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Archive for April 2011

Spokane Symphony offers ‘Orchestrating Greatness’ for groups and businesses

The Spokane Symphony is offering groups and businesses an “Orchestrating Greatness” program providing hands-on lessons of teamwork and leadership to their organizations.

The same idea has been explored at other cities. The program lets teams or executives lead the orchestra, work with sections of the symphony and interact with musicians during a rehearsal and a discussion.

The sessions are presented at the Fox Theater in downtown Spokane. Under some conditions the program can be offered in another location.

Music Director Eckart Preu created the program and leads each interactive session. Preu said the way an orchestra works provides a metaphor for businesses and any agency.

Businesses, like an orchestra, “require leadership, teamwork and coordination,” he said. Moreover, just as in business, the “greatness” program allows leaders to get real-time feedback on how ideas or directions are received or acted on, he added.

The Orchestrating Greatness sessions can be scheduled by contacting Annie Matlow, the symphony’s marketing director. The number is: 509-464-7071.

The fee is $2,000 for a session, which allows participation by up to 20 participants from a business or group. The program includes a discussion period following the musical session.

Coming up in Sunday Business:

John Stucke reports on Washington state’s new health insurance exchange, which is designed to help upward of 50,000 small businesses attain health insurance for their employees. As with many things linked to the federal Affordable Care Act, the exchange is controversial, untested, and the financial risks unknown.

Columnist Bert Caldwell writes about the Lilac Bloomsday Association and race director Don Kardong. “The association’s business model is a marvel of economy,” Bert says.

Comcast adds 105Mbps service for Spokane area customers

Spokane is among cities where Comcast is now offering “Extreme 105 Mbps,” making it one of the fastest download Internet options for cable subscribers.

The top speed before was roughly 50 megabits per second.

If ordered with a bundle, the 12-month cost for users is $105 per month. Otherwise it will be $199 per month for standalone service.

Comcast spokesman Walt Neary said the appeal seems strongest among families who have several members involved in serious online gaming.

About 40 million homes nationwide are potentially able to get the upgraded service.

The Federal Commnications Commission has set a goal of 100-Mbps for 100 million U.S. homes by 2020, as a target for increasing the nation's broadband capacity.

Comcast still maintains a 250GB data cap per month, even for anyone using the Exteme 105 service. Users exceeding that cap will be given warnings of possible disconnects.

Thursday graphic: A visual account of a typical phishing attack

While a large spotlight lately has been focused on hackers getting into the Sony Playstation Network, it's valid to note that the most serious, consistent threats for most companies are phishing attacks that can compromise account passwords.

Phishing is the use of false but seemingly honest emails or messages to gain control of passwords and account information. The message typically asks the recipient to sign into an account. But the site being used is a ruse to gain the password information.

Once the phishing scam succeeds, the bad guys gain control of an account, usually to transfer money. The Spokesman-Review wrote about three prominent area phishing examples affecting three companies, in this 2010 story.

We're running this illustration, provided by ESET, a software and anti-virus protection developer. It notes that the United States is the leading country for sites that host phishing attacks.

‘Hi folks, this is Sony. Uh, your account information may belong to criminals’

Sony Playstation Network Is Being Rebuilt For Better SecuritySubscribers to the Sony Playstation online service should have already received a notice warning that the April 17-19 intrusion by a hacker appears to have led to the loss of personal account information.

The message from Sony read:

For your security, we encourage you to be especially aware of email, telephone, and postal mail scams that ask for personal or sensitive information. Sony will not contact you in any way, including by email, asking for your credit card number, social security number or other personally identifiable information. If you are asked for this information, you can be confident Sony is not the entity asking. When the PlayStation Network and Qriocity services are fully restored, we strongly recommend that you log on and change your password. Additionally, if you use your PlayStation Network or Qriocity user name or password for other unrelated services or accounts, we strongly recommend that you change them, as well.

Please pay attention to your credit card statements over the next several months. Any suspicious bills should be reported promptly to your bank.

Steakhouse ‘Stand Before the Fire’ a new attraction at the CDA Tribal Resort Casino

Kobe beef raised in Idaho will take center plate on of the menu of the new steakhouse at the Coeur d'Alene Resort Casino, in Worley.

This photo shows the entryway to what's now called Ts'elumsm Steakhouse. The tribal name means “Stand Before the Fire,” and that title fits the location. The 120-seat steakhouse will have an open grill kitchen area for visitors to see their food prepared.

The steakhouse and the rest of the $75 million expansion at the casino and resort will be showcased in Monday's grand opening.

There's a daily story in Thursday's Spokesman-Review with more information about the expansion and other amenities.

Washington Policy Center hosts Wake-up update in Spokane Valley Thursday

The Washington Policy Center, a nonprofit, business advocacy group, is holding a “special session” Wake-Up  Forum Thursday morning at the Quality Inn, 8923 E. Mission, in Spokane Valley.

The 7 a.m. free session will include comments by two area legislators, Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, and Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane Valley. Parker will attend the meeting; Ormsby will plug in by videoconference.

They'll discuss what they see occurring in the special session convened this week in Olympia, to conclude work on a Washington state budget.

To sign up for the event, call either Chris Cargill at 509-570-2384, or register at: wakeupcall@washingtonpolicy.org.

