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Office Hours

Archive for December 2011

Montana, Oregon raising minimum wage Jan. 1

The minimum wage is scheduled to go up on New Years’ Day in Montana and Oregon.

The rate in Montana will increase 30 cents to $7.65 an hour. The The Economic Policy Institute says that means an extra $624 per year in wages for a full-time minimum wage worker.   

The increase comes as a result of an initiative Montana voters adopted in 2006 that established annual cost of living increases.

Oregon’s minimum wage goes up 30 cents on Jan. 1 to $8.80 an hour. It will mean a pay raise to nearly 145,000 workers in the state.

The annual inflation increase is the result of an initiative approved in 2002 by voters.  
  

Idaho wage gap widens between men and women

BOISE — The gap between how much men and women earn in the Gem State widened in 2010.

The Idaho Statesman reports the salary disparity between men and women increased by 2.2 percent during the previous year, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The survey showed the full-time wages of Idaho women were 77.6 percent of what men earned.

Idaho was ranked 36 among states for the ratio of salaries between the sexes.

State lawmakers previously passed a resolution to bring attention to the disparity and established Equal Pay Day on April 28. The date is recognized nationwide to mark how far the average woman would have to work into the year to catch up to what the average man earned in the previous year.

Bypass planned at Lucky Friday Mine

Hecla Mining Co. today announced that it is going to build a bypass at Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan, Idaho, to take workers away from an area where a rock burst last week injured seven miners.

The company said it will build a 750-foot bypass through an area previously mined to access ore at the 5,900-foot depth where the rock burst occurred.

Three of the seven injured miners were held at local hospitals right after the rock burst on Dec. 14, but all were later released.

Hecla closed the mine right after the accident, an action that was followed by an order from federal officials to close the mine.

The bypass will create a new haulage way for moving silver ore out of the mine.

Area BBB lists the 10 area businesses with the most 2011 complaints

More than 3,100 consumer complaints came into the Better Business Bureau serving Spokane, Eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Of those, we asked the BBB for the list of the 10 Eastern Washington and North Idaho companies with the most complaints  from Jan. 1-Dec. 1, 2011.

Here's the list, followed by the business's overall BBB rating. Companies that respond actively and promptly typically retain a high rating:

  • Global Fitness franchise, 110 W. Price, Spokane, 24 complaints, F rating.

  • 1880 Western Wear, Colville, 21 complaints, F rating.

  • Merchants Services Direct, Spokane Valley, 18 complaints, C rating.

  • Ambassador Programs, Inc., Spokane, 15 complaints, B+ rating.

  • Dave Smith Motors, Kellogg, 13 complaints, A+ rating.

  • WKA Innovations, Inc., Spokane Valley, 13 complaints, B+ rating.

  • AT&T Mobility, Spokane, 12 complaints, A- rating.

  • LLS America LLC, Spokane, 11 complaints, F rating.

  • CoiNuts, Coeur d’Alene, 10 complaints, F rating.

  • Time Warner Cable, Coeur d’Alene, 10 complaints. A rating

BBB to post full consumer complaints in detail, starting Jan. 1

Starting Jan. 1, the Spokane-area Better Business Bureau will publish full consumer complaints against companies in the region instead of short descriptions. 

A number of other regional BBBs have also published complaints as a way of adding informationfor consumers to judge for themselves the performance of businesses, said Chelsea Dannen, public relations and media specialist for the Spokane BBB.

The Spokane-based business group covers Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana.

Up until now the BBB has listed the number of complaints a company receives and whether the complaint has been “closed” — either answered by the company or not answered after two attempts for a reply.

Through January, the Spokane BBB will continue to list business complaints in general terms such as billing or collection.

But after that the full text of written complaints will be posted on the organization’s website. When companies send replies, those will be added too, Dannen said. Only revealing and private information will be excluded.

A group of complaints collected since mid-December are being batched together and will be the first placed online, Dannen said.

Thank you, 14Four. Improved sobriety test protects you from reckless tweets

The Step 2 tagline on the online version of the Social Media Sobriety Test sums it up:

“Choose your hours of intoxication.”

About a year ago the coders who work at Spokane creative agency 14Four had fun making a “social media sobriety kit” that kept people from posting drunken comments on sites like Facebook or Twitter.

The test was just upgraded by 14Four with a holiday theme.  As the new version gains blog and broadcast notoriety, those at 14Four who've worked on the sobriety test project say it's been a great showcase of their talents and skills.

In the world of advertising and creative marketing, half the battle is winning eyeballs. And that has clearly happened with the sobriety test, said Jeff Oswalt, 14Four’s president.

Last year’s version involved just a web browser tool that set time limits when one could post messages or photos. The tests themselves were simple: follow a moving object onscreen with a mouse or type the alphabet backwards.

