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Archive for March 2011

Women own 8.1 million businesses

Women own 8.1 million businesses in the United States, and new business starts exceed the rate for all groups, according to a study released Thursday by American Express.

The study, based on U.S. Census Bureau data, found the rate of increase for women-owned businesses in Washington and Idaho trails the national average, but revenues are growing at a significantly faster pace.

The number of business owned by women increased 50 percent from 1997 to 2011, the study says.

The rate of increase in Washington, with 86,700 businesses, was 35.1 percent. In Idaho, where women own 36,300 businesses, was 40.9 percent.

Nationally, revenues grew 53 percent, to $1.3 trillion. Revenues in Washington increase 65.4 percent to $25 billion. In Idaho, the total $4.2 billion was an 75.7 percent jump.

Women-owned businesses employ 7.7 million workers; 439,600 in Washington, 120,600 in Idaho.

Mounties buy one of Quest’s cool Kodiak aircraft

Sandpoint's Quest Aircraft Company has just delivered a Kodiak airplane to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It was handed over this week in Vancouver, British Columbia, with the Kodiak entering service immediately.

As the photo shows, the aircraft is equipped with amphibious floats, making it versatile for landing on all surfaces.

The Kodiak's base price is roughly $1.6 million. The price paid by the Canadian government was not disclosed.

“The fact that they selected the Kodiak as a key addition to their fleet is a testament to the capabilities and the rugged reliability inherent in the aircraft,” said Quest President Paul Schaller in a statement.

The RCMP will use the Kodiak for aerial surveillance, border monitoring, general police work and rescue support. The aircraft is equipped with a roll-up door in addition to the standard cargo door, allowing the RCMP to easily drop supplies and equipment in  routine or emergency situations.
  

Insurers fined $167,000, will refund $470,000

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has imposed $701,000 in fines, and ordered almost $470,000 in refunds so far in 2011.

The largest fine, $534,000, was  imposed in January against six Chubb & Co. subsidiaries for failing to document rate adjustments.

The biggest refund, $415,299, will go to customers of Progressive American Insurance Co., Progressive Northwestern Insurance Co., and Progressive Max Insurance Co. The companies were also fined $30,000.

Aetna Life Insurance Co, has been fined $65,000, and will refund $16,427 to policy holders who submitted claims for acupuncture treatment.

 Fines and refunds were also imposed on Ace American Insurance Co., Homesite Insurance Co., and Austin Mutual Insurance Co.

Kansas City the first city to earn Google’s high-speed Internet network

A whole bunch of cities including Spokane applied to be selected for Google's much-anticipated rollout of fiber (high-speed Internet) service.

The winning city is Kansas City, Kansas.  

A story on Mashable notes that depending on how that first city rollout proceeds, other cities may also be selected.

The stakes are fairly high for the metros blessed by the search company. Google will install a fiber network that provides 100 times faster data speeds than the typical U.S. Internet connection.

STCU branches will be closed on Friday for computer conversion

Spokane's STCU bank branches will be closed Friday, in order to install a new customer-friendly computer system.

ATMs, credit union debit cards and credit cards will function normally throughout the weekend.

Direct deposits and bill payments already scheduled online will be processed normally.

All other banking and online processing will be disrupted from Thursday night through Sunday, April 3. And shared branching at other credit unions may be unavailable during the conversion, a press release said.

The system being replaced went into operation in 1985. 

The new system is called a PhoenixEFE. The press release noted that the conversion process, including planning and testing, began more than 1,200 days ago. 

Spokane computer forensics firm featured in ‘Divorce Wars’ tonight on CNBC

Spokane forensic computer analysis and research firm Global Compusearch will be featured in tonight's opening segment of the new CNBC series “Divorce Wars.”  To see a cheezy preview of the new show, CNBC has one here.

The Spokane company does a variety of work for lawyers and prosecutors across the country. Its researchers know how to find information contained on computer hard drives; they also know how to determine when and how some files ended up on the drive in the first place.

That skill was critical when the company was called upon a few years ago by a legal team helping a high-worth husband caught in a nasty divorce and child custody battle.

For information on GCS, this is its main website. The company has offices also in Portland and Palm Springs.

DigiDeal partners with game developer

DigiDeal Corp. has signed an agreement with Gaming Edge Entertainment LLC for consulting and game development.

Spokane-based DigiDeal makes electronic gaming tables. Gaming Edge Owner Joe Awada, a professional poker player,  has patented more than 50 table games for felt and electronic tables.

DigiDeal already sells one Awada game, High Tie Blackjack, as a stand-alone game, or as a side bet on Classic Blackjack, another DigiDeal game.

The agreement with Gaming Edge gives DigiDeal exclusive rights to adapt the Las Vegas company's games for electronic table applications.

Awada said several of his games should convert readily to electronic versions.

“Our electronic table platform allows for more creative and complex games, adding bonus and side bet features, and provides the perfect environment for creative game deeloprs like Joe Awada,” DigiDeal Chief Executive Officer Mike Kuhn said.

Once again DirecTV, KAYU fail to settle retrans fee dispute, set one more deadline

The continuing dispute between Northwest Broadcasting, Inc., and DirecTV has run past another deadline.

The two sides, unable to agree on a retransmission fee for Spokane's Fox affiliate, KAYU, extended a negotiation deadline through April 8. The last one expired on Friday, March 25.

Back in January, the fracas led to Northwest, which operates KAYU, to pull its signal from the area's DirecTV satellite subscribers. Enough clamor followed that the two sides agreed to a ceasefire; that happened in the week prior to the Super Bowl, which was carried on Fox this year.

The two sides continue saying the other party is holding back the solution. Northwest Broadcasting says this is the first time in 10 years it's been able to negotiate a new deal with DirecTV. The satellite company says the requested fees from Northwest are exorbitant.