Kizuri to hold benefit rug sale to help flood-impacted artisans in Pakistan

Spokane world-handcraft retail store Kizuri will hold a hand-crafted rug sale May 19-22 at the Community Building, 35 W. Main, in downtown Spokane.

This sale is the first of its kind held in Spokane, said Kim Harmson,  Kizuri's director.
 
The event is sponsored by Bunyaad, a fair trade artisan group in Pakistan.
 
The sale will feature about 300 hand-crafted rugs of different sizes. Money raised from the sale will be used to provide ongoing jobs for Pakistani artisans. Bunyaad is also helping to build seven new homes in this region for families whose homes were totally destroyed in the 2010 floods.
 
Sizes of rugs for sale will range from 2-by-3 feet to 10-by-14 feet.
 
Kizuri will have an introduction to oriental rug seminar at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 20.
 
Bunyaad's mission is to assist men and women artisans earn fair wages for their work and to find steady employment while working in their homes and villages.

Sirti sponsors tech innovation workshop April 29

Sirti, the state-funded economic support center for regional tech companies, is hosting an April 29 “Invention to Venture” workshop, at the Spokane Academic Center, WSU Riverpoint Campus.  The session runs from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Here's the description offered by Sirti: “A fast-paced workshop for science and technology students and faculty, as well as members of the university and business communities. Got a great idea for an invention? Not sure how to move your innovation or invention forward? Want to be more innovative in your business? Want to meet cool inventors and get inspired?  Join us for an exciting one-day workshop on the fundamentals of technology entrepreneurship, invention and innovation!”

Cost is $30, $15 for students. Lunch is included.

To register go to http://invention2venture.org/wsu2011
  

BookRags adds BrainyQuote to its online ad operation

BrainyQuoteBookRags.com, an education and book-reference site that is owned by Ambassadors Group, has signed a marketing arrangement with BrainyQuote, a website that provides quotes for students and the public.

Ambassadors Group, based in Spokane, provides education travel for students and others. It acquired BookRags in 2008.

BookRags has created a web advertising network, BookRags Media, that allows partner companies a way to direct ads to the teen and young adult audience using its site for education and research.

BookRags Media did a similar deal earlier, forming a partnership with eNotes, an online education resource site. 

BrainyQuote does pretty much what it says it does, offer up a vast collection of known quotes and remarks by noted authors or celebrities. Since Patty Duke is in the news around Spokane lately, we looked for her quotes there.

And we found this:

“I tell people to monitor their self-pity. Self-pity is very unattractive.”
Patty Duke

 

   

Another extension announced between Northwest Broadcasting and DirecTV

The good news in the prolonged dispute between the guys who run the Spokane Fox affiliate (KAYU-TV) and DirecTV is the apparent desire to keep going until the matter is resolved.

Again on Friday we learned the two side have set another extension; it seems like the 32nd time but it's more like the sixth or seventh, in fact.

The two sides are contesting over the Retransmision Fee, the amount DirecTV pays to Northwest Broadcasting, for carrying the Fox signals into the homes of subscribers here in Eastern Washington. Northwest Broadcasting is also bargaining for a number of other Fox stations, in Yakima, Tri-Cities, Medford and in New York state.

The two sides hunkered down before the holidays, then had to deal with massive anger when NW required DirecTV to pull its Fox signal from Jan. 1 to just about the Super Bowl (which was being carried on Fox).

The sides say progress appears to be occurring. But no one offers a statement on the final issues separating the two sides.

And meanwhile, viewers must be wondering: will that blackout happen again?

Why do people pick one smartphone over another: A graphic with some answers

Trying as hard as we can to offer the occasional useful chart or graphic. Today's offering:  a recently published graphic on what matters to people when buying a smartphone.

Definition first: A smartphone is: a mobile phone that offers more advanced computing ability and connectivity than a contemporary feature phone. Smartphones and feature phones may be thought of as handheld computers that use applications similar to those you would use on a computer. (Definition from Wikipedia).

The graphic comes by way of Businessinsider.com.  The big determining factor, the survey shows, was “platform.” which means: Is this running on Apple software, Microsoft or Google Android software?

The second leading factor in smartphone selection appears to be features (the kind of buttons, the presence of a video recorder, etc.)  The third main factor are apps.

Group against Spokane Tribe casino project launches website

A month ago we wrote about efforts by some West Plains business owners and others in opposition to a proposed Spokane Indian casino and resort.

The group, Citizens Against Casino Expansion, have launched a website to focus their concerns about the project, which they say has potential negative effects on Airway Heights and Fairchild Air Force Base.

Irv Zakheim, owner of Zak Designs, is heading the group. Among concerns, the group says the area already has a casino, the Northern Quest Resort and Casino, in Airway Heights. It was opened by the Kalispel Tribe.

The Spokane Tribe's project would be on land a few miles away. The Airway Heights City Council have started the process of annexing the 145 acres owned by the Spokane Tribe.

The opposition site is www.citizensagainstcasinos.com.

“This project is bad for the West Plains, bad for the future of Fairchild Air Force Base and could lead to more off-reservation gaming in our state. Our group plans to fight it aggressively and we’re inviting citizens to get involved. The community has a voice in this process and we can tell the BIA we don’t want it,” Zakheim wrote in a press release.

The Spokane Tribe says the project would provide significant numbers of new jobs and would provide economic stimulus both for Airway Heights and for tribal members. It's also had officials review the project and have been told the development poses no direct problems for the air base.

