 percent Friday on trading volume 15 times normal.

The stock, which closed at 87 cents Thursday, finished the Friday trading day at $1.45, and advanced another seven cents in after-hours trading.

The 16.2 million shares traded represent almost one-third of the 52 million Sterling shares outstanding.

Sterling spokeswoman Cara Coon said the company would not comment on the trading activity.

Banking regulators have ordered Sterling to raise $650 million in additional capital to help reinforce a balance sheet shredded by heavy losses in contruction and real estate loans. 

That effort is progressing, Coon said.

In a separate development, Sterling was ranked first among Northwest banks for customer satisfaction in a survey of 1,903 consumers by J.D. Power and Associates.  

Northwest Bancorporation returns to profitability

Northwest Bancorporation Thursday reported its first profitable quarter in more than a year.

The parent of Inland Northwest Bank earned $586,000 in the quarter ended March 31, a reversal from a loss of $256,000 for the first quarter of 2009. After allowing for preferred stock dividends and other adjustments, the gain per common share was 17 cents, compared with a 14-cent loss in the 2009 quarter.

Revenues for the quarter increased almost 16 percent, to $4.6 million, compared with 2009.

President Randall Fewel noted the bank benefited from an increase in interest margins to 4.04 percent, and improving non-interest income on average assets.

As of March 31, the bank had assets of $398.2 million, up for the year but one percent below March 2009 levels.

The bank has improved its “Texas Ratio,” a measure of credit soundness, from 36 percent to 27 percent, Fewel said, adding that the average ratio for banks headquartered in Washington was 100 percent.   

Tree planting revives Kendall Yards

With the planting of a tree, developer Jim Frank today revived the Kendall Yards development on the north bank of the Spokane River.

The first 18 units of the $25 million residential and commercial project, stalled by the financial problems of the previous developer, should be ready by the end of summer, Frank told a crowd of more than 100 gathered on the site between Bridge and Ohio avenues.

He said more Phase 1 units would also be underway, but street access is not yet available.

Four of the units have been pre-sold, and the buyers were enthusiastic about their future homes and the proximity to downtown.

“The developers have really done their homework,” said Gene Decheff, who with wife Cheryl will move into a two-bedroom townhouse, a radical down-sizing from their 10 acres on the West Plains.

GU’s MBA program gets national ranking

Gonzaga University’s master’s of business administration program ranked No. 58 in the most recent rankings for “part-time MBA programs” prepared by U.S. News & World Report.

In the specialty rankings, GU’s accounting program scored No. 31. Its entrepreneurship program was No. 24 (see item below on this blog for a summary of recent wins by GU students in the annual Hogan entrepreneurial award competition).

GU’s business ranking can be found at the magazine’s premium online edition, where the country’s top 200 part-time MBA programs are listed. The magazine’s print edition lists only the top 50 programs.

This is the first time GU’s MBA program was included in the ranking. It was one of four programs in Washington state rated and the only one in Eastern Washington.

Business plan winners announced

Gonzaga University undergraduate and graduate students swept the 10th Annual Business Plan Competition Tuesday.

A team led by Stratton Shook won the $7,500 Telect Entrepreneurial Venture Award for Community-Based business. The team developed a plan for Good Greetings LLC, an online greeting card company co-founded by Tom and Rene Bross.

The company, which produces cards on 100 percent recycled paper, has attracted customers from outside the Inland Northwest, Shook said, adding ” A win in this category allows the company to get its name out and be recognized within the Spokane community.”

The $7,500 Avista Social Impact Award went to Tracey Waring, a masters of business administration student at Gonzaga and Eastern Washington University.

The win in the Social Enterprise category was the second for Waring, who proposed a non-profit Hospitality House where people and resources could be connected.

A Gonzaga freshman, Jordan Lehrman, won the $10,000 Itron Knowledge to Shape Your Future Award that goes to Student-Based businesses.

He proposed Rent-A-Bike, which would lease bicycles to university students. He said he wants to launch the business at Gonzaga in the fall.

The winners were selected from 47 entries submitted by students from Gonzaga and EWU, as well as Washington State University, Whitworth University, and Spokane Community College.

Total prize money was boosted to $42,000 with $20,000 from the Herbert B. Jones Foundation.  

 

 

Camp Chevrolet pulls itself back into GM’s good graces

Last year, when General Motors went through bankruptcy, only one Spokane car dealer paid the price. That was the downtown Spokane Saturn dealership, which closed its doors earlier this year after GM stopped making Saturns.