The new version comes with holiday-themed warnings, such as: “Before you hand out copies of your backside or tell your in-laws how you really feel, download the Holiday Party Sobriety Test and protect yourself, from yourself.”

It also added mobile versions for Android and iPhone; you can download the free sobriety app from iTunes.

CDA Tribe donates $35,000 to Post Falls weekend student food program

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe will donate $35,000 to the Post Falls Food Bank Weekend Nutrition Backpack Program, which aids  Post Falls students who don't have reliable access to good food on weekends.  

“Hearing about kids who go without food all weekend really tugs at your heart, so when we heard about this program, we just had to help. We want our donation to ensure that the food bank can continue to feed the kids who have already been identified for this year’s program and that the program will be financially able to feed even more children if the schools uncover a greater need,” said Tribal Chairman Chief Allan, in a press release.
 
The program will allot supplemental food items to students in the Post Falls School District to reduce weekend hunger and provide additional nutritional assistance, according to the handout.

Care to tweet reactions to WSU’s sale of the Jensen-Byrd building?

@SR_Officehours is asking Twitter users to respond to the question:  What do you think of the Jensen-Byrd building sale by WSU to a company that will tear the building down? We'd like to hear your comments or thoughts, in 140 characters or less.

Tweet messages or RTs, and the Tweetstream embedded here should collect all those messages.  Thanks. If you can, use the hashtag #Jensen-Byrd

How many jobs will the demolition of the Jensen-Byrd building create?

So, if you read some of the reader comments found on Thursday's Spokesman.com story about Campus Advantage tearing down the Jensen-Byrd building, you may have wondered how many jobs comes out of this development.

The story in a nutshell: many folks regard the 1909 Jensen-Byrd building a major piece of Spokane history. But WSU has agreed to sell it to the Texas company, who will tear it down and replace it with a five-story student apartment complext catering to Riverpoint Campus students and those from nearby Gonzaga University.

How many jobs will the Campus Advantage project create?  Simple answer, not that many. Reader comments on Spokesman.com were all over the map on that question.

We can't say how many demolition and construction jobs will come from the effort; the Austin-based firm said it will rely on local contractors but it hasn't even closed the sale yet.

Longer-term, once it opens in fall 2013, the new building will likely hire about 5 fulltime and 5 part-time workers, said Campus Advantage Executive VP Scott Duckett.

Texas firm will raze Jensen-Byrd building, plans 125 units in new structure

The company that's buying the old 1909 Jensen-Byrd building in downtown Spokane has decided it will raze the structure rather than convert it.

Austin-based Campus Advantage paid $2.85 million to Washington State University for the buidling, which is roughly 136,000 square feet on land on the east end of downtown Spokane.

The plan is to demolish the old building and replace it with a five-story student apartment complex with  425 beds  in two- and four-bedroom units with shared bathrooms and shared common areas.
 
Scott Duckett, a vice president with Campus Advantage, said the goal originally was to save the building — which is not on the Spokane or the federal historic register.
But the interior components and other issues made that conversion too expensive, he said.
 
The company company plans to break ground in summer 2012 to meet an occupancy date of fall 2013. Its release can be found here
 
Notably, WSU officials earlier this year turned down a similar offer with the same pricetage by Spokane developer Ron Wells.  A story outlining the reasons WSU didn't select Wells' project will be in Thursday's edition of The Spokesman-Review and on Spokesman.com.

Employee compensation up 2.3% in Spokane County, 3% in Kootenai County

The average total compensation per job in Spokane County rose 2.3 percent in 2010, the U.S. Department of Commerce said today.

Total compensation – wages and salaries plus employer contributions for pension and insurance funds – averaged $50,336 in 2010, up from $49,227 in 2009, according to the agency’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

In Kootenai County, total compensation rose to $41,947, from $40,710 in 2009 – an increase of 3 percent.

In the Seattle area, average compensation in King County rose 3.3 percent to $75,114. In the Boise area, Ada County's average compensation rose 3.1 percent to $52,105.

Compensation increased in 2,480 counties and declined in 633 counties in the U.S. last year, as the average annual compensation per job increased 2.7 percent to $58,451.

Judge orders Idaho to increase some Medicaid rates

BOISE — A federal judge has ordered Idaho to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for businesses that provide residential care to developmentally disabled residents. The ruling could cost the state $4 million.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill made the ruling Monday. The decision came after five residential habilitation companies sued the state in 2009, contending the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare was using reimbursement rates calculated in 2006, even though the department’s own subsequent studies showed that the cost of providing services had increased considerably.

According to the lawsuit, the 2006 daily rate for one type of service was $268 — compared to the daily rate of $496 suggested by the department’s study. But lawmakers failed to give the department funding for the increase.

