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Archive for July 2010

Savory will try to have a patio for more than three months of the year

The restaurant Savory is what’s going into the building at 1314 S. Grand, formerly where Blockbuster Video was.

We meant to run a rendering in our Friday Here’s the Dirt column, which provides the key details on who’s behind it and what they’re planning. We never ran it due to a space shortage. So here it is.

The location doesn’t easily allow for a patio, but the design, shown in the rendering, explains what the goal is. The patio will be in the triangle just east or left of the building. It will butt up against the sidewalk along Grand.

One of Savory’s owners, Steve Herrmann, said the patio will stay open as long as possible with a number of aids, such as trees for a windbreak and a heater.

They hope to open Savory in September.

Credit for the rendering here is Josh Hissong, of Spokane Restaurant Equipment & Design, and Armando Hurtado of Nystrom & Olson architects. 

Sawtooth Grill not ready to reopen, yet

The blog post on Thursday, about the raft of new restaurants hereabouts, noted we weren’t sure then what the owner of the Sawtooth Grill would do, following closing down on Saturday.

Late in the day we got a call from owner Jim Simonson, who lives in Seattle.
Simonson says he’s looking for another Spokane location, but hasn’t found it yet.

“I want to find a location away from downtown,” he said. Simonson said he’ll keep The SR informed on his plans.

A further note:  our list of new eateries yesterday could have included the new Five Guys Burgers shop, up on 29th, and the the Flying Goat, on Northwest Blvd. There are even more new restaurants apparently in the wings.

Teens learn work skills. And downtown gets murals adding color and a little wackiness

Spokane pedestrians and drivers should see some new murals in downtown Spokane.

A message from the Spokane Arts Commission explains that work has finished on the “Wacky World of Harold Balazs”  at  the Fourth Avenue railroad underpass east of Sunset Boulevard. Another is at the Monroe Street underpass is finished with a theme of “Big River/Wild River.

Another mural, featuring the Manito Koi Pond, has gone up on the underpass at Lincoln across from the Steamplant Square.

The business connection: these works are the result of young artists from WorkSource Spokane’s Next Generation Zone, who worked along with student volunteers from local colleges and universities. The WorkSource NextGen Zone project finds jobs for young people who learn job skills while doing interesting or useful things. This year the result was six weeks of mural work, done by a number of talented kids with a desire to paint and do something creative. They were supervised by Spokane artist Melissa Cole, who was hired by the City of Spokane Arts Commission.

For more information on WorkSource’s Next Generation Zone, go to this site. According to Karen Mobley of the arts commission, this was the first summer-mural collaboration between WorkSource and the city in several years.

PHOTO: Duane Ralphs for Spokane Arts Department.

A large number of eateries are opening across town

A raft of new restaurants are spreading across the Inland Northwest.

We’ve spotted about 10 new or expanded locations here and in North Idaho. They include the White House Grill on the South Hill, Savory, Italia Trattoria in Browne’s Addition, Ciao Mambo going into the Lincoln Plaza building downtown, and the Manito Brewing Co.  If you know of others, leave a comment here or offer more information.

One interesting new business is the planned Sushi Maru, moving this fall into downtown Spokane. It would be the fourth restaurant operated by Bellevue-based Sushi Maru group. All  those places use the kaiten approach to sushi.

Kaiten is the style of serving food in which conveyor belts (or water channels, in some instances) move plates of food past dining tables. Customers grab whatever plate strikes their fancy.

Sushi Maru owner Paul Choi is taking the spot in River Park Square occupied since 2000 by Sawtooth Grill. Disclosure: RPS is run by the Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

We left a message for the Sawtooth Grill manager to call us with plans for that business, but haven’t heard yet. Choi said he intends to open Spokane’s first Sushi Maru by Black Friday this fall. Photo here is of Choi’s main restaurant in Bellevue.

Foreclosure rate low, but accelerating

The foreclosure rate in Spokane County ranked among the lowest in the United States during the first half of 2010, but the rate of increase between January and June was also among the nation’s highest.

Among 206 metropolitan areas surveyed by RealtyTrak, Spokane ranked 177th, with one home in 292 subject to some kind of foreclosure action. The national rate is one in every 78 homes.

Although the Spokane rate was two percent lower than that for the first half of 2009, since January the rate has more than doubled. RealtyTrak, which monitors foreclosure activity nationwide, said the rate increased in 154 of the markets surveyed.

The Northwest city with the highest foreclosure rate was Boise, where one in every 37 homes was in jeopardy. Boise was the only city outside of Nevada, Florida, California or Florida to rank among the 25 hardest-hit communities, coming in at 22nd.

