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THURSDAY, JULY 14, 2011, 4 P.M.

Cowles Company to freeze employee pension plan

Cowles Company, which owns The Spokesman-Review, KHQ-TV, The Journal of Business and other businesses, announced Thursday that it will freeze the company’s pension plan effective Sept.  1. At the same time, Cowles will open its 401(k) match to all employees affected by the change.

The transition affects about 473 employees, or 56 percent of the company’s eligible work force who were not included in a partial freeze three years ago. Their accrued pension benefit will be capped at present levels.

“Revenue and profit predictability has diminished dramatically across all of our businesses in the last decade,” Cowles Company President Stacey Cowles said in a prepared statement. “It is no longer feasible for companies to guarantee payments 10 or 20 years from now when we can hardly predict what’s going to happen 10 weeks from now.”

The Company instituted a partial freeze of the plan in 2008 and moved new employees and existing employees under age 36 to the matching 401(k) that year.

The company will match 100 percent of employee 401(k) contributions up to 6 percent of salary.

“We’re proud that we have postponed the freeze as long as we have and that we are able to offer a very generous match,” Cowles Chairman Elizabeth “Betsy” Cowles said in a prepared statement.

Cowles quoted a Mercer Consulting survey estimating that 90 percent of employers do not offer a pension plan or have frozen their plans. Only 8 percent offer a 401(k) match of 6 percent or higher, the survey found.

The family-owned, Spokane-based company's subsidiaries also include NBC affiliates in the Tri-Cities and Yakima, Inland Empire Paper Company, Western Farmer Stockman insurance, North Idaho’s Nickels Worth newspaper and River Park Square shopping center in Spokane. The pension change applies to employees at all Cowles subsidiaries.

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