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Archive for June 2011

Brewster to take over Far West Billiards; his plan does not include billiards

The manager of Far West Billiards, a downtown Spokane food-and-pool hangout, said the business is closing after 10 years in operation. Closing is expected to be Thursday night

Yvonne Millspaugh said she decided to shut down in anticipation of major remodeling that building landlord Rob Brewster is ready to start.

The billiards business, at 1001 W. First, has been owned by Andrew Sackville-West and other LLC partners. Sackville-West has moved to Portland and is allowing Brewster to take over the space, Millspaugh said.

 Brewster said Sackville-West has been an exemplary business tenant in the building. But he also noted the Far West has been late on rent payments in recent months. At the same time, Brewster said he's seeing plenty of tenants in the area also struggling to cover their bills.

Brewster has developed a number of downtown properties, including the Montvale Hotel and the Catacombs Restaurant.

Brewster said he’ll announce  plans for the Far West space in several weeks. “It will not include billiards,” he said.

Inside the Great Northern Building restoration (hats off to McKinstry)

Lost in the hubbub about Apple and Trader Joe's coming to town is the bigger news that the McKinstry company, a high-end facilities management and design-build firm, bought and is renovating the historic Great Northern Building, on the east edge of downtown Spokane.

In the past few days we got a chance to get a view of what's happening inside and outside the building. The building is on the national historic register; it was originally the repair depot for the first electric railway system that operated between downtown and Liberty Lake and points east.

This cell-phone photo shows “car barn 2” inside the Great Northern Building, which sits between the Habitat building on Trent and the Spokane River. The view is toward the south and toward the Spokane River.

The original wood ceilings and brick walls have been cleaned up and are used as key features in the building plan.

The McKinstry offices will be on the left side of the barn. Some other spaces will be available to lease to commercial tenants.

A permit pulled by McKinstry estimates the cost of restoring the building will approach $10 million.

Slow recovery also spells slower population growth

Washington’s population continues to grow, but at a slower rate.

The 2011 population estimate prepared by the Office of Financial Management places the state's population at 6,767,900 as of April 1. That represents an increase of 43,360, or a growth rate of 0.64 percent from the state’s official 2010 census count.

It's an unexpected slowdown in population growth, the agency said today, and is due to slower than expected economic recovery. That affects both natural population increase (births minus deaths) and migration into Washington.

Migration is a major component of the state’s growth. This year’s net migration is estimated at 6,600, the lowest level in more than two decades, OFM says.

Worker mobility remains low nationwide because of difficulties with selling homes and finding work. Part of the overall decrease in migration is due to a decline in international migration.

Palouse Wind farm to power 30,000 homes via Avista

Avista will buy power from the proposed Palouse Wind project in Whitman County, the company said today.

The Spokane-based utility will receive about 40 average megawatts of renewable energy, and as much as 100 megawatts, from the wind farm, which is being developed by First Wind, an independent wind energy company.

Avista said it will receive the first power from the wind turbines next year, kicking off a 30-year power purchase agreement.

The energy qualifies under Washington State’s Energy Independence Act to meet Avista’s state-mandated requirements for renewable energy. The company said it expects to recover the cost of buying the wind power through retail rates.

Lower wind power costs and continuing tax incentives make this an excellent time to make long-term wind power deals, said Dick Storro, vice president of Energy Resources for Avista.

“Palouse Wind will help Avista meet its goal of providing reliable energy to our customers at a reasonable cost, while meeting renewable portfolio standards, now and in the future,” Storro said.

The wind farm will be the largest renewable energy facility in Whitman County, with the capacity to generate power for about 30,000 homes of Avista customers. It will go on private land between Oakesdale and State Route 195, capturing the prevailing southwest wind.

Google Health plans to shut down at the end of the year

Google HealthA Google Health pilot program to collect and manage personal health records for some Spokane residents will shut down on Jan. 1, 2012.

The closure affects about 280 Spokane patients who used Google Health in conjunction with 1HealthRecord, an online system to connect medical information to health providers.

Google, the Silicon Valley tech giant, developed Google Health in 2008 as a central hub to collect medical information and manage which medical providers can access it.

Google launched dozens of tests of the online personal record management system nationwide. Google recently said it will shut down Google Health at the end of this year.

As one of three pilot projects statewide, Spokane patients at three provider clinics, Heart Clinics Northwest, Physicians Clinic of Spokane and Rockwood Clinic, were invited to use 1HealthRecord to upload medications and allergy records into their personal, online health record in Google Health.

Northwest Health Services (INHS) developed 1HealthRecord as an application for use with current and future personal health record systems.

Plans progressing for Hanford history museum

RICHLAND, Wash. — Plans are moving forward for construction of a $41 million museum at Richland that would tell the history of the Hanford nuclear reservation in World War II and the Cold War.

The Corps of Engineers has approved the environmental review and a sublease for the site of the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center at Richland.

The Tri-City Herald reports proponents still need to raise about $15 million for the museum. It also would feature information about the area’s Ice Age floods.

E. Washington cherry harvest two weeks late

YAKIMA, Wash. — After delays caused by a cool, wet spring, the cherry harvest is under way in Eastern Washington.

Growers hope to have some cherries in markets for the Fourth of July weekend. 