Other major Northwest included in the survey, with their rankings, are: Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, one of every 77 homes, 66th; Seattle-Tacoma-Belleveue, one of every 106 homes, 97th; and Olympia, one of every 148 homes, 139th.

Yakima was ranked 181st with one of every 303 homes, and the Tri-Cities was 190th with one out of every 422 homes.  

Oaks Education Association gets a free year of broadband, through Integra Telecom

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Integra Telecom Inc. just provided Oaks Education of Spokane a year of free T1 Internet service.

The telecom and Internet provider made the selection through a random drawing from names of worthy nonprofits submitted by people in the community. Oaks Education Association runs a Christian Academy in Spokane Valley.

The donation of free T1 broadband service is part of Integra’s Community Matters program, which supports initiatives and organizations that benefit the lives of people in the communities that Integra serves.

The drawing was held this week at Integra’s new Spokane office in downtown. Joe Shogan, city council president, drew the winning entry.

Western Washington University X Prize car also out of the running


Another update from the Automotive X Prize competition.

We’ve reported that Spokane’s electric car, the Tango, developed by, is now out of the running to win some of the $10 million in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize. We learned, too, that the WWU-designed car that made it to the finals also was eliminated this week. The finals are at the Michigan International Speedway near Ann Arbor.

Westerns’ Viking 45 vehicle, in the picture, did not pass the accident avoidance test within the six-attempt limit.

Tony Ahmann, a 2005 Shadle Park graduate and Class of 2009 from WWU, was on the Viking team.

Sterling narrows losses

Sterling Financial Corp. today reported a second-quarter loss of $58.2 million, including a $70.8 million allowance for credit losses.

A year ago, the Spokane bank reported a net loss of $33.9 million after a $79.7 million allowance for credit losses. Per share, the 2010 quarter loss was $1.12, compared with 65 cents for the 2009 quarter.

But Chief Executive Officer Greg Seibly said the 2Q numbers were an improvement compared with the first quarter, and there were other positive indicators for Sterling (STSA), which has been trying since last fall to raise additional capital.

Non-performing loans declined 8 percent compared with the first quarter, to $884.1 million, and loan origination increased 25 percent.

Retail deposits climbed but the total fell, to $7.2 billion, as Sterling continued to reduce its dependence on brokered deposits. The number of accounts increased.

Total assets, at $9.7 billion, have fallen 21 percent since June 30, 2009.

Brian Staley wins Spirit of Planetree physician award

Dr. Brian Staley is the winner of this year’s Spirit of Planetree Physician Champion Award, recognizing a physician who champions the Planetree model of patient-centered care and whose actions demonstrate him to be a role model for medical staff members.

Staley is a doctor at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in the Tri-Cities and is a pathologist at InCyte Pathology, in north Spokane. He has a contract with Spokane clinic InCyte Pathology to provide research and consulting. His subspecialty interests include cytology, gynecologic and gastrointestinal pathology. 

For more on InCyte, go to their main page.

Planetree is a worldwide catalyst and promoter of innovative models of healthcare that focus on healing and nurturing body, spirit and mind.

A new downtown restaurant, Ciao Mambo, coming to the Lincoln Plaza building

A Montana company plans to open a Ciao Mambo restaurant in the ground level corner of the Lincoln Plaza building, a Spokane development firm announced Monday.

The new restaurant, part of the Glacier Restaurant Group based in Whitefish, Mont., will open in January. It’s expected to hire 75 workers, a company spokesman said.

Goodale & Barbieri Co. President Tom Barbieri said his group spent roughly two years finding the right lessee to take over the 4,000-square-foot corner spot of the nine-level building, at the corner of Riverside and Lincoln in downtown Spokane.

The Italian restaurant and lounge will use about 1,200-square feet in the outdoor plaza, Barbieri added.

Barbieri said the challenge was locating a firm with the needed management experience and financial stability to run a restaurant in that building.

“We either had people with enough capitalization but no experience running restaurants. Or people with experience who weren’t capitalized,” he said. 

Cory Barbieri handled the transaction.

Ciao Mambo has several restaurants in Montana and one, according to its website, in Hayden.

GeoData Technologies of Sandpoint releases new 3D version of its realty mapping platform

Sandpoint-based GeoData Technologies announced it’s released SiteSeer3D Version 3.  SiteSeer3D is a browser platform for marketing realty listings for Web, print and video. 

