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Office Hours

Archive for March 2010

Business Updates are one more way to get area business news

Office Hours, this blog, is The Spokesman-Review’s newest effort at ongoing daily business news coverage. But it’s not the only way to get your business news.

You can still, if you choose, receive a daily dose of local business news in your e-mail inbox, or on your smartphone.

To get the daily business alert, go to and select Business Update.

Sterling Financial extends repurchase deadline

Sterling Financial Corp. has extended the expiration date for its effort to buy back $238 million in trust-preferred securities.

The deadline was today. April 12 is the new date.

The Spokane-based parent of Sterling Savings Bank and Golf Savings Bank is offering 20 cents on the dollar for the securities. Investor response will be critical to the company’s $650 million recapitalization plan, which is being closely monitored by federal and state regulators.



Area businesses can still apply for flexible workplace designation

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, through the site, is seeking company applications for its Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility awards.

Even the White House is on the bandwagon. The executive department is hosting a live session today on the topic of helping workers and companies find more flexilble business practices. The White House Forum on Workplace Workplace Flexibility runs today with a live Webcast of the Forum from 1:15 to 4:30 PM (EDT) here: 

In this region, Greater Spokane Incorporated is sponsoring and encouraging applications from area firms. To find the application, go to this site. The deadline in the Spokane area is April 16.

You can contribute to the Office Hours blog

The newly launched blog you’re reading now, Office Hours, will try to keep you connected to what’s happening in the region’s business environment.

We welcome suggestions, comments and ideas. Just post them here or e-mail messages to Tom Sowa or Scott Maben or Bert Caldwell


Eastern Washington companies receive energy funds

Three northeast Washington companies have been awarded stimulus grants and loans worth $3.2 million.

Demand Energy Networks of Spokane will receive a $1.5 million grant to commercialize its electricity storage and network management software. The money will help the company retain or create 93 jobs, according to a release from the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Borgford Bioenergy in Stevens County will receive a $231,422 grant and $771,406 loan to help finance a wood gasification plant that will produce energy as well as biochar, as soil additive. Twenty-seven jobs will be kept or added.

In Pend Oreille County, the Ponderay Newsprint Inc. mill will use a $418,228 grant and $1.4 million loan to upgrade controls. The energy savings will help preserve 184 jobs.

A total 13 projects statewide were awarded $16.5 million in federal stimulus money that will save or add 271 jobs.


Multipacking, and what it means to Pearson Packaging

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Spokane-based Pearson Packaging Systems has signed a co-marketing agreement with global service provider CT Pack.

Pearson will be the supplier of CT Pack’s Vortex Systems Multipacking equipment in North America and will sell the system as part of a complete end-of-line solution for customers.

“Multipacking” is different from “case packing,” the traditonal term for product container systems.

Multipacking is the process, either partially or entirely automated, by which a product is packed into a container that is then packed into a secondary container such as a case, tray, tote, or otherwise for palletizing and distribution, a Pearson press release explained.

North Idaho Family Physicians, Kootenai Health form partnership

North Idaho Family Physicians and Kootenai Health have entered into a partnership to provide urgent care services to Kootenai County residents.

The family physicians group represents 28 independent board-certified family doctors with Kootenai County practices. It also operates two After Hours Urgent Care Clinics in Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls.

Starting July 1, the After Hours Urgent Care Clinics will be renamed Kootenai Urgent Care, with no change in operations.

Under the agreement, Kootenai Urgent Care wll combine operations with North Idaho Immediate Care Centers. North Idaho Family Physicians will manage operations at the new combined venture, according to a press release.

Today Show names Spokane among ‘most affordable’ cities

The Today Show on Monday featured Spokane among five “most affordable cities” during its real estate roundup. Spokane was ranked No. 5.

Also named were Great Falls (No.  3) and Pocatello, No. 2.

Barbara Corcoran, the real estate expert who compiled the list, also blew the pronunciation, again referring to us as SPO-CANE.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Spokane homes cheapest among Northwest cities

Spokane homes are the cheapest among major Northwest cities, according to the Center for Housing Policy.

Of the 208 cities surveyed, Spokane ranked 93rd during the 4th quarter of 2009, with a median home price of $159,000.