The Yakima Herald-Republic reports the cherry harvest in the Yakima Valley is about two weeks later than normal. 

The director of the Northwest Cherry Growers Association, B.J. Thurlby, says growers typically have 5 million to 7 million boxes picked by the end of June. This year they’ll have 2 million, at most. 

Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah ship about 14 million boxes each season. Washington accounts for about 80 percent of the total.

Lithia paid $2.1 million for former Empire Ford dealership downtown


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LIthia Motor Group, the Oregon-based company that operates Camp Subaru and BMW in Spokane, paid $2.1 million for the former Empire Ford building, court records show.

When the story appeared last week, a Camp spokesman confirmed the amount for the building exceeded $2 million. But the formal closing of the sale only occurred this week.

The seller is Ford Motor Credit Company, which took over the downtown building after previous owner, Empire Ford, shut down in 2009.

Camp will relocate all Subaru operations to the building later this year. BMW sales and service will remain at the current site on East Montgomery. Jim Quigley and Mike Livingston, of Kiemle & Hagood, were brokers for the deal.

Former Sterling branch manager barred

A former Sterling Savings Bank branch manager in Klamath Falls, Ore., has been barred from the banking industry.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. issued the order against Shannon Kuhlman last month.

Kuhlman allegedly engaged in unsound banking practices that will inflict, or probably inflict, significant losses on the Spokane bank. In doing so, she either acted dishonestly, the FDIC says, or in willful disregard of sound banking practices.

Kuhlman's actions make her unfit to work for a bank, or vote proxies in banks or other financial institutions, the FDIC order says, noting that she did not admit or deny any of the alleged behavior.

Sterling spokeswoman Cara Coon said the bank would have no comment, except to note Kuhlman lef the bank in 2008.

No additional information was available from the FDIC, or Washington Department of Financial Institutions.

Sterling, after taking major losses on real estate and construction lending, recapitalized last August. 

InCyte Pathology among magazine’s 100 best companies to work for

Spokane's, InCyte Pathology was named one of Seattle Business magazine’s “100 Best Companies To Work For” in 2011.  

The company was honored during a recent Seattle event. InCyte Pathology, founded in 1957, is a privately held anatomic diagnostic lab service provider.
 
More than 300 companies were nominated.  A panel selected the finalists based on a range of factors.
 
PAML, the large, regionally successful diagnostic lab, is another Spokane firm on the list. The full 100 companies are listed here.
 
InCyte Pathology COO Gary Gemar said, “InCyte is excited to be selected this year.  This is a great honor for our dedicated pathologists and employees that are committed to providing excellent patient care. We value each employee’s service and are pleased to be recognized as one of the best Anatomic Pathology laboratories in the industry.”

Valley Perkins Restaurant closes, others in area will stay open

The Spokane Valley Perkins Restaurant on Argonne and Mission closed last week, said Nancy McDaniel, the principal owner of the company that operated it for 15 years.

McDaniel said that restaurant has lost money “for years.”  She said neither the Perkins company nor her own company, which operated it as a franchise, wanted to continue running it. McDaniel was one of four owners of that eatery, which opened in 1990.

Another one of her franchised Perkins, in Caldwell, Idaho, also shut down this past weekend. McDaniel said that store also was losing money.

The four-investor group also owns a Coeur d'Alene Perkins that will not close as well.

McDaniel is also a partner in a second area Perkins Restaurants franchisee. That firm, Perk Restaurant Management, operates six stores. The two Spokane Perkins in that group are also not closing, she said.

And neither the Spokane Valley nor the Caldwell closings was connected to a recent bankruptcy filed by national company Perkins & Marie Callender's, McDaniel said.

The national firm said in bankruptcy filings that it will close 65 stores and cut 2,500 jobs, or about 20 percent of its workforce. A Spokane Valley Marie Callender's was closed due to the bankruptcy.
  

Huppin’s stores load up up their inventory of Apple’s hot iPads

Murray Huppin, president of Spokane-based electronics retailer Huppin's Hi-Fi, Photo and Video, has a happy look on his face, and it has nothing to do with Hoopfest.

Huppin has two stores in the Spokane area and both are doing good business in an otherwise challenging retail economy. 

The newer, North Division Huppin's store opened in October and has outsold the downtown site every month since. Huppin won't say what the share of total sales each store has.

The two Huppin's stores last year became  “Apple specialist” retailers.

As he's done when stocking other consumer products,  Huppin looks for ways to buy large volume lots to offer deals to customers. The iPad doesn't allow a lot of price cutting, but the two Huppin's stores clearly have a wide range of product choices for that popular tablet. 

Huppin said the two stores now have more than 150 iPad 2s in their inventory. He implies that's pretty impressive for a store that only started carrying Apple products seven months ago.

The stores also carry 15 of the 18 different iPad choices (covering color, memory, Wi-Fi/3G or AT&T/Verizon) that are available. 

He admits having iPads help bring in customers in an otherwise very moderate retail landscape.

“Any retailer really has to offer a compelling reason to purchase today,” Huppin said.

Super One Foods on South Hill going through a big makeover

The Rosauers company has begun a major remodel of its South Hill Super One Foods store, at 830 E. 29th Ave.

Company facilities director Ken Groh said the project will change the look of the store, inside and out.