Latin America trade mission results in leads for Idaho businesses

Idaho's delegation has returned from a trade mission to Mexico and Brazil and reports “tremendous interest and opportunities in both countries for Idaho products and services,” says Lt. Gov. Brad Little (right), who led the mission.

Seventeen Idaho businesses or organizations participated, from Mountain States Oilseeds, which reported that it secured agreements for five more semi-truck loads of mustard seed to be exported to Mexico, to Ground Force Manufacturing of Post Falls, which reported a $1 million sale and additional likely sales over the next two years of up to $12 million from contacts made on the trade mission.

Idaho's next trade mission will be to China in April 2012.

Washington jobless rate at 8.7%, lowest since 2009

OLYMPIA — Private-sector job growth has pushed Washington’s unemployment rate to the lowest point since February 2009, officials said today.

The Employment Security Department said the drop to 8.7 percent unemployment in November came with the state adding 12,100 jobs. The jobless rate was down from 9.1 percent in October.  

“This is the kind of job growth we need to make a good dent in the unemployment rate,” said Greg Weeks, director of the Employment Security Department’s labor-market information office, in a statement.  

The state has added jobs in 13 of the past 14 months, but it has usually come in smaller chunks.   

The November numbers show growth across much of the private sector. The professional and business services sector added 4,200 jobs. Leisure and hospitality grew by 3,800. Construction was up 2,000 jobs.  
Government posted a slight decline in jobs.  

More than 300,000 people in Washington were unemployed and looking for work in October, according to the Employment Security Department. As of Saturday, some 68,000 workers had exhausted their unemployment benefits.  

Washington’s numbers followed the national trend for November. The U.S. unemployment rate dropped from 9 percent to 8.6 percent.

State House passes 2 aerospace-related bills

OLYMPIA — The House has passed two bills requested by Gov. Chris Gregoire meant to shore up the state’s aerospace competitiveness.

One bill establishes three grant programs: one for high schools to prepare students for jobs as entry-level aerospace assemblers, another for skills centers to have enhanced manufacturing skills programs, and another for high schools to create specialized courses in science, technology, engineering, and math.

That measure passed on a 77-18 vote today.

Another measure requires the Professional Educator Standards Board to revise certification and certificate renewal standards for elementary teachers and secondary science and math teachers to include knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering, and math.   

That bill passed on a 93-2 vote. Both measures now head to the Senate for consideration.

Consumer Reports likes Washington wines

The newest issue of Consumer Reports magazine rates wine just in time for the holidays. Of the 15 wines recommended, a third are from Washington.

Among the “very good” Cabernets are two Columbia Crest offerings, the 2008 Grand Estates and H3,  and Chateau Ste. Michelle's 2009 Indian Wells.

Among Chardonnays, Snoqualmie's 2009 and Columbia Crest's 2009 Grand Estates are likewise rated “very good.”

Only one wine was deemed “excellent,” the 2009 Chalk Hill Chardonnay. At $37 a bottle, it ought to be.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's something called Cherrywood Cellars cab, which costs $9 and comes from 7-Eleven.

Burt Rutan joins up again with Paul Allen in new space launch venture

The big gathering Tuesday in Seattle was the reunion of two big shots in the dawning era of aerospace travel: billionaire Paul Allen and spacecraft designer Burt Rutan, who now hails from Coeur d’Alene.

Rutan, the renowned engineer who built the first commercially successful spacecraft, was at the side of the former Microsoft co-founder to launch their joint space venture, Stratolaunch Systems.

Stratolaunch hopes to become a successful aircraft-assisted launch company taking humans and payloads into orbit. Its first test flights won’t start until 2016. For a full overview of the new venture, here's Alan Boyle's report for MSNBC.com.

Rutan retired in April from his company Scaled Composites. He and his wife Tonya moved to Coeur d’Alene and say they have no plans to leave.

In an email, Rutan wrote that he'll serve as a Stratolaunch board member and adviser.

With funding from Allen, Rutan’s engineers at Scaled Composites designed SpaceShipOne, which won a $10 million prize in 2004 for being the first privately built and privately funded manned craft to reach space.

Rutan’s earlier accomplishments included developing the narrow-winged Voyager aircraft, which became in 1986 the first plane to fly around the world nonstop without refueling.

The couple lived in dry Mojave, Calif., for more than 25 years, where Scaled Composites is based.

As he prepared to retire, Rutan and Tonya drove across the West and looked at cities where they might retire.

“We looked at a lot of cities,” said Tonya Rutan.

When they went back to Mojave, they realized Coeur d’Alene was the city that made the biggest impression on them.

“It’s a charming city. And to us, it’s not small. It’s a big city to us, because we’re from a town of 3,000 people,” she said.

Photo shows Mike Griffin, Stratolaunch CEO, with Burt Rutan and Paul Allen. (Credit: Elaine Thompson / AP)

Texas firm buys Jensen-Byrd property, plans Riverpoint student housing

A Texas company has purchased the Jensen-Byrd building and property at the Washington State University Spokane site and plans to convert it to student housing and possible commercial space.

