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Office Hours

Archive for January 2011

President Obama singles out Spokane business owner in remarks about health care bill and small business benefits

Added this morning: video of the president's remarks on Janine Vaughn. She's mentioned at 10:18 mark.

Spokane business owner Janine Vaughn hit the weekly-double this week, in terms of national press attention.

On Friday at a Washington, D.C., event, President Obama highlighted Vaughn's small Spokane business, Revival Lighting, and how last year's health care law has helped her stay in business and keep the business profitable.

Obama singled out Vaughn during a keynote address before a gathering of more than 1,000 health care advocates at a D.C. hotel.

Earlier this week and right after the president's state of the union address, Vaughn was singled out and received prominent mention in the White House blog. The White House blog comments are here.

She's singled out for having a businesswoman's positive view of the new health care law. The blog says: “Janine says that the Affordable Care Act has given her more peace of mind. Before it was signed into law in March 2010, she had to think hard about whether she was going to be able to even offer insurance to her employees in the future, but now, the tax credits remove that worry.”

We ran a story on Vaughn in the Spokesman-Review on Sept. 28, taking note of her support then for the state initative to add an income tax for high-worth earners.

That initiative was defeated soundly by the voters.

Revised post: KAYU-Time Warner fee dispute in North Idaho may be longest blackout ever

Still no news on when the long, 28-day retransmission payment dispute affecting DIRECTV customers will end.

This is no fun for customers who are paying good money to DIRECTV and feel abused by the battle between DIRECTV and Northwest Broadcasting, which owns and operates KAYU, the Spokane Fox affiliate.

After quick research, we learned we were wrong in yesterday's post on the longest-lasting blackout.

Between December 2006 and February 2008, Spokane's own Northwest Broadcasting blacked out its signal for North Idaho Time Warner Cable subscribers. That 14-month stretch is the apparent longest recent signal denial.

In recent memory, the longest blackout occurred between January and December 2005, nearly a full year.

That was between Cable One, a southwest cable operator, and Nextstar Broadcast, which operated several stations in Louisiana, Missouri and Texas.

Spokane International Airport traffic increases

Spokane International Airport handled almost 3.2 million passengers last year, an increase of 4 percent from 2009, which had the lowest total since 2004.

December traffic also rose about 4 percent, to 137,820.

Freight and mail rose more than 10 percent for the month, to 5.4 million tons, and 1.76 percent for the year, to 46,863 tons.

At Felts Field, operations fell 5 percent for the year, to 63,496, and 38.3 percent for December, to 2,372. But freight tonnage was up for the month, to 36.6 percent to 3.6 tons, and for the year, 8.1 percent to 44.7 tons.

Habitat moving stores to industrial park

Habitat for Humanity will close its Spokane and Spokane Valley stores, and consolidate retailing into a single location in the Spokane Industrial Park.

The existing stores at 850 E. Trent and 11410 E. Sprague will close March 1. The the Spokane store will reopen for a liquidation sale March 21 through March 26.

The new localion at 3808 N. Sullivan, Building 10, opens April 1.

Habitat Executive Director Michone Preston said the industry park location will provide better access, and more space and parking. The organization has raised $2 million at its Spokane-area stores since the Trent location opened 11 years ago, she said.

Habitat builds affordable homes, which are sold with zero-interest loans to owners who have contributed 500 hours of sweat equity to the organization and other homeowners.

Clean Air Award given to CXT Inc. for cutting emissions

Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency has named CXT Inc. as the 2011 Clean Air Award winner.

The award will be presented Thursday at an 11:30 a.m. ceremony at the Davenport Hotel.

The company makes precast concrete products, including railroad ties for major railways. It has two production plants in Spokane Valley, one of which produced concrete outdoor products, including concrete buildings.

CXT last year began a series of production changes to reduce emissions, a press release noted. The biggest was to replace most of its solvent-based paints with water-based paints, used at its concrete outdoor-products facility. The company also used a parts washer using a more environmentally friendly washing fluid, in place of traditional solvents.

The changes cut volatile organics emissions by nearly 50 percent. David Steiger, VP of CXT's Precast Buidlings, said the changes took place during the busiest year the production facilities have had.

Spokane Valley’s Fiber-Tech Industries earned the 2010 award  for reducing emissions at its production plant.

Goodbye, Horizon, and welcome to life as a shadow under Alaska’s wings

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines is converting all Horizon Air airplanes to its own brand, starting this month, the company announced.

The change is part of a trend among regional air carriers, said Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan. She emphasized the two airlines are not merging. Horizon has operated as a separate second airline inside the Alaska Air Group.

That trend is to provide a specific regional airline partner that works closely with a major airline. Horizon will take on that fully regional role, according to a press release on the Alaska Airlines site.

Alaska acquired Horizon Air back in 1986.

Egan said Horizon will continue as a fully separate company with its own executive team. The shift will allow Horizon to market itself with the “higher profile” of the Alaska brand, said Egan

Horizon schedules won’t change and passengers will see little impact on operations, she said. Planes will be repainted so that the Alaska Airlines Eskimo image will be added to Horizon aircraft. The sides of all Horizon planes will have the airline’s name next to a larger “Alaska Airlines” logo.

For the full release, try here.

Godiva’s out, but who’s going to grab that kiosk space in River Park Square?

Mall rats can start guessing which new retailer will move into the kiosk in River Park Square vacated by Godiva Chocolate.

Bob Smith, the guy who manages the RPS, told us talks have nearly concluded with a retailer expected to take over that spot, on the main floor of the downtown Spokane mall.

Godiva closed down on Monday after operating in that spot for 10 years. Most RPS leases run 10 years.

Smith, who works for Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review, said the new tenant fits a category currently “underrepresented” by other retailers in RPS.

What could that be?  Probably not food. Clothing?  Only if one thinks niche apparel.

Smith said the decision to refresh the kiosk operators follows a regular review of customer wants and wishes. Customers are apparently telling the management they don't want chocolate as much as something else they want.

Smith added that total sales at the kiosks is another factor for review. RPS collects a portion of monthly or quarterly sales as part of the lease agreement.

Once we know who's going in, we'll announce it.