A new entry is part of the project and will be designed to complement other improvements taking place in Manito Shopping Center. The center’s new anchor tenant is Ross Dress for Less, expected to open this fall.

Interior changes include a new floor, new refrigeration cases, new lighting and upgraded shelves.

This will come with expanded service in the meat and seafood department, a larger deli area and expansion of the bulk and natural food sections, said Groh.

The remodel is expected to be finished in November. Total costs are projected between $3 million and $4 million, according to permits filed with the city.

ALSC Architects is the project design company (and provided the rendering above). General contractor is Contractors Northwest Inc.

Caterpillar to add a huge distribution warehouse on Spokane’s West Plains

A long-rumored plan that a major company would build a large distribution center on the West Plains came to fruition Thursday.

Caterpillar Inc., a major provider of construction equipment, announced it's building a 500,000 square foot center on the West Plains, not far from the Spokane Airport.

The location will be used by Caterpillar's Logistics Services, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc.  The logistics group provides a wide range of parts and support for service companies in construction, automotive and other industries.

Construction is due to start this summer, according to a press release by the company.

Rich Hadley, president and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated, said, in a press release: “Caterpillar's announcement is significant news for the entire region. The company came to our Economic Development team earlier this year for assistance with site section and an incentive portfolio.

“Having competed with several other communities for the distribution center, Greater Spokane Incorporated is proud of the intensive, collaborative efforts of the Governor and Washington State Department of Commerce, Spokane County, the City of Spokane, the various utilities, the private property owners, and the Spokane International Airport to convey the advantages Spokane offers. The region's great transportation infrastructure, competitively priced available sites, along with incentives from the state and county, were factors in Caterpillar's decision.”

Spokane’s Gold Reserve Inc. will appeal AMEX delisting

Spokane-based Gold Reserve Inc. has said it’s appealing plans by the New York Stock Exchange to delist its stock.

The Canadian mining company, registered in the Yukon, has its executive headquarters in downtown Spokane. The AMEX sent a notice this week telling Gold Reserve (stock symbol GRZ) it faces delisting since its key asset, a South American copper and gold mine, has been seized by the Venezuelan government.

Gold Reserve President A. Douglas Belanger said the appeal will emphasize continuing plans by the company to open new operations, at the same time it continues arbitration over the seized mine with the World Bank’s center for investment disputes.

Gold Reserve still trades on the Toronto stock exchange.

The Venezuelan national guard seized the company’s Brisas mine in October 2009. Gold Reserve has filed a $1.9 billion claim against Venezuela with the World Bank’s international court.

A final hearing is scheduled with the court in February 2012. A decision could take months after that hearing, however.

The company has said that the copper assets in the Brisas mine are roughly $4 billion. It holds about $25 billion worth of gold, according to Gold Reserve officials.

No ore has been mined yet by either Gold Reserve or the Venezuelan government at Brisas, Belanger said.

One tough cookie, the Trader Joe code of silence

Among the most difficult companies to pry information from is Trader Joe's.

They will just not let any information squeek out without their approval. Case in point, the planned opening of the new Trader Joe's on the South Hill in Spokane.

Announced months ago, the project is clearly moving along. Some folks even think they know about when it will open.

But don't count on any predications for that opening date. You won't get anyone who really knows to spill a word, since the TJ code is very similar to dealing with Apple:  You say one thing that's not authorized, you will pay for it later.

We made a few inquiries about when the new store will open. We were told WHEN TJ's is ready, we'll be among the first to know.

But when talking to anyone in town working on that building, it became quickly clear the company has bound them to strict and total silence.

So. Don't tell me you know when it will open. You can't possibly know unless you work for TJ's.

T-Mobile upgrades its 4G network for Spokane, Kootenai County customers

This week, T-Mobile announced it's upgraded and unleashed a new, more robust 4G service for Spokane-area customers. Last week Verizon Wireless also released a 4G upgrade for area subscribers.

Here's part of the release from T-Mobile:

Today, T-Mobile announced it is doubling the speed of its 4G network in the Spokane area, providing customers with increased capacity, reliability and even more consistent, faster speeds.

T-Mobile currently offers more than a dozen 4G-capable devices spanning smartphones, tablets and mobile broadband products that will benefit from America’s Largest 4G Network™. The company has seen average download speeds approaching 10Mbps with peak speeds of 27Mbps on the T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 laptop stick—the company’s first 42Mbps device.

The map of the upgrade includes a wide range of the city, including Riverfront Park, SFCC, Gonzaga University, Riverside State Park, Spokane Fairgrounds, Avista, downtown, and the Spokane Arena.

Notably, the upgrade also includes Post Falls and Coeur d'Alene.

Anyone in Sandpoint a T-Mobile customer who can see if the upgrade has occurred there, as well?

Meanwhile: federal regulators are still quietly looking at the proposed acquisition of T-Mobile by AT&T. No news recently on which way the winds are blowing on that topic.
  

Infographic Friday: A great chart illustrating global food chains

We wanted to call attention to a splendid bit of graphic art published in Lapham's Quarterly.

Artist Haisem Hussein did a full-color global map showing the historical connections for black pepper, tomatoes and coffee. The work, worth a nice wall poster, has lots of interesting tidbits, as well as historical connections. We suggest clicking on the link above to enjoy the details of the map in larger display.