Now it’s clear another Spokane dealer, Camp Chevrolet Cadillac, was on the chopping block, one of several hundred GM dealers nationwide notified they were to be closed down by October 2010.

GM was going through massive reorganization. It made those notices private, leaving it to dealers to decide whether to talk or not.

Not surprisingly, the owners of Camp, Lithia Motors Inc., based in Medford, didn’t say a word.

They did, however, start an appeal process, arguing against closing down Camp, which has 85 employees (not including workers in the separately operated Camp Subaru and BMW, on East Montgomery). They argued that Camp has a strong reputation and a solid customer base.

A more complete version of the story appears in Wednesday’s Spokesman-Review and on Spokesman.com.

Apple still not saying anything about Spokane retail store

Buy iPadOn Feb. 22 this year The Spokesman-Review reported that Apple Inc. was interested in launching — and hiring for — a Spokane downtown Apple Store.

The retail community got very excited, the Apple fan base got very enthusiastic.

But Apple’s spokespeople never would say when the store would come to town. A Craigslist ad said it would go into River Park Square, a downtown mall owned by The Cowles Co., the same company that owns The Spokesman-Review.

Recently, Apple Spokeswoman Amy Barney said the tech company has nothing new to add, other than what was earlier reported.

Efforts to get more information on whether the first plan has changed, and when any store would arrive, have not been successful.

Spokane visitor numbers increase

Spokane County hotels have sold substantially more rooms so far in 2010, and bookings for future business are up dramatically, the president of the Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau said today.

Harry Sladich said a survey by Smith Travel Research Inc. showed increased business has also allowed operators to raise room rates, something hotels in only two of seven benchmark cities in the West were able to do  barely. 

Rooms sold in March jumped 17 percent over March 2009 because of the NCAA Basketball tournament and Pacific Northwest Qualifier, a volleyball tournament that attracted 400 teams, he said.

Rates were up 5 percent, compared with increases of less than 1 percent in Portland and Albuquerque, and decreases in Boise, Seattle, Tacoma, Salt Lake City, and Sacramento.

So far in 2010, rooms sold are up almost 12 percent, and rates more than 3 percent. Rates have fallen in all the benchmark cities.

Bookings for future business jumped 264 percent compared with March 2009, indicating business associations were shaking off concerns travel might be frowned on the way it was during the worst days of the recession.

Agora Award finalists announced

A clinic, a cellar, and a caterer are among the finalists for the 2010 Agora Awards announced today by Greater Spokane Incorporated.

For small non-profits, the finalists are Christ Clinic, Spokane Humane Society, and Tincan.

Among the large non-profits, Catholic Charities of Spokane, The Salvation Army of Spokane, and YMCA of the Inland Northwest are the remaining contestants.

Caffe Paradiso, Catered for You Inc., Design Source Inc. and Stewart & Associates PS are the finalists for the small business award.

In the medium business category, the finalists are Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, Coffman Engineers Inc., DeVries Business Services and Nystrom Olson Collins Inc.

And the large business group contains Advantage IQ Inc., CH2M Hill Inc., Inland Empire Distribution Systems Inc., and Moss Adams LLP.

The winners will be announced at a June 2 breakfast. 

SiteCrafting moving to downtown Spokane building

SiteCrafting, a Web development company with headquarters in Tacoma, will move its Spokane office to 152 S. Jefferson, in downtown Spokane. Company President Brian Forth said the move is expected to be done by May 1.

For the past year it’s occupied leased space in the Sirti Building at the Riverpoint campus.

Forth said the Spokane office has two fulltime workers. It may grow by another five later this year, he said.

Earth Day events at Spokane’s Main Market Coop

As part of Earth Day 2010 celebrations, downtown Spokane’s Main Market Cooperative will host store tours on Saturday and offer store demonstrations throughout the day.

The coop is at 44 W. Main in downtown.

Executive Director Jennifer Hall said tours of the building and market will be at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Local company MaidNaturally will host a booth in front of the market on Saturday, showcasing and offering samples of cleaning products. The market’s hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Magnuson Hotels see growth in total reservations

Spokane-based Magnuson Hotels, which represents more than 1,500 independent hotels and lodges, reports that its affiliate businesses saw reservation revenue increase by 65 percent, comparing April 2010 with one year earlier.

The growth occurred in large part due to an increase of 444 hotels joining the Magnuson group, said company CEO Tom Magnuson.

Industry-wide, reservations in the U.S. hospitality business are struggling as the economy continues to limp along. Overall, the hospitality industry in this country has seen eight straight quarters of decreased sales, said Magnuson.

Magnuson provides reservation and purchasing services for affiliate hotels.

