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Archive for May 2011

Speaking of patents, Idaho remains the spud state

One of our items below looks at general trends in Washington and in Spokane County for the number of patents issued to companies or inventors.

At the time, we didn't have the comparable numbers for Idaho.

Here they are: in 2005 the U.S. Patent Office issued 1,529 patents to businesses or inventors based in Idaho.

By 2010 that number had fallen sharply; the Patent Office said 1,095 patents were issued in that year. That was at least a bump upward, from 941 awarded in 2009.

Sterling names Andrew Schultheis general counsel

Andrew Schultheis has been appointed executive vice president and general counsel at Sterling Financial Corp.

Schultheis, 40, has been outside counsel to Sterling, the parent of Sterling Savings Bank, while with  Witherspoon Kelley.

Before joining the Spokane law firm in 2005, Schultheis practiced with a Silicon Valley(Calif.) firm representing clients such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Symantec Corp.

The graduate of Whitman College and the University of Michigan law school is also a member of the Connect Northwest and Inland Northwest Land Trust boards of directors.  

State looks for beneficiaries not looking for work

The Washington Employment Security Department wants $1,400 back from a bride who said she applied for work on her way to the altar.

The unidentified woman was collecting unemployment benefits while in Texas for her wedding, according to a department news release. She claimed she applied for a job at an El Paso theater.

The department had seen this movie before, about 9,000 times: The number of individuals who did not seek work in 2010 while collecting $23 million in benefits.

Spokesman Jamie Swift said ESD last year reviewed the job-search logs of 66,000 claimants who received unemployment benefits for more than five weeks.

If checks with employers do not confirm an individual has sought work three times per week — a requirement for benefits — the department seeks refunds, he said.

ESD paid out $4.6 billion in unemployment benefits in 2010, Swift said. 

Spokane County’s rate of patents stagnant, according to Indicators report

The Eastern Washington University-sponsored Community Indicators Initiative recently posted a summary of how Spokane and the area are doing in numbers of patents awarded.

The partents-awarded indicator shows Spokane is doing less well than the rest of the state (forget comparing Spokane with Seattle, as it makes no sense). In general, the number of patents awarded in any community is a fair measure of the level of innovation and dynamic business development.

The summary, penned by Community Indicators Initiative Manager Anna Halloran, is at http://www.communityindicators.ewu.edu/newsletter/page87.html. The chart above is from the CCI newsletter. The red line in Spokane County patents, per thousand; the green line is Washington state.

The key point is that Spokane's economy isn't gaining steam in part because we're not producing enough young companies and eager professionals that are creating patents and product innovations.

First the good news: Spokane County residents or firms obtained more patents in 2010 compared to the year before. The gain was from 75 awarded in '09 to 105 in 2010.

But compared with the state, we're not faring well at all. In general, Halloran notes, Spokane County's patent rate, per thousand residents, has remained flat for the past 10 years.

In 2010, Washington state's patent rate per 1,000 people was 1.02, an increase of close to 143 percent from its patent rate going back to 2000.

Other data worth noting from the report:

  • Washington state received 6,835 U.S. patents in 2010.
  • Seattle accounted for 2,642 of them.
  • Pullman residents or businesses received 39 patents in 2010.

Agora Award winners to be announced on Wednesday

Can this really be the 26th year for the annual Agora Awards?  That long, really? 

This year's winners will be announced Wednesday by Greater Spokane Inc. in a ceremony starting at 7 a.m. at the Davenport Hotel.

Agora Awards are annual recognitions of business excellence in the Spokane area. The categories this year for “business rock stars” are in small business, medium business, large business, small nonprofit, large nonprofit.

Anyone can register for the awards at http://events.greaterspokane.org. Individual tickets are $30 and $40.

To see the awards online Wednesday morning, go to Spokesman.com and look in the Business category. We'll be publishing them shortly after being announced.

LaunchPad and Leadership Spokane start event series for young professionals

LaunchPad INW and Leadership Spokane are co-sponsoring a Tuesday afternoon session as part of an ongoing effort to nurture and support young professionals.

The free event will include a keynote by Tyler Lafferty, founder of the Spokane companies Seven2 and 14Four. The two digital media companies provide marketing and agency work for clients across the area and the country.

The session starts at 4 p.m. at LaunchPad’s Spokane office at 120 N. Stevens. For more information, go to LaunchPadINW.com.  

The ongoing series is called Next Generation Leaders, and has the objective of nurturing and encouraging area young professionals to work together and develop personal and business relationships.

Providing support for the event are Washington Trust Bank, Eastern Washington University's MBA Program and Spokane Society of Young Professionals (SSYP).

 

West Side bank to merge into AmericanWest

The holding company for AmericanWest Bank has agreed to purchase Bank of the Northwest, which operates four branches in the Puget Sound area.

The $17 million transaction is expected to close during the third quarter.

The Bellevue, Everett, Tacoma and Issaquah offices of Bank of the Northwest will be relabeled AmericanWest , Chief Executive Officer Scott Kisting said.

Kisting is also CEO of Starbucks Bancshares Inc., which acquired Spokane-based AmericanWest in December. Starbucks, which also owns a small bank in Minnesota, injected $185 million in new capital into AmericanWest.

Starbucks has an additional $500 million, and officers have said repeatedly they expect to build on the 58-branch AmericanWest network.