The buyer is Campus Advantage, based in Austin. The purchase for $2.85 million was approved Tuesday by WSU regents via a phone conference.

The Jensen-Byrd property covers about 1.5 acres on the west end of the Riverpoint campus, east of downtown Spokane. An appraisal set the value of the 35,173-square-foot complex at $2.9 million. (This figure was listed as $2.1 million in earlier versions, and came from a 2001 appraisal. The newer appraisal was done in 2011.)

The property has three components: the original structure built in 1909, an addition made one year later, and a metal storage shed added in the 1970s. The structure has been vacant for more than 10 years.

The university tried twice in recent years to find a partner to develop the building, without success.

A WSU Spokane press release said Campus Advantage has built and manages student housing on or near university campuses in 21 states.  A Riverpoint Campus Master Plan notes that the area of the Jensen-Byrd building is suitable for housing and mixed uses.

Archive photo shows Matt Cohen, a Spokane historic preservation advocate, near the Jensen-Byrd building.

Two workshops this week focus on workplace problems or disruptive change

Two area events this week give business managers and employees a chance to redirect their energies and find creative solutions to problems:

On Tuesday (Dec. 13) Norm Jewett is presenting a morning workshop on “Turning Problems into Profits.” The event will run from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at ITT Technical Institute, 13518 E. Indiana in Spokane Valley. Jewett is a dispute resolution specialist, mediator and attorney.

The event registration is a “$15 donation.”  For details, visit this page.

On Thursday, LaunchPad INW will host a “Dealing with Change and Transitions” workshop from noon to 2 p.m. The event will be at the LaunchPad center in downtown Spokane. The workshop presenter is Jeremy Swain.

Swain will look at ways organizations and individuals define and deal with change. Registration is encouraged by going to this link.  LaunchPad members and guests pay $39 for admission.

Post Falls firm Ednetics raises the bar, gives 21,600 cans of food to food banks

Post Falls-based Ednetics Inc. has donated more than 21,000 cans of food to area food banks. The cans were purchased by the company for a daylong “construction” event last week in which teams of workers were challenged to build structures with the cans.

Nine teams were formed and spent most of last Friday preparing and installing the multi-can structures.

This week four North Idaho food banks will pick up the cans and hold them for distribution.

Ednetics develops a range of communications solutions for schools and education institutions. It has a tradition of sponsoring fun and team-building games for its roughly 45 North Idaho workers.

Much of the credit for the food effort goes to two area retailers, the State Line Walmart and the Post Falls Super 1 Foods store, said Becky Campbell, an Ednetics spokeswoman.

“They really helped us by giving a big discount, so we could get more food for the money spent,” she said.

The winning construction is this one of tree, chimney and toy train, produced by team CANSformers. (Photo courtesy of Ednetics.)

STCU’s Valley branch offers Valley’s first auto charging station

Spokane Valley's first 240-volt charging station for electric cars.

Spokane Teachers Credit Union gets into the game, announcing its new South Valley location will feature an electric car charging station.

The Valley branch, at 13211 E. 32nd, will offer a  240-volt charging station for electric cars. It's called the first charging station in Spokane Valley.

That station goes live on Monday Dec. 12.

A release from STCU notes the charge station, paired with two parking spaces reserved for electric cars or chargeable hybrids, is one of a number of green features in the new branch. Others include:

  • Panels that at times will generate a surplus of power.
  • A rooftop and parking lot that reflect heat, rather than absorbing it.
  • A shower for employees who walk or pedal to work. (It's also situated on a bus route.)
  • Lights and a heating system that are highly energy efficient.
  • A no-smoking policy that includes the parking lot.

Spokane's Nystrom+Olson Architecture designed the 3,496-square-foot branch to meet U.S. Green Building Council standards for LEED Gold certification for sustainable building and development practices.

Coldwater Creek compared on Motley Fool by a skeptical analyst

We expect things have to get better for Sandpoint clothing retailer Coldwater Creek. Its latest earnings showed a quarterly loss of nearly three times the amount it lost one year earlier. 

Then along comes an analysis appearing Thursday on The Motley Fool website, by analyst Anand Chokkavelu. His headline: “Is Coldwater Creek's Stock Cheap or Expensive By The Numbers?

Readers get plenty of numbers, including a few charts by which Coldwater Creek is measured against competitors Nordstrom, Talbots and Chico's FAS.  

Considering that Mr. Chokkavelu's job is stock picking, you'd expect him to give an answer to that question. And yes, he gets around finally to deciding the stock is not a good buy right now:

He concludes: “Add in no dividend and there isn't much to love about Coldwater Creek's initial numbers.