Sterling adopts rights plan

Sterling Financial Corp. has implemented a shareholder rights plan to protect tax assets accumulated as it reported substantial operating and capital losses in recent quarters.

The assets, $269 million, can be used to offset an equal amount of future profits. But, said Vice President Dave Brukardt, their value could be lost or diminished if non-institutional investors that each own five percent of Sterling common stock build their collective position by more than 50 percent within three years.

Unlike most rights plans, Sterling’s is not intended to be a defense against a hostile takeover, he said.

Brukardt said the rights plan was adopted as part or Sterling’s ongoing recapitalization plan, which calls for $650 million in new financing.

Sterling has suffered severe losses on loans backing real estate development in the Northwest and California.

Local foreclosure rates increase

The March real estate foreclosure rate in Spokane County jumped 81 percent compared with February. The rate in Kootenai County also climbed.

According to RealtyTrac, 107 homes were foreclosed in Spokane last month, or one in every 1,844 homes. Only 59 homes were foreclosed in February, or one in every 3,344.

In Kootenai County, there were 216 foreclosures, up from 177 in February. The rate of one-per-279 homes was a 22 percent increase from the one-per-390 in February.

But the rate for Kootenai County was a 26 percent improvement on March 2009, while the Spokane rate was up almost 53 percent year-over-year.

Foreclosures increased 17 percent in Washington compared with March, but fell compared with March 2009.

The Idaho rate climbed 14 percent from February, and 29 percent from March 2009. 

City’s 2010 SMART business awards go to 47 Spokane firms

The city of Spokane recently gave out SMART —  sustainable management of assets, resources and technology — awards to 47 businesses for their efforts in cutting waste and reducing energy use.

This is the second SMART group getting the recognition (and window stickers, shown above) for cutting energy use, for recycling materials and significantly consuming less water.  The first SMART group of about 40 firms were honored in 2008.

The full list of the 2010 group is at www.developingspokane.org.  The honorees range from used-records retailer 4000 Holes to well-established major companies such as Access Telecom and Ross Printing Co.

The SMART program was developed by the city’s Business & Development Services Department in partnership with Avista, Eastern Washington University and the Washington State Department of Ecology.

 

Power Council predicts adequate supply despite low river flows

The electricity supply in the Northwest will remain adequate this spring and summer despite low runoff levels in the Columbia River Basin, where hydroelectric dams provide more than half of the region’s electricity, an analysis by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council shows.

“Low flows will reduce hydropower generation below normal, but there is no danger of a serious curtailment to electricity service, according to our analysis,” Council Chairman Bruce Measure said in a press statement today. “The power available from generating plants, including hydropower dams, wind turbines, and power plants that burn fossil fuels, is more than adequate to meet the anticipated demand for electricity this year.”

The precipitation since last October is 79 percent of normal, and snowpack is 73 percent of normal, in the Columbia basin, reports the Northwest River Forecast Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A year ago, the basin’s snowpack was 91 percent of normal.

Based on snow and rainfall to date, the forecast for runoff through the end of August is much lower than normal — just 65 percent of average measured at The Dalles Dam. If that estimate proves accurate, this would be the second-lowest runoff year since 1992.

ZAP acquires technology developed at PNNL

A CalifornPHEV Smart Charger by PNNL - Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.ia electric car company called ZAP has licensed a battery-charger controller developed by the folks at the Pacific Northwest National Lab in the Tri-Cities.

ZAP has made trucks and electric vehicles for customers in more than 70 countries.

It announced it will use the controller (or time scheduler) to determine the best time for charging up an electric vehicle’s lithium-ion batteries.

The controller technology allows electric car owners to recharge their rides at times of lowest cost and least stress on the grid.

The ZAP deal is a non-exclusive arrangement, a press release noted.

 ”ZAP believes the patented smart car charging technology is an important feature to ensure the environmental viability of electric cars,” said ZAP Founder and Director of Business Development, Gary Starr.

 

Papa John’s returning to Spokane

Three Papa John’s restaurants closed suddenly in January will be reopened, starting Wednesday.

Preston House, owner of six Boise-area Papa John’s, said the relaunch of the 101 N. Argonne Rd. store will be followed by reopenings Thursday at 920 W. Indiana Ave. and Monday at 2023 E. Wellesley Ave.

He said he has hired 40-plus employees, including more than a dozen who lost their jobs when a former franchisee abruptly closed 12 stores in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

More Papa John’s may be reopened, House said, although loss of the lease on the South Hill location will force a relocation there. 