Can Idaho and Washington pick up the tech-job creation pace?

  With all the attention on technology and job-creation in last night's State of the  Union  address by President Obama, Office Hours wonders if Washington and Idaho are primed to be key contributors in that effort.

 Certainly both have unemployment rates that are stubbornly stuck close to the national average, or above.

 We looked to the most recent issue of the Milken Institute's 2010 State Technology and Science Index to see how it ranked Washington and Idaho. The index, which has been compiled since 2002. (The rankings did not occur in 2009.)

 Washington, ranked 5th in 2008, slid to 6th in the 2010 index. That mostly looks to be the result of a strong gain by Utah, which moved up to 5th.

 Idaho, notably, stayed exactly where it was: 27th in both 2008 and 2010.

For the full STSI, go to this PDF link (free signup at Milken required.)

New Spokane-based telecom, equipment provider opens shop

Lee Houk, who has more than 20 years experience in area businesses, has opened Extreme Telecom Data, Inc. a new firm offering hardware and network services for regional companies.

Houk, until December 2010, worked for area telecom company Northwest Communications Center, Ltd.

The new firm will offer solutions for various product lines, including Avaya, Extreme Networks, Netgear and Plantronics.

Houk said the four-person company will focus on North Idaho and Eastern Washington. For more information, the company website is www.extremetelecomdata.com.

The guilty party: One power pole takes out networks across Spokane Valley, N. Idaho


View Larger Map The company that operates a large network of fiber-optic cable for Spokane and North Idaho business customers said it could be midnight on Tuesday before their Internet service returns.

Shelly Mills, a spokesperson for the Spokane office of Zayo Enterprises, said it might be that long, following a car crash early Tuesday that knocked over a utility pole in northeast Spokane County.

That pole, in the accompanying Google StreetView image, is at the intersection of Starr Road and Wellesley.

It's not clear how many businesses use the fiber that is hung on that pole.

The black lines on the pole are fiber-optic lines. The other mess of wires are for phone and electric power.

The white conduit on the left of the pole brings fiber down into the buried vault on the ground.

Zayo provides both “lit” and dark fiber for customers.

Zayo spokesman Glenn Russo, based in Colorado, said fiber carriers choose to either use poles or bury lines under ground. “You end up picking your poison,” he said. Aerial lines are more frequently broken than buried lines. “But they’re also much easier to fix, by nature of being in the open,” he said.

Another story, to be posted later at spokesman.com, will add information on the specific companies impacted.

Sterling reports smaller loss

Sterling Financial Corp. today reported smaller fourth quarter and annual losses.

The net loss for the quarter was $38.1 million, down from $48 million for the quarter ended Sept. 30 and $328.7 million for the 2009 fourth quarter.

For the year, Sterling's net loss was $224.3 million, compared with $838.1 million for 2009.

After adjustments related to its $730 million recapitalization in August, the quarterly  loss atttributable to common shareholdes was $642.7 million, or $12.79 per common share. For the 2009 fourth quarter, Sterling reported a loss of $333.1 million, or $423.17 per common share.

The annual net loss was $756.1 million, or $53.05 per share, compared with $855.5 milion, or $1,087.41 per common share in 2009.

Total assets were $9.5 billion, compared with $10 billion as of Sept. 30 and $10.9 billion as of Dec. 31, 2009.

Power out on South Hill

Power is out on a portion of the South Hill this afternoon as Avista Utilities crews replace a pole at 9th Ave. and Monroe St. destroyed in a motor vehicle accident at about 10 a.m.

A spokeswoman said service should be restored to all customers by 4:30 p.m.

At 1:30 p.m. the outages had been limited to an area between 8th Ave. and 11th Ave. between Monroe and West Cliff Avenue.

About 222 customers were still without service, down from more than 400 initially.

Godiva Chocalatier kiosk in downtown Spokane shuts down

The River Park Square Godiva Chocolatier kiosk shut down Monday, Jan. 24, with no formal statement on the reason.

A River Park Square mall spokesperson confirmed the closure but had nothing else to add. Another mall tenant, clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, shut its doors last week.

The kiosk has been there at least since 2000. 

Cowles Co., which also operates The Spokesman-Review and spokesman.com, owns and manages River Park Square.

Looking for numbers: how much should DIRECTV pay KAYU for programs?

Day 24 of the KAYU DIRECTV blackout, with no sign that the impasse will end soon.

We asked both sides by e-mail if movement was likely today. 

We learned neither side seems optimistic. DIRECTV said, simply, they saw nothing new to resolve the long dispute — which centers on how much DIRECTV will pay, per household, for the ability to deliver KAYU's Fox Network Spokane-based programs to viewers in the region.

Jon Rand, COO of Northwest Broadcasting, which runs KAYU TV, said about the same:

“DIRECTV has made no offer in response to our new offer on Friday.  In fact, they are still sitting where there were on Jan. 1, while we  have made three proposals to them.”

We have no clarity on how much distance the two sides are apart, in price.

What would be helpful is to find what other affiliates are getting from DIRECTV or from Dish Network, for similarly sized markets, comparable to Spokane.

Anyone have access to solid numbers?  What is the fee per TV household that DIRECTV pays to affiliates in Boise, or in Tacoma?

What does Comcast pay in those cities?  Anyone?

Retail vet Jill Brown Dean joins Coldwater Creek as chief merchandising officer

Sandpoint clothing retailer Coldwater Creek announced Monday Jill Brown Dean will take over as the company's chief merchandising officer.

She'll take over the job held by Georgia Shonk Simmons, who had announced plans to retire. Dean will start on Feb. 14  — Valentine's Day. Simmons has worked with the company for more than a dozen years.

Dean has more than 25 years experience in retail and merchandising. Most recently she's been president of the Limited Too division of Tween Brands.  She also worked 18 years with Limited Brands as executive vice president, general manager for Victoria's Secret flagship stores, as well as CEO and president of Lane Bryant.

Coldwater Creek also said Jerome Jessup, currently executive vice president, creative director, is being promoted to president and chief creative officer.

Both execs will report to Dennis Pence, co-founder and CEO of Coldwater Creek.