One cool bit, regarding coffee. The Scandinavians have the highest per-capita coffee consumption on the planet. But notably,  one Scandinavian country — Sweden — somehow is not listed in the chart of per-capita consumption (in the lower right bar chart).

Anyone who's read the Stieg Larsson trilogy of “Dragon Tattoo” novels — set in Sweden — can attest that coffee drinking seems a constant activity. Yet the chart on this map shows Finland, Denmark, Norway among the top 10 consuming countries.

What's happening in Sweden?

The U.S., by the way, ranked 11th in this survey, measuring consumption of 12-oz. cups of joe per day.

Dickinson takes Sterling post

Marty Dickinson is leaving the Downtown Spokane Partnership to become senior vice president and corporate marketing communications executive at Sterling Savings Bank.

Her last day at the DSP, where she has been president for six years, will be July 1.

Marla Nunbeg was named interim president by the DSP executive board of directors.

Dickinson said the opportunity to work for Sterling, a Fortune 500 company, was one she could not pass up, but added that the decision was a difficult one.

“There are a few lucky individuals that have the chance to have a job they love so much that it is really not a job at all,” she said.

Dickinson said she takes particular satisfaction in development downtown, and in the University District.

DSP Board Chairman Mark Aden noted Dickinson's efforts to find new housing for low-income residents displaced by redevelopment at the Madison and Otis apartments.

 

Duo plan July opening for Luxe, a tiny cafe in the former Ella’s Supper Club

Tammi Mason and business partner Mary Walmsley expect to open Luxe coffee shop in the main floor of the old Oddgirls building on West Sprague in downtown Spokane.

They're setting up shop in the main floor of the former Ella's Supper Club, 1017 W. First. They expect to open in July. Mason also owns and manages the nearby hair styling salon Lush.

“We're moving into the former ticket sales area of Ella's,” she said. It will be a snug 750 square feet in the coffee shop.

Ella's, a popular hangout and jazz club, operated in the building until 2008.

Mason said the coffee shop will get a license to serve beer and wine. Pastries will be provided by Spokane-based Petite Chat Bakery.

Manager Isaiah Crandall said he plans to serve microbrews and a good selection of regional wines. He estimated Luxe will have about 25 seats.

Builders start more homes but pace still slow

WASHINGTON — Builders broke ground on more new homes in May, but not enough to signal a recovery in the troubled housing market.

Home construction rose 3.5 percent from April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 560,000 units per year, the Commerce Department said today.

Economists say the pace of construction is far below the 1.2 million homes per year that must be built to sustain a healthy housing market. Many credit-strapped builders are struggling to compete with low-priced foreclosures.

Housing permits, a gauge of future construction, rose last month to the highest level since December. But apartment and condominium construction accounted for a large portion of that increase. Renting has become a preferred option for many Americans who lost their jobs in the recession and who were forced to leave their rapidly depreciating homes.

Camp buys Empire Ford building, will move Subaru sales and service there

Spokane’s Camp Subaru will relocate later this year, moving into the spacious, empty Empire Ford building downtown at the corner of Third and Stevens.

The sale closing is set for next week, said Jim Quigley, of Kiemle & Hagood Co. Quigley and Mike Livingston, also of Kiemle, represented the owner, Ford Motor Credit LLC.

Ford took back the building after Empire Ford’s owners, Nate and Roberta Greene, closed the business in 2007. The building has been on the market since. At one time, Trader Joe’s corporate office considered buying it for a Spokane store. It instead is building a store on Spokane’s South Hill.

The building has about 49,000 square feet of office space, along with three full floors for parking.

Camp Subaru General Manager Justin Robidoux said the purchase price is in excess of $2 million.

For years Camp has operated a joint Subaru and BMW service shop and dealership at 215 E. Montgomery in north Spokane. With Subaru enjoying strong sales in the Spokane area, the company — part of the Lithia Automotive Group — decided to separate it from BMW and give Subaru sales and service their own location, Robidoux said.

The move is expected to happen in September. The downtown service area and dealership will have about 50 workers. Robidoux said. Under its new name of Lithia Subaru Spokane, it will hire about 30 new workers for the downtown site, including mechanics and office support staff.

Medford-based Lithia approved buying the Empire building because it’s centrally based in downtown and provides plenty of nearby parking, Robidoux added. The sale included the empty parking area across Third.

 “Also, being right next to I-90, we can take advantage of the top level for signs and better visibility,” Robidoux said.

Subaru’s corporate office had to approve the purchase. Robidoux said the building may become the largest Subaru dealership, in size, in the country.

Not all the job numbers are gloomy, say Washington state executives

While the most recent monthly jobless numbers from Washington are not whoop-worthy, the economy is not totally in the tank.

The post below summarizes the key data, including that Washington state lost a net 700 jobs in May.

Still, the May 2011 unemployment rate is 0.5 percent less than the May 2010 rate of 9.6 percent, according to the state Employment Security Department summary.

The other upbeat item: Robert Half International, a staffing company with offices across the country, noted that 11 percent of executives in Washington anticipate hiring full-time staff in the third quarter.

The survey also said about 98 percent of the execs surveyed expressed “confidence in their companies' growth” for the coming rest of the year. More than 4,000 executives nationwide were surveyed, and 65 were in Washington state, according to a Robert Half press release.