House said he is offering signing bonuses to the former employees, who did not receive their final paychecks from the former operator.

 

Dry Fly Distilling will start contract distilling

Click to Enter

Spokane’s Dry Fly Distilling saw its liquid assets disappear quickly last month.

That was the day of the distillery’s second release of its all-wheat Washington Whiskey. The distillery store was sold out in 60 minutes. And those retail state liquor stores given allotments (which were not a lot of bottles) sold out in several hours, said Don Poffenroth, a co-founder. The next whiskey release will be in June.

In the meantime, thanks to legislation adopted in Olympia this past session, Dry Fly now has a higher cap on total distilling volume. The first move to take advantage of that change, said Poffenroth, is for Dry Fly to do some contract distilling.

One area farm has signed up so far, he noted. That custom job will start and end in the summer, as grains are harvested. Dry Fly expects to continue locking up other bottling jobs over the next 12 months.

Washington Policy Center starts statewide small business tour

Lead the Way coverThe Washington Policy Center has started its own small business improvement campaign, with a 24-stop barnstorming tour this year, meeting with people to address business reform.

The center, based in Seattle and with an Eastern Washington office in Spokane, dubs this campaign “Lead the Way: Small Business and the Road to Recovery.” The WPC (at washingtonpolicy.org) is a conservative education and research group.

Along with the visits to small business owners, the center will advocate for 24 ideas it considers essential to business reform

They range from market-determined Net “neutrality” to reforms in L&I plans and health insurance. The center has the full Lead the Way report on its site.

To see the itinerary, go to the extended jump.

Spokane’s jobs scene improves

More people found work in the Spokane area last month, bringing the unemployment rate down to 10.5 percent. It was 11.3 percent in February, and stood at 9.7 percent one year ago.

Spokane County had an estimated 214,500 employed people in March, or about 2,400 more than in February, the state Employment Security Department reported this morning. The number of unemployed was about 25,000, down from nearly 27,000 the month before.

In a sign the local economy is turning the corner on job losses, employment gains occurred across most industries, said Regional Labor Economist Doug Tweedy in Spokane.

A significant part of the employment gain last month was in seasonal hires by employers who delayed hiring because of the lingering effects of the recession, Tweedy said.

Construction and retail trades, two of the hardest hit industries during this recession, posted 400 job gains in March. Professional and technical trades added another 300 jobs.

Trader Joe’s article adds about 700 new fans to Spokane Facebook group

More than 45 readers jumped into the discussion on Monday’s story about the active efforts on Facebook to get a Spokane Trader Joe’s store.

The comments are all over the map, from hating all things Californian, to debating what is or isn’t deserving of the name “organic.”

Spokane resident Nova Duft, who started the Facebook page, Trader Joe’s Spokane, stayed out of the fray and reports all the publicity only helped the effort.

By 4 p.m. on Monday, the added attention led to more than 700 (changed from yesteday’s 220) new fans to the Spokane Trader Joe’s Facebook page. The net result is now well more than 6,500 fans for that group, Duft said.

 

Moscow WalMart closing, workers to relocate to Pullman

MOSCOW, Idaho — WalMart announced it will be closing its Moscow location and transferring more than 200 employees to the Pullman super center, which is currently under construction.

The Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports about 100 new employees also will be hired for the Pullman store.

County health district shows restaurant inspection reports online

If you have concerns about which Spokane area restaurants have done poorly, or perfectly, in county health inspections, the best way to find out is to use an online tool.

The Spokane Regional Health District has online inspection reports for nearly all of the county’s restaurants and fast food places.

It’s part of the county health district’s ongoing effort to give more information to consumers and taxpapers.

The food inspection search site is here (http://www.srhd.org/inspections/search.asp)

It contains searches and reports of health violations going back to 2005. One thing does seem lacking — a clear explanatory guide to the numbering and rating system. You can find it elsewhere at www.srhd.ogr, but it should be so crystal-clear a caveman can understand it.

GSI hosts manufacturing town hall meeting Tuesday in downtown Spokane

Greater Spokane Incorporated will focus on the area’s manufacturing sector in a Tuesday morning town hall session at the Red Lion Hotel in downtown Spokane.

Bob Weidner, president and CEO of Metals Service Center Institution, will be the keynote speaker on how public policy in manufacturing impacts companies, individuals and communities.

The public meeting and discussion will run from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m.

To register, go here. Tickets are $25 for GSI members, $30 otherwise.

The gathering will review what’s happened to the area’s manufacturing sector and survey initiatives to create more jobs in that sector.