A run for antennas continues during KAYU-DIRECTV blackout

The Seahawks season is over but Spokane and North Idaho TV viewers are still chasing down indoor or outdoor antennas. Area retailers say the surge in antenna-shopping is tied to the three-week TV blackout affecting DIRECTV subscribers.

The blackout, which began Jan. 1, has left many DIRECTV subscribers unable to watch Fox Network shows, carried by Spokane Fox affiliate KAYU TV.

Northwest Broadcasting, the owner of KAYU, is seeking an increase in how much DIRECTV pays it for carrying the Fox broadcasts. DIRECTV has said the request is exorbitant.

The blackout has no effect on over-the-air viewers or those using cable or Dish Network.

“We’re selling about 10 antennas a day,” said Casey Randolf, a sales associate for the NorthTown Mall Radio Shack.

Pat Williams, department lead for the East Sprague Kmart, said the store sold out its dozen indoor antennas by Thursday.

Jason Simonetti, an associate at the Post Falls Radio Shack, said the store sold out all its antennas last Friday, two days ahead of the Seahawks playoff game carried by Spokane TV station KAYU.

Idaho unemployment rate improves, but tops U.S. average

Idaho's unemployment rate of 9.5 in December exceeded the national rate for the first time in nine years, the state Department of Labor said today.

The state rate had matched the 9.4 percent for the U.S. in November and December, but  employers laid off about 500 workers in December, and the labor force contracted as some stopped looking for work.

In Kootenai County, the rate fell to 10.5 percent in December from 10.9 percent in November. For all of 2010, the rate averaged 10.6 percent, compared with 9.1 percent in 2009.

The yearly average for Coeur d'Alene was 10.4 percent, for Post Falls 11.1 percent. At the end of December, the rates for those communties were 10.6 percent and 10.7 percent, respectively.

Chubb subsidiaries fined

Six subsidiaries of Chubb & Son have agreed to pay a $534,000 fine ordered by Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

An identical amount was suspended as long as the companies do not violate, for at least three years, a negotiated compliance plan that requires self-audits, among other conditions.

Federal Insurance Co., Pacific Indemnity Co., Great Northern Insurance Co., Executive Risk Indemnity Inc., Vigilant Insurance Co., and Northwest Pacific Indemnity Co. did not document reasons for rate increases and decreases as far  back as 1998.

The problems have not been corrected despite fines imposed on Chubb or its subsidiaries since 2000.

The companies could have had their lost their ability to write coverage in Washington for nine months had the consent order not been put in place.

The fine will be paid into the state general fund.

Disgruntled Fox viewers who can’t switch have just one option: over-the-air viewing

Now in the 21st day of a broadcast blackout, the opposing sides of KAYU-TV (Northwest Broadcasting, Inc.) and DIRECTV haven't said a word about how soon they expect a solution.

The battle is largely over the retransmission fee Northwest Broadcasting is seeking from DIRECTV. That fee is based on market estimates and the number of households that are gaining KAYU's broadcasts via DIRECTV. Each broadcaster negotiates those retransmission fees with satellite and cable companies.

The parties aren't talking openly about the proposed rates and counteroffers.

The issue affects thousands of TV viewers in Eastern Washington and North Idaho who use DIRECTV.

DIRECTV has told many of its more-distant viewers that they can watch an alternate satellite feed of Fox programs delivered from an Los Angeles station.

That only applies to residents who are deemed eligible because they can't receive an over-the-air signal from KAYU's Tower Mountain antenna, or one of its regional translators.

Robert Mercer, a DIRECTV spokesman, said the satellite company has already “turned on” the optional alternate feed for those subscribers who are affected by the blackout and who are eligible.  He declined to say how many homes that encompasses.

Meanwhile, any DIRECTV customer who lives close enough to be capable of watching KAYU with an antenna has two choices….only one of which is useful. (I guess there is the third choice: quitting DIRECTV and finding a new provider.)

If the customer wants to remain with DIRECTV, he or she can file a waiver request from KAYU to allow DIRECTV to provide the alternate feed from LA. But that's totally futile.

That has no chance of succeeding. Jon Rand, COO of Northwest Broadcasting, said the station's affiliate status with Fox Broadcast Network would be jeopardized by allowing those waivers.

So the only other choice is… connecting one's TV to an antenna and watching Fox broadcasts the old-fashioned way.  Good luck….

Nine Spokane-area Jiffy Lubes not affected by corporate bankruptcy filing

Sixteen Eastern Washington Jiffy Lube locations will continue to operate while their franchise owner moves through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy and reorganization.

Nine of those stores are in Spokane or Liberty Lake. Others are in Clarkston, the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla.

The voluntary Chapter 11 filing occurred recently in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in California; the franchisee is Tri-Cities Fast Lubes Inc., based in Santa Maria, Calif.  The company has two main partners, Sean Porcher, in Santa Maria, and an operating partner who lives in the Tri-Cities.

Porcher said the stores will not change hours and “will not be affected by this filing.”

He noted that a newly launched Spokane Rewards Program for customers has boosted business in the Spokane area.

The franchise does not operate any Jiffy Lubes in North Idaho, Porcher said.

An e-mail from Porcher noted the filing was triggered by “external business factors” including the collapse of the credit market, erosion of the overall economy, lease issues and “crippling supply agreements.”


 
  

Fast-spreading peanut butter brittle (from Spokane) aims for world domination

A revised website and simpler product choices led to a 20 percent gain in online candy sales during the holidays, said Carol Measel, owner of Spokane-based Bruttles Gourmet Candy Company.

Using BrandIT Advertising, from Spokane Valley, for site redesign and online marketing, Measel said Bruttles.com generated sales from across the globe; those included orders from China, Great Britain, Austria, Switzerland and others, she said.

She especially credited Dan Matthews, the owner of BrandIT, for making the key marketing plans happen.

She credited simpler online order options, plus using Facebook promotions, for an overall company sales increase of 20 percent during the holidays, compared with 2009.

Facebook seems to be the bigger source of sales, compared with Twitter. The number of tweets by @Bruttles is fairly small and often point people to offers found on Facebook or Bruttles.com.

A large share of the overseas orders come from people who have tasted the candies and decided to spread the cheer, Measel said. “They've tasted our products and decided to give them as gifts for friends and others,” she said.