Like many Web mapping services, the product provides flyover views that render buildings and landscapes in 3D.

To see a demo of the new version, the company has a video here. The demo features some huge houses in the Atlanta area. Not that anyone we know has the money for those houses down there….


Tango eliminated from the Automotive X Prize

Spokane car maker Rick Woodbury lost his bid to win this year’s Progressive Automotive Xprize, and with it a chance to take home part of the $10 million prize.

Woodbury’s two-seat electric vehicle, the Tango, was knocked out last week in the finals leading up to the very last stage of the race, which was announced last year. Progressive Insurance is the sponsor of the competition, taking place this month in Michigan.

The Tango was knocked out due to failing to reach the required threshold of operating at the equivalent of 100 mpg. Woodbury said the Tango performed at the 90 mpgE rating.

For the full list of remaining cars, here’s the Automotive Xprize leader board.


Small explosion idles mill temporarily

A small explosion in a furnace temporarily shut down the Kaiser Aluminum Corp. Trentwood rolling mill Saturday.

No one was injured by the blast in one of several casting areas that was undergoing routine maintenance, said company spokesman Dave Quast.

Operations in other areas of the vast plant resumed by 6 p.m. Saturday, he said, and full operation was expected by 6 p.m. Monday.

The maintenance work was being done by an outside contractor, Quast said.

Dan Wilson, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 338, said few people were in the area, and there was no molten metal in the idled furnace.

The furnace is natural gas-fired, but gas is not a suspected cause, he said, adding “There was no fire.”

Wilson said the company and union are working together to find the cause.

“It’s kind of unusual. We don’t see this kind of explosion very often,” he said.

The Trentwood plant rolls aluminum ingots into sheet and plate, much of it used by the aerospace industry.


Big wheat yields due to cool, wet spring

All that rain and cool weather in the spring made for ideal growing conditions for dryland wheat farmers across the region, and growers anticipate big yields as they begin their summer harvests.

Yields of Washington winter wheat are predicted this year to reach about 65 bushels per acre, up from 59 bushels in 2009, while the spring wheat harvest is projected at a record 56 bushels per acre, according to a forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Total wheat production in the Northwest is projected to reach a 10-year high this year, according to the Washington Grain Alliance.

In the arid Ritzville area west of Spokane, rainfall was 130 percent of normal, according to precipitation surveys. “That has just made for some incredible crops this year,” said Scott Yates, spokesman for the Washington Grain Commission.

And farmers in the region are earning decent prices for their wheat. Bids on Friday for soft white wheat were about $4.45 a bushel through AgVentures NW LLC, which manages the Odessa Union Warehouse Cooperative and Reardan Grain Growers.

Coming up Friday in Here’s the Dirt

We’ll profile Pine Springs Farm, going up about 10 minutes south of Interstate 90 along Highway 27. The Wolff Company wants its apartment complex to feel more rural than your average suburban housing development.

Also, work will wrap up by summer’s end on the first piece of a major expansion and renovation of the largest general classroom building on the campus of Eastern Washington University in Cheney. It’s the start of a four-year, $65 million project.

A new Catholic church in Deer Park will quadruple space for the growing St. Mary Presentation parish.

And for South Hill residents, construction has begun on what will eventually be a 24-home development near Cook Street and 35th Avenue in south Spokane.

Ambassadors reports drop in travelers, profits

Spokane-based educational travel company Ambassadors Group Inc. posted lower earnings in the second quarter as it arranged  travel for fewer people.

The company today reported earning $15.2 million in April, May and June, or 78 cents per share. That’s down from $19.2 million, or 99 cents per share, int he second quater of 2009.

Ambassadors arranged travel for 13,396 delegates in the quarter, a 16 percent decrease from 15,995 delegates in the same quarter a year ago.

Gross receipts in the quarter were $83.1 million, compared to $99.3 million a year ago. Gross margin for the quarter decreased 14 percent year over year, the company reported.

Hospital, cardiology practices to combine

Providence Health Care and two Spokane-based cardiology groups today announced they will merge this fall to create a national center that could become a destination for patients seeking state-of-the-art heart care.

Providence Chief Executive Dr. Andy Agwunobi said Spokane Cardiology and Heart Clinics Northwest, consolidated as Providence Spokane Heart Institute, will improve the safety, quality and efficiency of care, in part as a response to changes anticipated under health care reform.

Spokane Cardiology President Dr. Braden Batkoff said the Heart Institute would be able to attract more specialists providing a broader array of services to patients who might now travel outside Spokane for treatment.