Website helps workers with disabilities find jobs

The Washington Department of Social and Health Services has launched a Website that will help workers with disabilities find employment.

Pathways to Employment allows users to create resumes, find the names of businesses in their area, and view videos of success stories.

A benefits calculator enables workers to determine how much money they can make without jeopardizing Social Security payments or other benefits.

“Many Washingtonians with a disability want to work,” said Stephen Kozak, a Medicaid Purchasing propject manager who led the team that developed the site.

But many fear that job income could cut them off from Social Security, he said.

The site was developed with a $416,305 federal grant.

The address is www.pathways.dshs.wa.gov.

Lee & Hayes again takes top IP firm honors in annual rankings

Kevin LeMondFor the second year in a row, Spokane's Lee & Hayes was cited as the No. 1 patent law firm in the United States, based on patent quality.  Intellectual Asset Management Magazine publishes the winners and uses a ranking system developed by Ocean Tomo. Ocean Tomo is a patent ratings company that specializes in assigning value to intellectual patents.

The magazine also hailed Lee & Hayes for being No. 1 in the information technology industry. Notably, Seattle's Perkins Coie landed at No. 6 for overall top IP firms.

The rankings appeared in the May-June issue of the magazine.

Ocean Tomo's ranking system relies on the premise that patent quality is a stronger measure of an intellectual property (IP) portfolio’s strategic value than the number of patents.

Lee & Hayes has continued to expand its operations. It recently opened a new office in Vancouver, Wash., focusing on clients in the Portland area.

Heading that office is Kevin Lemond, in photo above. The firm also has offices in Spokane, Seattle, Austin, Taipei and Beijing.

Palouse Wind Project gets permit

The proposed Palouse Wind Project has received a conditional use permit, moving it one step closer to generating as much as 195 megawatts of electricity sometime next year.

An independent hearing examiner hired by Whitman County granted the permit one month after completion of a final environmental impact statement.

The permit would allow the construction near Oakesdale of 65 wind turbines with the capacity to generate 195 megawatts of power. The project could tie into a nearby Avista Corp. transmission line.

Construction would create 100 jobs, operations as many as 10, project owner First Wind said. The company- has wind projects in the Northeast, West and Hawaii. 

Tuesday graphic: search preferences vary by the browser people use

Tuesday's graphic/chart tries to identify the affinity between people who prefer one of the three main Internet browsers and that user's primary search engine. This graphic, produced by comscore and reproduced by SearchEngineWatch, suggests that people who use Google's browser really prefer Google.com.

Enlarge the graphic by clicking on the image.

And the highest number of people who prefer Microsoft's Bing.com for their search engine are those who prefer Microsoft's Internet Explorer. 

This tells us about 87 percent of those who prefer Chrome as a browser make Google their primary search site. No surprise, as Chrome is Google's own browser.

About 73 percent of those using Firefox as their main browser make Google their choice.

And about 19 percent of those using IE make Bing their main search engine. Notably, in all three cases, Google still rules the heap.

So, the data suggest a rough but likely relation between the company software and the company's web search site.

Employers hire almost 2,000 in April

Private employers in Spokane County hired 2,100 workers in April, a gain only slightly offset by a cutback in government employment.

The new hires, the Washington Employment Security Department said today, rolled the county unemployment rate back to 9.1 percent from 10.3 percent in March, and 9.7 percent in April 2010.

Total employment climbed to 215,120 from 213,170 in March. The total in April 2010 was 216,440.

Since then, the labor force has contracted by almost 3,000 people, to 236,660.

ESD Regional Labor Economist Doug Tweedy said construction was the big gainer, with 900 hires. But construction employment remains 3,000 below the peak of a few years ago, he noted.

Tweedy said manufacturers added 300 workers, health services 300, and professional, scientific and technical businesses 200.

Federal, state and local governments laid off more than 100, he said, adding that it was the only sector to decline. 

Airport master plan open house Tuesday

Spokane International Airport will unveil its master plan Tuesday at a three-hour open house that begins at 4 p.m. in the Double Tree Hotel, Spokane City Center.

 

Airport officials and consultants will be on hand to explain displays, maps and other information on short-, medium-, and long-terms plans that take development at the 5,400-acre West Plains site and associated structures out 30 years.

 

Passenger traffic is expected to double from three million in 2010 to six million by 2030. The plan considers how the airport will manage more passengers traveling longer distances, the timeline for new development, and potential funding sources.

 

The information will also be posted online at www.spokaneairports.net
 
Validated parking will be available at the Spokane Convention Center Garage. A second open house is scheduled for Aug. 9. A venue has not been selected.

How young did Jon Eliassen look before he retired? Very very young

OK, so we went a little long in a Sunday story on Jon Eliassen, CEO of Red Lion Hotels Corp.

He's probably, as one blog commenter noted, Spokane's “most interesting” exec. Or close, anway.

Here's a little snapshot photo of Eliassen from some unknown date. This has to have been an Avista mugshot that sat in the SR archives for close to 20 years. 

If anyone can come up with the year this photo was taken, we'll send you a free e-book on how to use and manage Microsoft Outlook 2010.

Verizon says Spokane’s 4G service starts on June 16

Spokane Verizon customers can start using 4G service on June 16, the company announced Monday.

