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Archive for February 2011

Premera accused of “stonewalling”

Premera Blue Cross is “stonewalling” a bill that would require disclosure of information supporting health insurance rate hike applications, Washingotn Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler wrote today in a letter to consumers.

Washington's other two major medical health insurance carriers are willing to make the information available to the public before he acts on a rate application, Kreidler said.

Premera has balked, but would allow the disclosure after the Insurance Commissioner's office has ruled on a rate change.

“Under this bill, you would see what we see, including how much of your premium is spent on medical costs, how much goes to administrative costs, and how much goes to profit,” Kreidler writes.

Premera spokesman Erik Earling said the company is “perplexed” by the letter, given its ongoing efforts to work with the Legislature on the bill, HB1220.

He said Premera wants release of the rate information delayed because what an insurance carrier applies for is not necessary what is approved after review by Kreidler.

The company routinely provides individual and small groups with a breakdown of the insurance dollar, he said. 

Current law blocks the release of information filed in conjunction with rate applications.

“It's unique for us to call out an insurer like this by name,” said Insurance Office spokesman Rich Roesler.

In September, Kreidler criticized Regence Blue Shield because of its decision to stop writing policies on children 19 and under. He subsequently ordered the company to continue providing the insurance.

St. Luke’s Rehab clinic relocates its Spokane Valley office

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St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute has moved it Spokane Valley rehab clinic to a new facility at 9119 E. Broadway.

Previously at 1414 N. Houk, the outpatient facility will help meet a growing demand for training and rehabilitation, especially for injured workers.
David Cox, the manager of the Valley clinic, said in a press release: “There was an unmet need for occupational therapy services to rehabilitate injured workers who work or live in Spokane Valley. St. Luke’s expanded facilities to better serve our community.” 

Dish Network hardly better than Comcast, sees cord-cutting, penny-pinching

One week ago Office Hours had a post on the continuing decline in video customers felt by cable company Comcast Corp.

This week let's be fair and give an update on the tough year Dish Network had in 2010.

Dish Network Corp. on Feb. 24 said it gained a mere U.S. 33,000 customers in 2010, one of its smallest subscriber increases in years, due to increased competition, higher numbers of subscribers “cutting the cord” and a weak economy.

The recently filed 10-K form said Dish Network felt a 92 percent drop in net new subscribers in 2010, compared with 2009.

The satellite service provider said its churn rate rose to 1.76 percent in 2010, up from 1.64 percent in 2009. Dish gave as one reason “programming interruptions related to contract disputes.”

In the fourth quarter of 2010 alone Dish Network lost 156,000 subscribers but boosted profit and revenue as consumers spent more on services.

OK, our final post on the dang stink bug nemesis

RESCUE!Stephanie Cates, director of marketing and communications at Sterling International (the Spokane Valley-based makers of the Rescue line of bug traps), filled us in by e-mail on the prevalence of stink bugs …. or the lack of stink bugs in our part of the country.

See lower item for the earlier post on Rescue's plans for a stink bug trap this summer.

Here's her comment:

  “They have been discovered in Washington, though not in any great numbers… yet. Aside from it being a nuisance pest in homes, the stink bug can be devastating to farmers.

Interest in and demand for our new product has been most substantial in the Northeastern U.S., especially in PA, MD and NJ.”

Sterling International looks to go after stinkbugs later this year

UPDATING 2:48 p.m. Friday Feb. 25. We went out and sure enough, on Sterling's Facebook page is the full announcement about the company's plans. A stink bug trap at long last, due to be shipped in July.

More than 60 people gathered Friday morning at the Northern Quest Resort and Casino for a daylong session hosted by on using  search and marketing to build a brand and better website. Ed Reese, of Sixth Man Marketing, in Spokane, played a major role in organizing the event.

In the group was Alyssa Ando, marketing coordinator for Sterling International. Sterling is the Spokane Valley manufacturer of the Rescue line of bug traps. 

In a session break, Ando said that Sterling — always looking ahead — has plans to release a trap this year targeting stink bugs.

Of couse, that led to the question, what's a stinkbug?  So we hunted down something like an official explanation of what a stink bug is. We tracked down the National Pest Management Association and its page on stink bugs.

They are six-legged, tiny critters who generally inhabit the Eastern United States.

We wonder if any readers have encountered them here?  IF so, let us know through comments or messages to:

You can also message Ando at @andoa on Twitter.

It pays to be rich if you need a credit card


A year after sweeping credit card regulations upended the industry, banks are showering perks and rewards on big spenders with sterling credit scores.

And they’re socking customers with spottier histories with higher interest rates, lower credit limits and new annual fees. In some cases the riskiest customers are being dropped altogether.

We'll have a package of stories about the changes and tips for credit card users this Sunday in Business.

Plan to retire jobless debt headed to Idaho House

BOISE — A plan headed to lawmakers in the Idaho House would refinance some $200 million in federal loans the state has used to buttress its unemployment safety net.

The House Commerce and Human Resources Committee approved the legislation today, the Associated Press reports. It now goes to the full House.

Idaho began borrowing from the federal government in June 2009 and under the legislation, would sell revenue bonds to retire the debt then repay the bonds over four years.

Selling the bonds at less than 3 percent interest, thanks to Idaho’s solid credit rating, is expected to save millions of dollars in interest.

Proponents of the plan say it will also spare businesses a $157 million hit from a federal tax credit they’d otherwise lose if Idaho remains in arrears to the federal government.

Former Spokane airport official named new Salem airport manager

SALEM, Ore. — A former deputy director at Spokane International Airport has been named the new Salem airport manager in Oregon.