Dr. Dean Hill, Heart Clinics Northwest president, said the consolidation will also enable the groups to maintain offices in four states, which might not be possible as reforms are implemented.

Agwunobi said financial terms of the merger are still being negotiated.

Former hospital CEO to manage airport

Spokane International Airport directors today nominated former Providence Health Care chief executive Ryland “Skip” Davis to be interim manager.

If approved by the Spokane City Council and County Commissioners, he would replace Neal Sealock, who is retiring after five years in the position to pursue a Ph.D.

The board accepted Sealock’s resignation today.

Davis retired as head of Providence in 2008. A pilot who owns an airplane hangared at Felts Field, he said he has monitored aviation issues for years. 

Davis said he will serve while the board conducts a national search for a permanent replacement, but added “I don’t intend this to be a caretaker kind of period.”

He said he wants to draw more attention to the airport’s potential as an economic driver for the region.

Group sues Gregoire over climate order

A conservative think tank and a handful of Washington residents are suing Gov. Chris Gregoire over a 2009 executive order aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Associated Press.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation and six residents from around the state filed the lawsuit today in Thurston County Superior Court. The group says the order is unconstitutional and should be invalidated.

The executive order includes aspects of a climate change bill that the governor aggressively pushed but failed to pass in the 2009 legislative session.

Among other things, it directs the state Department of Ecology to work with large industries to find ways to cut emissions, and calls for plans to be drawn up on how the state’s largest counties can reduce the number of vehicles driven.

Fred Meyer cuts plastic bags at Portland stores

Fred Meyer stores aren’t waiting for Portland, Ore., to ban plastic bags.

The retailer will no longer offer customers plastic bags after Aug. 1 at its 10 stores in the Rose City. Paper bags will still be available, though.

Freddy’s could eliminate plastic bags at all of its stores, depending on customer feedback, a company spokeswoman said.

Earlier this month, Portland Mayor Sam Adams called for a ban on plastic bags in the city by 2012 to encourage shoppers to reuse bags.

Good news for those with a lot of dough in the bank

You won’t have to stash your cash in as many different banks now. The financial overhaul bill President Obama signed today permanently raises the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s deposit insurance to $250,000 per depositor.

The insurance had been temporarily raised from $100,000 to $250,000 on Oct. 3, 2008. It was originally scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, 2010, but was temporarily extended to Dec. 31, 2013.

“With this permanent increase of deposit insurance coverage to $250,000, depositors with CDs above $100,000 but below $250,000 will no longer have to worry about losing coverage on those CDs maturing beyond 2013,” said FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair.

Did you leave some money behind?

If you used to bank at WaMu, you may have left some cash behind.

The Washington Revenue Department says nearly $10 million deposited in Washington Mutual went unclaimed after the Seattle bank failed in 2008.

J.P. Morgan Chase received most of WaMu’s accounts, but inactive accounts were turned over to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC recently turned the funds over to the state.

The department has mailed claim forms to the last known addresses of anyone with more than $75 due. Names of anyone owed at least $25 are posted online here or here.

Job vacancy increase first since 2006

More “Help Wanted” signs popped up around Washington this spring, the first increase since the fall of 2006.

A Washington Employment Security Department survey indicated employers were looking for 38,732 workers, up 21  percent since fall 2009. The high was 90,000 vacancies in 2006.

Almost half the vacancies were in King County. Spokane County, with 2,475 openings, had six percent of the vacant positions.

The median wage for the empty positions was $9.50 in the county, $10.60 in the state.

Lead the Way event on Aug. 11 in Spokane Valley

The Washington Policy Center has set a date for its Spokane Valley session in its statewide Lead The Way series.  The Valley session will be Aug. 11 at 7:30 a.m. at Spokane Valley Fire Station 8, near Wilbur and East Montgomery.

The policy center, a think tank and business advocacy group, is hosting the series to promote ideas to improve the small business climate. To get up to speed on the Lead the Way series, here’s the policy center page.

The center has a downtown Spokane office, and can be reached at 509 570-2384

Applications accepted Monday at the new Hobby Lobby store in Spokane Valley

We’ve just mentioned the imminent opening of mega-hobby store, Hobby Lobby, in Spokane Valley this summer. Those interested in applying for work can line up on Monday, July 19, at the store location, 13902 E. Indiana.

A company spokesman said this store will hire between 30 and 50 workers. Jobs will be both full- and part-time.