Verizon's LTE (long term evolution) 4G service will come online and be available for those with enabled phones, hot spots and laptop modems.

The service area is Spokane, Spokane Valley, the South Hill, Airway Heights, Liberty Lake, Mead and Otis Orchards. 

The company says LTE will provide download speeds up to 10 times faster than the 3G service now available.

To take advantage of 4G a consumer needs to purchase a Verizon data plan.

An overview of LTE by Verizon is here.

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Itron execs to ring NASDAQ bell

Itron Inc. Chief Executive Officer Malcolm Unsworth and other officials from the Liberty Lake company will ring in the start of NASDSAQ trading Wednesday.

The ceremony at the NASDAQ MarketSite Studio in Times Square, New York City, can be viewed at 6:15 a.m. at http://www.nasdaq.com/about/marketsitetowervideo.asx

Itron has scehculed its Investor Day for analysts and investors Thursday at the Roosevelt Hotel.

The  

Whacky Friday: Texas legislators OK bill that will allow ‘hand-fishing’

Our whacky Friday contribution, to help you get into the weekend.

The Texas legislature has had its share of tough topics to deal with. But they're one step from resolvingone of the state's longstanding battles between “anglers” and state regulators.

The legislature in Texas this week approved “noodling,” the practice of hand-fishing for catfish. The next step is to get the governor to sign the bill.

Back in the South, the good ol' boys walk into the water and keep shoving their hands down in the water until some fish clamps on. That's called fishing by some of them. 

In Texas, that kind of sport has been a Class-C felony.

If the bill is signed, all those midnight noodlers can come out and do their thing in plain daylight. 

Here's the Texas Tribune summary of how legislators came to their senses. Photo credit goes to the Texas Tribune.

Red Lion adds a franchise hotel in Sacramento


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Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels Corp. announced Friday it's converted a Sacramento hotel into a Red Lion franchise.

The change involves the 109-room Vagabond Inn Executive Sacramento-Rancho Cordova.

It's now the more pleasingly named Red Lion Inn Rancho Cordova.

The address is 10713 White Rock Rd. The property was originally built as a Fairfield Inn by Marriott.

The Vagabond Inn corporate owners have made several improvements to this property in the last few months, including a new hotel entrance and expanded lobby, said Rich Carlson, Red Lion Hotels vice president for hotel development.  

Red Lion Hotels runs more than 45 hotels in cities across the West.

City of Spokane’s sales taxes drooped in 2010, compared with prior year

Last week we spotted an item on First Quarter sales taxes for Spokane County.  The item noted the county saw a very tiny uptick, of about 2.7% from the same period a year earlier. (Though listed as first quarter, that number is actually for November-January 2011.)

That made us ask how the City of Spokane fared in total sales taxes collected during 2010.

We go the answer from Rick Romero, the city's internal auditor. No big surprise, the city's take from taxes was down about half of one percent, (.005) for 2010 compared with the year earlier.

That covers not just retail sales, but taxes on services and a few other categories including lodging and dining.

The raw numbers: 

  • Spokane's 2009 taxable sales: roughly $3.7 billion.
  • Spokane's 2010 taxable sales: roughly $3.67 billion.

Romero noted that for 2010, the city reaped about $33 million from the $3.67 billion collected and sent to the governor.

What keeps Eliassen ticking? Sunday’s story looks into his post-retirement career

Jon E. EliassenPeople who know Jon Eliassen say he's the busiest retired person they know.

In Sunday's Business section of The Spokesman-Review, we take a look at how Eliassen, who retired in 2002 after 33 years at WWP and Avista, has become a very busy executive around the area.

Eliassen has plenty to say about retirement and what he expected to do once he left Avista.

He continues serving, for the time being, as CEO and president of Red Lion Hotels Corp.

Toshiba buys Swiss meter maker to compete against Itron for grid spending

Landis+Gyr is a Swiss company that does what Itron does, except in Europe: it develops and sells advanced utility meters.

It's another company that is busy figuring out how to develop “grid” devices that can make the distribution and consumption of energy smarter and more efficient.

L+G is already a very large competitor in Europe to Itron, Spokane's own major producer of smart metering devices and other utility products and services.

A Wall Street Journal commentator noted that Toshiba has spent $2.3 billion to acquire the Swiss meter (maid?) company.  The story noted global power use will grow 60 percent by 2030. The utility industry has to make major investments to keep up with that demand, and that's why you hear so much about smart grid.

Only 10 percent of European Union households have smart electricity meters. Clearly, Toshiba sees great potential by acquiring L+G, and this poses a direct threat to Itron's role in taking a share of the future market.

The WSJ story also notes Toshiba paid a premium for the company, by spending 11 times historic earnings for L+G. The other main Euro electricity meter competitor is Germany's Elster Group.

The commentary noted Toshiba, with yearly revenue of $77 billion, sees this purchase as its way to catch up Elster and Itron.

Russ Vanos, who is Itron's vp for marketing, said Itron's reaction is a positive take-away.

“The bottom line is Toshiba is a large, deep-pocketed strategic investor who paid top dollar for L+G which should give some indication of the level of strategic interest in this space,” Vanos said.

Harley-Davidson dealerships to relocate

The Lone Wolf and Timber Wolf Harley-Davidson dealerships are consolidating their Spokane and Coeur d’Alene locations into the former United Coatings building in Spokane Valley.