The state's largest employment drops in May came in wholesale trade, which recorded a loss of 2,100 jobs. Other areas that suffered included retail trade (down 1,600), financial activities (down 900) and transportation (down 600).

Leisure and hospitality recorded a large increase in jobs, adding 3,200 positions. The professional and business services sector added 900 jobs while construction employment was up 700.

US builders’ outlook falls amid weakening sales

WASHINGTON — The outlook among homebuilders has been bad all year. And this month it became grimmer.

The National Association of Home Builders says builder sentiment for June fell three points to 13. That’s the lowest level in nine months. And it’s just five points above the lowest reading on record, from January 2009.   
Any reading below 50 indicates negative sentiment about the market. The index hasn’t been above that level since April 2006.

Last year, the number of people who bought new homes hit its lowest level on record. This year isn’t looking much better.

Each new home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes, according to the builders’ trade group.

State lost 700 jobs in May

Employment in Washington fell by 700 in May, the first decline after eight months of increases, the Employment Security Department reported today.

Despite the reduction, the unemployment rate declined to 9.1 percent from a revised 9.2 percent for April. The rate was initially pegged at 9.1 percent.

The leisure and hospitality industry added 3,200 jobs, and government employment increased by 200, the first gain in several months.

Wholesale trade declined by 2,100, and retail trade 1,600.

Union speakers try to rally the troops

A Chinese company wants to build a factory in Idaho and import employees from overseas.

That’s just one of the threats facing unions as they try to preserve fair compensation for Idaho workers, according to those who spoke Tuesday to about 100 attending the Idaho State AFL-CIO Convention in Lewiston.

The Lewiston Tribune reports that one of the biggest worries is a bill introduced in the most recent legislative session that would have ended collective bargaining for state, county and municipal workers as well as school teachers, said James Kerns, president emeritus of the Idaho AFL-CIO.

The bill was never voted on. But it will surface again in 2012, Kerns said. “If they start taking away your union rights, they’re going to start taking away your civil rights. They’re going to take away every right you got.”

Sale of Seattle Red Lion closes

The $71 million sale of the Red Lion Hotel on Fifth Avenue in Seattle has closed.

The deal announced last month transfers the 297-room property to Lowe Enterprise Investors.

Lowe affiliate Destination Resorts & Hotels takes over management, but the property near the Pike Place Market and Washington State Convention Center will retain the Red Lion brand.

Red Lion President Jon Eliassen said the revenue  from the sale will be used to improve company-owned hotels, and recapitalize its balance sheet.

Spokeswoman Pam Scott said Destination will pay Red Lion franchise and marketing fees.

Destination President Charlie Peck said the company plans to add rooms and expand meeting space at the hotel, which was offered for sale in January.

Scott said Red Lion also put its Denver property up for sale in January, but reconsidered after finding little interest. A Helena hotel remains on the market, she said. 

Is Groupon a good deal, or really just a money-losing loan?

Area businesses are certainly among those who are debating the whole Deal a Day system, of which Groupon is the most obvious example.

For many business owners, the question is: Is it worth my time and (lost) money to accept a Groupon deal, hoping to build customers.

Here's one very strong NO answer from digital marketing guy Rocky Agrawal, who is convinced Groupon is a “very bad” business decision for most managers and owners. He says: “In many cases, running a Groupon can be a terrible financial decision for merchants. Groupon’s financials also raise questions about its ongoing viability.”

The full take of the commentary, on TechCrunch, is here.

Spokane Valley Marie Callender restaurant closes

The Spokane Valley Marie Callender's restaurant is one of more than 60 shut down this past weekend as parent firm,  Perkins & Marie Callender’s Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

A release noted that the chain expects to close 65 stores and lay off 2,500, roughly 20 percent of its work force of 12,350.

There are four area Perkins restaurants — two in Spokane, one in Spokane Valley, one in Coeur d’Alene  that are locally owned franchises which will stay open.

Documents filed with the United States Bankruptcy Court in Delaware indicated the company could not afford to build new restaurants and upgrade existing ones, so it lost traffic to better funded restaurant competitors.

  

City of Spokane revises and expands its public records search site

Folks who just can't get enough City of Spokane documents can now plan their summer.

The city recently upgraded access to its public records online, adding (relatively) easy access to about 38,000 records.

The city clerk's new records search tool gives access to resolutions, ordinances, leases, contracts and city council meeting minutes. A press release notes more 800,000 pages of information going back to  2004 are viewable.

Mayor Mary Verner said the expanded access is part of the city's commitment to open government. “This tool provides our citizens with 24-7 access to important information on the activities of the City of Spokane,” she said.

The link and online search tool are at http://publicdocs.spokanecity.org/cityclerkrecords/

Verizon announces formal rollout of 4G this Thursday in Spokane

IF 4G is a big deal to you, here's some positive news.

On Thursday this week, Verizon Wireless customers in Spokane can start getting downloads and streaming data at up 10 times faster than the previous speed as the carrier turns on its Eastern Washington 4G network.

Some folks here have noted that they were catching whiffs of 4G being beta-tested.

The tests have ended, according to a release, and 4G goes live this week.

The communities enabled for 4G include Airway Heights, Dishman Hills, Greenacres, Liberty Lake, Mead,  Greenacres, Millwood, Opportunity, Otis Orchards, Seven Mile, downtown, South Hill, Spokane Valley, Trentwood.