Columbia, Snake rivers re-open for shipping

Navigation on the Columbia and Snake rivers resumed Saturday after three months of repairs to three locks, and extended maintenance on others.

Kristin Meira, spokeswoman for the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, said several barge-tows were lined up below Bonneville Dam for passage upstream when U.S. Corps of Engineers reopened the Columbia Snake River System at 11 p.m.

The system has eight locks that raise and lower ships and barges traveling between Portland and Lewiston. The Corps replaced the downstream gates on three; The Dalles and John Day on the Columbia, and Lower Monumental on the Snake.

The system has been closed since Dec. 10 to facilitate the repair and maintenance work, which cost a total $56.3 million, Meira said.

About 10 million tons of cargo valued at $2 billion moves through the locks each year, she said.

“Overall trade on the system is expected to increase significantly over the next 15 years,” PNWA Executive Director Glenn Vanselow said. With the success of this closure, the river system will remain a tremendous asset to handle the expected upsurge in waterborne commerce in the future.”

Home Ownership bus at Riverfront Park

The “Home Ownership Matters” bus has parked at  the Rotary Fountain Plaza in Riverfront Park.

The bus, a project of the National Association of Realtors, is promoting the benefits of owning a home during one of the most challenging periods for the industry in decades.

Spokane is the only Washington stop on the bus tour. Portland is also on the schedule.

The NAR says home sales generate 2.5 million jobs in an average year. Subsequent sales of furniture and other improvements add $60,000 to the economy.

The Spokane Associaton of Realtors marks its 100th anniversary this year, and members will be gathering at the bus for a group photograph.

The local association has 1,500 individual members.

The bus was scheduled to depart at 3 p.m. 

How T-Mobile will help AT&T expand 4G service across most of the Northwest

While AT&T won't say when Spokane and North Idaho will have its own version of 4G broadband services, the company is presenting a visual map of plans covering the next several years, using a before-and-after map scheme. 

Both maps come from the marketing and communications department of AT&T. 
  Dark blue areas indicate 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) service.   The map on the left is the projected 4G rollout — by 2013 —  for Washington and North Idaho. For now, AT&T is providing its version of 4G only in the Puget Sound. There is no 4G service in Spokane, though Verizon Wireless has said it plans to deliver it later this year. 
The right-side map proposes a significant AT&T 4G rollout across Eastern Washington and parts of North Idaho. Specifically the rollout looks to expand service up toward the Canadian border, and across the upper Panhandle to Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry.
No date is mentioned by the company for that investment, and it will be interesting if AT&T sticks to its plan to reach those less-populated areas.
Important: the right-side map only reflects what could happen if federal regulators approve the purchase of T-Mobile by AT&T.The map includes this wording: “The AFTER map shows the additional 4G LTE deployment that will occur due to (the T-Mobile) deal by the period ending five years after the deal closes.”
 
AT&T spokeswoman Colleen Smith added this comment about the plan and the value of the merger: 
“AT&T and T-Mobile USA customers will see service improvements including better voice quality and data service. At closing, AT&T will immediately gain cell sites equivalent to what would have taken on average five years to build without the transaction. The acquisition will increase AT&T’s network density by approximately 30 percent in some of its most populated areas, without constructing new cell towers.”

Kootenai County unemployment edges up

The unemployment rate in Kootenai County edged higher in February despite a slight gain in the number of workers holding jobs.

The 11.2 percent rate was an increase from 11 percent in January, and 10.4 percent in February 2010. The number employed rose to 63,607 from 63,516 in January. There were 8,021 unemployed.

The rates for other North Idaho counties were: Benewah, 14.3 percent; Bonner, 12.6 percent; Boundary, 15.4 percent; and Shoshone, 14.4 percent.

In Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls, the unemployment rate was 10 percent.  The rate in Boise was 8.6 percent.

The rate for all of Idaho, 9.7 percent, remained unchanged from January and December.. 

Hahn new GU director of public relations; Goodwin named publications director

Longtime Gonzaga University information director Dale Goodwin has been named the university's director of publications.

He'll oversee development and production of university materials and books. Goodwin has been with the University for more than 29 years, serving most recently as director of public relations and formerly as sports information director for the Bulldogs. 
 
Gonzaga University has also hired Mary Joan Hahn as director of community and public relations.
 
Hahn has recently worked for the past 11 years with the Spokane office of Hill & Knowlton Inc., a communications company. Before that Hahn spent 10 years handling communications for Sirti and the Riverpoint Higher Education Park. 
 
She is a graduate of Leadership Spokane.

Happy ending at Sterling? An insiders’ view at Executive Connect Breakfast

If you need to catch up on the long, stressful road Sterling Savings Bank followed to survive and not fall victim to the FDIC axe, the best chance comes on Tuesday at the next Executive Connect Breakfast.

Sterling's Greg Seibly and Ezra Eckhardt will present an overview and summary of how Spokane-based Sterling managed to find investors and survive what could have been a messy, unfortunate (for this area) takeover.
 
It runs from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at the Georgian Ballroom of the Spokane Club, in downtown.
 
Seibly is the bank's CEO and president; Eckhardt is COO.
 
Registration is $30 at this link. For more information, contact Catherine Greer at catherineg@connectnw.org or 509.358.2114.

GSI site gives voters a way to contact legislators, voice support for the MAC

State voters and taxpayers who want Washington's legislators to keep funding the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC) can find a quick link to an online letter form at the Greater Spokane Incorporated's YourPolicyVoice.org.

The letter is a quick form that allows people to support the MAC, which faces possible closure due to major cuts proposed by the governor's 2011-2013 biennial budget. The message there will be forwarded to legislators based on selections the letter-writer chooses in the online form.

The MAC is dependent on state funding, plus grants, private support, memberships and exhibit sponsors.