ADDENDUM (posted Jan. 20): What's the difference between peanut brittle and bruttle?  Here's Carol Measel's answer:

“A Bruttle is the same soft peanut butter candy without the nuts, made into a 1” square and half-dipped in chocolate.”

LaunchPad INW offering tiered memberships and more business services

Spokane business-networking company, LaunchPad Inland Northwest, has announced new services and business training as part of its offerings.

When the company launched in early 2010, its focus was on offering shared office spaces, promoting networking events and workshops.

In a release coinciding with the firm's relocation to the 1889 Building, at 120 N. Stevens, co-founder/organizer Bill Kalivas said the new services will provide additional training and consulting services for its paid members.  Among those: Social media consulting, on-site training, and business development.

LaunchPad now offers two levels of membership: Plus and Pro, which cost $35 and $79 per month, respectively.

Kalivas said LaunchPad will still host events and workshops for area business people. Pro and Plus members get free or discount access to many events; they also get other benefits, summarized on the LaunchPad membership web page.

Kalivas said the added level of services and training is an “evolution” of the LaunchPad goal of being the go-to organization to help Spokane-area businesses grow more prosperous.

Joblessness creeps up in December

Washington added an estimated 2,100 jobs in December, with the manufacturing and retail sectors leading hiring. Still, the estimated unemployment rate increased slightly from 9.2 percent to 9.3 percent, the state reported this morning.

Job numbers and the unemployment rate are derived from separate surveys. Due to margins of error, the surveys sometimes generate conflicting results.

In Spokane County, the unemployment rate was 9.1 percent in December. That's up from a rate of 8.6 percent in November, and down slightly from 9.3 percent a year ago. Unemployed workers in the county totaled 21,990 last month, up from 21,030 a month earlier, the state said.
  

Washington signs off on the Comcast-NBC merger

We saw a press release from the Washington Attorney General's office today. It said Rob McKenna and several other state AGs have formally agreed to the U.S. Department of Justice settlement that allows Comcast to merge with NBC Universal.

What we're not sure about is whether any of the states raised any issues that weren't already addressed by consumer groups, media companies and public interest entities.

The release sent by the McKenna office doesn't list any one or two major points that the AGs collectively made a big deal out of.

Today was also the day the real decision took place, in Washington, D.C., when the FCC formally gave its approval to the media merger, which will create a mammoth conglomerate with a trove of media content, along with the nation's largest cable system (not to mention being one of the nation's biggest Internet service providers, providing the system that is the primary way many will get entertainment and news).

A full summary of the agreement is at FCC.gov.

One of the several key points in the approval required that localism become a major focus for the merged media company. That agreement says:  “To further broadcast localism, Comcast-NBCU will maintain at least the current level of news and information programming on NBC’s and Telemundo’s owned-and-operated (“O&O”) broadcast stations, and in some cases expand news and other local content.

NBC and Telemundo O&O stations also will provide thousands of additional hours of local news and information programming to their viewers, and some of its NBC stations will enter into cooperative arrangements with locally focused nonprofit news organizations.  Additional free, on-demand local programming will be made available as well.”

We believe that means we'll see a gain in local news and information programming from stations like KHQ and from the local government-public access channels provided here by Comcast.

No news on Northwest Broadcast-DIRECTV impasse

Area subscribers to DIRECTV continue hoping the payment dispute with Northwest Broadcasting, Inc., which operates KAYU TV, will be settled soon.

The latest is a press release from Northwest saying it's asking for an independent verification of statements made by DIRECTV about what it has paid other similar broadcasters.

Here's the paragraph in a Jan. 14 release from Northwest Broadcasting:

The most recent proposal made by Northwest yesterday was a conditional proposal whereby Northwest would accept, based on DIRECTV's  representation and independent verification of those representations, their marketplace number which they have offered Northwest. “They claim they are not paying any broadcaster more than they have offered Northwest, I'll accept that as long as we are allowed to have an independent audit firm verify what they are telling me to be factual” said Brian Brady, CEO of Northwest.”

We hope to get a response soon from DIRECTV on this statement.

Stay tuned.

Buzz Price’s Gonzaga housing idea: build it and they will come

Today's Here's the Dirt features a fun story on Buzz Price, a former Spokane Valley kid who grew up, went to the Bay Area, did pretty good, then moved back a few years ago.

Today's story looks at his interesting plan to develop a low-cost, quality and energy efficient student residence near the campus of Gonzaga University. It's one of the longest Here's the Dirt stories the SR has run. It's a great read.

Price calls the new building the Gee, as in G for Gonzaga. He hopes it's the first of more than a hundred he would like to build nationwide, using the same template.

He's created a site to help explain the provide information: www.gee-house.com.

It's not active yet. But you might check back in a few weeks and get more information on his plan.

Full resume: Before Sterling, Ezra Eckhardt worked in tech, manufacturing

To add just a bit more focus to the post below about Ezra Eckhardt speaking at the next Greater Spokane Inc. event, here's some more bio on the featured guest.

His resume notes that before joining Sterling Savings Bank, Eckhardt was also involved in managing the Spokane Valley Honeywell site.

Before that, his bio makes note that Eckhardt was a director on the Microsoft corporate strategic planning and analysis team. One more detail worth noting:  He's also a 1992 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Tourism rebounds in 2010

Tourists spent $15.2 billion in Washington last year, a 7.4 percent over 2009, according to preliminary figures released today by the state Department of Commerce.

The rise in visitor spending generated a five percent increase in local and state tax revenues, although just a one percent bump in sales taxes, the report says.

Travel-related employment held steady at about 143,800, and earnings at about $4.3 billion.

The estimated spending for 2010 _ complete figures with county breakdowns will not be available until later this year _ was second to the record of $15.4 billion set in 2008. Expenditures fell to $11.1 billion in 2009. 

Eckhardt to discuss Sterling’s recapitalization

Ezra A. Eckhardt, president and chief operating officer of Sterling Savings Bank, will visit Greater Spokane Incorporated this week to talk about how he helped lead the bank’s recapitalization project.