The Statesman Journal reports the city of Salem’s Urban Development Department recently named Mark Jucht the new airport manager.

Salem’s 751-acre airport serves general-aviation aircraft and the Oregon Army National Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility.

Jucht is responsible for coordinating and maintaining the development and growth of the Salem Municipal Airport as well as managing day-to-day operations.

Ecolite joins with new Valley company to make high-end infrared heating panels

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A U.S. subsidiary of a Dutch tech firm has opened a Spokane Valley office and is working with local firm, Ecolite Manufacturing, to produce innovative heating products.

The subsidiary is Prestyl USA LLC. Its Dutch parent firm, Global Future Energy Holdings, has patents for infrared heating strips and panels increasingly being used in many applications.

For one, airplane manufacturer Bombardier uses Prestyl-made thin-film heating panels to melt ice off aircraft wings.

Prestyl has hired three workers for its Spokane Valley location, at 9711 E. Knox, and has signed a production agreement with Spokane Valley’s Ecolite Manufacturing, Inc., said company CEO Ed Caferro.

Ecolite will manufacture wall and ceiling infrared heating panels, then take them to the Prestyl plant. Its workers will arrange for shipments to customers in Europe and North America, said Caferro.

Caferro said Ecolite and Prestyl have other product deals in the works. Small wind and IR heating are the first focus, followed by LED lighting and solar applications.

Ben Bridge jewelers to move into River Park Square this summer

Ben Bridge Jeweler, the well-known retailer of rings, gems and pendants, will open a store in River Park Square this summer.

RPS is managed by the Cowles Co., which also owns and operates The Spokesman-Review.

A release Thursday noted Ben Bridge will move into the first-level space occupied by The Walking Company, the footwear retailer.

Walking Company will take over the second-level location last used by Sunglass Hut. Sunglass Hut has already moved into a new second-level kiosk due west of the escalators.

Demolition work is underway on the Sunglass Hut shop just off the escalator.

Ben Bridge, founded about 100 years ago, operates locations across the country. It has one other Spokane store in NorthTown Mall.

Spokane County retail sales fell in 2010; economist sees modest gains in 2011

Spokane County reported total 4th quarter retail sales were up by a tiny 0.66 percent, compared with the year before.

That's the first fourth-quarter retail sales gain since 2008.

For the full 2010 year, Spokane County retail sales fell  2 percent. Avista Economist Randy Barcus said that's fairly impressive, since the previous year, 2009, was 10 percent off the year before.

“I expect consumer spending will have modest increases in 2011,”  Barcus predicted in a newsletter from Greater Spokane Inc.

At the same time,  Barcus said rising gas prices may pull consumer spending down somewhat.


TierPoint completes Seattle-Liberty Lake network upgrade

Liberty Lake-based TierPoint recently announced it's finished a major backbone upgrade. For businesses and major enterprises, this amounts to fairly major news. The upgrade involves full 10 Gigabit Ethernet connections all across the company's network

The privately held data operations center and hosting company upgraded both the Liberty Lake and Seattle locations, said Craig Brandvold, TierPoint's marketing manager.

TierPoint has six 10Gbps carrier links that carry Internet in and out of the Liberty Lake site, plus two 10Gbps links that connect that location with its Seattle center.

Said Dan Seliger, the company's chief technology officer: “Those who get their Internet service from us will see a faster connection, very low latency, and even more reliable service, and those who host with us will also find more bandwidth available at very attractive rates.”

Spokane among roughly 20 percent of U.S. metros to show ‘growth’ in 2009

The tough economy continues grinding on, based on new data looking at the gross domestic product (GDP) of 366 U.S. metros in 2009. 

Notably, 80 percent of those cities, Spokane not included, saw an economic decline compared with 2008, according to numbers published Wednesday by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

That growth is not adjusted for inflation. If adjusted, Spokane's economy sagged, like most of the rest of the nation.

But overall, Spokane's performance was generally better than about 80 percent of the rest of urban America, according to the BEA data. Based on comparative numbers, Spokane ranked No. 108 with a GDP of 17,720 or a gain of just one-tenth of a percent from the year before.

The GDP measures economic activity within each metro and tracks the performance of each area's business sector. 

The full table of results for all 366 metros is here, on the BEA site. The map, above, has a color code, with the darkest blue (the highest growth areas) in dark blue. The light blue group, in which Spokane sits, is the next best growth category.

Among the metros that lost GDP were Seattle-Tacoma, which fell by roughly one-tenth of a percent. Its GDP score was 228,797, or roughly 13 times that of Spokane.

Boise and Portland also slipped in GDP, according to the BEA numbers.

A Spokesman Review business story on Thursday will summarize the key points and add commentary.

Idaho, Washington tax burdens fall

State and local taxes in 2009 took 9.3 percent of resident incomes in Washington, and 9.4 percent in Idaho, according to figures released today by the Tax Foundation.

The shares earned Idaho a ranking of 28th, Washington 29th among the 50 states.

Washinton residents paid an average $4,408 in state and local taxes on incomes of $47,361. Idaho residents paid $3,276 on incomes of $34,973.

Washington's ranking was unchanged from 2008, when taxes equaled 9.4 percent of income. Idaho fell from 20th despite a share that fell from 9.8 percent.

 New Jersey taxpayers took the hardest hit, 12.2 percent, Alaskans the lowest, 6.3 percent.

The foundation's calculations include taxes levied in one state but paid by those in another. Alaska, for example, collects almost 80 percent of its revenues from taxpayers in other states because of its state levy on oil production. 