The museum houses the Inland Northwest’s largest art and history collections, exhibitions, and historical records. 

GSI's Yourpolicyvoice.org site gives citizens quick ways to contact elected officials on important policy decisions.

County unemployment climbs again

Unemployment in Spokane County climbed for the fourth consecutive month in February, to 10.6 percent.

Statistics released today by the Washington Employment Security Department show a modest increase in total employment, to 213,210, up 460 from 212,750 in January.

But the workforce grew faster, up 1,230 to 238,430 in February.

There were 25,220 people looking for work.

The department released statewide unemployment numbers earlier this month. The February rate was 9.8 percent.

All figures are unadjusted for seasonal swings in employment.

The unemployment rate in Spokane County has increased steadily since October, when the rate was 8.6 percent.

ReliOn’s fuel cell product takes a third at CTIA Wireless 2011

Spokane Valley's ReliOn won a third prize in this year's CTIA Wireless E-Tech awards competition, held in Orlando.

The company's new E-2500 Fuel Cell System came in third in the “green telecom and smart energy solutions category. The winner in that category is the What You See is Photovoltaic Surface, by WYSIPS LLC. Second place went to the LilyPad developed by Wireless NRG, LL.

Media and analysts judged the entries on innovation, functionality, importance, implementation and overall “wow” factor. The entries are on view at www.ctiashow.com/awards.

The E-2500 is marketed toward telecom companies and government users.

The top two green telecom winners both offered innovative physical surface-based systems that convert solar or existing light to energy. The full green telecom category can be viewed here.

Southwest trying to be more responsive over flights from Boise to Spokane

Southwest Airlines is looking to fix its relationships with about 15 North Idaho state legislators.

A story in Wednesday's Spokesman-Review noted the 15 are irked by a change in Southwest's flights between Boise and Spokane. All 15 were using a 2:35 p.m. afternoon flight on Fridays to get back to North Idaho for the weekend.

Southwest eliminated that flight a week ago. In order not to have to wait until the 9 p.m. flight for Spokane, Idaho's legislative leaders will convene Friday sessions an hour earlier to let the group get out in time to catch a 1 p.m. flight home.

Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, was burned enough to write a note to the Southwest CEO. In the story Wednesday, Henderson said he got a canned reply.

Southwest Spokeswoman Michelle Agnew sent us a message today saying the airline is going to be more repsonsive. “I was able to confirm our Customer Relations Team did respond with a letter to Rep. Henderson on Feb. 11. We have a customer relations rep following up with Rep. Henderson's office today.”

Business owners can get construction-survival tips at Thursday workshop

Spokane city officials are hosting an ““Open For Business: Making the Best of Rough Road Construction” workshop on Thursday, giving small business owners a way to cope with major road disruptions due this summer.

The workshop, 7:30 to 9 a.m. at the City Council Chambers in City Hall, is a partnership between the City and the Greater Spokane Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).  PRSA members are volunteering to help interested businesses. 
 
The free workshop covers what to expect once construction begins, how to deal with customer communications during construction disruption, and how to use promotions to offset the impact.
 
The workshop will be recorded for later viewing on City Cable Channel 5.

Workshop, networking to empower Next Gen leaders

Leadership Spokane and LaunchPad Inland Northwest have proposed a new online and face-to-face network for Spokane's Next Gen leaders.

A kickoff event co-hosted by Washington Trust Bank is scheculed 4 p.m. April 6 at LaunchPad's traininig center at 120 N. Stevens.

Leadership Spokane Executive Director Linda Finney said supporters hope the initiative will connect 20- and 30-year-olds to Spokane's business community and each other using networking events and training in how best to use social media.

Although most find work through referrals, in-person networking is among the least favorite ways to meet people, according to research cited by LaunchPad.

Organiztion co-founder Bill Kalivas efforts to retain graduates from Spokane-area colleges and uiversities have failed to keep most from leaving to find jobs elsewhere.

For more information, contact Alex Chalk at lsintern@leadershipspokane.org

Verizon says Spokane will get LTE by end of the year

Spokane will get its first 4G network later this year, Verizon Wireless announced on Tuesday.

The company already rolled out its Long Term Evolution (LTE) network to 40 cities, including Seattle, last year.

Spokane will be among 145 cities getting the new, faster wireless network in 2011, said a press release.
 
The release only states the service will roll out here in 2011. We've heard the main area of the downtown core will be rolled out in September, but Verizon has not confirmed.
 
No pricing terms were released. But checking this Verizon link, at www.verizonwireless.com/lte, should provide some pricing information.
 
 “Customers in Spokane who crave speed and reliability can prepare for a strong connection with America’s fastest 4G mobile technology,” said Bobby Morrison, President Verizon Wireless, Pacific Northwest Region, in a prepared release.
 
The release said the 4G LTE launch will cover the area from Mead to the South Hill and from Airway Heights to Otis Orchards. In addition to Spokane, Verizon will also launch 4G LTE service in Portland-Vancouver, Tacoma, Olympia and Centralia. 
 
Here's more from Verizon, touting the advantages of Verizon's LTE:
Since its launch fewer than four months ago, Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE network has provided laptop users with 4G LTE modems with speeds up to 10 times faster than the company’s 3G network.  In real-world, fully-loaded network environments, LTE users should experience average data rates of 5 to 12 megabits per second (Mbps) on the downlink and 2 to 5 Mbps on the uplink. 

Who’s to blame for the loss of Agilent, Itronix? Here’s one view

A few weeks back we ran a story on the impact felt locally when Agilent Technologies and General Dynamics Itronix closed down their Spokane plants. 

Thanks to those who offered some helpful comments there on the Spokesman.com site.