The BIZStreet “A Conversation With….” event will be Thursday from 8 to 9:30 a.m.

Attend to learn how Eckhardt overcame the largest obstacle in his career: the recapitalization of Sterling. Greater Spokane stated, “Glean insights on how his team executed an intricate, complex capital raise while the bank was under a stringent regulatory order, with seven quarters of operating losses, and how planning, determination, and execution translated into great team performance and renewed sense of purpose and resolve.”

The cost to attend is $25 for GSI members and $50 for non-members.

Location: Greater Spokane Incorporated, 801 W. Riverside, Suite 100, Spokane.

Register at http://events.greaterspokane.org/default.asp?cale_id=1347&details=true

KAYU’s over-the-air signal and how it can help find a blackout solution

There is a way to work-around the KAYU transmission blackout continuing in much of the area, affecting households subscribing to DIRECTV. But it's not simple and not a sure thing for many affected viewers.

It comes down to getting DIRECTV to assign your home an alternate Fox Broadcasting signal from another market, like Los Angeles, instead of from Spokane's KAYU.  You will have to call DIRECTV and convince them that you live in an area not likely to receive an over-the-air signal from KAYU's Spokane antenna.

This map, found at the FCC, displays a projected area where the signal can generally be counted on to be decent. In general, outside this area within the radius, you have the option. If you live inside the area, you may still be eligible for the work-around. But you would have to live in an area with unusually challenging terrain limitations.

Also: if you are in an area which has a signal repeater, you may seem to be eligible based on the map, but in fact will be considered ineligible to apply for a different network signal.

If you've already done so, leave a comment here to explain whether the phone process needed to accomplish that goal is easy or hard. 

Home sales retreated in 2010

Home sales in Spokane County fell almost nine percent in 2010 compared with 2009, according to figures released today by the Spokane Association of Realtors.

Sales of 4,250 homes were reported, compared with 4,666 in 2009.

The average price slipped 2.2 percent to $183,483, and the median price 3.3 percent to $163,400.

New home sales closed the year at 553, down 2.6 percent from 568 in 2009.

The inventory of unsold homes barely changed, with 2,593 on the market as of Jan. 5, 2011, compared with 2,606 at the end of 2009.

Upscale Home Furnishings shuts its doors, files for Chapter 7

 

Joel Ferris III, owner of Upscale Home Furnishings at 2510 N. Monroe, has closed the Spokane business and said customers who provided consignment furniture will have the items returned in several weeks.

Ferris started the all-consignment furniture store in 2006. His family owned and operated popular downtown décor and furniture retailer Joel Inc. Upscale Home Furnishings had four employees, Joel said in an e-mail to Office Hours.

The business has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, according to a filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Eastern Washington.  A hearing for creditors is set for Jan 25 at 2:30 p.m. at the U.S. Courthouse Bankruptcy Court in downtown Spokane.

(Photo is of Joel Ferris III from 2005, prior to moving the business to North Monroe location.)

Talks continuing to settle KAYU-DIRECTV contract impasse

With another sour weekend for DIRECTV customers straight ahead, we asked for some comments by the satellite service provider on what's keeping a settlement from resolving the blackout affecting KAYU's programs.

Since Jan. 1, KAYU, a part of Northwest Broadcasting, has not been carried to roughly 170,000 households in five markets, including Spokane, Tri-Cities, Yakima and Medford.

The dispute comes down to a number of questions, with money being a critical problem.

Unless the block on programming ends, thousands of Eastern Washington or North Idaho DIRECTV customers can't get the Spokane-KAYU Fox Broadcasting shows.

Especially painful for football fans are scheduled Fox broadcasts of two NFL playoff games: Atlanta vs.  Green Bay on Saturday, Seahawks vs. Bears on Sunday.

Robert Mercer, a spokesman for DIRECTV, sent this statement regarding the contract impasse:

“Their demand for a 600 percent increase is still on the table.  And our position is this: In the months of November and December alone, we came to an agreement with six broadcast groups, representing 67 markets and  86 individual local television stations across the country. And agreed to pay market prices for all of them. Now comes Northwest Broadcasting, who wants us to pay them fees that are astronomically higher than market.  We won’t do that to our customers because it would result in them paying significantly more for their programming than the normal yearly increase.”

For its part Northwest has said this is the first negotiation of its retransmission rates with DIRECTV for 10 years. Northwest COO Jon Rand has said Northwest is eager to settle, and he pointed to recent successful retransmission deals with Comcast, Dish Network and other cable companies.

GoNano Technologies get NSF grant for diesel catalytic converter project

GoNano Technologies, a nanotechnology company based in Moscow, Idaho, says it's received a $149,000 NSF SBIR phase one grant to develop a nano-particle catalytic converter for diesel engines.

Like other nano-based tech firms, GoNano is committed to a business plan in which smaller is better.

Nanospring materials are the company's trademarked term for specialized chemical microparticles that can collect and retain carbon emissions and then later be treated to remove usable byproducts.

The company (website is http://gonano-technologies.com) also received an SBIR grant in July 2010 to work on a carbon dioxide recycling system using the same Nanospring technology.

A press release sent out Wednesday (Jan. 12) said: “The objective is to demonstrate the technical feasibility of a novel four-way catalytic converter for diesel emissions. While there is ongoing research to combine multiple functions into a single catalytic converter, GoNano is applying its proprietary Nanospring technology to improve on current concepts.”

Spokane Valley will get the area’s first Friendly Computers shop


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The usual choice when hunting for computer repair is Google “PC repair” and see what pops up. You might expect to see a high listing for Best Buy's well-marketed Geek Squad. In fact, it doesn't even show up on the first page of results.

Notably, most of the results are for Spokane independent PC repair operations. To us, that's kind of remarkable, and a great thing.

So now what effect will another computer repair business have in this already-crowded service niche.

In the next several weeks, Spokane resident Jim Dixson will launch Spokane's first Friendly Computers franchise.

Like Geek Squad, Friendly Computers offers in-house or at-the-shop repairs. It's considered one of the faster-growing nationwide franchises in the country. More details on the company at Friendlycomputers.com.

Dixson plans to open his first location at 328 N. Sullivan, Suite 3, in Spokane Valley.