Study author Mark Robyn said the average state and local tax burden for all states fell in 2009 compared with 2008. The share peaked at 10.4 percent in 1977.

Don Poffenroth talks about a ‘Project X’ whiskey, due out this year

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Don Poffenroth of Dry Fly (Click player above for audio)

We asked Dry Fly's Don Poffenroth to explain  why the Spokane-based craft distillery is adding a full-time worker and three new fermenting machines to boost production capacity.

This is a 2-minute, 40 second phone interview in which Poffenroth describes the reason for that investment.

Dry Fly Distilling adding a shift, extra production capacity at its Spokane shop

Spokane's Dry Fly Distilling is a few months from adding a swing shift to increase production in its downtown facility.

Co-founder Don Poffenroth said much of the increased production will be for whiskeys. Dry Fly is selling a popular all-wheat whiskey, plans to release a new bourbon whiskey this year, then introduce a “Brand X” whiskey that's still in stealth mode.

The firm produced roughly 20,000 gallons last year of Dry Fly gin, vodka and whiskey. By adding the new swing shift, it will run somewhere between 30,000 and 32,000 gallons this year, he said.

Dry Fly has added one full-time worker for the swing shift. It's also spent roughly $30,000 for new fermenters to handle increased production. It now has four full-time workers plus two part-timers.

And for those who want to enjoy Saturday packaging shifts, the schedule is already booked out a full year, said Poffenroth.

Mayor Verner’s seven 2011 resolutions: Be more business-focused

Mayors 2011 State of the City AddressSpokane Mayor Mary Verner is looking to burnish her relations with the city's business community.
Last week her honor released a list of “Seven in Eleven” action steps the city intends to follow this year.

Those came from a survey sent to city businesses, followed by comments from city staff and Greater Spokane Incorporated.

One goal, simplifying a complex administrative process when a business changes its “use,”  was described in a recent SR story by Jon Brunt.

We spoke with city Economic Development Specialist Andrew Worlock and got some insight into the why and how of the whole effort.

The main point, he noted, is that much of this is “inward-facing” work to refine and improve they city's business-related processes.

One example is the No. 1 item on the list of seven: improving a “Surviving Construction” plan to help business owners disrupted by road or street work.

The city needs to do “a better job” of developing a toolkit and an online resource list to help affected businesses push through those disruptions, Worlock said.

One first step, he noted, is a city-sponsored workshop called “Open for Business, Making the Best of Rough Road Construction.”

That free workshop will be March 24 from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., at Spokane City Hall. It will be recorded and broadcast over City Cable 5.

We'll do another blog entry and business section story on that business workshop next month.

Other projects on the list of seven are creating a permitting checklist for small businesses and improving online access to business license and permitting information.

Comcast sees more cord-cutting, but gains with data and voice subs

As a follow-up to an earlier story on the increasing numbers of people cutting the cord from paid TV services, we take note of the fourth quarter earnings reported by Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable operator.

As it did over the first three quarters of 2010, the cable giant saw losses in total video subscribers. (No numbers are broken out for regions such as Washington.)

It more than made it up for those defections with increased spending by other customers — the ones that opt for multiple products and broadband data and voice subscriptions.

Overall, the company is certainly not hurting. Comcast's broadband margins are clearly driving the gains, noted BernsteinResearch's Craig Moffett in a story cited at online pub MediaBiz.

The publication also said: “In terms of subscriber gains and losses, Comcast reported basic video losses of -135K to 22,802K and broadband gains of 292K to 1,698K.  Phone adds were 257K to 8,610K.  All three metrics beat consensus.  In a move sure to please investors, Comcast also increased its dividend by 19 percent to $0.45/share/year.”

Red Lion adds its brand to Oakland hotel

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Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels Corp. on Friday said it's developed a brand affiliation with the Red Lion Hotel Oakland International Airport in Northern California. That location was formerly independently owned and operated Park Plaza Hotel Oakland.

“The sheer power of joining a known brand has already helped our property gain exposure,” said Rao R. Yalamanchili, who owns the hotel along with Srinivas Yalamanchili.  “When we were considering moving from an independent hotel to a brand, we ultimately selected Red Lion Hotels because the company is also an owner of hotels and understands what it is like to be in the operartor's role.”

Rich Carlson, Red Lion's Vice President of Lodging Development, said adding a new hotel in the Bay Area made strong economic sense.

The hotel has 189 rooms and more than 4,400 square feet of meeting space.

Wireless charges for government fees and taxes climb; Washington second-highest

Yes, you're right. Those monthly cell phone bills keep getting pricier. One reason is the gradual upward-sloping rates of federal, state and local taxes added to the monthly charges, a recent report says.

That survey of all 50 states also found Washington is the second highest in overall local taxes and fees on cell plans. Nebraska retained its designation as the state with the highest rate on wireless consumers, at
23.69 percent. Washington retained its No. 2 status with a 23 percent rate.

Which means, if you have a typical $100 bill for your wireless service, the average Washington customer is paying another $23 in fees, taxes and surcharges.

This is drawn from the report “A Growing Burden: Taxes and Fees on Wireless Service,” just released this past week.

It notes that since 2009, the trend has been a steady increase of taxes and fees on wireless customers, nationwide.

It said:

 “Users now face a combined federal, state, and local tax and fee burden of 16.3 percent, a rate two times higher than the average retail sales tax rate and the highest wireless rate since 2005. Consumers now pay wireless taxes, fees and government charges that exceed the retail sales tax rate.