Something wicker this way comes (to Spokane Valley)

Yo crafters and hobby types. News of major proportion just in:  Mega hobby and craft center chain, Hobby Lobby, will move into the empty G.I. Joe’s store in Spokane Valley. It’s expecting to open the new store in August.

The new Spokane Valley store will be at 13902 E. Indiana, and take up 45,000 square feet of floor space. The Oklahama City-based chain has more than 450 stores across the country; the nearest one so far has been in Boise.

This is a very large chain. Vincent Palmer, a company director of customer services, said it’s sort of fair to say Hobby Lobby is the “supersized” version of Michaels, another known chain of crafts stores. The big difference, he said, is that Hobby Lobby has more home-focused items, such as fabrics, picture frames and decorating accessories.

It also has operations in China, Hong Kong and the Phillipines.

F5 Networks among nominees for best workplace in the state

F5 Networks, a Seattle tech firm with a development office in Liberty Lake, is among 80 finalists for Washington’s Best Workplaces, chosen by the Puget Sound Business Journal. The winners will be announced later this summer. The best workplace award identifies firms that have excelled in employee benefit offerings, leadership culture, and work/life balance philosophies.

For more on the awards, try this Puget Sound Business Journal summary.

Founded in 1996, F5 Networks has about 1,800 employees with offices in 30 countries, and revenue of more than $650 million in fiscal year 2009. It develops advanced hardware and software solutions to optimize Web traffic for major companies and organizations.

When we say “major,” think very very big, like Microsoft, Amazon and major operators.


Idaho will now tweet job posts

Idaho’s Division of Human Resources is posting state government job openings on Twitter.

The popular social networking site will enable the state to more quickly communicate job opportunities and let followers quickly alert friends and relatives about openings, Gov. Butch Otter says.

“When job opportunities come along in state government, we need to get the word out to more of those qualified folks who need the work – where they are most likely to find it,” Otter said in a prepared statement. “The immediacy and interactive nature of Twitter should be a real asset for the state and for targeting Idahoans who are unemployed or underemployed.”

Interested in receiving these tweets? Become a follower

Employment picture brightens

The unemployment rate in Spokane County dropped more than half a point in June, and statewide joblessness is back down to where it stood a year ago, state officials said today.

Unemployment last month fell to 8.5 percent locally, down from 9.1 percent in May and below the rate of 8.9 percent in June 2009.

Private-sector payrolls continued to grow in June, reducing Washington’s unemployment rate to 8.9 percent – the lowest rate since April 2009.

Statewide the economy picked up 4,500 private-sector jobs but registered a net loss of 3,500 jobs for the month. That’s due to 8,000 government jobs being eliminated, about half of which were federal census jobs.

Here’s how to get to Valley businesses

A major road construction project in Spokane Valley will shut down the busy intersection of Sprague Avenue and Sullivan Road for what’s expected to be three weeks, beginning July 19.

Traffic will be re-routed on Broadway, Conklin, Fourth and Adams.

It’ll be more difficult to get to businesses in the construction zone, but they will be open. If you want to get to the Walgreens on the southeast corner, for example, you’ll have to approach by Sullivan from the south or Sprague from the east. You won’t be able to cross the intersection. Just keep that in mind and you’ll be fine.

A warning about traveling gold buyers

From time to time various companies come through town and tell folks they’ll buy your gold, or sometimes, your silver. You see it a lot when the economy is bad and people feel a need to trade in items like watches for some spending money.

A message sent our way by Kevin Wolter, of CoinsPlus Inc., a North Spokane buyer and trader in coins,  reminds us that it’s sometimes a risky deal when you sell coins or gold items to a company visiting a hotel and then leaves town.

This is not an indictment of any company, past or future, that sets up shop in this region, to buy gold from residents. So take this as a caution only, seller beware.

A number of instances of shady company dealings were documented by a newspaper in Beaumont, Texas. The paper found one case where a seller was offered $60 for a Denver Mint $2.50 coin produced in 1925. The true market value, according to the Professional Numismatists Guild, is $10,000. The coin in question is in the photo.

The takeaway:  “If you don’t know coins, you’d better know your coin buyer,” said Robert Brueggeman, PNG Executive Director. Other key points:

  • Scales used by the more shady operators may not be accurate, resulting in underpayments.
  • It’s a bad sign when a company pays cash for items but won’t provide receipts.
  • Turn to local merchants in one’s own community who may not have flashy advertising but who may offer you considerably more money for your coins and jewelry.


Who’s going to move into the empty former Blockbuster site on the South Hill?

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The South Hill former Blockbuster building, at 1318 S. Grand, has been closed for 14 months. See the closing announcement.