Before the casino can move forward the Spokanes first need federal approval, followed by approval by the governor's office.

Camyn’s greenhouses torn down on Spokane’s South Hill

UPDATED 12:40 p.m. April 21:

The Camyn's property has been sold to two buyers. Our Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, at 4320 Conklin, has purchased the lot from Garfield to its own parking lot.

The second part of the greenhouse parcel, from Garfield westward, was bought by SharperLending, a Spokane-based company with offices on the corner of 43rd and Scott.

One of Spokane's oldest businesses,  Camyn's Greenhouse and Garden Center, is no longer there.

The company was started in 1927 and was owned by brothers Jim and Vic Camyn. This week, the last parts of greenhouses and sheds at the nursery, at 4317 S. Garfield, on the South Hill, were torn down and taken away.

The fairly boring photo here was shot by my Droid phone, in minimal light. A sign in the parking area said: “Camyn's is Closed. From Jim and Vic Camyn. Thank you for all your support. 1927-2010.”

The brothers' dad, John Camyn, put up two of what later became 10 greenhouses in 1927. Others were built in 1949. Years ago, the front houses were used to grow an award-winning display of sweet peas.

The new owner of the land hasn't been identified. The location is ideal for a small business, located not far from Manito Golf and Country Club and the Rocket Market on 43rd.

The crummy spring weather and the impact on Spokane’s jobless rate

The state of Washington does its jobless rate announcements differently. It announced the statewide jobless rate of 9.2 percent last week.

Then, today, the state released the metro and county numbers. 

Spokane's rate inched up slightly this March, to 10.5 percent.

The interesting data tidbit is the effect on jobs of the crummy spring weather, according to regional labor economist Doug Tweedy.

A year ago the county had a higher jobless rate (11 percent) but it also had  500 more people working than we had in March 2011, state labor data show.

Tweedy said that comes from seasonal impacts and crummy spring weather. “The weather this past March has slowed outdoor jobs” including construction, landscaping and other areas of the job market, he said.

It's a good thing we don't have tons of jobs reliant on golf courses, swimming pools, splashdown parks and bike rentals. The impact on those areas would have been harsh this year.

Agora Award finalists announced

The nominees for the 2011 AGORA Awards were announced Tuesday by  Greater Spokane Incorporated. Winners will be announced June 1 at The Davenport Hotel from 7:00 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ?Attendees can register at events.greaterspokane.org.  The awards recognize area businesses for excellence.

Nominees by category are: 

Small business

  • Clark's Tire & Automotive
  • Craftsmen Construction, Inc.
  • Desautel Hege Communications

Medium business

  • GeoEngineers, Inc.
  • Horizon Hospice
  • Travel Leaders
  • Youthful Horizons Therapy

Large business

  • Graham Construction & Management, Inc.
  • Northwest Farm Credit Services
  • Pathology Associates Medical Laboratories (PAML)
  • Spokane Industries, Inc.

Nonprofit, small 

  • Inland Northwest Community Foundation
  • Spokane Lilac Festival Association
  • Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery

Nonprofit, large

  • Second Harvest
  • The Salvation Army of Spokane
  • Volunteers of America

About 42 percent of tax refunds will go to bolster savings

With tonight's tax deadline just six hours away, we looked about to see what people are saying they'll do with any refunds they get back from the government.

A recent survey by the National Retail Association found 42 percent said they will use refund dollars to pay down debt. Another 42 percent (which may overlap with the first 42 percent) say they will bolster savings accounts.

Only 13 percent, the Grasshopper Constituency, say they'll use the bucks to splurge on something.

We noticed, not surprisingly, that Allstate Insurance came up with a set of recommendations for refund money.

Sent by email, the suggestions include the big surprise — buying life insurance. OK, that makes sense, if you haven't done so already.

What else did Allstate think was a good idea:

  • Set up an emergency savings fund. The recommendation includes keeping enough money stashed away to cover six months to one year of unemployment.
  • Contribute to or open an IRA. Yes, the market is unstable. But pulling out of a retirement plan altogether is not the answer. Both traditional and Roth IRAs are great ways to save for retirement, although each offers different advantages. If you’re employed and have an IRA, continue contributing. If you’ve become unemployed, you might want to do a rollover from your retirement plan to a qualified IRA
  • Purchase a CD. If you don’t need immediate access to your funds, you may benefit from the fixed interest rates available with a Certificate of Deposit. You can buy a CD with a maturity or holding period as short as 30 days or as long as five years.

Ambassadors settles securities fraud suit for $7.5 million, denies wrongdoing

Spokane-based Ambassadors Group will pay a group of investors roughly $7.5 million to settle a class-action suit claiming the company engaged in securities fraud.

The suit was originally filed in 2009 in Spokane’s federal district court, with a New Jersey electrical workers pension fund as the lead plaintiff. A year later the suit was amended, with the national Plumbers Union Local No. 12 pension fund becoming the lead plaintiff in a class action suit.

After going through federal mediation, the parties signed the settlement last week, said Ambassadors Group CEO and President Jeff Thomas.

The suit alleged that some Ambassadors executives intentionally misled investors about the company’s weak finances during 2007, when the stock price fell by 40 percent. Company executives also sold stock worth more than $7 million during that period, the suit alleged.

In announcing the settlement Ambassadors made no admission of wrongdoing.