“I'm not impressed, but if you find Coldwater Creek's numbers or story compelling, don't stop. Continue your due diligence process until you're confident one way or the other.”
 
The chart here is a summary of analysts' projections of the four firms' five-year growth expectations. We're copying it from the Motley Fool page and trust that Chokkavelu got his data straight. 
 
Addendum: Stock trading for CWTR was pretty brisk Friday; can anyone offer a reason for that big spike in trading?
 

                     DEC5          DEC6           DEC7             DEC8               DEC9

Volume

725,951

689,418

1,596,546

722,912

1,719,185

 

The Moss Adams-Frederick Berg connection, part two: CPAs to fight suit

Office Hours posted yesterday reports that a trustee was suing accounting firm Moss Adams for about $150 million related to a fraud and bankruptcy of Seattle-based Meridian Mortage.

Today the news is Moss Adams officials assert they'll fight the suit and insist they performed auditing for Meridian according to all industry standards.
 
Moss Adams is based in Seattle, and has a large office in downtown Spokane.
 
The suit follows a massive bankruptcy filed by Frederick Darren Berg, who managed Meridian and is accused of creating a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of hundreds of millions of dollars.
 
As reported in Thursday's Seattle Times, Moss Adams said in a statement it will “vigorously defend against any allegations of wrongdoing.”
 
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, alleges the large CPA firm wrongly issued “clean” audit reports for six of the Meridian funds at various times between 2001 and 2007.
 
The other Spokane connection to F.D. Berg is the recent announcement that his former luxury bus company, MTR Western, has expanded to Spokane and North Idaho. Last week we noted the company is adding coaches for sports teams and tours.
 
A Seattle company bought MTR Western earlier this year for about $5 million after Berg filed for bankruptcy, and after he pleaded guilty to fraud charges in August, acknowledging that he diverted approximately $100 million for his own purposes.
 
He's scheduled to be sentenced next month.

UW minority award goes to Spokane Tribe members who started Sister Sky

Sister Sky, a retail business selling natural bath and body care products inspired by Native American herbal wisdom, was honored Thursday as a winner in the University of Washington’s minority business awards.

Sister Sky was started by sisters Monica Simeon and Marina TurningRobe, members of the Spokane Tribe and who operate the business on the Spokane Reservation.

With 2010 revenues of $500,000 the company announced a new distribution partnership that will help deliver its lotions and products to major national hotel chains beginning in 2012.

The awards are presented by the UW’s Business and Economic Development Center and Foster School of Business.

Six other Washington businesses also received awards, including Indian Eyes LLC of the Tri-Cities; Macnac Construction of Lakewood; Revel Consulting of King County; Hughes Group LLC of Tacoma; Sam and Jenny, Inc., of Bellevue; and Del Sol Auto Sales of Everett.

Scout will take over the space next to the Montvale Hotel in downtown Spokane


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The owner of the Montvale Hotel will reopen the corner hangout formerly known as the Far West Billiards.

The Far West closed July 1 after 10 years in business, at 1001 W. First in downtown Spokane.

The plan was to lease the empty space to a new operator. That plan didn't take.  The business will now be run as part of the Montvale.

It will be named Scout.

All that's holding up the opening is completing the paperwork from the city and getting a liquor license. 

Keep an eye out for the full update in The Spokesman Review within a week. 

Moss Adams hit with $150 million lawsuit related to Meridian Mortgage funds

The Seattle Times reports that Seattle accounting firm, Moss Adams, has been hit with a lawsuit related to the “biggest Ponzi scheme in Pacific Northwest history,” the collapse of  Meridian Mortgage funds.

Meridian Mortgage filed bankruptcy in 2010.

The story in Wednesday's editions say the suit was filed on behalf of bankrupty trustee Mark Calvert and alleges the accounting firm should pay $150 million for its failure to detect an alleged fraud scheme.

The suit said Moss Adams, the 11th-biggest CPA firm in the country, issued clean audits for six of the Meridian funds  between 2001 and 2007.  The company has a large office in downtown Spokane.

A dozen Meridian funds collapsed in summer 2010, and last August Meridian founder Frederick Darren Berg pleaded guilty to fraud and admitted diverting “approximately $100 million” to personal uses and to perpetuate the Ponzi scheme.
 
The Times said a Moss Adams spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment. At least 750 individuals and others lost more than $150 million in Meridian's real-estate funds, according to the lawsuit. (Berg's plea agreement put the total raised at $280 million.)

Spokane, CDA home prices slumping; bright spot is fewer foreclosures

Average home prices in Spokane fell by 4.1 percent in October, in line with a national and regional decline driven in part by foreclosures and high unemployment.

The Spokane sales number reflects regular sales and “distressed” sales — homes foreclosed by banks or sold by owners selling short  – essentially having no home equity.