For the sake of discussion, I'll drop in two comments. The first (from “Obewan”)  is a bit lengthy:

Both companies' upper management made those decisions based on their own internal information as to what was best for their business. Yes, a poor economy and the latest recession played a very big part, but only because these local branches were not in a position to pull their weight when times got tough. .. In Agilent’s case, the progressive decisions to leave Spokane were driven by the consequences of poor management moves in the preceding years: millions of R&D funding were spent developing the wrong product at the wrong time, making it unviable in the marketplace….

   As for Itronix, its upper management did not understand what General Dynamics wanted of it when they bought it, and/or did not communicate those directives to the next level of management and product design. GD over-reacted by scraping out a good vehicle that just needed some tune ups and new tires, but that was their choice. If Itronix had been making the money that GD expected, you can be assured GD would have not disturbed the production of golden eggs. In both cases, local management let their Spokane workforce down and the employees suffered the consequences.

PHOTO credit: (I don't know who shot it. But ex-Agilent guy Tim Plass forwarded it to the SR.)

READ the next comment on the continuation of this post, below: 

What’s the inside of the Sapphire Lounge like? This photo shows the layout

Sometime in May, Spokane downtowners get to test out the Sapphire Lounge, a small-bite eatery set inside the new bar area of the Hotel Ruby, 901 W. First.

An item on the new lounge, being financed and managed by Ruby owner Jerry Dicker and executive chef Jeremy Hansen, ran last week in The Spokesman-Review.

That story summarizes the food and beverage plans of Hansen, who also is executive chef at popular Spokane restaurant Sante.  Dicker also explains the goal of the Sapphire, being a way to add an intimate place for downtown visitors to grab a memorable bite and a stylish beverage.

Here is a photo showing the relatively tiny inside of the Sapphire Lounge. Mauer Construction, of Spokane, is the general contractor.

Total square footage is under 1,000 square feet. The kitchen is in the cramped, opposite corner from this point of view. The bar will be directly behind the half-height metal drywall studs.

One World Spokane is back in business, open five days a week

The One World Spokane Cafe has reopened and is operating five days a week, reports general manger/owner Janet Raschko. It's at 1804 E. Sprague.

Organizers of the nonprofit food business closed it down late in 2010 to focus on reorganization.

Raschko said business has picked up, adding “feedback and business are good.” 

Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.  Every second Saturday the cafe is open the same hours.

Evening hours will occur for special events or as the schedule allows, Raschko said.

An updated Facebook page for One World Spokane is here.

Spokane man guilty of work comp theft

A Spokane man was found guilty Thursday of stealing more than $30,000 in worker's compensation benefits.

A Spokane County Superior Court jury ruled Christopher Koker, 53, continued to collect time-lost benefits under a 1999 claim for a work-related injury while organizing 11 guns shows in 2006 and 2007.

An investigation started after the Department of Labor & Industries received an anonymous tip also found Koker helping at a Spokane gun store.

The jury convicted Koker on 26 counts of second-degree theft. The verdict could bring a jail sentence of up to 29 months. He is also responsible for $31,309 in restitution.

Koker is scheduled to be sentenced April 6. 

Carl Hammersburg, L&I manager of Fraud Prevention and Compliance, said the Koker verdict keeps the department's 100 percent conviction rate intact.

Guard nominates local employers for Freedom Award

Companies in Cheney, Spokane and Spokane Valley were nominated today for an award that recognizes private and public organizations for exceptional support for Washington Guard and Reserve members.

The local nominees announced are Haakon Industries of Cheney, Dorosh Dental and Spokane Emergency Physicians of Spokane, and Spalding Auto Parts and Western Systems & Fabrication Inc. of Spokane Valley.

They are among 90 employers  nominated statewide for the 2011 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Reward.

Nominees have supported Guard and Reserve members by providing continued benefits, differential pay and family assistance.

Winners will be announced this summer, and receive their award at a Sept. 22 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Gonzaga lands at 121 on the US News & World Report law school ranking

Gonzaga University ranked No. 121 on the latest US News & World Report ranking of U.S. law schools, released March 15.

Two years ago GU ranked No. 100 on the annual ratings, based on a variety of criteria, including peer assessment and bar pass rate. The rankings are here.

The top five in the latest ranking are: Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and the University of Chicago.

Others from the region include:  University of Washington, 30th; Lewis and Clark, 67th; University of Oregon, 79th; Willamette University, 113th.

Go Zags.

Also of note: US News & World Report introduced a separate listing, based on rankings from law firms in the land.

The ranking in that rating came from responses sent in by several hundred U.S. law firms.

Silverwood looking to hire 1,200 seasonal workers

Silverwood Theme Park will hold job fairs over the next two Saturdays to find 1,200 seasonal employees to staff the park from May to October.

Job fairs will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and March 26 in Silverwood's Theatre of Illusion, in Athol.

The North Idaho theme park is offering employment to everyone from high school students to senior citizens for jobs including ride operators, housekeepers, retail positions and food and beverage workers.

Wages depend on experience and position, but range from the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $12 an hour, said Nancy DiGiammarco, marketing, sales and public relations director.

The park is open for six months, starting May 7 with weekend operations. Staring on Memorial Day the park is open seven days a week until Labor Day.

Workers who stay for the whole season are eligible for bonuses of 50 cents an hour in July and again in August, DiGiammarco said..

ReliOn’s E-2500 has turned some heads, nominated for a CTIA green-tech award

Spokane's ReliOn has one of its new fuel-cell backup systems nominated in the annual CTIA e-Tech Awards, given to companies introducing emerging new products in technology.

The company's microwave-oven-sized E-2500 fuel cell system has been named a finalist in the Green Telecom & Smart Energy Solutions, Applications and Hardware cagegory.

There are 14 separate categories in this year's CTIA contest, with winners chosen by popular vote.

The full list of nominees is here. Winners will be announced at International CTIA WIRELESS® 2011, taking place March 22-24 in Orlando, Florida.