Web firm SiteCrafting cited for excellence in workplace flexibility

SiteCrafting, a web design and web application development firm with offices in Tacoma and Spokane, was given a 2010 Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility.

The award recognizes employers and worksites that encourage and foster flexibility as a strategy to increase workplace effectiveness and work-life balance.

“We are thrilled to be recognized as an excellent place to work,” said SiteCrafting President Brian Forth “We have a lot of very smart, technically minded people working here, but what's more important and worthy of recognition is the fact that we have incredible human beings working here and we want to support them.” 

The Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility are part of the national When Work Works project, an ongoing initiative of Families and Work Institute in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce and the Twiga Foundation, with funding from the Sloan Foundation.

LaunchPad gets ready for its new downtown Spokane digs


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Spokane-based networking group LaunchPad Inland Northwest holds an open house to mark its relocation to the 1889 Building in downtown, 120 N. Stevens.

The event will run from 4 to 7 p.m. at the new Training Center and Co-working Space, occupying the main floor of that building. Sharing the other part of the main floor is newly launched winebar Nectar Tasting Room.

LaunchPad is a for-profit group devoted to promoting business and entrepreneur networking. It's relocating from its first downtown offices, at the Holley Mason Building.

For information on the event, go to the LaunchPad info page.

Coming Sunday, a look at the best sectors for jobs in Spokane, North Idaho

No slight intended yesterday to Idaho when we posted about a Sunday Business Section story, about the right way to get a job in the new year.

We listed the six hottest job sectors in Spokane County (led by health care).

We didn't until today have a list for North Idaho. Now we do; thanks to Alivia Body of the Idaho Dept. of Labor, this is the hot list for Kootenai County and surroundings:

  • Health care
  • Administrative and support services
  • Manufacturing
  • Transportation-warehousing
  • Retail trade
  • Food services

Unemployment, workers’ comp proposals ambitious

Gov. Chris Gregoire has ambitious reforms planned for Washington's unemployment insurance and workers' compensation programs. Bert Caldwell parses some of the devilish details in his Sunday column.

Should Congress prevent station ‘blackouts’ in contract disputes?

If you're one of the thousands of area TV households that are blacked-out because of the dispute between Northwest Broadcasting Inc. and DIRECTV, here's one option: contact Congress.

The dispute led to a full FOX network blackout for about 170,000 households who use DIRECTV in five TV markets to watch Spokane's KAYU and other stations.

Nearly every year some provider, like Comcast, Time Warner, Dish Network or DIRECTV engages in a  stare-down with a broadcast company over retransmission payments. That's the negotiated price carriers like DIRECTV pay to broadcasters like Northwest Broadcasting for providing that station's programs to subscribers.

The American Television Alliance, based in D.C., has advocated for viewer protection by suggesting Congress or the FCC should set rules over retransmission disputes. Its website includes a link where concerned viewers can email Congress. It's here or http://www.americantelevisionalliance.org/whats-the-issue/ if you need to cut and paste.

The next question: Do you want Congress involved in broadcast disputes? There are a range of answers; and the one we think is acceptable is: No.

We don't want federal intervention other than requiring stations to carry those signals while a contract dispute lingers.

But also, there needs to be some time limit on that mandated continued coverage. If it's an open-ended requirement that no broadcasts can be shut down during a dispute, it's certain that some contract impasses will linger longer than they now do.

Is there a better idea out there?  Let's hear your suggestions….

Idaho unemployment rises to 9.5 percent

The Idaho Department of Labor says the state’s December unemployment rate was higher than the national average for the first time in nearly a decade.

Idaho’s projected seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for December rose for the fifth straight month to 9.5 percent, leaving 71,900 workers without jobs.

Nationally, the unemployment rate dropped 0.4 points to 9.4 percent for December.

Based on current data, Idaho’s average unemployment rate for 2010 was a record 9.2 percent, breaking the previous record of 9 percent set in 1982.

Spokane KAYU-DIRECTV dispute one of 3 market blackouts over retransmission fees

Fans of the Simpsons…. you may be out of luck again, if you get Fox Network programs from DIRECTV.  A market DIRECTV blackout that began Jan. 1 continues, with no word on a possible solution.

A representative from one of the parties said, in an e-mail sent Friday afternoon, that the negotiations may continue over the weekend.

Fox viewers in the Spokane TV market bummed by the blackout from the dispute with DIRECTV should take some small comfort; they're not the only ones feeling the loss.

Three separate blackouts have marked the new yearr, according to the American Television Alliance, a Washington, D.C., association advocating for TV audiences.

The two others, outside the Spokane-Northwest Broadcasting-Fox snafu are a blackout by KOMU, an NBC affiliate in Columbia, Mo., and Frontier Radio Management, which runs Fox and ABC affiliates in central Georgia.

The Missouri contretemps also involves DIRECTV; the Georgia dispute involves Dish Network.

The Spokane market dispute really involves five separate markets: Spokane, Tri-Cities, Yakima, Medford and Binghamton, N.Y. Earlier this week Northwest Broadcasting COO Jon Rand said the contact dispute may center on the money DIRECTV will pay for carrying the signals of those stations, but it was just one of four issues at the table. He declined to say what the other three issues are.

NEW:  As of Friday Jan. 7, Rand said the dispute now remains over just three issues.

He also said Northwest Broadcasting is seeking a traditional payment system; that would involve different rates-per-household across the five separate markets. Again, since the matter is in negotiation Rand said he wouldn't offer specifics.

The other side, DIRECTV, claims that Northwest Broadcasting is bargaining in bad faith and trying to use the dispute to extort a “600 percent” price increase. A DIRECTV press release said “Northwest Broadcasting … has decided they would rather deprive our customers of their local channels than make even an honest and good faith attempt to reach a fair deal in contract negotiations.”

Washington Policy Center sets 12 Eastern Washington ‘wake-up’ breakfasts

The Washington Policy Center, a non-profit, non-partisan research organization with offices in Spokane and the Tri-Cities, announced plans today to host 12 Wake-Up Call Legislative Forums around Eastern Washington during the 2011 Legislative Session.