Excluding distressed home sales in October, Spokane’s average home sale was 2.9 percent lower than October 2010, according to CoreLogic, a national real estate data collector.

Coeur d’Alene's October’s home prices fell 10.3 percent; excluding distressed sales, Coeur d’Alene's average sale was 5.1 percent lower than the same month one year earlier.

CoreLogic reported all U.S. home sales in October were 3.9 percent lower than a year earlier; excluding distressed home sales, the average home sale across the country was 0.5 percent lower than in October 2010.

Prices reflect a continuing rebalancing of supply and demand, said Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic.

The Spokane Association of Realtors reported slightly worse numbers for October. Spokane’s average price among 323 single-family homes and condos sold in October was 9.8 percent lower than a year earlier, said Rob Higgins, the association’s executive officer.

The Spokane number includes condo sales while CoreLogic data don't.

The median price for October 2011 home sales, compared to a year earlier, was down 3.8 percent, Higgins said.

Of October’s 323 home sales, 79, or roughly 24 percent, were distressed sales, Higgins noted.

A bright spot for Spokane is a trend toward fewer foreclosure sales, he added.  Foreclosure sales in Spokane from August through October totaled 81, 87 and 65, respectively.

The Spokane November total for foreclosed sales is down to 63, Higgins noted.

Of the top 100 U.S. metro statistical areas measured by population, 78 are showing year-over-year declines in October, two fewer than in September, CoreLogic reported.

The map provided here from CoreLogic shows state price indexes measured vs. one year earlier. Dark red striped states have seen the largest declines. Solid red states, like Washington and Idaho, are in the minus-4 to minus-8 percent per year category.

SR introduces forkfly.com, relaunches spokane7.com

The Spokesman-Review Digital Product Development Team announced today the introduction of a new website, forkfly.com.

The Spokesman-Review also announced the re-launch of its entertainment website, spokane7.com.

Forkfly enables local businesses to offer consumers discounts and specials on online and mobile platforms through “real-time engagement.”

“Forkfly is a colorful, creative new product that marries customer loyalty to local businesses offering deals and specials. We are very excited to bring it to the Inland Northwest,” said Kathleen Coleman, Director of Digital Business Operations/Product Development at The Spokesman-Review.

Comcast will offer TV-plus-Skype, home security service for Spokane in 2012

Comcast Corp., the largest cable company in Washington and the U.S., plans to announce new services for Spokane and Washington state broadband customers next year.

Those are a Skype TV service and a home security over broadband service.  The Skype plan will let users with modern TVs use the interactive platform for video conferencing and phone calls. Skype, of course, can be used as a simple IM chat service as well.

No price plan has been announced and no announced start date has been set.

The home security service has been going through some early testing, including in parts of Portland. For a story on that test, here's an Oregonian report.

For a nice overview of how Comcast and Time Warner and other companies are diving into home security, here's a solid story from the LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-ct-cable-home-security-20111206,0,3074487.story

The home security option will require some investment in equipment or at least using an upgraded version of the Xfinity app. The monthly cost, apart from startup fees and equipment costs, will run aboug $40 a month, according to a Comcast press sheet.

Curious mines want to know: Why did Mines Management’s stock pop?

A Reuters story yesterday (Tuesday) reported that Spokane-based Mines Management took the unusual step of making a public statement about its stock price rise.

The Reuters story said:  Mines Management, which trades on the New York Stock Amex Exchange as MGN, was contacted by the exchange in regard to the gain of more than 48 percent over the past six weeks.

Mines Management execs issued a release that said: “It's not the company's policy to comment on unusual market activity, but it confirms it is not aware of any material corporate developments that could account for recent unusual trading activity.”

The price rose to around $3, which is not quite to the year-high of $3.14. Since Tuesday the stock dropped some to $2.75 on Wednesday afternoon.

The main focus of Mines Management is developing the Montanore silver-copper project in northwest Montana.

Coeur d’Alene’s Hubworks launches dining-payment system with iPads

Wednesday's major local business story looks at Hubworks Interactive, a Coeur d'Alene software firm developing point-of-service ordering and payment systems using Apple iPads.

The story looks at the efforts of co-founders Rob Berger, Aaron Gabriel and Sam Winter. 

Here's a snippet of the full story, which will be on Spokesman.com later this evening, and in the Wednesday SR print edition business section:

A Coeur d’Alene startup is developing software to let customers place their own restaurant or bar orders and pay their bills using Apple iPads.

Hubworks Interactive LLC, started in 2009 by three North Idaho friends, has begun a pilot test of its DrinkHub software with Buffalo Wild Wings, the national food chain that has several hundred North American dining locations.

Customers can order a meal or a drink with a touchscreen menu on the iPad. Once they’re finished, they use the device to pay the bill.

During the meal the customers have the option of loading Facebook, Twitter or other sites on the iPad.