Dealer Principal Beth Ernst said Lone Wolf, the surviving name, will occupy 70,000 square feet at 19011 E. Cataldo, where the dealership will be highly visible, and easily accessible, from Interstate 90.

“It’s a huge investment, but I really think it’s just going to be a huge home run,” she said.

Besides showroom space for Harley-Davidson motorcycles, apparel and other gear, the dealership will feature a café, and lounge with Wi-Fi, pool and foosball tables, and fireplace, she said. Winter storage space for bikes will be available.

Gonzaga hosts third annual Family Business conference on June 2

Managing Relationships in Family Business: The Importance of Communication” will be this year's Gonzaga University Family Business Conference focus, which occurs on June 2.

The now-annual conference will feature Andrew Keyt, executive director of the Loyola University Family Business Center. Keyt (in photo) is considered an expert on family-business issues.

The daylong event runs from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Jepson Center’s Wolff Auditorium.The cost is $195 per family member for the first two registrants, and all subsequent family members are admitted for $45 per person. The event includes a continental breakfast and lunch.

A key part of the day will be a discussion about using and strengthening business communication among family members. Several Spokane family business owners will also be part of the panel.

Attendees should be family members and managers of family owned businesses. The conference is sponsored by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. To register or for more information, visit www.gonzaga.edu/sbaevents or call Laura Smith at (509) 313-5991or via e-mail at smithl2@jepson.gonzaga.edu.

 

Business form companies merge

Two long-time companies selling business forms have merged under new ownership.

Safeguard Business Systems and Business Forms Inc. have become BFI Safeguard, owned by Greg and Vicki Schob, who also own Safeguard franchises in California and Montana.

General Manager Pete Michael said the merged businesses will have Web development and ecommerce solutions they did not have as stand-alone companies.

Safeguard Business Systems was founded in 1981 by Rick and Diana Wilhite. She said they have talked for some time about easing out of the business.

Wilhite said the purchase of Business Forms, which overlaps some of their company's business lines, created an opportunity for them to begin a transition into retirement.

She said Business Forms was opened in 1987 by Dennis Hubbell, who is also retiring.

The Schobs, who live in California, have not decided whether they will operate their businesses from Spokane or Montana, Wilhite said, noting both are native Montanans.

In the meantime, Wilhite said, she and Rick will continue meeting with customers to assure they get the products and services they need.

“They'll have me for a while,” said Wilhite, who is also a former mayor of the City of Spokane Valley.

Advantage IQ’s CEO next Executive Connect featured speaker

Advantage IQ, Energy Management ServicesA lot of folks talk about green tech and its importance in the development of the new economy.

One company that sometimes misses recognition for its green value is Spokane-based Advantage IQ. The firm, which spun out of Avista, provides detailed utility expense analysis and efficiency management for large companies. 

Company President and CEO Jeff Heggedahl will explain how it does that work in the next Executive Connect breakfast, on May 26 at the Georgian Room of the Spokane Club, 1102 W. Riverside. Hosted by Connect Northwest, the event begins at 7:30 a.m. (doors open at 7).

Advantage IQ has received an EPA Energy Star sustained excellence award for five consecutive years. The most recent award noted the company in 2010 provided energy ratings to more than 38,000 buildings, an 11 percent increase over 2009.

Admission is $30. To reserve a spot, contact Catherine Greer, at catherineg@connectnw.org or 509.358.2114.

For information on Advantage IQ, here's the website.

A modest uptick in Spokane County’s retail sales totals, and what that means

The retail and total sales tax number for Spokane County, for the first quarter, came out and they're at least positive. But the full story is: this is not yet a normal economy.

Data show that Spokane say retail taxes up 2.7% and total sales up 2.1% compared to the first quarter one year ago. The number are actually from November through January 2011, but since the state holds back tax receipts for two months, the data is reported as “first quarter.”

Those numbers were cited in a regular Greater Spokane Incorporated email update. The person quoted by GSI on those numbers is Grant Forsyth, an Eastern Washington University economics professor.

Forsyth's take is that the spurt in sales in the traditionally soft first quarter comes from higher gas and fuel costs. It's not something we should celebrate too loudly.

“Until we see a return to regional income growth, taxable sales will be muted,” Forsyth said.

Real income growth is the challenge, as employers and small business operators keep a tight lid on costs. It's way too soon to see a rosy tint on the economic horizon, though some numbers are improving.

GSI's “Business Barometer” also cited comments by state Labor Economist Doug Tweedy, who said “The number of people employed in Spokane County has increased for three straight quarters. Everything is recovering slowly and we are not getting the bounce that usually comes after a recession. But the economy is generating jobs in the private sector, which is a positive for the future.”

Michaels debit fraud found in 5 Western Washington stores

Debit card PIN pads at five Western Washington Michaels stores are among 90 nationwide that show signs of tampering, the Texas-based crafts store chain said this week.

Pads in stores in Tukwila, Marysville, Lynnwood, Kirkland and Everett were identified as having shown signs of tampering, the company said. Those pads and 7,200 debit card terminals of similar design have been removed from the company’s 964 stores across the country, The News Tribune of Tacoma reported.

No stores in Eastern Washington or in Idaho were on the tampering list.