The E-2500 fuel cell is the third in a new ReliOn product line, the E-series.

The E-2500 provides 2,500 watts of power in a chassis that's 14 inches tall by 23 inches wide, and roughly 60 percent of the size of ReliOn’s 2,000-watt T-2000. 

The ReliOn E-2500 is marketed as a backup power solution. It provides electricity for up to 24 hours for equipment needing up to 10 killowatts of power. Higher power configurations are available as well. 

The main market is wireless telecommunications firms. Other ReliOn customers are in wireline telecoms, government and transportation networks communications. 

  

Comcast allowing free phone calls to Japan to help people stay in touch

Comcast is now allowing free calls to Japan for people using its Xfinity voice service. Those customers are both residences and businesses using its Business Class service.

The plan is to provide free calls from now through April 10, allowing people to reach friends and loved ones in Japan.

“We want to help ensure our customers with loved ones living in or visiting Japan have the means to remain in close contact with them during this difficult time,” according to Cathy Avgiris, GM for Communications and Data Services with Comcast.

More info is available at http://blog.comcast.com/ or http://www.comcast.com/About/PressRelease/PressReleaseDetail.ashx?PRID=1053

Washington unemployment rate falls

Washington's unemployment rate fell to 9.1 percent in February as employers added a net 800 jobs.

The January unemployment rate was 9.2 percent.

The struggling construction industry added 3,900 jobs during February, best for any sector. The government work force grew by 1,700, mostly in the military and higher education. Leisure and hospitality employment climbed 1,600.

Retail and wholesale trade fell the most, by 1,500 and 1,400 jobs respectively, follwed by financial activities and professional and business services, both off 1,300.

Washington has gained 31,100 private sector jobs since February 2010, while shedding 3,200 government jobs.

About 342,000 were unemployed, 235,000 of whom were collecting unemployment benefits.  

State approves Century-Tel, Qwest telecom merger

Washington state regulators on Monday approved the pending merger of telecom firms CenturyLink, Inc. and Qwest Communications.

Some conditions were attached to the deal, which has been more than a year in the making.

The Washington state Utilities and Transportation Commission set five multiparty settlement agreements over the key issues raised about the merger.

The overall goal, said the WUTC, is providing rate stability for residential and business telephone customers, protecting consumers from merger costs and expanding broadband Internet service to underserved areas in Washington. 

The companies have 15 calendar days to state objections to the extra conditions placed on the two companies.  Those conditions set by the WUTC include these:

  • Capping local telephone residential rates for at least three years after the sale closes.
  • Requiring the combined company to make an $80 million investment in broadband so high-speed Internet service will be available to more Washington consumers.
  • Preventing the new company from passing on merger costs to ratepayers.
  • Reporting merger savings and cost-cutting measures to the WUTC.
  • Reducing the new company’s fees charged to other carriers which should help lower long-distance rates for calls made within the state.
  • Submitting detailed plans to WUTC staff before transitioning to any new computer operating systems that affect customer services like billing or filling new phone orders. 

Seminars will teach interviewing skills to employers

The first of four seminars that will teach employers interviewing skills will be held Tuesday in the Redwood Room of the WorkSource offices at 130 S. Arthur.

The free, three-hour classes will begin at 9 a.m. The instructor will be Jack Kaplan, WorkSource employer resource specialist.

The materials are based on the work of industrial psychologist Paul Green, who developed the Behavioral Interviewing Seminar, Kaplan said.

Information on WorkSource On-The-Job Training programs will also be available.

The other sessions will be held March 22 in the same room, and April 5 and 12 in the Ponderosa Room also at WorkSource.

For more information, call Kaplan at 532-3061, or e-mail to jkaplan@esd.wa.gov

To register, e-mail MIrwin@esd.wa.gov.

Itron announces reorganization into water, energy units

Itron Inc., the Liberty Lake provider of products and services for the utility industry, announced Monday it's reorganizing into two divisions, to move the company to faster, more efficient growth.

Itron will now have two divisions, one for energy, the second for water.

Philip Mezey will become president and chief operating officer—Energy. Marcel Regnier will become president and chief operating officer—Water.

A company release offered this statement: “This new alignment provides a deeper focus on solving Itron’s customers’ critical business challenges through technology investments and global best-practices. Itron’s ability to successfully deliver across many markets reinforces its competitive position.”

Malcolm Unsworth, Itron’s president and CEO, said in the statement: “This reorganization gives us more agility to execute on our vision for the company, which includes growing revenue, expanding our global presence, broadening our product portfolio and streamlining ouroperations.

The goal, he noted, was unifying back-office IT and financial systems and looking for ways to lower operating expenses.

KAYU still on DirecTV; both sides agree to keep talking

DirecTV customers in the Spokane TV market will continue seeing KAYU, the Spokane Fox affiliate.

A long dispute over retransmission fees between DirecTV and Northwest Broadcasting, the parent owner of KAYU, is still not resolved.

But the sides agreed late Friday to extend the ceasefire for another week. KAYU could have been pulled off the DirecTV satellite lineup, over the dispute. The station disappeared for all of January, then came back on as both sides resumed stalled discussions.

Northwest VP Jon Rand said the extension will run through this coming Friday, March 18.

Comcast makes Japan TV available to help people find information updates

Viewers wanting to catch up on the developments in Japan can watch live feeds from Japan TV, being offered free for the next several days over Comcast's TV service.

Normally Japan TV is a paid channel. Due to the devastating earthquakes in Japan, the channel managers and Comcast agreed to offer the feed live, to help people get updates.

“They know very well how desperate people here are to find information,” said Comcast spokesman Walt Neary on Friday.

It's available on Cable Channel 245.  To read about Japan TV, go here.