“The core of this is the billing and payment option,” said Aaron Gabriel, vice president of sales and marketing. “But as the whole platform evolves, this will become more a customer entertainment experience,” Gabriel added.

Spokane would likely gain jobs in U.S. Postal Service shuts Montana centers

UPDATED 11:45 Dec. 6:

After a conversation Tuesday with USPS District spokesman Ernie Swanson, we'll now add these details to the story:

  • In addition to possible western Montana processing center closures, USPS sites in Pasco and Wenatchee that might close would also affect Spokane's processing center headcount.  No firm numbers are being discussed, and it's not certain any of those four sites (Kalispel, Missoula, Pasco and Wenatchee) will be closed.
  • Any closures won't happen until mid to late 2012, Swanson said. Decisions will be made around March 2012. Any closures would take a few months to plan and execute, he said.

Postal officials say the closure of two Montana mail processing centers could add jobs to the Spokane processing center, on the city's West Plains.

No decisions have been made about any closing of post offices or processing centers. The discussion has started getting more focused as U.S. Postal Service officials are hosting meetings with communities that are on the possible-closure list.

About 40 jobs in western Montana would be eliminated if processing operations in Missoula and Kalispell are shut down. 
 
All the processing from Montana would shift to Spokane, according to plans by the postal service. Spokane's operation would not be reduced.
 
District spokesman Ernie Swanson offered no estimate on how many jobs Spokane would gain if the Montana sites are closed.
 
Postal officials say they expect the mail carrier to lose about $5 billion this year. One study estimated that shutting the Missoula center could save an estimated $1.2 million per year. 
 
Other operations targeted for possible closure are in the Tri-Cities, Wenatchee, Kent, the Puget Sound area and in Oregon.
 
A decision to make the cuts final will be made in the first quarter of 2012.

Jobs biography is Amazon’s top selling hardback book of 2011

The biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs written by Walter Isaacson has been Amazon's biggest-selling book of 2011, the online retailer announced.

The accomplishment is impressive since the book did not start selling until late October.

Despite its hardcover success, the biography of Jobs ranks No. 3 on Amazon's Kindle bookstore.

The Kindle bestsellers so far are “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins and, at No. 2, “The Litigators” by John Grisham.

Verizon expands 4G service to North Idaho, Pullman, Kettle Falls, Schweitzer

Verizon Wireless will expand 4G service in the Inland Northwest later this year, to include Chewelah, Coeur d’Alene, Colville, Deer Lake, Harrison, Hayden, Kellogg, Kettle Falls, Newport, Post Falls, Priest Lake, Sandpoint, Spirit Lake, St. Maries and Washington State University's Pullman campus.

That opens the door for Verizon customers with 4G LTE smartphones, laptop modems and hotspots to kick up to the highest broadband speeds available to them.
 
Also included in the upgrade is Schweitzer Mountain and Silver Mountain ski resorts near Sandpoint and Kellogg.
 
Late last year Verizon Wireless opened its  4G LTE network for Spokane County.
 
The company's press department noted: “In real-world, fully-loaded network environments, 4G LTE users should experience average data rates of 5 to 12 megabits per second (Mbps) on the downlink and 2 to 5 Mbps on the uplink.”

GreenCupboards offers green toy giveaway and donations to Toys For Tots

Spokane's fast-growing retailer, GreenCupboards.com, is using Facebook to encourage its followers to help spread some toy cheer this holiday.

People visiting GreenCupboards' Facebook page through Dec. 31 are eligible to win a daily “green” toy.
 
The company, funded privately and based downtown, will match that toy and donate the toy to the area's holiday Toys for Tots! campaign.
 
The illustration here shows the full scope of the toys being given away.
 
On Dec. 31, whowever wins that day's lottery is able to pick any toy from the GreenCupboards.com giveaway, said Lauren Beck, the company's marketing coordinator.
 
Shoppers visiting GreenCupboards.com also get a Toys for Tots donation option on the shopping cart, allowing any shopper to donate during their online checkout.

 

 

 

Spokane’s Ecova buys Georgia company Prenova. Really, names just coincidence

Spokane-based Ecova has completed the purchase of a Georgia-based competitor with the similar-sounding name of Prenova, Inc. Terms of the purchase were not disclosed.

Earlier this year Ecova renamed itself from Advantage IQ. The similar names is  pure coincidence. 

Ecova officials began moving toward the new name two years ago, well before discussions were launched to acquire Prenova, a company statement noted.

Both companies offer corporate energy management and efficiency services.

Prenova has roughly 80 corporate customers that are now part of Ecova’s portfolio. Most of those are in the southeast United States, according to a company spokeswoman.

The transaction is expected to be neutral to Ecova’s earnings in 2012. Prenova reported revenue of $12.4 million for the first three quarters of 2011. It reported the same sales for all of fiscal year 2010.