Michaels’ investigation began after customers in some of its Chicago stores complained of unauthorized withdrawals from their bank accounts. Michaels Stores says the debit-card fraud has spread across 20 states.

Michaels identified 90 key pads that were tampered with in Illinois, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

The company said it is using cash register terminals to authorize debit and credit card transactions at the stores affected by the PIN pad removals until those pads can be replaced. Replacement is expected to take about two weeks.

Spokane DirectBuy showroom shuts down; parent firm looks for franchisee

The Spokane showroom of DirectBuy, a nationwide, members-only shopping club, closed this week.
A spokeswoman at DirectBuy’s Indiana headquarters said the company is trying to find a new showroom for Spokane-area members but would not predict how soon that will be.
 
Company spokeswoman Sara Butler said DirectBuy is looking for another Spokane location to open a showroom. It’s also looking for another franchisee to run the business. The nearest DirectBuy showroom, for now, is in the Tri-Cities.
 
The previous Spokane franchisee was not identified in an email the company sent to its roughly 2,300 Spokane-area members.
 
DirectBuy has about 130 stores in North America, which sell discounts on furniture and household items. People join by paying between $3,000 and $6,000 for memberships that vary from two to three years, and then pay renewal fees when the terms expire.
 
Butler said DirectBuy could decide to open a corporate-run store in Spokane if the company finds a new building but not a new franchisee. “We think the Spokane market is a very good one,” she said.
 
The Spokane franchise opened in December 2003 and operated in a showroom at 10102 E. Knox in Spokane Valley.
 
As the economy tanked the number of DirectBuy showrooms began to close. News stories around the country have cited at least five in the past several months. A number of lawsuits have also been filed by former franchisees saying the DirectBuy parent company took advantage of the economic downturn and added to the debt those franchisees ended up owing, according to court documents.

Video: How Goodrich brakes stop a Boeing 747 during a rejected take-off test

If you or a good friend works at the West Plains Goodrich brake production site, watch this video. It will make you feel proud of American technology.

The video, produced by Boeing and found on YouTube on Wednesday, shows what happens when the Boeing 747 Dreamliner is forced to abort a full-speed takeoff on the runway.

The massive kinetic energy of the aircraft has to be slowed by carbon wheel brakes developed and made by Goodrich, at plants such as the one we have on the West Plains. 

Quite a feat. Feel free to share this video. 

Cyan Worlds takes bug battling to a new level

We do want to give some more space to the new Bug Chucker game released this week by Cyan Worlds.

The entry below may have squashed the news slightly. Don't let that bug you.

The game is a very affordable 99 cents at the iTunes store. We'll test it this evening and post a report, on our companion tech site, www.srtxt.com.

For more information on Bug Chucker, here's Cyan World's main summary.

Cyan does bugs as heroes; Rescue adds a trap for indoor stink bugs

This may be a coincidence of harmonic proportions. On more or less the same day, both Spokane's Cyan Worlds and Spokane Valley-based Rescue (also known as Sterling International) have debuted major new “bug” products.

Cyan has released a new game app for the Apple platform, called “Bug Chucker.”  And to quote Miley Cyrus, that's pretty cool. It costs 99 cents at the iTunes store. It's a space-battle game involving a spaceship inhabited by bugs who are under attack by the evil Sawz, the robotic minions of Lord Lahguh.

Cyan is the company that innovated videogames by developing the breakthrough titles “Myst,” “Riven” and “Manhole.” More information: here.

Meanwhile, bug-trap maker Rescue just released its new stink bug traps. But wait, there's more.

The new traps come in two varieties, indoor and outdoor. For more than a year Sterling (Rescue) focused on developing an outdoor trap that attracted the pesky stink bugs and left them unable to crawl away.

But over time the company also decided to develop an indoor version (pictured here). As you can see, it's an illuminated model that uses LED lights to attract stink bugs. It will be available in July and cost around $17.99. For information: Recue's stink bug blog.

Company spokeswoman Stephanie Cates said the company realized, while learning more about stink bugs, that they're attracted to some lights. So that led to this indoor baby.

In an email, Cates said: “The indoor stink bug problem is significant. Many people in the mid-Atlantic states report finding stink bugs in their homes — sometimes as many as 30 to 40 per day.” 

Spokane companies get community service awards

The Association of Washington Business Tuesday recognized two Spokane companies for community Service.

Inland Northwest Health Services received the education award for companies with more than 100 employees.

Inland created EMS Lite @ Nite, an interactive video-conferencing program that enables volunteer rural emergency medical service providers to get and maintain their certification without having to leave work, or their communities.

The system reaches 108 rural locations, and serves an average 208 participants each trainiing session.

The volunteerism award for companies with fewer than 25 employees went to Craig Dias, general manager of Haskings Steel Co. Inc.

Among the boards Dias serves on are the Rotary Club 21's youth services committee and the advisory council for the Inland Northwest Lighthouse for the Blind's fund-raising committee.

Second MacKenzie River Pizza will be in the Moran Prairie area; will hire 70


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Montana based Glacier Restaurant Group announced it will build a second MacKenzie River Pizza location at the corner of 57th and Regal, in Spokane.

It's going into the spot vacated by Hollywood Video on that corner.

Last year the company said it would put in a first MacKenzie River Pizza at a location near Jay and Nevada, in North Spokane. That first store is due to open later in June.