The money for the settlement will be paid by Ambassador Group’s insurance companies, said Tony Dombrowik, the company’s CFO.

How soon is Wal-Mart building its newest Spokane Valley store?

About a year ago the SR published news that Wal-Mart would put another new store in Spokane Valley, about six blocks east of the Costco, about 5601 E. Sprague.

There hasn't been a lot of progress so far on that project, which we wrote about first here. Why not?

We tracked down Wal-Mart's regional contacts to find out when the project will get going. Here's the reply:

  • Construction will start in late summer or early fall. Think August or September.
  • It will take 12 to 14 months after groundbreaking before the new Wal-Mart opens. 
  • A Spokane Valley hiring center will be set up roughly 90 days before the doors open. That hiring office will have an online component for job applicants. It's here.  

The store will include a garden center with outside sales area covering about 4,700 square feet (very large). 

It is slated to include an indoor pharmacy, a full-service grocery and a Subway sandwich store inside.

When finished, it will be about 155,000 square feet.

Does BigDeal.com really offer shoppers great penny-auction deals?

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Nick Darveau-Garneau

Nicolas Darveau-Garneau PictureEarlier this week we called Nick Darveau-Garneau, the CEO of San Francisco-based BigDeal.com.

This site is one of the increasingly popular penny-auction sites that invite consumers to hunt down good deals on electronics and household items. 

We're posting a portion of the interview with Nick, who explains how the BigDeal  auctions and bidding operate.

The pitch that caught the eye of Office Hours was the claim that real people are finding real deals on some items, such as getting a new Kindle for less than $10. 

Here's the basic way it works: A person becomes a member by spending a minimum amount to earn bidding dollars. For now, that minimum is $22.50.

The idea is to be the last person bidding, as the auction clock runs down. Each bid you make costs you 75 cents; each successful bid you make on an item pushes the item price up one cent. If the item clock is finally coming down to 30 seconds or less, each new bid, whoever makes it, pushes the clock back to 30 seconds. 

If you don't win, the amount of money you've bid can be applied to “discounted retail” price for that same item, offered by BigDeal. In other words, if you don't win it at auction, you can buy it at a discounted retail price. And BD has the item drop-shipped.

Darveau-Garneau said the auction-sale items offered come from wholesalers and discounters. 

And yes, the auction items “won” will cost the bidder whatever the item price is at the end of the auction, plus shipping.

What we like about it:

  • Things are legit, in that the listings are all backed by BigDeal. Products are not bogus or knockoffs.
  • There's a “Bid Buddy” option that lets bidders auto-bid, within time limits.
  • It's generally a good way to buy an item you really want. If you don't get the item, you can apply the bid amount as a discount against the “competitive” purchase price.

What we don't like about it:

  • It's hard to track or find a given item. Say you want a Canon G12 camera. Good luck finding BigDeal auctions for the G12 without major effort.
  • Item prices for sale for those who don't win that item are nothing special. You can nearly always beat the BigDeal price by shopping on eBay, Amazon or Buy.com, just to use three instances.

See the rest of the post below. 

  

Best Buy will focus online, but also add more mobile phone outlets

Best Buy Co., Inc. says it sees a big bright future in online sales.

The Eden, Minn.-based electronics and appliance retailer announced it plans to double web sales to $4 billion in five years. At the same time, it expects to reduce the bricks-and-mortar square footage of its building during the same time.

But not all the growth will be solely online. A recent visit by CEO Brian Dunn with Wall Street investors revealed Best Buy is also eager to open more stores focused on selling mobile phones and service plans.

The company reports that 60 percent of Best Buy items bought were researched online; about 40 percent of web purchases are picked up locally at stores.

Best Buy Executive Vice President Shari Ballard also told analysts: “There’s a new definition of convenience: the ability to interact with a company on your (the customer's) terms,” Ballard said.

 According to the web retailer Top 500 Guide, Best Buy has seen overall sales stagnate over the past year while online revenue has steadily grown.

Silver Mountain will be open Saturday

Silver Mountain Resort will be open Saturday, extending a ski and snow-boarding season cushioned by 400 inches of snow.

“We've been blessed with over four feet of snow recently, and the short-term forecast looks promising for more,” spokesman John Williams said.

He  said all 1,600 acres of the Kellogg mountain will be open, with lift tickets priced at $35 for adults, $25 for youths below age 18. Children less than six years  old ski free.

The four other ski areas in the Inland Northwest closed Sunday.

 

Mark Britton named to Orbitz board of directors

Gonzaga University grad Mark Britton, who's CEO of Seattle-based Avvo, has been named to the board of travel site Orbitz.

Orbitz is based in Chicago and is one of the top three web-based travel services. Before starting lawyer- and doctor-rating service Avvo,  Britton was an executive for Seattle-based Expedia.

He is also a member of the GU Board of Regents, which meets in Spokane on Thursday. Britton has a business degree from GU and earned a degree in law from George Washington University in1992.
The Spokesman-Review ran a story about Avvo on June 7, 2007, right after it launched.

Where does the price of gas come from? An infographic from DOE

Today's interesting business-related chart or graphic comes by way of the feds, and from DOE in specific.

It's the typical breakdown, based on U.S. averages, for what goes into the cost of a gallon of gas.

This was created in winter of 2010 and the average price of gas has soared since then, but the general percentages seem not to have changed too much. Notably, only about 71 percent of the cost of gas at the pump is for the cost of crude oil.