Ciao Mambo opens its doors Monday, in downtown Spokane

Spokane's new downtown Ciao Mambo restaurant opens its doors to the public on Monday.

Dinner hours start at 4 p.m. until close. It's open seven days a week.

This is Spokane's first Ciao Mambo. Ciao Mambo is a network of restaurants managed by  Whitefish, Mont.-based Glacier Restaurant Group.

Here's a photo taken during recent last-finishing touchups of the interior. The space, 818 W. Riverside, was formerly used by Washington Mutual Bank, and we have a feeling Ciao Mambo will turn out a little better than WaMu did.

In May the restaurant will offer lunch service, said Jim Elkins and Brad Townsend, company managers for Glacier Restaurant Group.

Ace Hardware will take former location of Jones Pharmacy


View Larger Map South Hill Spokane development update: Ace Hardware will open a new South Hill location this summer, taking the former spot of Jones Pharmacy, at 906 S. Monroe. It’s near the Huckleberry’s Natural Market.

This will be the first Ace store opened in Spokane by franchisee Mitchell Hardware Inc. The company has four other Ace Hardwares in the Northwest.

Extensive remodeling is being done to the 15,660 square-foot building; an outdoor garden center will be added on the north side of the building.

David and Eric Peterson, of Goodale & Barbieri Co., negotiated a long-term lease with Mitchell on behalf of the LLC that owns the property. 

The owner is also remodeling 2,200 feet on the second level. David Peterson said further work will be done on that level if a tenant is found. Workers will also modernize the facades of other tenants in the shopping area, said David Peterson.

County foreclosure rate eases in February

 
Foreclosure activity in Spokane County fell 20 percent in February compared with January, but the pace remained more than triple that of a year earlier..
Banks repossessed 73 homes in the county, and another 126 were subject to a notice of trustee sale, according to RealtyTrac, which monitors foreclosures nationally.
In January, 249 homes were repossessed or subject to a notice. Only 59 were involved in a foreclosure action in February 2010.
The rate in Kootenai County increased 54 percent compared with January, and 60 percent compared with February 2010. Banks repossessed 41 homes, 108 owners received a notice of default, and 135 a notice of trustee sale.
One in every 1,002 homes in Spokane County was subject to foreclosure, and one in 214 in Kootenai County.
The national rate was one in every 577 homes, RealtyTrac reported.
One in every 298 homes in Idaho was subject to foreclosure, fifth highest in the United States. The rate in Washington was one in every 642, 14th highest.
 

KAYU and DirecTV battle: it’s not over yet

Those of you subscribers to DirecTV might want to get ready for “KAYU Blackout, the Sequel.”  It could happen.

Back in late January, the parent company of Spokane Fox affiliate KAYU agreed to return the station to the DirecTV lineup. That was done to give viewers access to the Super Bowl. The cease-fire came after a full month of signal blackout, a period in which the two sides took regular potshots in the media at the other.

They finally OK'd a four-week grace period, scheduled to end this week, to work out an acceptable retransmission rate between KAYU's owner (Northwest Broadcasting) and DirecTV.

It's now more than four weeks and Friday is the deadline for reaching a settlement, said Jon Rand, VP of Northwest Broadcasting, in Spokane.

The dispute comes down to how much Northwest can convince DirecTV to pay per household to carry the KAYU local affiliate signals.

The discussions have continued but both sides say they haven't come close to concluding the deal.

 

Sandpoint’s Quest Aircraft raises new round of money to boost production

Sandpoint's Quest Aircraft Company said on Wednesday it's raised an undisclosed amount of new financing and investments to keep the aircraft manufacturer moving forward with production of its main plane, the Quest Kodiak.

The investment is from private investors. Their identity and the amount of money raised were not disclosed.
 
Because of the economy, airplane production at Quest has slowed significantly in the past two years, said company President and CEO Paul Schaller. 
 
“We have injected equity into Quest which allows us to significantly reduce debt, ramp up production and invest in customer service centers,” Schaller said in a prepared statement.
 
The Kodiak sells for around $1.6 million. It's considered one of the best airplanes for landing and taking off in unusual and difficult terrain. The original first group of planes produced by Quest were sent to mission aviation groups across the world.

Paper shredding event Friday presented by U.S. Postal Inspection Service

It's still a fact that shredding financial and medical papers makes sense.

Spokane’s U.S. Postal Inspection Service and United Data Security company will co-sponsor a free paper shredding day Friday morning at the Metro Post Office parking lot, 5511 E. Alki, Spokane Valley.

The free shred event runs from 7 to 11 a.m.

Several area groups will have representatives on hand to discuss how to protect information and avoid identify theft. Those groups will include Spokane C.O.P.S., the Better Business Bureau and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, Spokane chapter.

 

How Seattle transformed itself: Any lessons for Spokane?

So this Harvard professor, who looks at “skilled cities,” has this to say in the New York Times:

A great paradox of our age is that despite the declining cost of connecting across space, more people are clustering together in cities. The explanation of that strange fact is that globalization and technological change have increased the returns on being smart, and humans get smart by being around other smart people. Dense, smart cities like Seattle succeed by attracting smart people who educate and employ one another.

The professor is Edward L. Glaeser and this is part of a column headlined “How Seattle Transformed Itself” appearing today at Nytimes.com.

Glaeser doesn't refer to some ideas people often use when talking about high-energy, economically thriving areas, such as “industry clusters” or “Silicon Valley synergies.” 

But he's sort of marrying two frequently cited economic development ideas: the clumping of the “creative class” notion pushed by Richard Florida; and the Silicon Valley model of “coopetition” — the sharing of ideas and resources among groups of companies that see a benefit in helping each other.

The column is worth a read. Hat tip to Emily Proffitt of Whitworth University for calling it to our attention.