Avista reports ‘solid year,’ with earnings up

Avista Corp. today reported net income of $92.4 million, or $1.65 per share, for 2010, compared to $87.1 million, or $1.58 per share, for 2009.

For the fourth quarter of 2010, Avista’s net income was $25.7 million or 45 cents per share, compared to $22.1 million, or 40 cents per share, for the fourth quarter of 2009.

What the Lincoln Heights Trader Joe’s building and renovation will look like

Today's business story on the timeline and plans involved in building a Trader Joe's store on Spokane's South Hill showed one key factor in the deal: “As part of the deal with Trader Joe’s, the property owner, Lincoln Heights Center, LLC, agreed to renovate the facades of the four adjoining spaces.

“They suggested it would be a good idea to update the look and feel of the area, and get away from the ’50s and ’60s look it has now,” said Chris Bornhoft, a spokesman for the developer, Vandervert Developments.  That company is a sister firm to the LLC set up by Dick Vandervert. Lincoln Heights Center LLC owns most of the south Spokane Center.

The rendition above comes by way of Bornhoft and the architects, Bernardo Wills, of Spokane. The lower image shows how the east buildings at Lincoln Heights will look after renovation. Top image is the current view.  CLICK on image for larger size version.

Trader Joe's' facade is at the far left; Coldstone Creamery is in the space on the far right.

Basically, the next five months will involve tearing down one building at Lincoln Heights, starting the shell for Trader Joe's, and then redoing the facades of the buildings alongside, to the right.

The expected timeline is: once permits are approved, demolition and construction will take about five months, said Bornhoft. 

Trader Joe's will move in and get it open before the end of the year, we're told.

PAML CEO Tom Tiffany will keynote Thursday’s Executive Connect breakfast

Thursday is the occasion of the next Executive Connect Breakfast, starting at 7:30 a.m. at the Spokane Club Georgian Room.

The keynoter is Tom Tiffany, president and CEO of PAML (Pathology Associates Medical Labs).

Tiffany has been in the biomedical business for nearly 40 years and has held the job of GM or CEO of PAML since 1987.

Registration is $30 and can be made online at this link.

GU tries out mobile version of Next IT virtual agent Ask Spike

Spokane's Next IT has developed a text message(SMS)-based version of its interactive virtual agent software and has installed it for Gonzaga University's “Ask Spike” application.

Gonzaga has been one of Next IT's early adopters of the virtual agent service, which allows people to chat or ask questions and get responses without human intervention.

Others who've adopted the technology are the U.S. Army (on, some airlines and Merrill Lynch.

With mobile about to become a more dominant area for corporate customer relations, Next IT saw the need to revise the program to allow for SMS or text-message answers.

Until now, the GU “Ask Spike” service was only available on the web. Find that option at in the askspike button on the top of the page.

To text Spike, use 699247 (MyZAGS). The coders have developed a little set of catch-all answers to coy questions.
We tried the question: “Who's your daddy?” 
Answer:  “Next I.T. is the company that provides the tech that makes me work.”
We followed with: ” How old are you?”
Answer: “I don't age. But thanks for asking.”

Retailer Video Only plans to open its first area store on North Division

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Seattle-based consumer electronics retailer Video Only has purchased the former Circuit City building on North Division. Plans are underway to open its first Spokane store later this year, city permits show.

The company is a competitor of other area retailers such as Huppin's and Best Buy.

Video Only has not said when it plans to open the store, at 7701 N. Division.

The company has stores in California, Oregon and Washington.

Nebraska plant closing to cost nearly 70 jobs

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Nearly 70 workers will be losing jobs as their company closes its concrete railroad tie plant in Grand Island, The Associated Press reports.

CXT is a subsidiary of L.B. Foster Co., which is based in Spokane. L.B. Foster’s website says CXT also makes the concrete ties at its Spokane plant and at one in Tucson, Ariz.

The Grand Island Independent says CXT makes ties for Union Pacific, but its contract with the Omaha-based railroad has expired.

CXT told workers last week that the job cuts will begin in the next 10 to 14 days. The jobs will be phased out over six months so local workers can dismantle the plant. The equipment will be moved to other plants.

Tacoma hospital group won’t hire people who smoke

SEATTLE — Starting next month, a group of five hospitals in the south Puget Sound area will no longer hire smokers. The Franciscan Health System says it will screen applicants for nicotine.

Chief operating officer Cliff Robertson says it’s going to “walk the talk” about creating healthier communities.  

KOMO reports Franciscan is the first member of the Washington State Hospital Association to require job applicants to be nicotine-free. The Tacoma-based group has 8,100 employees in three counties.  

Franciscan hospitals include St. Clare Hospital in Lakewood, St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way, St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, St. Elizabeth Hospital in Enumclaw and St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor.   

Franciscan is part of Catholic Health Initiatives, one of the largest not-for-profit health care systems in the country. 

Washington beverage container deposit proposed

Washington State. Sen. Maralyn Chase of Shoreline has introduced a bill in the Legislature that would require that all drink containers sold in Washington have a 5-cent recycling deposit.  

The bill, SB5778, aims to reduce the number of glass and plastic bottles and metal cans going to landfills by providing an incentive for collection and reuse, The Associated Press reports.

Sellers and redemption centers would refund the deposit to people bringing back the empties. 

One section of the bill also requires that the plastic rings used to hold drink cans must decompose or degrade within 120 days of disposal. 

Spokane lays claim to title of No. 9, on the list of fast food capitals

The Daily Beast, a generally helpful commentary and news blog, tossed Spokane into the food-industry upper, or lower, echelons in a recent list of the 10 most fast-food saturated cities in the land.