The free breakfast events will give citizens an opportunity to get an update on what’s happening in Olympia and be connected live via videoconference to lawmakers to offer feedback.

“Eastern Washingtonians often feel left out of the legislative process, and we’re trying to change that with these special events featuring state and Eastern Washington policymakers,” Washington Policy Center President Dann Mead Smith said in a press release.

The events begin at 7 a.m. and feature a presentation from WPC and a question-answer session with lamakers in Olympia. The series kicks off Jan. 18 in the Spokane Valley. See the list below.

There will be three breakfast events in Spokane and the same number, on a rotating basis, in Yakima, Wenatchee and Tri-Cities. The dates are:

·         Spokane: Jan. 18, Feb. 15, March 22 – at the Quality Inn Hotel Spokane Valley

·         Yakima: Jan. 25, February 22, March 29 – at the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce

·         Wenatchee: Feb. 1, March 1, April 5 – at Banner Bank (501 N. Mission)

·         Tri-Cities: Feb. 8, March 8, April 12 – at Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce

The lineup of guests from Olympia include Attorney General Rob McKenna, state Auditor Brian Sonntag and others.  To track the guest list and get more information go to the WPC site.

The absolute best way to get a job in 2011

Coming Sunday, the Spokesman's business section looks at the rock-bottom best tips for finding a job in the new year.

We got those tips by talking to a group of area recruiters, job counselors and experts in professional marketing.

Look for that story in the Business section of the paper or at spokesman.com/business.

We also catch up with area job-trackers. We came up with the six hottest job sectors in Spokane County.

They are, not in any order: health care, finance-insurance, green-tech/waste recovery, transportation, professional services, and advanced manufacturing.

To go on your search of jobs in demand, Doug Tweedy, the regional labor economist with Washington's Department of Employment Security, suggests visits to the Demand List found at the ESD main website.

It's a handy way to track many of the best jobs unfilled in Spokane County: the full list of all “in demand” jobs for Spokane County is here.

State program kept 32,000 employed

Washington's Shared-Work Program kept 32,000 workers on the job in 2010, a record and up 10,000 from 2009, the Employment Security Department said today.

The department also estimated the program, which replaces some wages of full-time workers whose hours were cut, saved the state about $34 million that would have been paid out to those workers had they instead collected the average 20 weeks of unemployment benefits.

Huntwood Industries in Liberty Lake was among the 3,700 employers approved for the program.

“The Shared Work program has helped us retain our valued workers during these challenging economic times,” said Richard Gobble, a human resources specialist with the cabinet maker.

Last year, 2,700 businesses qualified, and 22,000 jobs were saved, the department said.

ESD Commissioner Paul Trause encourage more employers to participate.

“Shared Work has been a difference-maker for thousands of struggling business and workers in Washington,” he said.

 

Miller Paint will move into South Hill location in March


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The empty South Spokane Blockbuster Video store at 2501 E. 29th will get its first new tenant in a few months.

Portland-based Miller Paint says it will fill about 4,000 square feet of the building, which is owned by Stanek Enterprises. The store has been closed after two Blockbuster wallops — a fire in July 2010 and the video rental company's bankruptcy.

Look for Miller Paint to open its doors during the first two weeks of March.

For now Miller Paint has just one downtown Spokane store. The employee-owned company has about eight locations in the Seattle area and about 36 across the Northwest, said area manager Byron Nelson.

The goal is to have five or six in the Inland Northwest, he said.

He said the 29th location will be called Miller Paint at Lincoln Heights. It will operate Monday through Saturday. About four workers will be added to start, said Nelson.

Nelson said Dave Black, of NAI Black of Spokane, was the broker for the lease and the deal. 

A second retailer is also lined up for the remaining one-third of the space available. Office Hours wasn't able to confirm that tenant's plans today.

Washington saw more people leaving than coming during 2010, according to survey

Are times really that bad?

Atlas Van Lines, which tracks traffic to and from the 50 states, said Washington saw more people move out during 2010 than moved in.

That was the first outflow from WA since 2002, according to the survey of U.S. movement patterns.

Their study found that 2,159 people moved into Washington and that 2,412 moved out of the state in 2010.

And generally, more Americans moved around in  2010 than in 2009. The Atlas press release suggested that's a sign of an economic uplift. It could be read in just the opposite sense; more people are leaving one state hoping things are better in larger states.

The study also noted:

For the fifth consecutive year, Washington, D.C., had the highest percentage of inbound moves, and Ohio had the highest percentage of outbound moves.

The northeastern Rust Belt region continued to see the highest number of outbound moves, a trend that could be due to high unemployment there.

Washington state saw more people leaving than coming in 2010, according to survey

Are times really that bad?

Atlas Van Lines, which tracks traffic across these united states, said Washington saw more people move out during 2010 than moved in.

That was the first outflow from WA since 2002, according to the survey of U.S. movement patterns.

Their study found that 2,159 people moved into Washington and that 2,412 moved out of the state in 2010.

And generally, more Americans moved around in  2010 than in 2009. The Atlast press release suggested that's a sign of an economic uplight. It could be read in just the opposite sense; more people are leaving one state hoping things are better in larger states.

The study also noted:

For the fifth consecutive year, Washington, D.C., had the highest percentage of inbound moves, and Ohio had the highest percentage of outbound moves.

The northeastern Rust Belt region continued to see the highest number of outbound moves, a trend that could be due to high unemployment there.

Washington AG’s office tees off on Minnesota company selling PC booster

Washington's Attorney General's office has gained a $78,000 settlement from Pennyslvania-based Ascentive, LLC, over alleged misleading consumer ads that told customers the firm could help speed up pokey PCs.

Ascentive has been around for years and has developed some noteworthy products to improve PC performance. But in this case, the allegation is that the company sold products and “slyly tacked additional products onto orders,” according to a press release from the AG's office on Tuesday.

Ascentive agreed to fork over a $20,000 civil penalty, plus $58,000 to reimburse the AG office for attorneys’ fees and legal costs. An additional $150,000 in civil penalties are suspended provided the company complies with the settlement terms.

Ascentive did not and was not required to acknowledge wrongdoing.