The adjustment for Idaho and Washington's portion of taxes shows this.

This chart was created when the U.S. price for regular averaged about $2.86.

Today it's averaging $3.808, according to AAA.  In Washington the regular price average on Wednesday is $3.89. In Idaho it's $3.64, also from AAA data.

State, federal and local taxes account for about 56 center per gallon of regular in Washington. In Idaho the number is 43 cents per gallon of regular.

Unemployment rate up despite hirings

Washington's unemployment rate climbed in March despite a gain of 1,110 jobs, the Employment Security Department said today.

The March unemployment rate was 9.2 percent, a notch higher than the 9.1 percent reported for February.

The biggest job gains were in business and professional services, 2,700; wholesale trade, 1,900; and manufacturing, 1,600. Construction employment slumped 2,400; education and health services, 1,800; and government, 1,300.

Employers in Washington have added 33,100 workers since March 2010, but 340,325 unemployed were still trying to find a job last month. Of those, 228,911 collected unemployment benefits.

More than 22,000 job openings are posted online at the WorkSource Web site, www.go2worksource.com.

Spokane’s Advantage IQ given Energy Star award

Spokane's Advantage IQ is one of 111 companies named Energy Star partners for energy efficiency, based on the annual U.S. Environmental Protection Agency summary of green companies.

The awards are grouped into three categories: Partner of the Year, Awards of Excellence and Sustained Excellence.

Advantage IQ provides companies with detailed, ongoing management of utility, telecom and other office expenses. It was one of 46 groups in the 2011 Sustained Excellence category.

The company's energy accomplishments include:

  •  Providing Energy Star scores for more than 38,000 buildings—an 11 percent increase over 2009—and delivering more than 184,000 building scores to clients throughout 2010.
  •  Helping clients earn the Energy Star rating for 309 buildings in 2010 and assisting 28 client buildings in improving their ENERGY STAR scores by 10 or more points.

IKEA moving into North Idaho? Not according to the firm’s spokesman

Yes, we finally got that Trader Joe's store, after years of hearing rumors the food chain was eyeing this region.

Similar rumors pop up about other retailers, such as Whole Foods or IKEA.

We heard a rumor about IKEA, the Scandinavian furniture firm, looking at setting up shop in North Idaho. We went calling and tracked down the firm's North American spokesman, Joseph Roth.

His answer: No. No such plans.

An email from Roth said: “There are no plans for an IKEA store in the Spokane, WA or Post Falls, ID area.

“With only 37 (going on 38) stores in the U.S., we typically require a population of approximately 2 million people within a certain trade area.”

Got any other rumors? Got any other ideas about Whole Foods moving to Spokane?

Amnesty on business taxes reaps close to $30 million for Washington’s general fund

Every little bit helps. Cash-strapped Washington state will collect up to $30 million — and potentially more —  in back taxes through an amnesty program that ends April 18.

More than 7,000 companies statewide have applied for the amnesty. About 4,200 of them are still being reviewed for eligibility.

So far 174 Spokane County businesses have been approved or are under review, said Mike Gowrylow, spokesman for Washington’s Department of Revenue.

The Legislature approved the one-time amnesty in last year’s session. It allows businesses to pay past-due state or local taxes without extra fines or penalties. Payments must be made by April 30.

The state has approved more than 1,400 businesses so far. Another 1,300 applications have been denied. Denials occur if the company has filed bankruptcy or if an owner has been assessed a penalty for tax evasion or been prosecuted for failing to pay taxes.

Of the total money raised, about $3.9 million will go to cities and counties; that money comes from previously unpaid local sales or use taxes. How much will go to Spokane governments is not yet known, he said.

To be eligible, businesses must have outstanding past-due taxes incurred before Feb. 1.

When the program started, the state said 50,000 businesses, about 10 percent of those registered in Washington, owed past-due taxes. Those businesses owe about $183 million in back taxes, according to Gowrylow.

Unemployment fraud up in 2010, so were recoveries

Almost 7,000 people filed fraudulent unemployment benefit claims in 2010, the Washington Employment Security Department said today.

The claims amounted to $14 million, up 56 percent from 2009. But the department recovered $11 million in claims from 2010 and prior years, spokesman Jamie Swift said.

Although he could not say whether the fraud was a record, he noted that extended benefits offered during the recession gave cheats an opportunity to collect more money before they were caught. 

The fraudulent claims represent less than one-half percent of the total $4.6 billion in claims paid to more than 500,000 unemployed Washington workers in 2010.

LaunchPad lines up a long list of medical, professional leaders for Tuesday session


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Tuesday's LaunchPad event, starting at 1 p.m. at the Riverpoint Higher Education campus, offers a cross-section of area researchers and business people talking about Spokane's health sciences sector.

Around 1:15 p.m., Seattle journalist Luke Timmerman will talk about biotech prospects for the region.

Following his remarks, a number of breakout sessions will be offered, from 2:30 to 3:15 p.m., and 3:15 to 4 p.m. The full day's agenda will be at Washington State University's South Campus Facility Court, 412 E. Spokane Falls Blvd.

Who's going to be on deck for those breakout sessions? Here's some of the lineup: Howard Grimes, WSU dean of the graduate school and VP of research; Steve Neff, CEO of Revita Rehab; Dave Vachon, of Iasis Molecular Sciences; Jon Copeland, CEO of Inland Imaging; Buck Somes of GenPrime; Paul Domitor of Rehab Logic, and Dr. Patrick Tennican, of Hyprotek. 