North Idaho is not yet part of the rollout.
  

Quest Aircraft will find new CEO, and starts to increase Kodiak production

The CEO of Sandpoint airplane manufacturer Quest Aircraft Company is stepping aside, at the same time the company has said it’s boosting production of its highly regarded Kodiak.

Paul Schaller, who’s been in the CEO seat at the privately held firm since 2004, has become a consultant to the company. No reason was offered for his change of job.

Ron Wright, director of operations, is taking over as acting general manager at the Sandpoint manufacturing facility. The board will begin a search for a new CEO, said spokeswoman Julie Stone.

Orders for Kodiaks, which sell for roughly $1.6 million, have increased as the general aviation industry starts to recover. The company is gearing up to produce three aircraft per month, an increase from two per month earlier this year.

The company produced 14 Kodiaks during 2010. The single-turboprop aircraft is popular for flying into rugged terrain and for using jet fuel.

AmericanWest to buy California bank

AmericanWest Bank has agreed to buy a Southern California bank for $18.5 million, the Spokane-based institution said today.

Sunrise Bank, with branches in Point Loma, Escondido, Palm Desert and San Diego, has $232 million in assets and $212 million in deposits.

AmericanWest assets total $1.6 billion, deposits $1.4 billion.

Affiliates of Capitol Bancorp Ltd. have agreed to vote their controlling share of Sunrise in favor to the merger, which will pay holders of each Sunrise share $4.31 in cash.

Capitol is also the majority owner of Bank of the Northwest, which AmericanWest agreed to buy last month for $17 million.

Both deals await regulatory approval. 

Ambassadors adds GPS phones to its summer travel groups

Spokane's Ambassadors Group will introduce a safety feature that gives its teachers, while on tour, emergency-enabled international global positioning system cell phones.

Providing a GPS phone to tour groups is a first among companies offering student travel, said Meredith Banka, vice president of marketing for Ambassadors Group. The company promotes student education tours with accompanying adults and teachers. 
 
“Student travel safety is our No. 1 priority,” Banka said in an email. “Annually we spend more than $3 million on our safety practices and procedures,” she said.
 
That announcement came after a Minnesota couple launched two nonprofit groups to encourage and advocate for safer student travel and exchange programs. Those sites are ClearCauseCoalition.org and ClearCauseFoundation.org.
 
The two sites launched on the anniversary of the birthday of their son, Tyler Hill, who was 16 when he died of a health problem while on a student ambassador trip to Japan in 2007. The company settled with the family after they filed a wrongful death suit but admitted no wrongdoing.
 
“We believe the impact of international student travel is valuable for all students, even those with pre-existing medical conditions,” Bank added in the message.
 
“We take extensive precautions to ensure that all pre-existing conditions are disclosed prior to travel, and that proper physician approval is obtained,” she said, adding travelers and student families bear the chief obligation to follow proper medical protocols. 

Area companies encouraged to look for ways to hire young workers

Mayor Mary Verner and the Spokane Area Workforce Development Council have declared June to be “Hire a Youth” Month.  The proponents hope it only takes a mere month to inspire many employers to open their doors and bring young people into the workforce.

Two years ago, many area teens could get summer, entry-level jobs without superhuman effort. That’s changed and has made getting hire more difficult, since many of those entry-level jobs are going to skilled workers displaced by layoffs, said Heidi Peterson, youth services manager for NextGenerationZone, a cooperative nonprofit coalition focused on helping young people find good jobs in the area.

Employers and human resource directors are being asked to discover a creative way to hire young workers, said Nancy Nelson, president of Spokane-based staffing firm Humanix, and chair of the Youth Council of the Spokane Area Workforce Development Council.

Nelson said the unemployment rate nationally for 16-to-19 year-olds is 24 percent.

She said area businesses can help by creating paid or unpaid internships, light-entry level jobs, job-shadows and even short-term jobs that teens can fill.

Spokane firms looking for information on how to hire teens can use the website at Nextgenzone.org.

 

Spirit Airlines tosses out email ads for ‘The Weiner Sale’

Say what you will about Spirit Airlines, they're cheeky and not afraid to go out on the edge.

The company just launched a salty ad campaign pegged to the notoriety earned by New York Democrat Anthony Weiner.  The company is sending emails to customers and including this image, with a Weiner-esque reference.

The airline's marketing team believes in avoiding boring marketing messages. While this campaign can't be called boring, one wonders if it accomplished the real goal, motivating  people to buy tickets.

The company's publicly traded stock symbol is SAVE.

FBI says bank robberies have dipped about 8 percent in first quarter 2011

Our pals at the FBI recently caught our attention by noting that bank robberies for the first quarter of 2011 are down about 8 percent from the year before.

The statistical summary is at this link at FBI.gov's media page: http://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/fbi-releases-bank-crime-statistics-for-first-quarter-of-2011

It's hard not to get speculative on that downturn. Either the amount of money sitting in banks is down and hence, less appealing to would-be felons.

Or the number of financial institutions is down and with it, the number of folks who stroll by a building in their neighborhood one day and form the crazy idea that they're this generation's Willie Sutton.

To be clear, we regard this as a very positive piece of news.