Spokane unempoyment rate climbs

Unemployment in Spokane County jumped to 10.5 percent in January from 9.1 percent in December, the Washington Employment Security Department said today.

The rate in January 2010 was 11.5 percent, said department labor economist Doug Tweedy, who noted unemployment typically peaks in January and February if not adjusted for expected seasonal variations.

About 100 government jobs were eliminated from January to January, but private employers added 800, he said.

The biggest gains were recorded in professional and technical services, where 600 jobs were added, and manufacturing and health care, which each added 100 jobs, Tweedy said.

Tweedy said job openings should begin to increase with the spring. But with increased competition for all positions, he said, now is the time for students to be looking for summer jobs. 

Subway surpasses McDonald’s for fast-food supremacy

This is fast news. Sandwich-maker Subway has surpassed McDonald's for the most franchises.

The green-and-yellow store now has 34,000 stores worldwide, compared to about 32,000 golden arches stores.

Subway's, you may not know, spent its younger years growing up in Canada. It started, in 1986, in St. John's Newfoundland, Canada.

The FDIC ramps up its online tools and consumer guides

Your boss may be showing signs of concern with the hours you're spending watching YouTube at the office.

Here's the solution: Tell the boss you're viewing YouTube for handy videos on topics such as deposit insurance and Net Fraud.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has a number of fairly useful online tools to give consumers tips and hints on investments and fraud alerts.

One of them is, indeed, a YouTube FDIC channel.

Other online resources provided by the tax-supported FDIC:

  • “EDIE,” the FDIC's Electronic Deposit Insurance Estimator — an online calculator to determine their deposit insurance coverage for each FDIC-insured bank where they have deposit accounts.
  • FDIC Consumer News — a quarterly publication for consumers with tips on credit cards, bank accounts, loans, scams, money management and  more. Consumers can also listen to articles anywhere, anytime online or by downloading to an MP3 player.
  • Bank Find —  an online directory that consumers can use to locate an FDIC-insured institution bank, learn what happened to a bank that changed names or no longer exists, and more.
  • Customer Assistance Online Form — A form to submit a question to the FDIC or a complaint regarding a financial institution.
  •  Small Business Web Page — Helpful tips for small businesses, especially regarding access to loans, plus an online form to ask the FDIC a question or register a concern.
  •  Money Smart – A financial education curriculum concentrating on the development of consumers' financial skills and positive banking relationships.
  •  Foreclosure Prevention Toolkit —  A Web page that provides easy access to helpful information for homeowners on avoiding foreclosure and foreclosure “rescue” scams.

Raising coral becomes a full time job; the full Spokesman-Review story runs Sunday

There are farmers and there are coral farmers.

In the hills of apple orchards and pumpkin patches of Greenbluff is an oddity, a greenhouse full of tropical ocean creatures destined for aquariums around the nation. Henk Borst, an immigrant from the Netherlands, runs the facility, where he farms and sells corals, anemones and giant clams.

The full rundown on how Borst is turning his local business into a coral powerhouse will appear in a Sunday story in the Business section, written by Becky Kramer.
 
To take a quick pictorial view, this slideshow by SR photographer Jesse Tinsley shows what's involved.

State sues Coeur d’Alene man for commodity trading

The Idaho Department of Finance has sued a Coeur d'Alene man for promoting a commodities trading scheme that cost investors $1.3 million.

Keith Eugene Mitchell, according to a complaint filed in Kootenai County District Court, did not tell investors the department had ordered him to stop violating security laws in 2003, when a $25,000 civil penalty was imposed.

Nor did Mitchell tell them he is not licensed by federal regulators.

Starting in 2007, Mitchell promised investors returns as high as 60 percent on commodity futures options. They would lose no more than five percent of their principal, he said.

But when market action turned in a way incompatible with Mitchell's system in 2008, the complaint says, investors lost all or nearly all their money.

The suit seeks $1.3 million in restitution and $100,000 in fines.  

North Face will move into downtown, taking Restoration Hardware spot

Climbing/HikingOutdoor clothing and gear outfitter North Face will open a store at Spokane's downtown River Park Square this fall.  

North Face will move into 714 W. Main, now occupied by Restoration Hardware.  Construction will begin in May with an opening projected for late summer or early fall opening.

The store will feature an indoor climbing wall, said a press release. This will be the first North Face outlet in Spokane.  Restoration Hardware officials said on Thursday they could not comment on whether they will relocate the Spokane store.

River Park Square is owned and operated by the Cowles Co. The Cowles Co. also operates The Spokesman-Review and Spokesman.com

Debt relief company to return almost $800,000

Hundreds of Spokane-area clients of Freedom Debt Relief will benefit from a legal settlement announced today by Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna.

The agreement also resolves a class-action lawsuit filed in Spokane by Attorney Darrel Scott, whose office will oversee the return of $742,613 to about 570 clients of California-based Freedom Debt Relief.

The state settlement alleges the company overcharged 1,100 Washington residents for its services. Fees, which are limited to 15 percent of the total debt, were deducted from accounts set up to repay debt Freedom attempts to renegotiate.

The company denies the allegations, but agreed to the refunds and to pay $70,000 in state costs. The settlement was filed in King County Superior Court.

Freedom Debt stopped accepting new Washington clients in March 2009, when Scott filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Spokane.

The company will have to alert the Attorney General's Office if it renews business in the state.

Scott said he will notify the District Court of the settlement Monday.

Consumers eligible for redunds will be notified by the court. Those who have already received refunds are not eligible.

“The two are hand-in-glove,” Scott said of the state and class-action cases.

Explaining the Supreme Court ruling on corporations having no privacy right

Those of us who've already read the full 15-page opinion by the Supreme Court on the AT&T argument that corporations have some level of “personal privacy,” will want to look elsewhere for something to do.

