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Archive for November 2011

Army extends its contract with Next IT for “Sgt. STAR”

U.S. Army officials have re-upped their commitment to Sgt. STAR, the tech “virtual assistant” developed by Spokane's Next IT.

The Sgt. STAR tool on provides an automated, conversational set of answers to many questions raised by people looking at joining the service.
The Army first began using Sgt. STAR in 2006. The company also has virtual assistant deals with a number of airlines and firms in the financial services sector.

Good news from Boeing: 737 MAX is a made-in-Washington product

Today's major announcement has been the one by Boeing to base future production of the 737 MAX in Washington state. It will be in Renton, where Boeing already makes the 737. The new MAX is more fuel efficient.

Area officials believe Spokane can get a piece of the action. See our daily report here.

For a Twitter stream of web stories on the MAX decision, we decided to add it here.

GSI topic: Spokane’s role in aerospace industry

Spokane's role in building the regional aerospace industry will be discussed Wednesday morning at an event sponsored by Greater Spokane Incorporated.

Members of the Washington Aerospace Partnership and the Spokane Aerospace Initiative for Recruitment Team also will present information from the recent Washington State Competitiveness Report.

It begins at 10:30 a.m. at Greater Spokane Incorporated, 801 West Riverside Ave., Suite 100.

Idaho’s job vacancy rate remains low

Idaho's latest job vacancy survey confirms the state’s current labor market is still tight, but there are more new jobs being created now than a year ago, the Idaho Department of Labor said today.

The Idaho 2011 Job Vacancy Survey found 1.7 vacant jobs for every 100 filled jobs, a rate of 1.7 percent for total vacancies statewide of just over 10,000. That compared to a rate of 1.8 percent in the 2010 vacancy survey, for about 500 additional openings, the agency said in a news release.

But four of every 10 vacancies were for newly created jobs this year. That was nearly double the number last year, suggesting employers are beginning to expand payrolls following the worst recession since World War II.

The survey results are based on responses in May through mid-June from about 3,100 of Idaho’s 54,000 businesses, which averaged 609,000 jobs during the spring quarter.

Clearwater Paper completes Lewiston sawmill sale

Clearwater Paper Corp. has completed the sale of its Lewiston sawmill to Idaho Forest Group of Coeur d'Alene.

The $30 million transaction included the sawmill, planer mill, dry kilns, and related assets along with log and finished goods inventories and timber under contract.

As part of the sale, the two companies have entered into a long-term fiber supply agreement with the goal of delivering consistent supplies of chips and sawdust to Clearwater Paper's Lewiston pulp mill from Idaho Forest Group mills.

Spokane County jobless rate 8.3% in October

Seasonal hiring of educators and retail workers helped push Spokane County’s unemployment rate down last month. It fell to 8.3 percent in October, down from September’s revised rate of 8.4 percent.

It’s the lowest rate so far this year but remains high than in October 2010, when unemployment was 8.1 percent. There were about 5,000 more jobs here one year ago, said Doug Tweedy, regional economist for the state Employment Security Department.

October typically has the highest employment rate of the year as schools bring on teachers and staff, and as stores get ready for the holiday shopping season. The local economy supports about 25,000 retail jobs, which is up 280 jobs over last October.

But the public sector continues to be a drag on the economy due to federal, state and local government layoffs – a trend that will persist into 2012, Tweedy said.

“We’re still making up for lost jobs over the year,” he said.

Private employers, however, have added about 800 jobs this year in Spokane County. The bulk of those have been in the manufacturing and health care sectors.

Another positive sign is that initial claims for unemployment benefits are down to 2007 levels, which tweedy said can be a leading indicator of job growth.

Statewide, unemployment in October was at 8.3 percent, down from 8.8 percent in October 2010.

Bank profits rise

Banks netted a $35.3 billion profit during the third quarter of this year, the FDIC noted today.

Better loans and fewer losses from struggling borrowers helped the commercial banks and savings institutions insured by the FDIC.

The third-quarter profits were an $11.5 billion improvement over the same period last year.

Banks have risen since the financial collapse, but an economic recovery still requires work.

Martin Gruenberg, the FDIC’s acting chairman said: “Ongoing distress in real estate markets and slow growth in jobs and incomes continue to pose risks to credit quality. The U.S. economic outlook is also clouded by uncertainties in the global economy by volatility in financial markets.