The new location is expected to open this fall. A company spokesman said it will employ about 70 workers. It will have 5,800 square feet.

Company COO Brad Ridgeway said the Hamilton, Mont.-based chain selected the Moran Prairie area for its second MacKenzie site because of retail mix and growing population.

The chain has 13 pizza operations in Montana and Idaho, including one shop in Coeur d'Alene.

Report saying SprayCool ‘out of business’ wrong; company humming in Liberty Lake

Reports that Liberty Lake company SprayCool is shut down or out of business are wrong.

Some local blogger ran a comment back in April stating that “Isothermal Systems Research (aka SprayCool) of Liberty Lake is out of business. At their peak, they employed up to 250 people.”

Not accurate. The blogger (who writes anonymously) didn't cite his source, but it had to have been a Spokane Journal of Business item back in late March noting that Isothermal Systems Research shut down as a corporation. ISR was the founding entity that eventually became SprayCool. The JOB story made clear the act had nothing to do with SprayCool.

SprayCool was acquired more than a year ago by Parker Aerospace. Our story is here. Its main products are high-end cooling chassis and enclosures used to protect electronic components in vehicles and aircraft.

SprayCool continues to operate and is doing fine, said Parker spokesperson Alison Dittmeier. The confusion may have resulted from the Parker purchase, which must have explicitly excluded acquiring the ISR name or other ISR-specific assets.

SprayCool had more than 200 workers at one time. Today the workforce in Liberty Lake numbers around 40, though Dittmeier did not disclose the number.

State robocalls urge jobless to use WorkSource

The 50,000  unemployed Washington workers no longer receiving benefits are getting robocall reminders that free help with job searches is available at WorkSource offices.

The Washington Employment Security Department today said the 30-second calls are a cost-effective way of reaching those who have been without work for more than 99 weeks, as well as the 3,000 more who lose their benefits each month.

Spokesman Bill Tarrow said the department does not have the staff to make that many calls.

A 2009 department study showed WorkSource clients returned to work sooner, and with better pay, than workers who did not use the service.

ESD will also begin calling unemployed workers in Whatcom and Skagit county with fewer than 20 weeks of benefits left.

Tarrow said the department hopes to get those workers back on the job before they run out of benefits. If effective, the program will be expanded, he said.

“If someone has been unemployed for more than a year, there propbably are barriers that the individual can't overcome alone,” said C.J. Seitz, the ESD area director for northwest Washington.

“WorkSource staff can provide job-search expertise and a positive outlook that can make all the difference,” he said.

Last year, the state paid $4.6 billion in benefits to more than 500,000 jobless workers.

Spokane’s Kimmel lands in Redmond; is lacrosse the next big thing?

Spokane’s Kimmel Athletic Supply has acquired a Redmond sports gear firm and will use that location as its West Side base, company president Bill Davis said.

The company has retail stores in Coeur d’Alene, Yakima and in Spokane, and has had sales staff in the Puget Sound area for nearly two years. The acquisition adds 23 workers and brings the company headcount to more than 120.

“The size of the population there (in the Puget Sound area) is just so large that we have to be there,” Davis said.

Kimmel bought only the assets and inventory of Redmond-based Athletic Supply LLC. Davis would not disclose terms. Kimmel did not buy the building, he said.

A West Side location helps the company spot developing team-sport trends, he said. Lacrosse has picked up notably in the Redmond, Bellevue and Bothell areas, even though it’s not a large share of total company revenue, he said.

As a result of that interest, Kimmel now carries more lacrosse equipment in Spokane and is slowly seeing a spike in interest for that team sport, Davis said.

“When customers start looking (for lacrosse gear), we want to be the place for them,” he said.

In addition to team sports equipment, Kimmel also designs and sells custom corporate logos and company-branded clothing. “That was close to 15 percent of our business in 2007,” Davis said. That segment sagged during the recession, but is showing signs of rebound, he added.

“Where a company used to order 1,000 T-shirts, they cut back to about 100 recently,” he said. “Now they’re starting to order more.”

The Redmond store is a sizable 8,000 square feet. That is almost four times the size of the Spokane store at 202 E. Mission. Its other stores, in Yakima and Coeur d’Alene, measure 3,000 and 1,800 square feet.

Average Spokane home price up, median slips

The average price of a Spokane home sold in April increased from March but remained below the level of a year ago. The median price fell slightly.

On the 332 homes sold, the average price was $166,686, compared with $179,907 a year ago. The median was $163,000, compared with $153,157.

The average and median prices in March were $162,187 and $154,000, respectively.

Sales volume was significantly below that for April 2010, 332 compared with 507. A year ago, buyers were rushing to take advantage of an expiring tax credit for new home buyers.

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory to move into River Park Square

The spot in River Park Square last used by Godiva Chocolatier will be taken over by another chocolate franchise.

Rachelle and Aaron Blackmer, who run one Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store on Sullivan Road in the Valley, will open their second area franchise inside River Park Square on or about May 20. Godiva closed down in January.

The couple has been in the Valley for more than two years. They'll fill the spot under the escalator on the main floor. They expect to have five employees, said Rachelle Blackmer.

About 60 percent of the items they sell they make themselves; the rest is provided by Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory's main office.

Big sellers are the 30 or so different flavor caramel apples. The No. 2 top seller is dipped strawberries.