Two Idaho resorts offering skiing this weekend

Recent snowfall is encouraging area skiers to haul up to the mountains to get in some runs before the 2009-10 season shuts down.

Both Schweitzer Mountain Resort and Silver Mountain Ski Resort will have skiing this weekend.

Schweitzer, in Sandpoint, will offer runs all day Saturday and Sunday.

Silver Mountain, in Kellogg, will only offer skiing on Saturday. The other area resorts at 49 Degrees North and Mount Spokane have closed.

John Williams, a spokesman for Silver Mountain, said conditions might warrant keeping the resort open on Saturday April 17.

For certain, Silver’s final ski day will be April 24. That’s the date of the “lead man” competition, combining downhill, biking and running as an alternative to Coeur d’Alene’s Ironman event later this year.

 

Hispanics’ buying power increases in Idaho

The recession took a significant bite out of Idaho’s economy in 2009 but didn’t stop the growth of Hispanics’ economic influence, the state Department of Labor reports.

Hispanic buying power grew 10 times faster than the buying power of the state’s non-Hispanic residents, according to estimates from the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

Realtors report burst of home sales in first quarter

Realtors today reported a burst of home sales in Spokane County during the first three months of the year.

Residential sales of single-family homes and condos on less than an acre were up 23.2 percent over the first quarter of 2009, according to the Spokane Association of Realtors.

The group reported 790 closed sales during the January-March period, up from 641 a year ago.

The pickup in sales corresponds with a surge in interest among homebuyers taking advantage of a federal homebuyer tax credit. The popular tax credit, which expires April 30, has benefited millions of first-time and move-up buyers purchasing new homes.

Another reason for rising sales may be falling prices. The median price of Spokane County homes sold in the first quarter was nearly $160,000, which is $15,000 less than homes sold in the first three months of 2009. Realtors say first-time homebuyers are drawn to those prices.

The average sales price in the first quarter was $177,480, down from $200,125 in 2009.

More homes were listed for sale in the first quarter: 2,897 versus 2,138 in the first three months of 2009.

Full economic recovery still years off

The economic recovery is on the horizon, but it will take four years or longer to erase the stain of the recession, an economist and a marketing professional told business and community leaders in Spokane this morning.

“I’m reasonably, vaguely optimistic” the Inland Northwest is headed into a recovery, said Grant Forsyth, professor of economics at Eastern Washington University.

This will be a modest year of employment growth, Forsyth predicted. The unemployment rate in the Spokane area will remain around 9 percent through 2010, he said.

The region also can expect little wage growth this year, he told a gathering hosted by Greater Spokane Incorporated at The Davenport Hotel.

Forsyth said the economy here is turning around, but he estimated it will take until summer 2013 to reach the employment peak seen in March 2008.

WSU to get smart grid training money

Washington State University will get $2.5 million to teach students about green engineering and smart grid technology, Sen. Maria Cantwell announced on Thursday.

WSU along with two other state groups will share more than $11 million going to smart-grid related training, Cantwell’s office said in a media release.

The $11 million is part of $100 million in grid funding announced by the Department of Energy, for 54 projects nationwide. The federal money is to be combined with $95 million provided by the institutions and partnering companies and manufacturers.

Centralia College will get $5 million for training utility workers in the Pacific Northwest.

And Incremental Systems Corp., in Issaquah, will get $3.6 million to train operators, engineers and military veterans.

South Hill hangout, The Hop Shop, opens


View Larger Map

Brothers Andy and Glen Gardner have opened the South Hill hangout, The Hop Shop, at 3803 S. Grand.

The Spokane businessmen said their shop will be a friendly neighborhood place with a premium on people talking to one another and enjoying company.

“There’s no TV, no Wi-Fi and just fine music,” Andy Gardner said. “People will have to sit or stand and look each other in the eye.”

This is the first business the brothers have operated together, said Glen Gardner.

Beers on tap and in bottles will be served, along with wine by the glass or bottle.

Hours are 4 p.m. until close, Tuesday through Sunday.

Washington unemployment fund among healthiest

Washington’s unemployment compensation fund is among the healthiest in the nation, according to a study by the National Employment Law Project.

With $2.1 billion in reserves as of March 31, the study ranked the Washington system ninth strongest among the 13 still solvent after more than two years of heavy job losses around the United States.

The reserves, more than twice that of any other state, are enough to sustain payments for another 10 months.

The $1 billion in the Lousiana fund will cover payments there for the next 21 months.

California, with a deficit of $8.4 billion, is the most insolvent of the 33 state funds that have turned to the federal government for $38.7 billion in loans that allow them to continue payments to unemployed workers.  