Homes sales up for fourth month

Home sales in Spokane County increased for the fourth consecutive month in May, but prices remain below year-ago levels.

The Spokane Association of Realtors reported 382 closed sales for the month, compared with 332 in April.

In May 2010, the association reported 520 closed sales, a number inflated by a tax credit for first-time buyers and some others re-entering the housing market. 

The average sales prices was $164,282, off nine percent compared with May 2010 and 1.5 percent from April.

The median price was $149,950, down seven percent from last May and two percent from April.

Idaho ranked as the fifth most vulnerable state to gasoline price hikes

If you thought about it, which U.S. states would have the highest percentage of total income spent on driving? 

We'd have guessed Alaska, Montana, New York and Hawaii would rank in the top 10.

But no. Guess who is No. 5?

Idaho is the No. 5 state in terms of percentage of income spent on driving, according to a recent survey by the National Resources Defense Council for 2010.

The council's recently published “Fighting Oil Addiction” report (PDF) evaluates all 50 states with regard to their vulnerability to changes in gas prices. Idaho is up there, but none of our other guesses are.

Montana, however, is No. 11. Washington is No. 45.

The data collected in the survey say this:  Idaho drivers spend roughly 5.8 percent of their total income on driving. Washingtonians spend 3.6 percent. Click on the chart below to get a slightly larger summary of those numbers.

Not clear is whether the numbers are measuring all state residents or only its drivers. We'll have to check that number.

The map above shows the states most vulnerable are those with relatively low incomes and less dense populations. Mississippi, South Carolina, and Kentucky have the sorry distinction of being the most vulnerable.

Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Utah form a pocket of higher vulnerability across the West.  Drivers in those states, one can argue, really drive longer distances on average, which will boost their spending on fuel.

Oldest known Champagne bottles sold for $78,000 in weekend auction

Weekend special: The world's oldest known Champagne sold this week for $78,000, according to the Reuters News Service.

Two bottles of Champagne were auctioned in Finland Saturday at an event that drew interest from around the world. The two bottles spent about 170 years at the bottom of the ocean, having been found in a shipwreck dating from the mid 1800s.

The unidentified winning bidder was a Singapore resident placing bids via the Web.

Divers discovered the bottles among cargo found off a group of islands near the Finnish coast.

The original destination of the Champagne isn’t known. There is speculation it may have been headed for the tsar’s court in St. Petersburg. It was well preserved because it lay horizontally, under pressure, at a low temperature in the dark, 55 yards below the sea.

When one of the Champagne bottles was brought to the surface, the pressure change caused the cork to pop. One diver took a swig from the bottle expecting it to taste of seawater and realized that it was good. The team drank some from plastic beakers, resealed it and took it to a local sommelier, Ella Grussner Cromwell-Morgan, to taste the next day.

The authorities in Aaland, an autonomous, Swedish-speaking region of Finland, say the proceeds of the sale will go to a good cause, such as environmental measures to improve the quality of the water in the seas around Aaland, whose main industries are shipping, trade, banking, farming and food.

New Pizza Oven moves into RPS food court next week

Within a week of losing Pizza Rita from the River Park Square food court, a new tenant will take that spot.

And it's Pizza Oven, a new business started by Matt Rai and John Urquhart. Rai has operated the River Park Square Taco del Mar.

RPS managers think the new pizza place will open by next Thursday.

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

Numerica Credit Union main office named after Dennis Cutter

The retirement party last week for Numerica Credit Union President & CEO Dennis Cutter came with an additional bit of flattery.

During the event, a sign on the credit union headquarters building was revealed. It said: Dennis A. Cutter Administration Building.

Cutter is completing 40 years of working for Numerica, nearly all of them as CEO. The party was attended by roughly 150 past and present employees, and guests.

Board President Dave Shriver presented the unveiling by saying, “It’s fitting that this building, with its sturdy foundation, be named after the person who was the foundation of Numerica’s success over the last 40 years.”

“I never would have imagined this. I had no idea. I’m speechless,” Cutter said. 

The building and credit union main office is at 10618 E. Sprague in Spokane Valley.

Photo of Dennis Cutter, courtesy of Numerica Credit Union.

Panel will discuss clean energy ideas

A panel of clean technology industry leaders will discuss what's happening around the topic of Clean Energy at a Greater Spokane Inc.-sponsored discussion June 15 at The Spokane Club. It runs from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Sponsors are CH2MHILL and Avista.
 
The topics range from sustainable aviation fuels, City of Spokane's energy initiatives, free-market environmental policies and other issues. The event is billed as the third annual update on clean energy practices.
 
Panelists include:
  • Lisa Brown, State Senate majority leader
  • Mary Verner, Mayor, City of Spokane
  • Kim Zentz, Executive Director of Sirti 
  • Ross McFarlane, senior adviser, Business Partnerships, Climate Solutions
  • Todd Myers, director, Center for the Environment, Washington Policy Center  

Hal Calbom, host of the well-regarded film “Evergreen: The Washington Clean Tech Story,” will moderate.

 

The session will include questions and answers from the audience. Admission is $10, increasing to $15 starting June 9. To register at http://events.greaterspokane.org.

 

IT-Lifeline signs partnership deal to develop West side business contracts

Liberty Lake-based IT-Lifeline has announced it signed a deal with Business Continuity Center of Seattle, a company that provides similar business recovery services, critical data management and protection.