“So even as the banking industry recovers, the FDIC remains vigilant for new economic challenges that could lie ahead.”

Perhaps Gov. Christine Gregoire has noticed this uptick on the balance sheets of banks, as she proposed higher tax rates on financial institutions with windfall profits. She believes such a move could bring $53.8 million in new state revenues.

Gregoire’s other tax proposals

Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed half-penny sales tax increase got plenty of attention Monday, but she also rolled out more than $340 million in additional tax plans she wants lawmakers to consider.

Among them are increased business and occupation tax rates on windfall profits earned in the oil and financial industries to a new luxury tax on automobiles with pricetags over $50,000. Gregoire also suggests imposing additional reporting requirements on local building permits to help crack down on tax-evading subcontractors. Most of the proposals would require an almost-impossible-to-achieve two-thirds supermajority in each legislative chamber, but about $59 million in new revenue could be achieved by simple majority because Gregoire contends it would involve fees and slight policy adjustments.

Gregoire submitted an all-cuts spending plan to balance the state's current budget, which is suffering from an estimated $2 billion shortfall that's forcing lawmakers back to Olympia next week for a special session. But she's also hoping the Legislature and taxpayers will agree to ease the deep cuts in in education and other services by increasing taxes.

A look at the sales tax plan is in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review and can be found at the above link or here.

Click here for the full descriptions of the additional tax proposals that Gregoire supplied lawmakers. Here's a summary, including the amount of projected revenue each would raise during the 2013 fiscal year:

Section One involves proposals Gregoire believes could be approved by simple majority of the Legislature.

  • Convert securities reported as unclaimed property immediately upon receipt ($50.6 million).
  • Require local governments that issue building permits to supply subcontractor
    information to the Department of Revenue ($2.6 million).
  • Reduce the time to claim an excise tax refund to four years ($2.1 million).
  • Increase the interest rate on excise tax assessments by 2% to equal the federal shortterm
    rate plus 4% ($1.2 million).
  • Prohibit delinquent taxpayers from renewing liquor licenses ($1 million).
  • Impose a $10 fee per invoice issued to a taxpayer for unpaid taxes such as balance due
    notices, assessments, warrants, etc. ($900,000).
  • Impose a $25 fee for the issuance and renewal of reseller permits ($700,000).

Section Two involves proposals Gregoire believe would require a two-thirds supermajority.

  • Increase business and occupation (B&O) tax rate on oil companies with windfall
    profits ($131 million).
  • Increase B&O tax rate on financial institutions with windfall profits ($53.8 million).
  • Repeal sales tax exemption for purchases made by nonresidents from states with
    a sales tax of less than 3% ($23.4 million).
  • Limit the B&O tax deduction for first mortgage interest to community banks, defined as those with branches in 10 or fewer states ($18.1 million).
  • Impose 5% luxury tax on passenger motor vehicles with pricetags over $50,000 ($14.2 million).
  • Impose 1.5% gross receipts tax on gambling and lottery winnings ($13.1 million).
  • Increase the cigarette tax 25 cents from $3.025 to $3.275 ($12.4 million).
  • Impose public utility taxes (PUT) on developmental disabilities supported living
    services at 5.029% to help leverage more federal money ($11.6 million).
  • Close B&O tax loophole that allows companies to create shell corporations outside
    the state to reduce their Washington tax liability ($3.5 million).
  • Limit B&O tax preferences for meat processors, fruit and vegetable processors (900,000).
  • Close B&O tax loophole that allows out-of-state printers to sell into Washington
    without paying B&O tax (114,000).

Spokane’s King Beverage to buy west side distributorship

Spokane-based King Beverage will expand to Seattle-area markets with the acquisition of longtime Renton, Wash., distributorship K&L Beverage in January, according to a story by Melissa Allison in The Seattle Times today.

K&L employs about 215, the story says. King Beverage CEO Ted Rusnak couldn't be reached for comment on how many of those employees might be retained, but it noted that King Beverage doesn't have a Seattle-area operation and will need a warehouse, drivers, salesmen and other workers on the west side of the state.

King Beverage — formerly B&B Distributors — sells and distributes Budweiser products. The company has been one a growth path over the last decade, expanding to Yakima, the Tri-Cities, Ellensburg, Pullman, Walla Walla, Lewiston and Clarkston.