Order issued against mortgage modifier

A California-based company has been ordered to stop soliciting homeowners seeking modifications to the terms of their mortgages.

The Idaho Department of Finance wants the Relief Law Center, also doing business as USA Loan Auditors, to stop what Director Gavin Gee called “among the most outrageous” attempts to get homeowner money by suggesting their mortgages might be involved in a predatory lending investigation.

Those who call the company are asked for $1,200 in upfront fees.

Fairfield nursing home to close in June

The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society will close its Fairfield nursing home in June.


Spokesman Mark Dickerson said the facility was losing about $300,000 a year because occupancy was low. The facility has 43 skilled nursing beds, 10 assisted-living apartments and 16 senior-living apartments, but typically had fewer than 30 residents, he said.


“That center has been struggling for years,” Dickerson said.


He said Good Sam put the Fairfield campus on the block last July, but had no takers.


Over the next 60 days, he said, Good Sam will help residents find new homes and employees new jobs. Some could be transferred to a Good Sam facility in Spokane Valley, he added.


Good Sam also has campuses in Silverton and Moscow.


Dickerson said he does not know what will become of the Fairfield campus buildings, which he said may be more than 50 years old.

Huppin’s will showcase the Masters Golf Tournament in 3-D

Comcast this year is setting up demonstrations of  the 2010 Masters Golf Tournament using 3-D television. The easiest place to see it, in and around Spokane, is at the downtown Huppin’s HiFi, Photo and Video store, 421 W. Main.

The when: Thursday and Friday, 1 to 3 p.m. Pacific Time, inside the store.

Huppin’s has set up a 55-inch Samsung 3-D TV to showcase the new technology, said store manager Mike Reynolds.

“I’m impressed,” he said. He spent time Wednesday watching a par-3 3-D showcase on the Samsung LCD screen. And  now says he gets it.

“I put on the glasses and yeah, I thought it was pretty cool.”

Murray Huppin, the company president, said the event should give golf fans and 3-D aficionados a good opportunity to see how far the technology has evolved.

The Samsung 3-D model sells for about $3,000, not including bells and whistles and installation.

Homebuyers scramble as mortgage rates jump

The era of record-low mortgage rates is over, reports The Associated Press today.

The average rate on a 30-year loan has jumped from about 5 percent to more than 5.3 percent in just the past week. As mortgages get more expensive, more would-be homeowners are priced out of the market — a threat to the fragile recovery in the housing market.

And if you wanted to refinance at a super-low rate, you may have missed your chance. Rates under 4 percent are still available, but only for loans that reset in five or seven years, probably to higher rates.

For people putting their homes on the market this spring, rising rates may actually be a good thing. Buyers are racing to complete their purchases and lock in something decent before rates go even higher.

North Idaho College receives federal funds to train new health workers

North Idaho College has landed a $625,000 grant to train 300 health information technology professionals statewide.

The funds are part of a $6.2 million grant awarded to eight community colleges in a 10-state region. The colleges will be responsible for training 2,400 students over a two-year period, a news release from NIC said.

This is “an unprecedented multistate effort to train students in an emerging high-growth employment sector,” said Jack Purdie, NIC grants coordinator.

Coldwater Creek’s North Idaho call center building for lease

Coldwater Creek is looking to sublease an empty office building it constructed in 2007 at 745 Hanley in Coeur d’Alene.

Originally meant as a second call center for the Sandpoint-based women’s clothing retailer, Coldwater Creek never occupied the building as the economy slipped off the tracks.

The empty CDA building  has two floors of open commercial space. Each floor has roughly 23,000 square feet of Class A space, said Chris Bell, the NAI Black agent representing Coldwater Creek.

Each floor can be divided into 11,000 square foot units as well, Black noted.

The building is due east of Coldwater Creek’s main Coeur d’Alene call center, which was built in 2000.

View Larger Map

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare announces layoffs, office closures

In a move that’s expected to save $7 million, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare will lay-off 126 employees and close nine of its 29 offices.

“Hopefully things will recover,” said Tom Shanahan, a spokesman. “We’re worried about future cuts more than anything. We just don’t know what 2011 brings if state revenues don’t start picking up.”

Bonners Ferry is among the offices slated for closure, and although the St. Maries office will remain open, it won’t offer walk-in public assistance. The offices in Coeur d’Alene, Ponderay and Kellogg will remain open.

Contract awarded for federal courthouse upgrades

The federal government plans to spend about $31.3 million to upgrade the Thomas S. Foley U.S. Courthouse in Spokane, making it a “high-performance green building,” the U.S. General Services Administration announced today.