Seattle, ranked 20th nationally, was the most expensive city in the region, with a median price of $303,000.

Portland was 35th with a price of $230,000, and Boise, with the median at $163,000, was 87th.

The most expensive city was San Francisco, at $465,000. Wheeling, W.V., had the cheapest homes; median price $72,000.

Is Washington’s data center tax break too late?

Washington state leaders feel they’re back in the data center game.

Last week Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill that could help data centers expand or set up shop in Washington rural counties. The law allows tax breaks for data centers in any county other than Spokane, King, Pierce, Snohomish, Clark and Thurston.

Though Washington is facing massive budget deficits, state leaders were clearly warned that without a bill that cut sales taxes on new data center equipment, the future of expansion by Yahoo, Microsoft and other tech firms was minimal.

From 2006 until 2008, Microsoft, Intuit and Yahoo all built large data centers in Grant County, using the Port of Quincy’s low power rates and redundant fiber connectivity to justify the investment.

Inside the Applied Sciences Laboratory


Hergen Eilers, the first senior research scientist at WSU’s Applied Sciences Laboratory, in Spokane, gave a 40-minute recap of three key projects he’s heading, all involving advanced work in physics and optics.

His remarks came during a recent yearly meeting explaining the ASL’s progress, now starting its sixth year.

One project is to develop a better way of using lasers to locate and then eliminate the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Those buried bombs account for half of all U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, Eilers said at the meeting.

His project is funded by the U.S. Defense Department. It involves using lasers to identify the trickle of tiny electrons emitted by the explosives inside IEDs. The laser can be configured to find the electrons as they vaporize, he said.

Another laser sensor is used to identify the exact location of the explosive.

Eigen has two other defense department projects: one involves testing ways to fully incinerate biological threats; the other is developing a more accurate way to identify nuclear material at transportation checkpoints.

Current detectors still have difficulty with false positives. Bananas and cat litter are among the substances that produce false positives.

Eilier’s sensors also need to find nuclear substances shielded by other materials.

A recap of this week’s story on the ASL’s recent growth will be found, starting later tonight, at


WSU negotiating for on-campus hotel, convention center

A hotel and convention center could be built on the Washington State University campus in Pullman, if negotiations between a California developer and the university are successful.

WSU’s board of regents approved a plan Friday to begin negotiations with Sonnenblick-Del Rio Development for the sale of 7.5 acres of WSU property, according to a news release. The Brentwood, Calif., company wants to build a 125-room Hilton hotel and 10,000- to 12,000-square-foot convention center on the site, which is at the northeast end of campus, east of the Student Recreation Center.


Panhandle Health District director to retire

Jeanne Bock, who has directed the Panhandle Health District since 2001, will retire this fall after 24 years of public health service in Idaho’s five northern counties.

The Board of Health accepted her retirement notice Thursday and plans to hire her successor by August.

Bock led the health district during a time in which it helped end a decades-old practice of residents discharging household waste directly into Shoshone County’s Canyon Creek. That achievement resulted from from a collaborative effort involving the health district, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Shoshone County commissioners and Burke Canyon residents, a health district news release said.


More than 600 cities beg Google for high-speed fiber service is among 600-plus communities and cities who are begging (shamelessly in some cases) that Google provide their burg with an experimental, ultra high-speed broadband network.

Google announced the idea back in February and set a deadline for this week for cities wanting to be among the undefined number of U.S. metros to be included in the beta launch of the new fiber-based service. The deadline for submissions was Friday. Google is posting, on its, a summary of the applications.

The original Google request for information (RFI) also produced about 190,000 responses from individuals, clamoring on the behalf of their locations.

Spokane’s true believers held a park rally this past week to catch the attention of the Google decision-makers.


March Madness rounds bring dollars to region

The Spokane Regional Sports Commission says last week’s 1st and 2nd round NCAA basketball championships had an economic impact on the region of about $4.6 million. 

About 12,000 of the 32,000 tickets sold were to out-of-town fans who traveled here to see the games, the commission said in a news release. Those fans spent an average of $294 a day, and generated  3,500 hotel room nights.