Read the story:

Walmart to hire 170 for new Moscow store

Walmart plans to hire about 170 people to work at a new store opening this fall in Moscow. The retailer has opened a temporary hiring center at 672 W. Pullman Road in Moscow.

The hiring center will take applications 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Applicants also can apply online at

Walmart will hire full- and part-time associates in all areas of the new store, including supervisory positions, store manager Helena Probasco said.

Most new hires will begin in December to help prepare for the store's opening in January.

The David Condon Twitter stream

You like Twitter streams, right?

So we're going to run this stream over the weekend: the David Condon stream.

Anyone tweeting about Mayor-Elect David will land on the stream and you'll get a chance to comment, reply, do nothing if that's your choice.

Have a good weekend, Spokane and Idaho!

Freebie Friday: Free copy of ‘Cloud Computing For Startups’ from LaunchAny

Freebie Friday has just landed:

Today's free ebook download is a copy of “Cloud Computing For Startups.” It's provided by the web services consulting group LaunchAny.

Download the 25-pager for free here.

Holiday kiosk in River Park Square features EWU items and keepsakes

Starting this week and running through Jan. 1, Eastern Washington University Foundation is running a kiosk in River Park Square to sell Eagles items.

The third floor kiosk features  sweatshirts, sweatpants, youth T-shirts, infant items, license plate frames, and other items.
“Our alumni and fans have asked us for more accessibility to EWU gear,” said Mike Westfall, executive director of the EWU Foundation.
The kiosk will operate Monday through Saturday.

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

Slight drop in Idaho joblessness

Employers across Idaho’s economy maintained payrolls at higher levels than typical for October, pushing Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate down another two-tenths of a point to 8.8 percent, the lowest level in nearly two years.

It was the second straight month that Idaho’s jobless rate has been below the national rate, which fell just a tenth of a point to 9 percent. Unemployment in Idaho has declined six-tenths of a percentage point in the last three months and eight-tenths from the record 9.7 percent in December through March.

The number of workers with jobs rose 2,300 from September to 692,700. It was the second largest one-month employment increase since November 2006. The largest was 3,200 in April during an economic growth spurt that sputtered as summer arrived.

Kootenai County, which has had unemployment in double digits for more than a year, posted substantial declines to fall below 11 percent in October.

Washington jobless rate falls to 9 percent

OLYMPIA — Washington’s jobless rate has dropped to 9 percent — the lowest since March 2009, according to figures released today by the state Employment Security Department.

The October rate compares with a revised figure of 9.2 percent for September and 9.4 percent in October of last year in the state, the Associated Press reported. The national jobless rate also is 9 percent.   

With 4,600 jobs added in October in Washington, the department says the state has added jobs in 12 of the last 13 months.  

A loss of 18,000 jobs reported in September was revised to a loss of 10,700 jobs.  

“The October numbers showing slow, steady improvement are more consistent with what we’ve seen for more than a year,” said Dave Wallace, a department economist.  “It looks more likely that the September numbers were an anomaly.”  

Jobs were added in October in government, wholesale trade, education and health services and manufacturing. Jobs were lost in professional and business services, transportation, warehousing and utilities, and retail trade.

United Airlines will start using Next IT’s virtual customer agent next year

Spokane based tech company Next IT announced Thursday United Airlines will start using its virtual customer agent online next year.

The company has developed similar products for Alaska Airlines and for Continental Airlines.

Alaska's personalized question-answer agent lets fliers and passengers query “Jenn” which then provides short answers on schedules, ticket prices and fares. Continental's agent is branded “Alex.”

Next IT spokeswoman Jennifer Snell said United will deploy the agent in 2012 and has not revealed its brand name.

At this point, none of the airlines is offering a mobile-specific app that incorporates the Next IT agent, she said. Airlines do have apps that provide quick responses on flight information and other related matters.

One of the first agents Next IT developed was the “Sgt. Star” tool that has been used on the recruiting site.

AARP’s Get Connected event for seniors gives online tips on social networking

Presentations by Microsoft and a well-known how-to author are part of a Dec. 1 session in Spokane on how seniors can use the Web more safely and explore social networking.