Lydig Construction Inc. of Spokane and McKinstry of Seattle were awarded the design-build contract for the project. The team also includes Integrus Architecture, DEI Electrical Consultants, and Power City Electric, all of Spokane.


Construction is expected to begin this summer or fall and wrap up by summer 2012, said Ross Buffington, a GSA spokesman.

Avista selects open-standards wireless system for smart grid communications in Spokane

California communications company Tropos Networks has signed a $1.7 million contract to provide wireless services for Avista Utilities’ smart grid energy network.

A press release today said Avista selected Tropos’ “GridCom” mesh network system for full, two-way communications from substations to “smart” devices being installed across the Spokane electrical system grid.

Spokesman Hugh Imhof said the contract with Tropos allows Avista to install the network equipment and has Tropos providing ongoing support. The same network, not included in this contract, will be used in the Avista pilot Smart Grid project for Pullman.

Avista made the selection after reviewing a range of other industry options, the press release said.

The Spokane area upgrade to the smart grid system will run about $42 million. Of that, $20 million will come from federal stimulus money, said Imhof.

So, what’s in it for Avista’s roughly 365,000 power customers?

 

Agents raid business suspected in Ponzi scheme

Washington state troopers and agents with the Internal Revenue Service raided the Spokane offices today of Team Spirit America, which has been fined by state regulators for operating what clients have alleged in court is a Ponzi scheme.

The troopers and IRS agents, identified with their uniforms as being part of the Criminal Investigative Division, seized a Mercedes car outside the office, at 1801 W. Broadway Ave.

None of the persons involved in the raid was immediately available for comment.

But just last month, the Washington Department of Financial Institutions announced that it was seeking a $150,000 fine from Colbert resident Doris Nelson, who is manager of Little Loan Shoppe and several other related entities. Nelson manages Team Spirit America, which has taken over affairs for Little Loan Shoppe, according to newspaper archives.

A second new hotel coming to Pullman?

Last month a California property company announced plans to buy land in Pullman to build a Hilton-branded hotel and convention center.

Something must be happening in Pullman.

Now a Louisiana company, InterMountain Management, LLC, has plans to build a 100-room, $11.5-million Hampton Inn & Suites in the southeast corner of Pullman.

Director of Development Stan Jones said InterMountain is preparing to  close on roughly four acres near the intersection of Bishop Blvd. and Fairmount Drive.

“The decision by the other company is purely coincidental to our plan,” said Jones.

He said InterMountain, based in Monroe, La., has found that Pullman is underserved for quality lodging and accommodations.

Jones said it seems odd to him that Hilton Hotels  – which also owns the Hampton Inn & Suites division — would add two new hotels in the same relatively small city. “But that is a question for Hilton,” Jones said.

Moses Lake selected for BMW parts plant

SEATTLE — The companies planning to build a parts plant for lightweight BMW cars have selected a site at Moses Lake in central Washington because of the availability of hydroelectric power, The Associated Press reports.

The decision by SGL Group and BMW AG was announced today at a news conference in Seattle.

Gov. Chris Gregoire worked to land the factory. Its $100 million initial investment will create 80 jobs.

The carbon fiber parts made at the plant will be used in BMW’s upcoming Megacity electric vehicle. The urban car is set to be launched before 2015. It will be assembled in Leipzig, Germany.

Tate Technology wins small business award

Tate Technology Inc. of Spokane will receive the U.S. Small Business Administration Family-Owned Business Award for Washington and Region 10 at a Seattle banquet Thursday.

The custom manufacturer of electrical components employs 32 at its Trent Avenue plant. Annual sales are about $4 million.

Lee Tate founded the company in 1992. Son Scott, who earned a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Utah,  joined Tate in 2007 after working for a industrial controls supplier.

Daughter Tracy Cavanagh works for Itron Inc.

Fewer Washington employers cover health care

Fewer Washington employers are offering health insurance, according to the state Employment Security Department.

An annual department survey determined the share  fell 1.6 percentage points in 2009, from 56.5 percent to 54.9 percent. The drop in 2008 was almost 10 percent, which followed smaller declines in the previous three years.

The study also showed that average premiums for employees increased from $358 per month to $366 per month, in part because employers paid a smaller share of the cost.

But more companies offered retirement plans, and more paid days off.

Energy Northwest joins nuclear waste lawsuit

Energy Northwest has joined other utilities in a lawsuit challenging continued imposition of a surcharge on electricity generated from nuclear power plants.