The goal of the deal is to increase West Side business for IT-Lifeline, which has offices and operations in the TierPoint building in Liberty Lake.

Most of IT-Lifeline’s customers are from Eastern Washington. With the new deal, the privately held company plans to build more business relationships in the Puget Sound area. Its largest customers are financial institutions.

Business Continuity Center of Seattle is an ideal partner for that role, said Brandon Tanner, vice president of sales and marketing of IT-Lifeline.

The selling point for IT-Lifeline:  the stable, environmentally mild Eastern Washington environment. Few earthquakes, no floods or hurricanes. Volcanos?  Ain't got any over here.

Spokane’s Dry Fly bourbon will go on sale July 30 here, then Seattle the week after

Spokane craft distillery Dry Fly will release its first batch of bourbon on July 30, company co-founder Don Poffenroth said.

The company will host a release party at its downtown distillery, at 1003 E. Trent, the evening before. Seattle will receive the bourbon the following week.

Called Dry Fly Washington State Bourbon, this is the first bourbon from Dry Fly Distilling. It has a gin, vodka and wheat whiskey lineup of spirits. The retail price will be in the $64 per fifth range.

Ecowell heads south to quench dream

A Moscow, Idaho, company originally formed from a Washington State University student project is leaving the area.

Ecowell is a plastic-free beverage vending machine connected to a water source. Users can choose hot, cold or carbonated water. They can add flavors to their drink, as well as manipulate how much of what flavor to use. The drink is dispensed into the user’s personal bottle or cup.

Ecowell machines in eight locations on the Palouse and in Spokane are being removed as soon as possible so the company can move to the San Francisco Bay area this summer, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports.

Three WSU students in the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute, which includes engineering and business students, created the product with an accompanying marketing strategy in 2009.

Washington farm exports on record pace

The Washington Agriculture Department reports farm exports reached record highs in the final quarter of last year and first quarter of this year — more than $1.9 billion a quarter.

The department says sales beat the old record set in 2008, the Associated Press reports.

Japan was the top destination from October through March for Washington products, buying wheat, hay and potatoes. Canada was second, buying seafood, apples and vegetables. And China third, buying seafood, potatoes and apples.

Yes, companies do move jobs back from Mexico; Pyrotek relocates 20 skilled jobs

A Spokane Valley metal manufacturer is reversing the flow of skilled jobs, bringing back 20 jobs from a Mexican factory to start a production line here.

Metal manufacturer Pyrotek Inc. is using about $75,000 in state assistance money to hire and train 20 area workers. It will also use another $75,000 in state money to relocate production equipment from Pyrotek’s plant in Apodaca, Mexico.
 
The company makes high-end metal and composite products for customers around the globe. 
Company Finance Manager Michael Sekedat said the state support and the option of using the Valley site’s “technical and management expertise” helped in the decision.
 
The new production facility will make a large number of high-quality ceramic filters used by an industrial customer.
 
Once the equipment is installed and tested, production is expected to begin in August.
 
“We expect this to be a long-term project,” Sekedat said.
 
The 20 positions are considered skilled manufacturing jobs, said Robin Toth, vice president of business development of Greater Spokane Incorporated. The capital investment to open the new line will come to $1million in equipment and renovations, plus ongoing lease and utility costs.
 
While the state has kicked in cash for the relocation, Washington will eventually gain about $450,000 in tax revenue from the new project, according to data put together by GSI Greater Spokane.
 
A news release said the company considered Idaho, Pennsylvania and Tennessee before moving the work back to Spokane. Gov. Chris Gregoire also issued a release that credited the state Commerce Department and GSI Greater Spokane for helping Pyrotek move jobs back to Spokane Valley. Pyrotek has more than 60 facilities in 31 countries.
 
The production line will not be at the firm’s Spokane Valley headquarters, at 9503 E. Montgomery Ave. Company officials declined to say where that facility will be.
Hourly wages are expected to fall in the $18 to $25 range.
 
 
Job inquires should be directed to Brigitte Brazda, at Pyrotek's office on Montgomery in Spokane Valley.

Coldwater weathers tough first quarter

Coldwater Creek Inc. today announced lower sales and a loss for the first quarter, results the Sandpoint company had forecast last month.

Net sales fell to $179.8 million, compared with $243.1 million a year ago. Comparable premium store sales fell 27.5 percent, Internet, mail order and other direct sales tumbled 33.6 percent.

The net loss was $30 million, or 32 cents per share, compared with net income of $2.3 million, or three cents per share, for the 2010 quarter.

The company closed two of its 373 stores during the quarter. Plans call for five new stores, and the closure of eight to 12 more by the end of the year.

Agora winners announced, including Second Harvest Food Bank

Greater Spokane Inc. on Wednesday announced winners of the annual Agora Awards, which recognize excellence in area businesses.

Winners are:

  • Small business: Desautel Hege Communications
  • Medium business: Horizon Hospice
  • Large business: Spokane Industries Inc.
  • Entrepreneurial Spirit winner: Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. 
  • Community Service winner: Northwest Farm Credit Services.
  • Small nonprofit: Spokane Lilac Festival Association
  • Large nonprofit: Second Harvest Food Bank.
  • The main sponsor of the awards is Bank of America.

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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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