A local group planned to move a restaurant called Savory into that building. Then the project stalled due to unexpected issues, including remodeling costs.

There’s still some action related to that project and we expect some resolution will be announced before  the end of the summer.  If anyone wants to add more information on this project, please comment here or e-mail us, at 

Jennifer Hall on the links between good food and community change

Next week’s July 22 Executive Connect Breakfast will feature Jennifer Hall, one of the key people who helped launch the Main Market Cooperative, a full-fledged food retailer and nutrition education center.

Presented by Connect Northwest, the morning session starts at 7:30 a.m. in downtown Spokane, in the downstairs Georgian Room of The Spokane Club.

The breakfast runs until 9 a.m. Reservations are suggested and cost $30.

Hall has a slew of credentials. Beyond working to open Spokane’s Main Market Co-op, she has been a leader of the Slow Food Spokane River Convivium, co-chair of Slow Food’s National Ark of Taste Committee, and an appointed member of the USDA National Organic Standards Board.

For additional information, go to


Index of area stocks down nearly 9 percent

An index of Inland Northwest stocks fell 8.9 percent during the second quarter, but nevertheless outperformed the S&P 500 Index, according to Hart Capital Management.

The Spokane investment firm said a rebound in the value of two Spokane banks — Northwest Bancorporation, up 30.5 percent, and W.T.B. Financial Corp., up 25 percent — helped offset setbacks for Coldwater Creek, down 51.4 percent, and Idaho Independent Bank, down 30.8 percent.

The Hart Capital Inland Northwest Index tracks the stocks of 15 area companies. W.T.B. Financial replaced Nighthawk Radiology Holdings in the group during the quarter because Nighthawk moved its headquarters to Scottsdale, Ariz., in March, although most of its employees remain in Coeur d’Alene.

W.T.B. is the parent of Washington Trust Bank. Its stock is not listed on any major exchange, but can be traded through brokerages that make a market for the stock, said Hart Capital President Craig Hart.

The millionth Itron smart meter draws a big crowd in Southern California

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. - (Business Wire) Southern California Edison (SCE), an Edison International company, today installed its one millionth smart meter at the home of a customer in Redondo Beach. SCE started installation of smart metersLiberty Lake-based Itron Inc. said this week that they’ve just helped install their millionth OpenWay smart meter at Southern California Edison (SCE), one of the nation’s largest electric utilities.

What is striking is that the media folks at Itron went out and even found who the lucky customer is.

And it is …. drumroll … an unidentified customer who lives in Redondo Beach. Several dignitaries were on hand to commemorate the event, including U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), 36th Congressional District; Theodore F. Craver Jr., president, chairman and CEO of Edison International; Lynda Ziegler, senior vice president of customer service for SCE; and Malcolm Unsworth, president and CEO of Itron. The photo above, with two dignitaries and an unindentified technician, came by way of

Does it seem odd that we get the full list of the honchos who showed up, but not the name of the customer? (We have a feeling he or he is not running for office.)

Now you will want to ask, what is an OpenWay meter? One way to think of it is, it’s like an HTC Droid Incredible or iPhone 3GS meter compared with your grandma’s cell phone. The OpenWay is Itron’s answer for utilities needing lots of ways to deliver data down the grid to the homes and businesses and customers, and to eventually allow demand-response control of a customer’s energy use.

Installation of the one millionth meter took place July 12. Southern California Edison”s crews began installing the first bunch of OpenWay meters in September 2009, and installations will continue
through 2012.

Spokane home sale prices up from May

Home sales in Spokane County dipped slightly in the past month but remain near levels seen a year ago.

The average sales price in June was up from May but lower than one year ago, the Spokane Association of Realtors reported today.

Closed sales totaled 506 in June, down from 519 in May. In June 2009, there were 501 closed sales in the county.

The average sales price in June was $190,308, up from $180,523. A year ago, the average sales price was $193.164.

Closed residential sales in the first half of the year are up 24.5 percent from the same period in 2009.

The number of homes and condominiums for sale grew in June to 3,406. That’s up by 102 properties from May. A year ago, 3,282 homes and condos were on the market.

WSU, aviation groups and growers pushing biofuel alternative

One of the main news announcements this morning came by way of Boeing, Alaska Airlines and Washington State University. This is the formal announcement of an initiative to promote more biofuel use by the aviation industry.

WSU has been active in promoting this topic. The news takeaway in today’s announcement is this: an alliance of airports, airlines, industry growers and researchers will push forward with a serious study to examine how Northwest crops can be affordably used to produce jet fuel.