Fudge and other confections will also be sold.

RPS is owned by the Cowles Co. The Spokesman-Review is an affiliate of Cowles Co.

Ross Dress for Less is moving forward, slower than expected

Last year the managers of the South Hill Manito Center said  a new Ross Dress for Less store would open this summer, taking over the large, empty former Gottshalks building.

Now the plan is to open the store before the start of the back-to-school shopping season. Ross is a clothing retailer and wants to take advantage of that buying season.

That plan was slowed down for two reasons. Removal of asbestos took longer than expected, after crews came into the building and began the first stages of demolition.

And the store design process was extended due ongoing discussions between Ross corporate officials and the architecture team, Spokane's Bernardo Wills.

John Bennett, the president of manager Black Realty Management, said the asbestos removal added “maybe just two weeks” more to the conversion timeline.

The design review process was a larger factor in the delay, Bennett said. “They (Ross Stores) are very involved in the design review,” he said.

Vandervert Construction is handling the demolition and preparation of the Ross portion of the building. Bennett said the plan is to hand over the building to Ross by the end of August. An opening date by Ross has not been set, and efforts to get more information from Ross Dress for Less have not succeeded.

Costco tops Fortune 500 list in Northwest

Seven Washington-based companies and one in Idaho are on this year's Fortune 500 list.

The Washington state firms, along with their rank and revenues, are:

25. Costco Wholesale, Issaquah: $71.4 billion

36. Microsoft, Redmond: $58.4 billion

100. Amazon.com, Seattle: $24.5 billion

241. Starbucks, Seattle: $9.8 billion

270. Nordstrom, Seattle: $8.6 billion

282. PACCAR, Bellevue: $8.1 billion

379. Weyerhaeuser, Federal Way: $5.5 billion

(PACCAR makes trucks for Kenworth, Peterbilt and DAF)

And in Idaho, Micron Technology in Boise ranked 432 with $4.8 billion in revenues.

Oregon has two companies on the list:

124. Nike, Beaverton: $19.1 billion

325: Precision Castparts, Portland: $6.9 billion

There are no Fortune 500 companies based in Montana or Alaska.

Avista reports strong first quarter

Avista Corp. reported net income of $41.9 million, or 73 cents per share, for the first quarter of 2011, compared to $28.8 million, or 52 cents per share, for the first quarter of 2010.

Chairman and CEO Scott Morris attributed the earnings increase to colder, wetter weather during the first quarter, compared to 2010, which was one of the warmest January to March periods on record for the utility’s service territory.

“Weather conditions in the first quarter of 2011 were slightly colder than average with precipitation, snowpack and streamflows well above average. This resulted in a significant increase in retail loads and hydroelectric generation as compared to the prior year, which increased operating revenues and reduced our power supply costs,” he said in a statement.

Retail energy demand was slightly higher than the utility expected, he said. General rate increases that went into effect since October also helped the company’s bottom line, Morris said.

However, Avista is still not earning the rate of return authorized by state utility commissions, he said. Morris said the utility is continuing to lag in the recovery of capital investments and increased operating costs. As a result, Avista plans to file a general rate case in Washington during the second quarter and continues to evaluate rate case plans for Idaho.

Red Lion earnings flat

Red Lion Hotels Corp. today reported first-quarter results that mirrored those for the same period in 2010.

Total revenue was $34.27 million, compared with $34.3 million a year ago.

The net loss for the period was $4.8 million, or 25 cents per share, a decline of almost 13 percent compared the $4.2 million, 23 cent-per-share loss for the 2010 period.

The occupancy rate for its 44 owner and affiliated hotels was identical for the two periods at 48.2 percent, with an increase in casual travelers offsetting a slight downturn in business traffic.

Clearwater Paper net sales rise 41 percent

Clearwater Paper Corp. today reported first-quarter earnings, including a 41 percent increase in sales as the Spokane company melded newly-acquired Cellu Tissue Holdings Inc.'s operation into its results.

Net earnings were $5.6 million, or 47 cents per share, compared with $500,000, or four cents per share, for the 2010 quarter.

Results for both quarters were affected by tax- and pre-tax chanrges related to maintenance costs and health care reform legislation. Before allowances for taxes, interest costs, and depreciation and amortization, first-quarter earnings were $41.7 million, compared with $22.4 million for the 2010 quarter.

“As a result of the integration, we expect synergies to partially offset some of the higher pulp and transportation costs we have been experiencing in our tissue business,” said Chairman Gordon Jones, who added Clearwater would be raising tissue prices to partially offset the cost increaes.

Clearwater's purchase of Cellu Tissue closed Dec. 27.

   

Gravity Jack signs a deal to share code with Seattle firm ARToolkit

Liberty Lake app developer Gravity Jack has announced a recent deal with Seattle company ARToolworks.

Gravity Jack, which was launched in 2009, will license its technology so ARToolworks can add it to a software development kit.

A quote from Gravity Jack CEO Luke Richey, found on a Seattle website, read: “The business implications and application development possibilities are mind-blowing.”

“For companies that are bleeding edge enough to envision the possible applications of augmented reality iOS Development and Android AppDevelopment, this partnership will allow us to make those visions a reality,” he was quoted saying.

Both companies are working on projects related to Augmented Reality, the use of computer software to provide layers of information that supplement maps, photos or device-based explorations of cities, malls or locations.