To register, use this link.

Average price of gas in Washington hits $3.88, according to AAA

The price of gas continues rising and the busiest driving season is a few months away.

The Associated Press reports the average price of gas in Washington has reached $3.88 per gallon of regular gas.

Prices quoted rely on a AAA auto club survey of stations and dealers across the state. The $3.88 figure is 6 cents more than last week and 24 cents up from a month ago.

And it's 11 cents higher than the national average.

The AP reports these average prices for cities:

  • Spokane $3.78
  • Bellingham $3.98
  • Bremerton $3.90
  • Seattle-Bellevue-Everett $3.89
  • Tacoma $3.88
  • Olympia $3.91
  • Vancouver $3.81
  • Yakima $3.84

Pay for Washington, Idaho women lags

Women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and women in Washington and Idaho get an even smaller share, according to a study released today by the National Partnership for Women & Families.

In Washington, a woman working full-time is paid $38,521, a man $51,305. The 25 percent gap creates a $11.1 billion difference in total wages for all women.

If pay were equal, women would be able to buy almost two years worth of food, make seven more monthly mortgage payments, or 14 more months of rent.. The Partnership said eliminating the pay gap would boost the incomes of 65,577 Washington households living in poverty that are headed by women.

Idaho women earn $29,122, men $40,440, creating a 26 percent gap and total differential of $2.1 billion.

The gap represents 85 more weeks of food, nine months of mortgage payments, or 16 months of rent. Slightly more than 15,500 families living in poverty would benefit if pay was equal.

The statistics were released the day before Equal Pay Day, the end of the period women must work in 2011 to catch up with compensation earned by men in 2010.

The gap has closed at a rate of one-half cent per year since passage of the 1963 Equal Pay Act. At that rate, the Partnership says, pay for women will not match that for men until 2958.

 

Say it ain’t so, Joe. Trader Joe’s recalls mislabeled pizzas

While Spokane-area foodies await the much-heralded arrival this year of a new Trader Joe’s, here's a touch of reality, although the news is hardly anything approaching serious.

The California-based food market chain has voluntarily ordered nearly 131,000 pounds of frozen pizzas to be recalled.

It did so in response to a notice by the United States Department of Agriculture that the chain's “Pizza Al Pollo Asado” product failed to mention it contains wheat. Since some people are allergic to wheat, with symptoms ranging from nausea and hives and breathing problems, the company faced possible lawsuits by neglecting to pull the bad packages.

Those pizzas were produced between Jan. 27 and March 27 by Completely Fresh Foods in Montebello, Calif.

Work has begun on the new Trader Joe's on Spokane's South Hill. A fall opening is expected.

Can you really get an iPad for $5 at those penny auction sites?

You all see those ads saying you can win an auction for an iPad for $5.

Does anyone really win something at those prices?

We'll follow up here after talking later today with Nick Darveau-Garneau, the CEO of BigDeal.com, one auction site that claims to be doing straight-up auctions for honestly low prices.  We'll be doing a Q and A that we'll record, so you can listen to the key parts, if you wish. 

And we'll post a quick summary of the points made during that interview. 

If you have any suggested questions, email them to tomATspokesman.com

Shutdown will not affect jobless benefits

A shutdown of the federal government will not interrupt the payment of unemployment benefits in Washington, Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause said Friday.

He said the U.S. Department of Labor has assured Washington officials that transfers from a  state trust fund held by the the department will not be interrupted.

Most of the money for unemployment benefits comes from the federal government.

The Employment Security Department also said federal workers should apply for unemployment benefits if there is a shutdown, but they will not receive a check unless they out of work for more than one week.

Home sales up, prices down

Homes sales in Spokane County surged compared with February, but remained behind the level for March 2009, when a federal home buyer tax credit was available.

Buyers closed on 307 sales compared with 190 in February, according to the Spokane Association of Realtors. The average price was $162,187, down from $166,418 in February and $182,234 a year earlier.

The median price was $154,000, ahead of the $150,000 for February, but below the $160,000 of a year ago.

Sales and prices were down for the first quarter compared with the 2009 period, when the tax credit was stimulating sales.

So far, 681 homes have sold, a 14 percent drop from 2009, and average and median prices both declined.

The number of listings increased slightly over February, to 2,738, but fell significantly from the 3,335 of a year ago.

Coming Sunday: Busting myths about money

Is it wise to pay down high-interest credit cards before you save for a rainy day?

Is buying health insurance a waste of money for young workers?

Will you spend less each month once you retire?

How to manage your money poses an array of tricky questions, and conventional wisdom is always changing.

We'll help bust some common myths with a package of stories, both in print and online, this Sunday.

Look for the coverage in the Sunday Business section, as well as online (starting Sunday) at spokesman.com/moneymyths.

Where are people moving to and from? This Forbes map shows 2008 patterns

We love any decent web visualization that explains interesting trends or developments. This map, developed for Forbes.com, nicely illustrates the movement of U.S. residents to and from different areas of the country during 2008.

The link is  here.

The map takes some time to load initially.

By clicking on the county you want, the resulting black or red lines illustrate the relative flow of population, to or from that location.

Click, for instance, on Kootenai County to see where people there have moved from.