Bill Ayer, CEO of Alaska Airlines, was quoted saying: “Through this initiative, we are joining other key stakeholders in our region to explore the development of alternatives to jet fuel that could further reduce our carbon footprint.”

Boeing is a big partner in this project as well. WSU gets lots of credit for having spearheaded efforts over the last two years to bring together a solid group of industry and aviation specialists to sign onto the deal.  One good way to get an overview is to watch a portion of this video with WSU VP of Economic Development John Gardner. Gardner has pushed the the Northwest “farm to fuel” concept for more than a year.

The video was produced by NOTE: Start the video at the 60 minute mark to watch and hear Gardner speaking on a sustainable fuels panel in Seattle in 2009.

The mystery of the wall clocks in Liberty Lake

The photo that ran with this business story on Thursday shows former astronaut Mike McCulley visiting with the workers at Liberty Lake’s Insight Direct. (CLICK the link to look at the expanded size version of the image.)

He was speaking inside a hallway at the firm’s office on East Mission. The company sells and supports software for corporate and government clients.

One curious issue is the variety of times on the four wall clocks. One shows the time of about 10 before the hour. The two on the right side of the wall have roughly eight before the hour. The central zone time clock has about five before the hour. Anybody know what time it really is?

Or has this location somehow become a Time and Relativity experiment lab?

Loudon County tourism official to lead CVB

A tourism official from Loudon County, Va., has been named president and CEO of the Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Cheryl Kilday will begin her new job in Spokane on Aug. 23, the CVB said in a news release this morning. She has 25 years of experience in the tourism industry, according to the release.
Most recently, she’s been president and CEO of Visit Loudon, the destination marketing organization for Virginia’s wine country. Under her leadership, that organization won an Emmy award in 2008 for a series of videos and numerous travel and tourism industry awards.

Area hospitals score above-average in ‘most wired’ survey

The publication Hospitals and Health Networks revamped its method of coming up with its 99 “most wired” U.S. hospital list. It claims it’s created a more accurate set of surveys given to medical IT directors asking questions on clinical quality, patient safety, continuum of care and business and management functions. It just released the results at its site.

If you live in the Inland Northwest and Spokane area, you have your pick, since nearly every hospital within 150 miles of downtown Spokane made the list. The Spokane group include Deaconess Medical Center, Sacred Heart Medical Center, Holy Family Hospital, St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, and Valley Hospital and Medical Center.

Coeur d’Alene’s Kootenai Medical Center also made the top-99 group.

In the list’s separate category for small and rural facilities, the regional  “most wired” list includes:

  • Providence Mt. Carmel, in Colville.
  • Providence St. Joseph’s Hospital, in Chewelah.
  • Pullman Regional Hospital, Pullman.
  • Whitman Hospital and Medical Center, Colfax.
  • Mid-Valley Hospital, in Omak.
  • Samaritan Hospital, Moses Lake.


Sirti website hacked over the weekend

MODIFIED with new information, updated at 6:00 p.m. July 6:

An unknown hacker took advantage of a web vulnerability to redirect the website to an Iranian website over the weekend.

The Sirti main page was replaced by a page with Arabic words, a reference to the Persian Gulf and the phrase “Hacked by ::F-B-I::”

After 30 seconds the page then redirected to a Website based in Iran, said Linda Hemingway, the Sirti director of market development and communications. That page includes an e-mail address that could be that of the person responsible, she said.

She said the hacker did not breach Sirti information, other than change the appearance of the main page.  Sirti staff upgraded the page’s security settings and restored the original content by Monday morning, she added.

Sirti is a state agency that provides technology innovation and business services for area tech companies.

Hemingway said Sirti has no plans to take further action regarding the hack.

Hecla to open Wallace office again

Hecla Mining Co. is opening an office in Idaho’s Silver Valley to keep local residents abreast of future expansions at the Lucky Friday Mine and the company’s role in environmental cleanup in the area.

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo will speak at the grand opening of the new office at 10:30 a.m. Friday at 611 Bank St. in Wallace. The event is open to the public.

“The one constant for Hecla in nearly 120 years of mining throughout North and South America has been our presence and operations in the Silver Valley,” said Phil Baker, Hecla’s present and CEO.

Over the next 12 months, Baker said company officials will make decisions about the future of the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan, Idaho. A $150 million to $200 million expansion of the mine is under consideration, which allow the company to access silver deposits below the existing workings.

Hecla’s corporate offices were located in Wallace until 1986, when the company moved its headquarters to Coeur d’Alene.