The operator of the Columbia Generating Station and other plaintiffs want the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia to stop U.S. Department of Energy collection of a one-tenth-cent fee on every kilowatt-hour of power.

The suit claims the department is violating the 1982 law that established the fee because an annual “adequacy” review has not accounted for termination of work on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

Energy Northwest spokeswoman Rochelle Olson said the fee has cost Washington ratepayers almost $290 million since its reactor near Richland went into service in 1984.

The Nuclear Waste Fund has a balance of $24 billion.

Take another look for unclaimed cash, agency says

The Washington Department of Revenue is encouraging everyone to take another look at its online database of unclaimed cash, because the agency recently added another $87 million owed to 410,000 individuals.

“Even if you didn’t find any unclaimed property at http://claimyourcash.org the last time you looked, it’s time to check again,” the department said this week in a news release.

The database has more than 3 million names, making the odds of finding your own name or that of someone you know 50-50, the department said. Businesses are required by law to report unclaimed property in November. That’s defined as property they have held for at least three years and have been unable to return to rightful owners, including unclaimed paychecks, utility deposits, bank accounts, refunds, stocks and bonds and contents from safe deposit boxes.

 

Idaho employment gain best in six years

Idaho employers boosted employment by 2,700 in March, the best monthly gain in six years.

The increase was enough to trim the state unemployment rate by .1 percent, to 9.4 percent. The number had not fallen for 32 months.

The rate in Coeur d’Alene dropped .6 percent to 10 percent thanks to the hiring of 125 additional workers.

The decrease for Kootenai County matched that for the city as more than 900 residents found work.

Other North Idaho counties did not make progress.The unemployment rate in Bonner County held at 13.1 percent, but Benewah County’s rose to 16.5 percent, Boundary County’s to 15.5 percent, and Shoshone County’s to 15 percent.   

Valley Walmart starts renovation

Spokane Valley’s Walmart store at 15727 E. Broadway has begun a facelift, company officials announced today.

Walmart moved into the store in 2002. A press release said the new design will feature a clean and brighter interior with wider aisles, low-profile shelves and easy to read signs.

The Bentonville, Ark., company has hired about 75 additional workers to help with the remodel, according to the release. The store will stay open thoughout the renovation, which is expected to finish in June. The work will largely be done overnight to avoid disrupting daytime shopping.

Airport traffic off slightly in February

Boardings at Spokane International Airport declined slightly in February, but numbers for the first two months of 2010 remain above 2009 totals.

In February, 106,314 passengers embarked at SIA, off 2.71 percent from February 2009. The total for January and February was 441,092, up less than 1,000 from 2009.

Freight tonnage at SIA and Felts Field decreased for the month, and the year so far.

Other Felts Field operatons increased more than 16 percent for February, and so far in 2010

BBB warns of recent Bank of Whitman scams

The Better Business Bureau serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana has noticed a rash of spam efforts directed at people who might be members of the Bank of Whitman.

The BBB said, in an announcement, that people are getting message purportedly from the bank.

The messages cover a variety of possible contact reasons; “your account is closed” or “your account needs to be updated” are two examples mentioned. Some come in text messages, others in e-mail.

As with any curious or unexpected message from any bank, the BBB wants people to avoid responding. That’s rule one.

Health district on the hunt for workplace smoking

The Spokane Regional Health District has begun its own kind of emphasis patrol, seeking to find, educate and if necessary, punish businesses that violate the state’s Smoking in Public Places law. The health district is adding a part-time staffer to investigate an additional 40 complaints a month.

The law, which took effect in 2005, made it illegal to smoke inside any public building or place of employment, and within 25 feet of entrances, exits, windows that open, and ventilation intakes. The public is encouraged to report businesses that aren’t complying, at (509) 232-1707, or online at www.srhd.org/services/tobaccolaw.asp

Get blog updates by email

About this blog

The Spokesman-Review business team follows economic development in Spokane and the Inland Northwest.

Sign up for our business email newsletter
Latest comments »

Read all the posts from recent conversations on Office Hours.

Contributors

John Stucke John Stucke is a deputy city editor who helps build local news coverage and writes about health care, bankruptcy and rural affairs.

Recent work by John

Alison Boggs (@alisonboggs) Online Producer Alison Boggs posts and manages content on spokesman.com and its social networking accounts.

Recent work by Alison

Scott Maben Scott Maben is a Deputy City Editor who covers North Idaho news and higher education.

Addy Hatch is the city editor, and formerly was business editor.

Search this blog
Subscribe to this blog
ADVERTISEMENT
Advertise Here