Washington state AARP and Microsoft Corp. are hosting the Get Connected session that runs from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at  the Spokane Convention Center.
The free event requires registration, and space is limited.
Gary Moulton, a Microsoft specialist in online access, and Marsha Collier, author of several books including “Facebook and Twitter for Seniors for Dummies,”  will also be on the program.
To register or get more information, go to or call toll-free 1-877-926-8300. 
This is the second such event hosted by Microsoft with the AARP. The first one, earlier this year in Redmond, sold out.

Starbucks is closing some New York City public restrooms, due to heavy use

Starbucks is a very generous company, even during the holiday season (especially in the holiday season).

But generosity has its limits.

The Seattle-based coffee retailer said it's closing some of its bathrooms in many of its Manhattan stores.

The New York Post flushed out the story, noting “When you gotta go, don’t count on going at Starbucks.”

Its story noted the company is closing bathrooms because many of its workers are having to wait in line since customers are using the johns. The solution is converting public bathrooms to employee-only rooms.

Some Starbucks won't make the shift, leaving users or out-of-towners with a guessing game to find stores with a public restroom.
The Post also said it tried to get a comment from Starbucks headquarters but was unsuccessful.

GSI’s forecasters predict tepid 2012 and more of the same

Economists told some 700 people attending Greater Spokane Inc.’s regional economic forecast Tuesday morning that this year has been worse than they initially anticipated and that next year holds little promise of a roaring comeback.

In other words, hang on for another very tepid 2012, economically speaking.

The two guest forecasters were John W. Mitchell and Grant Forsyth, of Eastern Washington University.
To read John Stucke's story, visit this link at


Postal Service here says get your own tape, ours isn’t free anymore

Postal Service employees have been given the word:  No more free tape left on retail counters.

Certainly you have to hope even this little bit of savings will make a difference, at a time when the  U.S. Postal Service is looking at losses of at least $10$5 billion in fiscal 2011.

The flyer here, handed out internally to downtown Spokane postal workers, lays out the rules. It sums up the new harsh reality of No More Free Tape. Customers won't find rolls of tape to use on packages or containers. In other words: buy your own, or buy tape from the post office.

Another sign of the new hard reality: The Postal Service is giving customers notice they should return any stolen items.

A Nov. 11 Washington Post story noted: Starting Saturday, the cash-strapped delivery service said, it is giving customers two weeks to return stolen equipment, no questions asked.

The USPS spent nearly $50 million last year replacing equipment that was stolen or inadvertently taken and never returned by customers, officials said this week, labeling such thefts “a serious issue.”

“We are in a financial crisis and simply cannot afford this type of unnecessary expense,” said David Williams, vice president of USPS network operations. “The equipment is federal property, and we want it back.”

CFA of Spokane hosting third annual NW Investment Forum Tuesday afternoon

There's another major business event happening Tuesday in downtown Spokane: the third annual Northwest Investment Forum hosted by the Spokane chapter of Certified Public Accountants.

The afternoon lineup at The Davenport Hotel features:

  • Noon: Keynoter Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist for Wells Capital Management.
  • 1:45 p.m.-2:45 p.m. Northwest Bank Panel.
  • 3-4 p.m, Equity market outlook panel featuring Ken Roberts of Roberts Investment, Craig Hart of Hart Capital Management, and Jim Simmons of ICM Asset Management.

For members it will cost $30; for non-members, $65 at the door. It counts as CPE credits if you need them.

For information, contact Colin Kelly, at 509 789-8973 or at

GSI offers its 14th annual economic forecast breakfast with Mitchell, Forsyth

Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI) will host its annual Economic Forecast on Tuesday from 7:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m. at the Spokane Convention Center's Integra Telecom Ballroom.


The poet-prognosticator John W. Mitchell will be hand, as well as Dr. Grant Forsyth, professor of economics at Eastern Washington University. Both will lay out the roadmap for the next economic year.


Registration for the public is $50 at

GU professor will read from his book on notable entrepreneurs

A new book on entrepreneurs by Gonzaga University's Todd Finkle includes lessons drawn from Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin and Warren Buffett.

Finkle is GU's Pigott Professor in Entrepreneurship. He recently arranged a trip by GU business and Hogan Program students to meet with Buffeet in Omaha.

Finkle's new book is “Lessons Learned from Leading Entrepreneurs: Case Studies in Business and Entrepreneurship.”

He'll read from the book on Saturday Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. at Auntie's Bookstore, in downtown Spokane.