A quick overview of why new auto technology costs so much

Our recent post on the continuing quest by Spokane inventor Rick Woodbury to win the Automotive X Prize produced questions by commentators. Among them:  Who would buy one of his cars, when they cost about $120,000?  What does it mean to say the test requires contestants to develop motors that operate with 100 M.P.G. equivalence? How do you explain that equivalence?

This 2008 interview at the Web2Summit (hosted by with Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk touches on those points, and adds a lot more interesting discussion on the challenge of developing successful electric vehicles.

Good luck, Rick Woodbury.

Construction jobs continue to decline

U.S. construction employment fell by 22,000 in June to a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.6 million, the lowest level since August 1996, according to Random Lengths newsletter.

Citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the newsletter said that the unemployment rate in construction was 20.1 percent in June, the highest for any industry and the highest June rate since 1976.

Airport director resigns

Spokane International Airport Director Neal Sealock has submitted his resignation, effective July 21.

Sealock, who became director in December 2005 after 31 years in the U.S. Army, said he wants to spend more time with his family, and pursue a doctorate.

Dave Brukardt, head of the airport board of director’s personnel Committee, noted the improvements made while Sealock was in charge, including remodeling of the concessions area and main runway extension.

Brukardt said the board would begin the search for a replacement at its July 21 meeting.

Northwest Map & Travel Book Center relocates to Spokane Valley

Northwest Map & Travel Book Center has moved from downtown Spokane and reopened in Spokane Valley.

Owners Linda and Steve Mitrovich moved the business from 525 W. Sprague to the new address, 10525 E. Sprague.

They made the move last weekend. Yes. The old and new addresses differ by just the digits “10” and was a pure accident, said Mitrovich.

He and his wife founded the company in 1986. They moved into the downtown shop at the corner of Howard and Sprague in 1992.

The move was based on convenience, said Mitrovich. He and his wife live just a few miles from the new office. “We decided we didn’t want the longer travel. Plus we now don’t have to worry about finding parking,” he said.

They sell residential and county maps, topographic and raised relief maps, national forest, park and wilderness maps.

Cisco starts getting serious about getting into home energy monitors

This goes into the Smart Grid file, in the subfolder on home monitors that track residential power consumption.

Cisco has unveiled a new home device. It’s the Cisco Home Energy Management Solution. Like other devices coming to the market, it provides a network hub to manage and track one’s home energy system and tracks consumption. The emphasis, over time, as more “smart” systems go into the home, will be on MANAGING energy, not just tracking use.

Cisco is such a giant that once it focuses on a business niche, it usually makes its presence known. 

The device pictured is supposed to become available this summer, and the official list price is $900 per home. List price, we hope, is way different from what it will cost consumers.

It’s unlikely anyone within 300 miles of Spokane or Coeur d’Alene will be able to use it.

Aside from Wi-Fi, the controller can communicate with smart meters and appliances via Zigbee and also via a proprietary protocol (Encoder Receiver Technology, or ERT) used by well-established home-automation player Itron, based in Liberty Lake.

It will also interact with so-called smart plugs — peripherals that you can plug your existing appliances into that will send data to the Home Energy Management device.

One year of T1 service equals $5,000 and up

A minor addition to our earlier post about Integra Telecom offering a free year of T1 connectivity for a qualifying Spokane nonprofit organization. The post ran on June 30.

Melissa Moore, a spokeswoman for Portland-based Integra Telecom, said the value of the service is between $5,000 and $6,000.


Study puts Idaho way ahead of Washington, based on ‘tort liability index’

PRILogo.JPGA conservative California-based research group has produced a state-by-state study it titles the U.S. Tort Liability Index 2010. It’s the kind of group that would publish this study with a forward by Sarah Palin.

So how do Washington and Idaho fare on this index, which looks at the overall “outputs” that the institute say are associated with each state’s specific court and liability circumstances?

The best states, the  index reports, are Alaska, Hawaii and North Carolina. New Jersey, New York and Florida bring up the rear.  So what is really being measured?

A release with the index says the index finds which states have the highest monetary tort losses and tort litigation risks, meaning they had more costly and riskier business climates due to larger plaintiff awards, larger plaintiff settlements, more lawsuits, or some combination of the three. Those criteria are in fact developed through a total of 13 criteria the study says are the way to measure tort impact.

Idaho ranks seventh best, according to that system. Washington state ranks 20th worst (or 31st best) on the tort index.

The PDF link to the study is here.


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

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

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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.

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