With the addition of the new clients, Ecova’s customer list now exceeds 600 and expands the company’s reach into the education and government sectors.

Advantage IQ was launched in 1997 as a subsidiary of Avista Corp. It now has more than 900 employees with offices in Cincinnatti, Portland, Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle and San Francisco.

MTR Western expands luxury bus service in Spokane, North Idaho

Seattle-based luxury bus company MTR Western has moved a number of busses into Eastern Washington, the company announced.

Launched in 2004 by controversial Meridian Group founder Frederick Darren Berg, MTR was purchased this year by hospitality entrepreneur H. S. Wright III, whose family built the Space Needle.

The company expects to base about five or more busses in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene and is hiring local drivers, according to a press release. Its service territory includes Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho and Canada.

MTR Western has existing service deals with a number of area colleges to provide transportation for sports teams. They include Gonzaga University, Washington State University and many of their conference rivals that travel to Eastern Washington, said Wright in a press release.

The company also provides bus tours and charters for groups and organizations.

Wright’s company, GTO, acquired MTR Western for $5 million following a bankruptcy filing by Berg, 49.

The bankruptcy followed federal prosecutors charging Berg with fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Earlier this year he pleaded guilty to defrauding investors of more than $100 million.

  

Spokane’s Career Path Services honored for workplace practices

Career Path Services has won 2011's Alfred P. Sloan award for business excellence in workplace flexibility.

The Spokane firm was cited for its flexibility as an effective workplace strategy to increase business and employee success. Founded in 1971, the nonprofit company helps individuals and organizations meet their employment goals. It's funded by federal, state and other grants.
 
The award is part of the national When Work Works project recognizing firms from across the country.
 
“It is an honor to receive this award, it represents the comments and ratings of our employees,” said George Iranon, CEO of Career Path Services.  “Our corporate culture is one of performance excellence, trust, timelines, respect, appreciation, and teamwork.  We are proud our employees like being a part of our organization.”
 
Workplace flexibility—such as flextime, part-time work and compressed workweeks—has been demonstrated to help businesses remain competitive while also benefiting employees as well. 

Denver’s Ross Aviation buying two Spokane firms, will combine them in 2012

A Denver company is buying two Spokane aviation service firms and will combine them into a single operation.

Ross Aviation is acquiring XN Air and Spokane Airways; both are fixed-base operators  — commercial companies offering fueling, maintenance, charter flights, training and cargo handling.

Jeff Ross, Ross’s CEO and president, said he’s been in touch for years with the Chastek family, owners of Spokane Airways. The Chasteks felt it was time to sell the business, started more than 40 years ago. But Ross said Spokane Airways by itself wasn’t large enough to warrant the purchase.

“I told them it would only make sense if I could also buy your competitor,” XN Air, Ross said.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Ross said he hasn’t yet closed the sale. An airport board meeting recently approved the transfer of leases from XN and Spokane Airways to Ross.

Ross said he hoped to complete the sale in the first quarter of 2012.

XN Air was started in 2004 by Spokane resident Al Hale and managed in recent years by his sons, John and Brian Hale. It primarily provides maintenance, installation and repair of aircraft electronics.

Ross Aviation has acquired more than 20 other commercial operators across the country and in Hawaii. Its website says a guiding strategy for acquisitions is to look for deals in rapidly growing regions.

Once the Spokane deals conclude, Ross said the Spokane operation will carry the name XN Air. In part that’s due to the modern, clean look that the Hales have developed at their Spokane Airport location.

Some staff consolidation will occur, but Ross said that decision hasn’t been made yet. 

Spokane Airways will continue to offer many of its existing services, including cargo handling for freight companies like UPS, said Ross. (Photo here is of John Chastek, vp of Spokane Airways.)

AmericanWest finishes purchase of Viking Bank, adds seven branches

Spokane-based AmericanWest Bank has completed its purchase of Viking Bank, a deal announced earlier this year that will give AmericanWest a larger presence in Puget Sound.

The $7.2 million transaction brings AmericanWest seven new branches.

AmericanWest earlier this year bought Sunrise Bank of Southern California for $18.5 million, and Bank of the Northwest for $17 million.

The purchases have helped AmericanWest expand to 70 branch locations in four states with assets totaling $2.3 billion.

Unemployment tax rates to drop, workers comp rates steady

OLYMPIA — Most Washington businesses will see lower unemployment taxes and many will have no increase in their workers compensation rates in 2012.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, announcing the new rates for next year, said they represent “real reform” through work with the Legislature earlier this years, rather than the calls for reform some legislators now say are needed before the state considers a tax increase.

“I've been doing reform long before anybody used it as a political football like they are today,” Gregoire said.

To learn more about the rates announced this morning, see our Spin Control blog.

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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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