Yay, Spokane.

We ranked No. 9, just after Cincinnatti and ahead of Birmingham, Ala.

The ranking looked at density of fast food places per 100,000 residents. The Spokane FF profile is:

Total fast food restaurants: 158
Fast food restaurants per 100,000 residents: 77.7
Most prominent chain: Subway

The top-rated fast food capital of the United States is Orlando. This, Spokane, is our main competition:

Total fast food restaurants: 463
Fast food restaurants per 100,000 residents: 196.3
Most prominent chain: Subway

Brace for more bank fees

Reversing a trend that began in the mid-1990s, big banks are imposing new fees on their least-profitable customers — those who want just a bare-bones checking account.

Those who can’t maintain fat balances, or who don’t use other services that would make them more lucrative to a bank, probably will need to cough up about $100 a year if they want to stay put.

But bank and credit union officials in Spokane say they have no immediate plans to eliminate free checking, even though pending Federal Reserve Bank regulations may force them to reconsider.

For details, read our coverage this weekend in Sunday Business.

January homes sales, average price climb

Spokane County home sales hit a seasonal low in January, but finished with slight increases in number and average price compared with a year ago.

The Spokane Association of Realtors reported 184 sales, up from 176 in January 2010. The average price was $178,903, compared with $175,382 last year.

The median price fell to $155,000 from $159,375.

Association President Rob Higgins noted this year's sales increased despite the expiration in April of a first time homebuyer tax credit that provided an $8,000 incentive for purchasers.

There were 2,676 homes on the market on Feb. 4, a one-year supply based on the 224 pending sales at the end of Janurary.

Foreclosures up in Spokane, down in Kootenai County

The rate of foreclosure in Spokane County increased almost 60 percent in January compared with the same month in 2010, RealtyTrac reported today.

Lenders reclaimed 116 homes, and the owners of another 133 received a notice of trustee sale. One home in every 801 was subject to some kind of foreclosure action.

The national rate was one home in every 497, down 17 percent from a year ago.

The rate for Washington climbed 43 percent to one home in 565, 12th highest among the states. 

The rate fell in Kootenai County, to one home in 331. Lenders took back 57 homes, the owners of 127 others received notices of default or trustee sale.

The rate for Idaho was one home in 241, 4th highest in the country.  

SiteCrafting helps Lutherhaven Ministries spruce up its camping website

Tacoma-based web design outfit SiteCrafting has provided a brand new website for Spokane's Lutherhaven Ministries.

The redesigned site, the fifth version in the nonprofit's history, can be seen at

Lutherhaven Ministires promotes Christian camping and retreat ministries. Those include operating Camp Lutherhaven on Lake Coeur d’Alene; Shoshone Base Camp up the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River; 35 week-long day camps in communities around the region; and Idaho Servant Adventures, which brings hundreds of teens from around the nation to north Idaho each summer for community service and outdoor adventure. 

SiteCrafting has an ongoing Gear Grant program donating web services for qualifying nonprofits. The company also has a Spokane office, at 152 S. Jefferson, in downtown.

The new site gives Lutherhaven and its many summer and year-round programs a fresh, new look and easier access to information.

A SiteCrafting spokeswoman said the estimated value of the donated services comes to around $20,000.

A Valentine’s Day date with the tax man

The Washington Department of Revenue will visit with local business owners in Spokane on Monday (yes, Valentine's Day) to get input on how the agency can simplify the tax process for small businesses.

The visit to Greater Spokane Incorporated's offices, 801 W. Riverside, Suite 100, is part of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s executive order last October to make it easier to do business in the state.

This event is free and open to any businesses, not just GSI members. It will be from 1:30 to 3 p.m.

Information and registration:

Shelfwire, a Liberty Lake startup, gives people shelf and closet organizers

Spokane has always had a fair share of do-it-yourself businesses and inventors looking to hit a home run through a clever new thing. See today's business story on Minds-i, a deceptively smart Liberty Lake startup that's redefining the hobby-construction-kit industry.

Another new firm is Ergami, LLC, also based in Liberty Lake. The company recently started selling shelf organizers and items at its site. The chrome wire shelves and accessories help residential customers organize their space.

The company president is Joe Felice. He is the former head of design at online travel company

Shelfwire stocks all of its products at a Spokane Valley warehouse.

“What makes us unique, is our focus on letting customers create their own storage furniture using our easy to use design app, ” Felice said in a release.

The shelving designer web app allows organizers customize shelving options based on the options offered through Shelfwire.

Verizon’s Spokane area stores to start selling iPhone 4 at 7 a.m. Thursday

Verizon launches its sales blitz of the iPhone 4 with stores here opening bright and early Thursday.

We know the River Park Square Verizon location will open two hours early, at 7 a.m., to meet the first wave of buyers. Doors to the atrium will open at 4 a.m. to let shoppers get the line started.

All other River Park Square stores will open at 10 a.m.

Other Verizon stores in the region are likely following suit.

An assistant manager at the downtown store said the staff is gathering in RPS at 4:30 a.m. to prepare.

RPS is owned and operated by the Cowles Co., which also operates The Spokesman-Review.

Rockwood Clinic to open Airway Heights center, plus expand at NorthPointe Plaza

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Worth blogging here is the John Stucke story from today on expansion plans by Rockwood Clinic, of Spokane:

The fast-growing clinic will open a family health care center, with three providers – including at least one physician – in a new location in Airway Heights.