Washington consumers may be eligible for restitution if they meet the following criteria: 1) Purchased any Ascentive product in the past two years, 2) paid for both a back-up CD and the company’s Extended Download Service and 3) didn’t use either the back-up CD or the Extended Download Service.

Eligible consumers will receive an e-mail message within the next month from Ascentive with instructions on how to submit a claim for a refund. Consumers must print the message, sign and mail the letter to Ascentive within a month. Those who submit the claims will receive checks for approximately $17.90 plus tax.

A potential, whopping $17.90 in restitution per victim.

Farewell shows: Empyrean Coffee House will bag it on Jan. 15

Three years at its first location, followed by 12 months at its most recent spot, Spokane music venue Empyrean Coffee House has announced it's shutting its doors later this month.

Co-owners Michelle and Chrisy Riddle say they'll close the doors with three final nights of music and poetry, Jan. 13-15.

Back in 2009 they took over the initial Empyrean on 154 S. Madison Avenue not far from the Fox Theater. After  landlords raised the rent, the Riddles moved to the current site, at 171 S. Washington (formerly the Big Dipper).

“I think the music scene has been changing in Spokane. And when we moved, I guess this building had a different vibe. Which meant we didn’t get as many people dropping in,” Michelle Riddle said.

The sisters said they hope to continue working with bands and booking acts in the area.

Big Dipper building owner Steve Spickard said he is not sure who he might bring in as the next tenant.

One World Spokane Cafe closing, plans to reopen after time to ‘reorganize’

Keith and Janice Raschko, owners of the One World Spokane Cafe, at 1804. E. Sprague, are closing the restaurant for a limited reorganization and refocusing.

For two years One World Cafe has been a nonprofit busines serving healthy food and providing  a social hangout. Executive Director Janice Raschko said she hopes to reopen in February, in the same location.

After meeting with the cafe board of directors, she decided to take the time off to refocus on the key mission, which she said is “building community” among the cafe's supporters and patrons.

“We got a little off that focus” by trying to do too much, she added.

Support and enthusiasm are not lacking, she said. “It's a social experiment. We've changed so many people's lives,” Raschko said.

The cafe lets patrons eat locally grown and healthful meals at whatever price they choose to pay. Volunteers contributed labor, either in exchange for meals or to keep the cafe operating. She estimated volunteers have offered up 8,000 hours of labor for the cause.

Photo, taken in August 2008, shows Denise Cerreta, front, a Salt Lake City-based mentor, with the Raschkos as they got ready to open the cafe.

Gee Automotive acquires Spokane Kia

Gee Automotive, one of the largest auto retailers in Eastern Washington, has acquired Spokane Kia. The acquisition closed today and the dealership opened as part of Gee Automotive, the company said is a news release.

Sales and service operations have moved two doors down to the Gee Import Center on the north side of Interstate 90, at 21602 E. George Gee Ave. in Liberty Lake. With the acquisition, Gee becomes the exclusive Kia dealer for the Spokane and Couer d’ Alene areas.

Gee Automotive has sold Kia in Couer d’ Alene since 2004.

Kia's best-selling U.S. models are the Sorrento, Soul and Optima sedan. Kia also offers two economy cars in five models – the Forte and the Rio – as well as its second-generation minivan, the Sedona, and the all-new Sportage, one of the first models introduced to the U.S. market.

George Gee founded his first auto dealership in Spokane in 1983. Today, Gee Automotive Companies includes new and used dealerships in Pasco and Coeur d'Alene, and a 68,000-square-foot flagship location in Liberty Lake.

Gee dealerships carry new Buick, GMC, Porsche, Nissan, Cadillac, Kia and all makes of used vehicles.
The company has 150 employees and is locally owned and operated.

Washington says retailers’ tax site improved

Washington's Department of Revenue said in a news release Monday that it has vastly improved the online tool retailers use to find sales tax rates across the state.

The state charges sales tax based on where a product is delivered, not where it originated. The new web tool, found at http://dor.wa.gov, offers several ways to look up location codes and tax rates. Those include address searches, improved maps, and latitude and longitude, according to the news release.

Washington retailers, you be the judge.

Public comments invited on Qwest, CenturyLink merger

Washington's Utilities and Transportation Committee (UTC) has scheduled a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday (Jan. 5) for people to comment on the proposed merger of CenturyLink and Qwest.

The hearing will be in the second-floor hearing room at the UTC’s Richard Hemstad Building headquarters, 1300 S. Evergreen Park Dr. S.W., Olympia.

The meeting allows for phone customers, either business or residential, to comment on the proposed merger.

It also allows for comments on a Washington state settlement negotiated recently. That settlement has several provisions to shield customers from being harmed by this transaction. These include: 

  • Capping local telephone residential rates for at least three years after the sale closes.
  • Making broadband Internet service available to more customers.
  • Preventing the new company from passing on merger costs to ratepayers.
  • Reporting merger savings to the UTC.
  • Submitting detailed plans to UTC staff before transitioning to any new operations systems that affect customer services like billing or filling new phone orders.

Does Spokane or CDA draw young business owners? Where would we rank on the top 10 list for entrepreneurs?

Which city does this make you think of:

THIS HUB for technology and industry — from Amazon and Microsoft to Boeing and Starbucks — is also a doorstep to Asia. It doesn’t hurt that it has a highly-educated population, either.

Or this description:

MAJOR GREEN credentials, a temperate climate and a growing local food scene (plus one hell of a cup of coffee) has this town on the radar of many young entrepreneurs.

Yes, Seattle and Portland, which scored No. 10 and No. 8 on a “best cities for young entrepreneurs” list published at Under30CEO.

The list brings forth the appropriate question:  Does Spokane or Coeur d'Alene come close in the hunt for young entrepreneurs?  What do we have that brings or retains bright young business talent?

I'd say there have to be five or six key traits we do have, maybe not in heavy supply, but still critical.

One is:  a pool of older, gray-haired managers who can serve as mentors and board directors, to guide the young company forward.

If you have your own list of other key traits, we want to hear from you.  Leave the comments here.

To see the site's top five cities, read the rest of the post, below:

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

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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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Alison Boggs (@alisonboggs) Online Producer Alison Boggs posts and manages content on spokesman.com 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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