Red Lion sells Seattle hotel

Red Lion Hotels Corp. will sell its Hotel on Fifth Avenue in Seattle to an affiliate of Lowe Enterprises for $71 million, the Spokane-based hospitality company said today.

The deal, expected for close this quarter, will maintain the Red Lion brand on the 297-room property, but Lowe subsidiary Destination Hotels & Resorts will  take over management responsibilities.

The agreement also provides for cross-promotion of Red Lion and Destination hotels.

Red Lion announced in January it would sell the Seattle property, preferrably to an owner who would retain the brand.

“This is exactly the type of agreement we were targeting,” said Red Lion President Jon Eliassen, noting the deal will strengthen the company's balance sheet.

Red Lion will announce its earnings Thursday.

Destination Hotels operates more than 7,000 hotel and condominium rooms.

‘Rich Dad’ sessions trigger alert by regional Better Business Bureau

The Eastern Washington, North Idaho, Montana Better Busines Bureau sent out a warning related to ads by a company offering “Rich Dad” financial training sessions in Kennewick and in Spokane this week.

The BBB email specifically notes that the company, RichDad Education, has earned an “F” rating with the BBB back in its home state of Florida. That score results from failure to respond to complaints and questions.

The BBB's release and further information on the company is at this link.

Tuesday graphic: slide of Washington GDP vs. the West vs. the U.S.

This graphic works well with the item below, which looks at the 2008-2009 slight increase in Spokane County's total personal income.

This chart shows the historic rate of Washington's gross domestic product per capita, through 2009, measured against the GDP of the United States and the Far Western states as a whole.

In 2009, per capita real GDP for Washington was $45,881, which was 10.2 percent more than the U.S. per capita real GDP.  Washington per capita real GDP declined 3.1 percent from the previous year.

As the chart illustrates, the West did better than Washington, and both surpassed the rest of the country significantly. Notable: in 2002 the Western states (solid gold line above) overtook Washington's GDP and has not relinquished the lead since. The Far West states are the top line in this graphic;  U.S. data is the broken yellow line on the bottom.

Spokane County’s total personal income: A 2009 graphic shows some modest gains

The Bureau of Economic Analysis does periodic snapshots of counties and states, using the best numbers it can digest. It just released some per-capita incomes for counties across the U.S., going back to 2009.

The notable and interesting tidbit, relative to Spokane, is that Spokane had total personal income in 2009 of $16.2 billion, placing it fourth in the state and accounting for 5.7 percent of the state total.

In 1999, by comparison, Spokane's TPI was $10.2 billion, also fourth in Washington at the time. That was a 4.8 percent gain over 10 years, which exactly matched Washington state's growth over the same period.

Also notable: from 2008 to 2009, while nearly the rest of the country saw a decline in total personal income, Spokane's number actually grew by .8 percent in that one year. Across Washington as a whole the drop in TPI was 0.5 percent from 2008 to 2009.

So something positive was happening, but it was relatively tiny. Digging a bit deeper, the BEA stats (at this link) show that the gain in 2009 was not wage-related.

2008-2009 percent change
  Spokane Washington U.S.
Net earnings - 2.3 % - 2.6 % - 4.0 %
Dividends, interest, and rent - 3.8 % - 4.9 % - 5.9 %
Personal current transfer receipts 15.5 % 17.4 % 13.4 %

As this chart shows, the major gain in those 12 months was the increase in countywide transfer receipts. Which are pensions, social security payments, welfare disbursements and subsidies for businesses.  If there's any comfort in the numbers, it's that Spokane didn't face the same wage losses as the U.S. and Washington as a whole did between 2008 and 2009.

Footnote: TPI is the broad number that encompasses all forms of income, including wages, dividends, rents, and transfer payments (including primarily pension and welfare payments). It excludes corporate revenue.

One economic indicator shows some upbeat progress

Happy happy?For reasons having to do with an uplift in “good news,”  the Dow Jones Economic Sentiment Indicator popped upward in April, wiping out the decline it measured in March.

Back in February, the index — which tries to measure upbeat or positive economic news — was 46.5.

In March it slumped to 43.2.

April's count was 46.6.  The numbers in March may have reflected bad news related to the tsunami and devastation in Japan.

ESI's numbers are calculated by in-depth “mood” analysis of national news coverage across 15 daily newspapers. It is reported on a scale of 0 to 100; the higher the number, the more positive the publication sentitment, the higher the number.

As stated by a news release from Dow-Jones: “This indicator is calculated through Dow Jones Insight, a media tracking and analysis tool. The technology used for the ESI also powers Dow Jones Lexicon, a proprietary dictionary that allows traders and analysts to determine sentiment, frequency and other relevant complex patterns within news to develop predictive trading strategies.”

Valley employer among award semifinalists

Western Systems & Fabrication Inc. is among three Washington state semifinalists for the 2011 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Award.

The award given to 15 companies each year recognizes employers for their support of National Guard and Reserve members.

They may support their deployed employees by supplementing military wages, maintaining benefts, or sending care packages.

The other Washington semifinalists are Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air, Seattle, and the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Western Systems is located in Spokane Valley.

Service members nominated 4,049 companies, with 148 becoming semifinalists. That number will be cut to 30, then the final 15, who will be named later this month. 

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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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