Jill Fix, a Rockwood spokeswoman, said the new clinic will have a staff of nine.
The opening date is tentatively set for April 1. It will include radiology and a laboratory.
The clinic will be at 10414 W. Highway 2 – within the Crosspointe Center – and occupy about 3,870 square feet. The clinic is being designed by Chris Herath and built by Vandervert Construction, LLC.
At the same time Rockwood is opening a new Rockwood North Specialty Center.  It will include six family practitioners, four pediatricians, a podiatrist and two ophthalmologists when it is fully staffed – perhaps by late June.
The new clinic will occupy 10,000 square feet and include a lab and radiology services. The clinic’s existing physical therapy practice will expand to add two more therapists, with plans to bolster industrial rehabilitation and add hand therapy services.
Vandervert is in charge of construction and Bernardo-Willis did the design work.

Mayor Verner to deliver State of the City address at GSI breakfast on Friday

This Friday's Good Morning Greater Spokane event features Spokane Mayor Mayor Verner giving an annual state of the city address.

The Greater Spokane Inc. event starts at 7:30 a.m. at the Spokane Convention Center. It is expected to run until 9 a.m.

Tickets are $25 for members and $55 for nonmembers. The rate for members goes up to $30 on Feb. 9.

To order or find more information, here's the link.

Downtown Spokane offers a twin bill for its annual meeting next week

Downtown Spokane is offering a double-barrelled program for its annual meeting, which starts at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 17.
It will be at the Spokane Convention Center exhibition hall.
Renowned speaker and consultant Roger Brooks, founder and CEO of Destination Development International, will talk about how Spokane can showcase its distinctive urban features, beyond the now-obvious “Near Nature, Near Perfect” marketing approach.
The second topic will cover how Avista Utilities and the City of Spokane have begun collaborating on efforts to build a energy future that includes sustained cost savings, respect for the environment and enhanced quality of life, according to a program note.
To register, go to Registration is $30 in advance before Feb. 10, $35 at the door.

Can DirecTV afford to lose any more area TV customers?

Fox carried the Super Bowl this year and for at least one weekend, DirecTV customers in this area were able to watch and not have to resort to desperate measures.  Some fans have already jumped ship, during a monthlong blackout of the KAYU Fox signal, due to a dispute between the broadcast station and DirecTV, based in Los Angeles.

The two firms have set a monthlong ceasefire. It remains to be seen if the dispute — over how much cash DirecTV pays to Northwest Broadcasting, which runs KAYU and stations in four other markets — will be settled in the next 25 days.

Here's a relevant fact: Dish Network and Comcast far outnumber DirecTV for TV subscribers in the Spokane TV market. The very helpful MediaCensus datafile, from, provides this snapshot for paid-TV subscribers in the Spokane DMA (which covers from parts of Montana to central Washington):

NUMBERS are from 3rd Quarter 2010

Dish: 102,000

Comcast: 100,000

DirecTV: 69,000

DirecTV's marketing folks know that the blackout threatens to send customers to the other guys. They've already begun making nice to some who have paid hundreds of dollars to terminate their contracts with the satellite provider.

A company spokesman said customers who left during the KAYU dispute and who choose to come back now, will have their termination fees waived. Or they'll credit the fees paid to leave DirecTV back to the customer's account.

The spokesman also said it won't reveal how many customers have bailed from the Spokane market since the blackout started Jan. 1.

Those who return will also not face a brand new contract. The deal means: if a person left with 12 months still on a contract, coming back will put that customer right back at the 12 months-remaining point, instead of a brand new two-year deal.




Spokane firms win workplace awards

The Association of Washington Business last week gave three of 10 awards for workplace excellence to Spokane firms.

The awards sponsored by Davis Wright Tremaine LLC, a Seattle law firm, recognizes workplace safety, job training and advancement, and innovative benefit and compensation programs.

CTX Inc., the Spokane Valley maker of concrete railroad ties and other products, won the award for workplace safety among companies with 101 to 250 employees.

Associated Industries of the Inland Northwest was the innovative benefit and compensation winner for companies with fewer than 26 employees. Skils'kin won the same award for companies with more than 250 employees.   

Lewis Lee: why intellectual property is a key business asset

Spokane company co-founder Lewis Lee recently was quoted extensively at a CNBC blog on the fundamental importance of intellectual property in business development.

Which is exactly up Lewis Lee's alley; he co-founded immensely successul Spokane-based IP law firm Lee & Hayes, housed in downtown Spokane.

The interview, at, was nicely timed to the recent state visit by China's President Hu Jintao. It was posted with the headline: Message to CEOs: Don't Underestimate the Middle Kingdom in the Innovation Race.

Lee spends increasing amounts of time with his company's patent teams on the mainland and in Taipei. When he talks about the need for U.S. companies and global firms to deal with the growth of IP awareness in China, he makes a strong point. One quote is this one:

“However, we are seeing more and more research being located in emerging countries like India and China due to the large number of engineers and scientists, which in turn is fostering a growing culture of innovation in these countries. In the U.S., we need more educational emphasis on intellectual property.

“After all, it is rapidly becoming the greatest asset class and greatest renewable resource of our time. Intellectual property should become a core requirement in business and engineering education disciplines, not just an elective in law school.”

“Americans should no longer think of China as an emerging manufacturing power that disregards intellectual property rights. The enforcement system in China is still new and developing, but the country is dramatically increasing the number of patent filings it wants to receive (up from 300,000 in 2009 to an estimated 2 million in 2015) and adding patent examiners at an astounding pace. China will enforce intellectual property rights as soon as doing so is in its national interest. That day will come sooner than most people expect.”