Day after Black Friday is being called Small (is Beautiful) Business Saturday

Expert Author Laurie BrownSmall businesses who are trying to gain advantages during the coming holiday season are being urged to reate a party atmosphere, especially during the Black Friday weekend.

A number of retail experts are making their suggestions known, advising small business owners to think creative, think friendly, think social media this coming season.

The usual suggestions are back:  Offer treats your store would not normally offer customers, such as cookies, hot cider or even a cup of cocoa. Offer free wrapping, or make extra efforts to find an item a customer can't find in one's own store.

Since social is the buzz term, advisers also say use Facebook and Twitter to connect to customers with updates on merchandise, especially including unique items and great deals.

Laurie Brown, considered a “customer service expert,” urges small businesses to really push their message to their community.

Brown says Small Business Saturday — a sponsored event that some retailers should become an ongoing effort for the day after Black Friday — is an opportunity to shine, and in doing so making an impression and hopefully a customer, in the local community, for life.

Downtown Spokane post office will not relocate, as earlier planned

View Larger Map

The downtown Spokane (Riverside Avenue) post office will not relocate in 2012.

We have the story at, and we're still trying to nail down suggested reasons for the about-face.

In August the USPS announced the station, at 801 W. Riverside, would close in 2012 and relocate to a smaller location in downtown.  That plan was reversed for reasons not fully disclosed by the USPS.

The decision doesn't affect plans by the Seattle USPS district office to sublease about 24,000 square feet of space on upper floors of the Crescent Court building on Main. That effort is continuing, but hasn't landed a new tenant.


Two historic downtown Spokane building renovations nearly done

View Larger Map

Restoration and renovation are more than halfway done at two downtown Spokane buildings, including the former Empire State Building.

Part of the work at the Great Western Building, at 905 W. Riverside, includes renaming it the Empire State Building, the structure’s original designation. Built in 1900, it’s was called the city’s first fireproof structure. In recent years it's been known as the Great Western Building, at the corner of Lincoln and Riverside. 

Work includes removing the stucco sign band façade above the first floor and exposing the original “Empire State” name. You can see the stucco and sign facade in the Google Maps view above (if it displays properly for you).

Goebel Construction is the contractor with architectural help by Patsy O'Connor.

A new skylight has also been installed, said Alicia Barbieri. Both projects are overseen by Goodale & Barbieri Co.

The Michaels Building, one block away at 828 W. Sprague, is completing interior and exterior work. It was first called the Germond Block Building. The top three floors have been converted from apartments to offices, with final plans depending on tenants.

Goodale and Barbieri owns the Great Western Building; the Diamond Family owns the Michaels.

No renovation costs were provided by the two firms.

Spalding Auto Parts to open a north side Pull and Save next week in Mead

Spalding Auto Parts, the largest new/used vehicle-parts seller around, will open a North Spokane location next week. It will be generally identical in operation to the  Pull and Save Spalding has operated in the Spokane Valley, not far from the Spalding main yard.

Our full story appears in Friday's Spokesman-Review business section, and at

The firm will have 24 fulltime employees at the Mead site, which is going in on 22 acres once owned by the Kaiser Mead operation.

This photo shows the Spalding's lot along I90; it's not the Mead site.

Condon, Verner, Hession, Stuckart … all due to appear tonight in Hillyard

Thank you, Greater Hillyard Business Association. The business group planned a “Connect with the Electeds” meeting for this evening (Thursday) starting around 6 p.m. at the Inland NW Wildlife Council, 6116 N. Market. By odd timing, the event will be bigger and more fun than first expected.

When the association put together the idea (to have local pols discuss issues related to the Northeast District), they were planning to have just the “electeds” who survived the election.

Then some races got too tight to call.  So, tonight's lineup includes some folks who were “almost elected,” as well, said Ken Clouse, the group president.

As of noon today, the lineup includes both current Mayor Mary Verner and apparent Mayor-elect David Condon, Dennis Hession and the guy who defeated him in the race for council president, Ben Stuckart.

Also scheduled to take part in the question-answer session following a dinner are Mike Fagan and Donna McKereghan, also locked in a close election for a Northeast Spokane council seat, and Council Member Amber Waldref.

The event comes with a dinner and beverage, and costs $15 for business association members, $20 for others. To register go to this link.