For others who wonder how the court could have established two different ideas — that corporations (in the Citizens United ruling from 2010) have a right of free speech and that they don't have a personal level of privacy (in the March 1 ruling, FCC vs. AT&T) — should spend some time with a good legal blog.

Let us recommend the down-the-middle blog views of Scotusblog.com. Its entry from today gives a quick overview of the facts. Nicer yet, the blog post links to about a dozen helpful sources with additional comments on the case.

How to find the lowest local gas prices

Gas prices in Spokane and Coeur d'Alene show no sign of retreating. The price per gallon of regular jumped three cents in both cities from Monday to Tuesday.

From Tuesday to Wednesday the price jumped another three cents, on average, in Spokane.

That would be from $3.21 to $3.24 per gallon of regular, according to data found on GasBuddy.com.

Not surprising, you're going to find an increasing number of apps and tools to help find the best prices in your location.

We've found five which are either free or cost very little:  GasBuddy's own smartphone app; iGasUp, which uses data from Oil Price Information Service (OPIS); something called GasBook; an app called Poynt (which does more than gas pricing); and an iPhone only app called Local Gas Prices.

Spokane residents among most indebted card users

Spokane residents are among the nation's most indebted users of credit cards, according to a report released today by Experian.

The credit-scoring agency said the average Spokane credit card user had a balance of $4,572 at the end of 2010, compared with a national average  of $4,200.

The city was also second to Columbus, Ohio, in the increase in debt since December 2009.

Seattle card users owed $4,877, good for seventh highest in the United States.

San Antonio, Texas, residents were the most indebted, with average balances of $5,177.

Auto and truck leasing are clearly tied to higher gas prices

Today's Spokesman Review story on the rise in gas prices indicates people are concerned enough to cut down on travel trips or use less expensive means of transport.

One follow-up received here came from LeaseTrader.com, a site to help companies finding or leasing vehicles.

Their comment on the impact of higher prices has two points to make: 

—Based off 2008 modeling, LeaseTrader.com believes drivers won't take specific action (reduced gas consumption, exiting lease contracts) until gas reaches $4 per gallon.

—During the summer of 2008, 78 per of all SUV/truck transfers were due to high gas prices (currently just 16 percent of SUV/truck transfers are because of gas prices).
 
The story we ran had comments confirming the first point.
And in a conversation yesterday with sales people with area auto dealers, the consensus was that leasing is up among vehicle customers. And gas prices do play a part.
 
The point, not included in today's article, is that many drivers will lease as a hedge against future gas prices. When taking out a lease instead of a three- or four-year vehicle loan, the leasor stands to come out the deal without holding a vehicle of diminished value.
 
In effect the lease lets the driver use the car or truck for two or three years, or sooner, if the costs of fuel keep rising to the point that a more economical choice is needed.

Workers on strike at Ponderay Newprint

Union workers at the Ponderay Newsprint plant walked out of the plant at 6 a.m. today, halting production at the mill near Usk in Pend Oreille County.

Greg Jones, representative for the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, said the 92 members of Local 422 voted to strike Monday night .

The company, he said, is violating the terms of a settlement negotiated with the help of the National Labor Relations Board in November.

The biggest issue, Jones said, is the company's failure to follow a settlement provision that was to allow union members to disengage from voluntary committees like the plant's fire brigade, emergency medical technicians, and production/management teams.

The company also changed some practices in place prior to the settlement, a change in the status quo not allowed, Jones said.

“The union employees would like the company to resolve these issues,” he said, noting that the next scheduled talks are set for later this month.

Plant Manager Paul Machtoff declined to comment on the issues separating the company and union.

“We are disappointed the union has taken this step,” he said.

The plant has a total of 178 employees, Machtoff said.

He would not say whether the company would try to restart its paper-making machine with non-striking employees.

The plant can make 250,000 tons of newsprint annually, and was operating at full capacity until the line was shut down shortly before the walkout, Machtoff said.

“We're working with customers to understand their supply needs,” he said.

  

Washington unemployment fell in January

The unemployment rate in Washington fell to 9.1 percent in January as businesses added 11,000 workers.

The gain, adjusted for seasonality, was the best since November 2007, the Employment Security Department said today.

“It's unusual to have job gains in the middle of winter, so this is another positive sigh that the recovery is under way, department Commissioner Paul Trause said.

The unemployment rate in December was 9.3 percent.

More than one-half the added jobs _ 5,600 _ were in business and professional services. Education and health care was up 4,500, retail trade 1,500, and leisure and hospitality 1,300.

Construction employment continued to fall, losing  with 1,500 jobs subtracted in January. Manufacturing trimmed 700 positions, the government and information sectors 600 each.

Figures for each county will be released next week.

Supreme Court rules corporations don’t have personal privacy

The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that corporations have no right of personal privacy to prevent the release of documents requested through the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The unusual feature was an 8-0 unanimous ruling, at a time when some critics have said the current Roberts court tilts in favor of business. The court ruling is here.

The ruling was written by Chief Justice John Roberts. It reverses an appeals court ruling in favor of AT&T.

 “The protection in FOIA against disclosure of law enforcement information on the ground that it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy does not extend to corporations,” Roberts wrote. “We trust that AT&T will not take it personally.”

The case stems from requests by a trade group, which includes some AT&T competitors, for documents that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) obtained during an investigation of possible overcharges committed by AT&T in a government contract.

A federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled in favor of AT&T, and the trade group appealed that decision.

While the ruling states there is no “personal” level of privacy for corporations, this decision still leaves corporations protections from broad FOIA requests.

Current laws prohibit the release of trade secrets and information that allows people to be personally identified.

In the AT&T case, the FCC had released some of the information under an open records request, but withheld other documents because of concerns that business secrets or humans' privacy might be compromised. 

Justice Elena Kagan abstained from the ruling as she worked on the case on behalf of the FCC.

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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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