GSI launches new site to gather input on key business issues

Greater Spokane Incorporated, the area's main business advocacy group, has launched a satellite website to gather comments and opinions from area constituents.

It's, and it launched in concert with the recent visit by GSI and about 90 business people to  Olympia last week to speak to legislators about Eastern Washington issues.

The goal is to have easier ways for users to submit letters to public officials on key issues. Site users can also use GSI's agenda summaries, legislative data and outlines of relevant public policy topics.

“This site allows our membership and the public to have a strong voice in issues related to them and their business,” said Rich Hadley, President and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated. “What goes on in Olympia, and what goes on in D.C. affects every business. Our hope is that this site becomes a valuable resource for everyone.”

Spokane Tribe leaders predict it could open West Plains casino in 2013

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Two officials with the Spokane Tribe of Indians Thursday predicted their proposed West Plains casino-hotel could be ready for business sometime in 2013.

Tribe Chairman Greg Abrahamson and Vice Chair Mike Spencer told a West Plains Chamber of Commerce group they hoped the doors would open in “2 to 2 ½ years.”

But they also noted it’s not a done deal. The tribe first has to obtain federal approval and then get the OK from Washington state.

Tribal leaders have submitted a request to the Department of Interior to build a casino and resort on 145 acres of trust land the tribe acquired near Airway Heights in 1998.

The Kalispel Tribe, which operates the nearby Northern Quest casino, has said it opposes allowing the Spokanes to build a casino on non-reservation land. The Kalispels were able to build their casino-resort on land it bought and then later was designated tribal reservation land by the federal government.

Abrahamson said the proposed project, called STEP, for Spokane Tribe Economic Project, would generate 1,200 jobs when completed. Only one-fourth of those jobs would go to tribal workers, he noted.

He also said the first phase of the job would be completing the casino. The remaining components of the multiuse project would be phased in over a few years.

On the map, the proposed site sits north and west of Craig Road along Highway 2, on land adjacent to Airway Heights.

Rusnak named Sterling CFO

Patrick Rusnak has been appointed chief financial officer of Sterling Financial Corp.

If regulators approve the appointment, he will succeed Dan Byrne, who has held the position since Sterling was founded in 1983.

Rusnak is the former chief executive officer of AmericanWest Bank, which was taken private in December.

He joined AmericanWest in 2006 as chief operating officer. Previously, he had been COO of Western Sierra Bancorp, executive vice president for finance at Umpqua Holdings, and CFO of Humboldt Bancorp.

Sterling President Greg Seibly noted Rusnak's experience, and central role in the refinancing of AmericanWest.

“His expertise and resolve will benefit Sterling as our comnpany moves forward,” Seibly said.

He also praised Byrne's contributions to Sterling, where he will continue as corporate development executive overseeing the Spokane bank's external growth and development. 

McMorris Rodgers introduces bill on health care mandate

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington has introduced legislation that would prohibit the IRS from hiring new employees to enforce the individual health care mandate included in the 2010 health care law.

McMorris Rodgers, a Republican and vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, cited recent federal rulings finding that “the individual mandate is clearly unconstitutional, and the IRS – just like every government agency - has a duty to uphold the Constitution.”

“Our bill will protect the constitutional right of every American to decide what health care is best for themselves and their families, while also saving taxpayers about $10 billion by preventing yet another unnecessary increase in the number of government employees,”  she said in a press release today.

The world of connected TVs: Are you sure you want to go there?

Thursday's Spokesman-Review will feature a story on “cord-cutting,” the relatively small effort by consumers to find alternatives to paid-TV (through cable, satellite or telco systems). 

We gathered a few personal stories of folks using alternatives to the standard systems. We asked experts to explain how this would all shake out.

Bottom line: most experts conclude it's too early to decide if we're seeing a mass transformation in the home entertainment world.

Nate Kraft, director of product development for Los Angeles-based Belkin, pointed out a study our story didn't include. But it's relevant to the subject, which includes the assumption that newer stuff is better.

Kraft noted that a Boston ad company did an experiment to see how most Americans feel about cutting the cord and adopting some of the new technology that works to deliver shows, movies and music into our TVs.

We quote from a story on TechCrunch:

“Hill Holiday, a 'caffeine-fueled ad agency,' asked five Boston-area families to participate in a cord-cutting experiment. For one week each family was asked to forgo traditional cable TV in favor of one of the following devices: Apple TV, Google TV, Boxee Box, Xbox 360, and Roku. These devices, of course, are the premier devices for people looking to break free of their cable company while still being able to enjoy television. And how did it turn out for these five families?

“While our sample was by no means representative, the results of our experiment point us toward some real issues that one should consider when thinking about the future of  the “connected TV” technologies.

Washington Senate takes up unemployment tax reduction

Washington businesses would get a break on this year’s unemployment taxes under a bill headed for a floor vote in the state Senate. It’s projected to save Washington employers about $300 million by halting a planned increase in unemployment insurance rates, the Associated Press reports.

The bill’s a priority for Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire. She says it has to pass both chambers of the Legislature and be signed into law by Feb. 8 to have an effect on this year’s unemployment tax rates.

Lawmakers also have other issues to consider in the area of unemployment policy, but those topics have been split from the tax-relief bill and will be debated separately. Labor groups have advocated for a new $15-per-child payment for jobless families, but businesses are wary of adding more benefits.