My only quibble is that it's not fully up-to-date. It would be even better to have a data map for the years 2007-2010.

Dry Fly Distilling a month away from releasing its new bourbon

UPDATED at 5:00 p.m. Thursday April 7

The cost of the fifth of Washington Bourbon will be $64.95, said Don Poffenroth. That's fairly equivalent to the price charged for Dry Fly's whiskey, if you figure 101-proof bourbon packs 20 percent more alcohol per fifth, he said.

And, about 60 percent of the price on the shelf will be due to taxes, Poffenroth said.

Spokane's Dry Fly Distilling is about 30 days from releasing its newest product, Dry Fly Washington Bourbon.

A considerable period of time was required to gain regulatory approval of the product's new label, said co-founder Don Poffenroth.

The company is currently involved in an expansion of its downtown facility, in order to add three more fermenters.

No formal launch party is planned. But Poffenroth said he expects the release will generate considerable interest among the distillery's customers.

Dry Fly now makes a gin, vodka and wheat whiskey.  Products are available at its distillery and at some state liquor outlets.

Auto sales boost tax revenues

A strong rebound in auto and truck sales boosted fourth-quarter sales tax revenues in Washington and the five most populous counties, the Department of Revenue reported today.

Retail sales for the October-December period rose 5.7 percent compared with 2009, to $12.9 billion

Retail trade sales, which include construction and other industrial sectors, climbed 5.8 percent from 2009, to $26.8 billion in the October-December period.

Total retail trade sales in Spokane County rose 1.7 percent to $926 million, but fell .7 percent in the City of Spokane, to $492 million.

The gains in retail sales were led by new and used car dealers, where revenues rose 11.7 percent compared with the 2009 quarter. Construction continued to be a drag, falling 6.8 percent.

Despite the increases over 2009, the department noted retail trade sales were below levels for 2007 and 2006. Overall retail sales remained below levels for the years 2005 through 2008.

Labor union blasts Herrera Beutler over worker votes

Communications Workers of America, one of the nation’s largest labor unions, is attacking U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Vancouver, for her vote last week to retain language in a massive Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that treats workers who do not vote in union representation elections as “no” votes, reports The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash.

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill if that language remains, saying it would undermine a fundamental principle of fairness in union representation elections. In a press release, the CWA points out that if the same principle applied in congressional elections, Herrera Beutler would have received only 28.6 percent of the vote last November instead of the 53 percent she won.

Herrera Beutler worked in Washington, D.C., as a senior legislative aide for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, from 2005-07.

“Despite the bedrock democratic principles of fairness at stake, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler helped ensure that this egregious and unfair election provision remained in the larger FAA bill,” the union said in a statement, noting that 16 Republicans joined Democrats in voting to strip the election provision from the larger bill. The amendment to strip the language failed on a 220-206 vote.

ReliOn announces another round of backing, expanding sales goals

Spokane Valley fuel cell developer, ReliOn, announced Tuesday it's gained an additional $6 million in further investment from its existing backers.

The money, according to a ReliOn release, will help push further U.S. commercial sales and expand marketing and sales internationally.

The focus in Europe derives, in part, from ReliOn's recently announced partnership with HOPPECKE Batteriren GmbH, a major European innovator and producer of battery systems.

A press release Tuesday noted that privately held ReliOn has enjoyed a nice upward swing in sales and gross profit.

The release also quoted CEO Gary Flood saying, “With this funding, we are able to accelerate a number of important programs currently underway which move the company toward our objective of becoming the first profitable fuel cell company.”

Area plastic surgeons start three-month campaign to alert consumers

Most of us don't know that nearly any doctor, no matter what specialty he or she has, is allowed to perform plastic surgery.

A group of 10 board certified Spokane and North Idaho doctors, all members of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, have formed a cooperative to address the need for more consumer information about their practice.

A press release on Tuesday states the group is starting a three-month series of TV, print and web ads to inform people about the risks of not using trained and certified plastic surgeons.

“We are concerned about billboards and other local advertising vehicles that promise the world to potential patients — without explaining that the world into which they were being lured is a mirage. We are trying to educate the public about the skill level of ABPS - certified plastic surgeons. These other physicians are operating out of their scope of practice. We can't just say 'we're the plastic surgeons' and expect the public to understand what that means,” according to Dr. Carol Hathaway, local ASPS member.

Board certified plastic surgeons have at least six years of surgical training, have passed rigorous testing and operate only in accredited medical facilities, the group said in a release.

The ten doctors participating are: Dr. Carol Hathaway, Dr. Lynn Derby, Dr. Alfonso Oliva, Dr. Edwin Chang, Dr. Elizabeth Peterson, Dr. Jeffrey Karp and Dr. Robert Cooper, all of Spokane; and  Dr. Mark Owsley and Dr. Patrick Mullern, of Post Falls; and  Dr. Michelle Spring of Ponderay, Idaho.

Spokane area plastic surgeons start three-month campaign to alert consumers

Most of us don't know that nearly any doctor, no matter what specialty he or she has, is allowed to perform plastic surgery.

A group of 10 board certified Spokane and North Idaho doctors, all members of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, have formed a cooperative to address the need for more consumer information about their practice.

A press release on Tuesday states the group is starting a three-month series of TV, print and web ads to inform people about the risks of not using trained and certified plastic surgeons.