Last time the NCAA men’s basketball 1st and 2nd rounds were held in Spokane — 2007 — they had an estimated economic impact of $3.7 million. The higher take this time is because Spokane landed stronger “traveling” teams, meaning their fans are more willing to fly across the country to support them, the commission said.

U-District Coordinator to talk about development

Marketing Associates of Spokane is hosting a discussion by Brandon Betty, project coordinator for the Spokane University District, on April 8 from 11:30 to 1:30 p.m. at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park.

Betty took the job as project coordinatory last summer.  The meeting, which costs $20 for MAS members, $30 otherwise, will give an overview of the district and the set of projects and goals for the district.

“I’ll review how the district went from a grassroots organization to a 501(c)3 board” that also serves to recommend funding priorities for money being collected by the City of Spokane, Betty said.

That money is being raised through a state-provided Tax Increment Financing plan for the University District. The city gets to allocate TIF money for the district, but the district board sets priorities and makes recommendations.


SEL to join Western Power Delivery Automation Conference in Spokane

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Inc. (SEL to those who know what it does) announces its participation in the 12th annual Washington State University Western Power Delivery Automation Conference (WPDAC), at Spokane’s Davenport Hotel, Washington on April 13-15.

 In conjunction with WPDAC, SEL will host an Automation and Integration Seminar at the Davenport Hotel on Monday, April 12.  

The SEL seminar, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., will offer eight presentations discussing a range of topics in power system automation and integration. Edmund O. Schweitzer, SEL founder and president, will be  keynote speaker.

The SEL seminar is free with walk-ins welcome.  To register go to

Fair housing training offered in Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint

Two free fair housing trainings will be offered in April in Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint.

The trainings, sponsored by the Disability Action Center-NW, Intermountain Fair Housing Council and the city of Coeur d’Alene, will cover fair housing basics, disability rights and responsibilities, reasonable accommodations and legal issues.

The Sandpoint training will be held April 8 from 9 a.m. to noon at the East Bonner County Library District, 1407 W. Cedar Street. The Coeur d’Alene training will be held April 9 from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Coeur d’Alene Library’s community room, 702 E. Front Ave.


Ground broken for new Valley fire station

The Spokane Valley Fire Department took another step Wednesday in its multi-year program to improve fire protection in Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake.

Fire commissioners and other district officials gathered for a ground-breaking for construction of a new Station No. 10 at 17217 E. Sprague Ave. in Greenacres.

The 10,300-square-foot, three-bay station is being built by Ginno Construction of Coeur d’Alene for $1.6 million. It will replace the manufactured home and relatively small station facility that houses one of the district’s two pumper-ladder trucks there.

Downturn starting to ease for lumber mills

Lumber mills are starting to emerge from the worst downturn in the industry’s history, according to the Western Wood Products Association.

The Portland-based trade association predicts a 7 percent gain in Western lumber output in 2010, based on a strengthening national housing market.

Churchill’s Steakhouse, in downtown Spokane, reopens

Someone suggested Bill Alles name his new steakhouse in Spokane, The “Prime Minister.”

The pun was less than accurate for a business that cooked more than prime rib.

But owner Bill Alles liked the idea and eventually the moniker evolved into Churchill’s Steakhouse.

Starting this evening, the downtown Spokane restaurant is back in full operation, following a 20-month rebuild from a July 2008 fire that destroyed nearly everything inside the business.

Churchill’s. at 165 S. Post, will offer a full menu of steaks, seafoods and desserts.

The restaurant will operate 4 to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 4-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Rural Idaho loses residents

The number of people moving out of rural Idaho increased between mid-2008 and mid-2009 as the recession reached into every corner of the state.

CDA Cellars chosen as best Idaho winery

Wine Wine Press Northwest Spring 2010Press Northwest makes annual selections for best winery of the year, for the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

This year’s Idaho winery is Coeur d’Alene Cellars, at 3890 N. Schreiber Way.

That’s a nice honor. To read the full Wine Press announcement, go  here.

Former WaMu execs to talk with Congress

The top two former  Washington Mutual executives are being forced to testify publicly for the first time next month as part of a congressional investigation into the largest bank failure in U.S. history.