Idaho tax revenue beats expectations

Idaho’s January tax revenue likely beat forecasts by about $15 million. The news, which indicates the economy could be picking up steam, may help mitigate concerns that arose last week about a yawning $185 million budget hole.

Division of Financial Management director Wayne Hammon confirmed the preliminary figure to The Associated Press.

The robust January receipts come despite $9 million in unexpected sales tax rebates paid out to alternative energy companies. Still, this news likely won’t ease lawmakers’ job of determining what revenue figure to budget to when they set the 2012 spending plan, due to start next July 1.

For instance, legislators still must decide whether to synchronize Idaho’s tax code with new federal tax rules, a move that could cost Idaho an estimated $70 million over two years.

After a month, KAYU signals finally turned back on for DIRECTV customers

Wednesday's had a story on the four-week truce between Northwest Broadcasting, Inc., and DirecTV over the retransmission fee to be paid to carry KAYU signals.

Bottom line, folks don't have to buy an antenna or drive miles to see the Super Bowl this weekend.

There are still issues to be resolved; the two sides agreed to get together and push for an agreement.

One of the notable terms of the ceasefire was a request by Northwest's CEO and President Brian Brady that the negotiations become one-on-one. That request included a specific request that Brady meet with  DirecTV's CEO Michael White in a one-to-one session.

Which tells people: these two companies tried to resolve this dispute through proxies and totally by phone or e-mail. With disappointing results.

Notably, Brady's announcement on Tuesday included mention of the fact that DirecTV had agreed to start refunding the high-priced early termination fees some subscribers had to incur to leave DirecTV.

DirecTV said: No, we're not agreeing to do that.  Dan Hartman, the senior VP of programming for Los Angeles-based DirecTV, said those refunds are not part of the negotiations.

That doesn't mean refunds won't be provided. It just said they are not linked to the contract talks.

Ag Bureau changes its name to Agri-Business Council

For 130 years, the Spokane Ag Bureau has been a fixture in offering farmers an annual Ag Expo and other industry events.

The bureau, a longtime partner with the Spokane Chamber of Commerce — now known as Greater Spokane Inc.— on Tuesday officially switched its name from the Spokane Agricultural Bureau to the Agri-Business Council of Greater Spokane Inc.

The name change happened on day one of the three-day Ag Expo taking place downtown at the Group Health Hall at the Convention Center, and at the Doubletree Hotel.

Agri-Business Council Manager Myrna O'Leary said the shift is a way to reflect the full diversity of the audience the group serves.

“First, the name 'bureau' is old-fashioned,” she said, calling from the floor of Tuesday's expo event.

Plus, calling it the ag bureau seemed to imply the group focused solely on the farm community. The bigger picture is that agribusiness stretches across a number of areas, including processing, specialty product manufacturing and food distribution, she said.

Other options to feed your Godiva sweet tooth

Godiva Chocolatier last week closed its downtown Spokane kiosk in River Park Square. And just in time for Valentine's!

We decided to hunt down other retailers who carry the well-liked Godiva brand.

We found these three:

  • Barnes & Noble Booksellers, both the north Division shop and in the Spokane Valley Mall.
  • Chocolate Apothecary in the Flour Mill, in downtown Spokane.
  • And Macy's, in the Spokane Valley Mall.

If we missed any other retailers, please let us know.

Washington starts 3-month tax amnesty for delinquent biz

A three-month amnesty program for businesses with overdue taxes has started in Washington state.

The plan aims to collect revenue now by waiving any penalties and interest. Otherwise, the state Revenue Department could spend months trying to collect those past-due bills.

The program was requested by Gov. Chris Gregoire and authorized by the Legislature during December’s special session.

The Revenue Department estimates the amnesty program could collect about $24 million for the state, and about $4 million for local governments. The state guesses about a fifth of 50,000 delinquent businesses will take advantage.

Businesses have to submit an application by April 18 and taxes have to be paid by the end of April. Details are available at the website

Corporate sponsors could help keep Idaho state parks open

Idaho’s cash-strapped state parks system will be looking to “tasteful” corporate sponsorships to try to help keep the state’s 30 parks open in the coming year, state parks chief Nancy Merrill told lawmakers this morning.

“We do not want to over-commercialize our state parks,” Merrill said, saying there will be no “Pepsi Cola state park in northern Idaho.”

She gave examples of what she has in mind: In California, Coca-Cola is funding interpretive signs that include just a small corporate logo at the bottom. North Face outdoor clothing company might donate ranger uniforms that could include their logo. Subaru might donate vehicles for use in parks. Juicy Juice might sponsor a children’s playground. Odwalla juice might pay for tree-planting.

“We’re not interested in broadcasting huge commercial ventures out there,” Merrill said. “What we are interested in is partnerships that will help sustain us … that fit Idaho.”

Lawmakers were mostly approving of the move; state funding for Idaho’s parks system dropped 77 percent in the past year, from $6 million to $1.4 million. Gov. Butch Otter’s budget proposal for next year calls for another 4.1 percent cut in state funding, though the overall budget would rise slightly; Merrill said that’s largely because of anticipated revenues from higher park fees.

Bonanzino made Northwest Bancorporation chairman

Anthony Bonanzino has been elected chairman of Northwest Bancorporation, the holding company for Inland Northwest Bank.

Bonanzino succeeds William Shelby, who will retire from the board in 2013.

Bonanzino is the chief executive officer of the Institute for Systems Medicine, and the former CEO of Hollister Stier Laboratories.

The board also waived the corporation's age eleigibility requirement in order to make member Harlan Douglass eligible for re-election by shreholders at their next annual meeting.

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

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

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

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

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