“We are concerned about billboards and other local advertising vehicles that promise the world to potential patients — without explaining that the world into which they were being lured is a mirage. We are trying to educate the public about the skill level of ABPS - certified plastic surgeons. These other physicians are operating out of their scope of practice,” said Dr. Carol Hathaway, a member of the group, in a press release.

Board certified plastic surgeons have at least six years of surgical training, have passed rigorous testing and operate only in accredited medical facilities, the group said in a release.

The 10 doctors participating are: Dr. Carol Hathaway, Dr. Lynn Derby, Dr. Alfonso Oliva, Dr. Edwin Chang, Dr. Elizabeth Peterson, Dr. Jeffrey Karp and Dr. Robert Cooper, all of Spokane; and  Dr. Mark Owsley and Dr. Patrick Mullern, of Post Falls; and  Dr. Michelle Spring of Ponderay, Idaho.

The information site is here.

Amazon ranked tops for online customer satisfaction, survey says

Seattle-based Amazon scored No. 1 in a recent online survey of shoppers asked to rate companies'  customer service.

The survey, provided by the Temkin Group, asked people to rate their shopping experiences with 143 different companies.

Using about 6,000 surveys from purchases made this past January, the Temkin ratings looked at a number of factors customers used in judging the experience of buying products online.

The result was a factor that Temkin called the “net goodness” rating  that came from three major components: Functional, Accessible and Emotional.  To get more information on the method Temkin used, go to the Temkin overview.

The survey mostly looked at retailers, banks, hotels and financial institutions.

Kohl's was ranked No. 2. Notably, another Seattle company, Costco, ranked No. 3 in the ratings. Others in the top five were Lowe's and Sam's Club.

Read more: http://news.cnet.com/business-tech/#ixzz1Iajbmn15;

Chart credit: Temkin Corp.

Restoration Hardware to close downtown Spokane store April 16

Spokane's downtown Restoration Hardware closes its doors at the end of business on April 16.

Its location, at 714 W. Main, will be taken by outdoor outfitter North Face. North Face isn't expected to open its store until this summer, said a news release from River Park Square, the property owner.

River Park Square is an affiliate of Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

Health-sharing ministry ordered to stop

Samaritan Ministries, a Christian ministry-based health plan, was ordered to cease operations in Washington on Friday by Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

The Illinois-based organization's “need-sharing” program is considered insurance under Washington law, he said, despite its unusual structure.

Samaritan Ministries members pay monthly shares of $135 to $320, plus a $170 monthly fee, to cover claims submitted by other members.

The group reviews claims, then publishes the needs for members who pay the medical bills.

Kreidler said Samaritan has not registered with the state, submitted its rates and policies for review, or met solvency requirements.

The organization says it has more than 15,000 members nationwide.

Kreidler spokesman Rich Roesler said the Commissioners Office knows of only one member in Washington.

Samaritan Ministries can appeal Kreidler's order. 

SBDC hires new international trade specialist Katerina Korish

Advisor PictureThe Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has hired Katerina Korish as international trade specialist for the Spokane Export Center located on the Riverpoint Campus.

Korish recently relocated to Spokane from Madison, Wisc., where she owned and ran a gourmet wholesale business that sourced and imported Asian food for U.S. co-ops and companies.
 
She has both domestic and international business experience in the real estate industry and experience in the international fine art business.
 
Her background includes ongoing research about doing business in Asia. She is also fluent in Russian and can bridge the gaps for clients interested in Eastern European markets.
 
Korish holds a master’s in corporate communication from Baruch College, The City University of New York; and from Minsk State University in Belarus, a master's in sociolinguistics and a bachelor of arts degree in Interpretation (Chinese-English-Russian) with a minor in international relations.

West files settlement over non-payment to Spokane call center workers

West Corp., which runs two large call centers in Spokane, has settled a class action suit filed on behalf of workers who said they were denied pay for 15 minutes of work at the start of each shift.

Without acknowledging wrongdoing, the Omaha-based company said it would pay varying amounts of compensation to about 2,000 current and former workers who handled customer calls at West’s downtown Holley Mason building.

West’s attorneys predicted the settlement will produce payments in the ballpark of $320,000.

Filed in U.S. District Court in 2010, the lawsuit said numerous Spokane West call center workers were not paid for those first 15 minutes stretching back to 2008.

The suit’s lead plaintiff, Spokane resident Leah Burnett, alleged the company did not begin paying her or others like her until they took their first customer service call.

In court documents Burnett said West first required her to spend about 15 minutes starting a number of computer programs that had to be used before handling calls.

Those software programs were specifically needed when dealing with customer questions for AT&T, one of West’s major customers.

The settlement resulted after the federal court ordered the two sides to work with a federal mediator.

It also has no bearing on several hundred other West employees who have worked at its Spokane Valley call center and who don’t handle calls for AT&T.

In accepting the settlement, West agreed to pay its downtown workers roughly the equivalent of 12 minutes for each shift worked during the time of the AT&T contract.

 The amount to be paid to workers varies with the number of shifts eligible employees worked between 2008 and 2010.

Most of West’s Spokane’s downtown workers were paid about $11 per hour.

Because she was the lead plaintiff, the 33-year-old Burnett will get an added $1,500. She no longer works for West.

A spokesman for West said the company would have no comment on the settlement. One of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Peter Cogan, based in Seattle, also had no comment.

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

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

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