Kerry Killinger and Steve Rotella will join five other former WaMu executives at an April 13 hearing hosted by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

This is the first time any WaMu executive will give public testimony about the bank’s failure since it was seized by regulators in the fall of 2008.

The hearing is part of the PSI’s months-long, secret examination into the bank’s collapse that led to 18,000 people losing their jobs.

See the link to this story at the Puget Sound Business Journal that lays out the details.

Census help centers open

Questionnaire Assistance Centers have begun opening across the country and in the Inland Northwest for people who need help filling out the 2010 census form.

Coeur d’Alene locations include the St. Vincent de Paul HELP Center, 201 E. Harrison Ave., and the Idaho Department of Labor, 1221 W. Ironwood. Spokane’s 17 locations include the STA Plaza, 701 W. Riverside Ave., Goodwill Industries, 202 E. Third Ave., and the West Central Community Center, 1603 N. Belt.

Nationwide, the U.S. Census Bureau will staff more than 30,000 of the centers, where people can get help with the forms in multiple languages. They are scheduled to operate through April 19, depending on the level of assistance needed. The locations can be found at

Avista seeks 13 percent rate hike

Avista is seeking to raise the price of electricity and natural gas through a series of rate filings.

For the average Avista ratepayer in Eastern Washington, the request amounts to adding $10.62 to a homeowner’s monthly electric bill and another $4 a month for natural gas.

In Idaho the request would add $11.40 to the average homeowner’s electric bill and an extra $2.77 a month for natural gas.

The Spokane-based utility said the extra money is needed to pay for improvements to its dams, transmission systems, and network of neighborhood distribution lines, along with locking in new long-term contracts with outside electricity providers to meet the needs of a growing population.

The company filed its requests with regulators in each state Tuesday. Specifically, Avista seeks a 13.4 percent rate hike for electricity and 6 percent more from its natural gas customers in Washington; and a 13.1 percent electric rate increase and 4.1 percent increase for natural gas in Idaho.

Sladich resigns from CVB, heads to Red Lion

Harry Sladich, president and CEO of the Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau, is resigning to become an executive with Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels Corp. Sladich has led the CVB for five years, a tenure in which the organization’s revenues have increased by 47 percent, according to a press release announcing his resignation.

His last day at the CVB will be April 23. In early May he’ll begin his new job as executive vice president of sales and marketing at Red Lion, overseeing all aspects of sales and marketing for the hotel chain.

Spokane’s Dry Fly to add bourbon to lineup

Spokane’s successful Dry Fly Distilling is ready to move on to bourbon.

After first launching a lineup of gin and vodka, the private distillery released an all-wheat whiskey last year. It was snapped up within weeks.

Now owners Kent Fleischmann and Don Poffenroth say they’ll release about 75 cases of bourbon in the fall. They’ll call it Dry Fly Washington State Bourbon.

No price has been set. Each barrel will age for three years, said Poffenroth.

Their site is


Seattle lands first on list of most vulnerable cities to cyber-attacks

An industry study of metro areas finds Seattle ranks first for potential exposure to cyber-crime.

Norton, the division of Symantec that deals with security and anti-virus products, came up with a list of the top 50 riskiest online cities.

Symantec teamed up with research firm, Sperling’s BestPlaces, to determine the locales most susceptible to Internet crime.

Seattle ranked first. Portland ranked 10th, San Jose was 20th.

To see the full list, go to the rest of this post.


Former sawmill owner buys Potlatch plant

Spokane-based Potlatch Corp. has sold its Post Falls particleboard plant to Todd Brinkmeyer, a former sawmill operator.
The particleboard plant employs about two dozen people, most of whom will keep their jobs. The sale closed on March 12. The purchase price was not disclosed.

The small-scale plant no longer fit into Potlatch’s core mission, which is tied to forestland and lumber production, said Mark Benson, the company’s vice president for public affairs.

“Potlatch will continue to own 840,000 acres of forestland in Idaho, and operate a lumber mill and plywood plant in St. Maries,” he said. 

Brinkmeyer could not be reached for comment. He’s the former owner of a sawmill in Plummer that specialized in processing small-diameter logs. Brinkmeyer sold that sawmill in 2006.

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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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