Simplot closing plants in Nampa and Aberdeen, Idaho; at least 600 jobs to go

Economic news out of southern Idaho: The Simplot Company plans to lay off at least 800 workers at its food processing plants, and the number could be larger depending on other options the company may follow.

The source here is a story today at the Idaho Statesman. 

The nut is: Simplot plans to shut down aging plants in Nampa and Aberdeen, and build a new, more modern plant in Caldwell to replace the plant there. The three plants produce potato nuggets, hash browns and french fries sold to restaurants and through distributors around the world.

“We struggled with this very difficult decision, and we know the closures will have an impact on many of our employees and their families,” CEO Bill Whitacre said.


Read more:

Coldwater Creek clears $1 trading bar, gets ready for Nov. 30 earnings call

A few weeks ago Sandpoint-based clothing retailer Coldwater Creek (CWTR) was facing possibly delisting from the Nasdaq Exchange as its stock price dipped below $1.

Since then the stock has held steady and got to $1.13 last week.

As of market close on Wednesday, Coldwater was trading at $1.14 per share, a slight drop from the day's high of $1.20.

The company is reporting quarterly earnings in two weeks, and will likely discuss marketing and inventory options going into this year's important holiday season.

We have only three words for Coldwater Creek:  hang in there.

Ambassadors Group announces quarterly dividend

Ambassadors Group, Inc., which has its Spokane headquarters near the Spokane Airport, said it will pay a quarterly dividend of six cents per share on Dec. 7.

The company arranges tours and professional travel service for student groups and for professionals.

The dividend will go to all common shareholders of record as of Nov. 23. 

Dry Fly Distilling says it’s too soon to predict outcomes from I-1183

One quick thought when we learned state voters approved the initiative that would privatize liquor sales was how that might affect boutique spirit-maker Dry Fly Distilling, producer of vodka, gin, whiskey and bourbon.

We went out and asked co-founder Don Poffenroth whether removing the state from the taxing and distribution of liquor would be positive or negative for Dry Fly. Would having more outlets change its sale picture? What effect would this have on taxes imposed on sales of spirits?

Don's quick answer: Nothing will change, of course, in the next six months, and not until the actual switch occurs next year.

Over time, the horizon is murky, he said, noting: “(the six months) will give us plenty of time to figure it out! We figured out how to build this, get laws changed, and continue to grow. This (change) won't stop us or slow us down. Too early to figure out how (it) will play out.”

He added: “With 1183, we will pay both taxes and new fees which should be lower than the current taxes and markup. The question will be how we will be allowed to price (our products).”


Washington home sales: good news and some definite bad news

Washington state home sales inched up 0.8 percent at seasonally adjusted annual rates from the first quarter of the year to 85,870 units, according to a report from the Washington Center for Real Estate Research, managed by Washington State University and its director, Glenn Crellin.
The increase is tied to stronger home sales in the third quarter, according to the report.
The 2011 cumulative sales figure is 21.7 percent above the year-ago rate, which Crellin said had been artificially depressed after the expiration of the home purchase tax credit.
The overall picture, he added, was that the state was more or less evenly split between counties reporting increasing activity and those reporting decreasing sales.
Nine urban counties, led by increases of more than 20 percent compared to the 2011 2Q,  saw improving sales.  The biggest quarter-to-quarter decline in urban sales was an 11.7 percent drop in Longview and Cowlitz County.
The 3Q median sales price statewide was $225,300, 9.5 percent below that of one year ago.
This is the largest median price decline since a 13.7 percent drop in 1Q of 2009. Prices have declined year-over-year for the last 15 quarters, with the statewide median now below the third quarter 2004 level – seven years ago.
Crellin must regard that unbroken string as fairly astonishing or depressing, because the original release ended that sentence with an exclamation mark!!

Red Lion Hotels trying to sell properties in Missoula and Medford

Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels Corp. announced they're preparing to sell two of its hotels in Medford and Missoula.

Both hotels were part of a group previously leased from iStar Financial Inc. of New York.

Last week Red Lion purchased the hotels to end the leases. The company said at last week's announcement it would sell some of the hotels and keep others.  Keep in touch to see which other hotels in the group will also go on the for-sale block.

Jon E. Eliassen, president and CEO, said, “We will continue to look for ways to strategically position Red Lion with hotels that fit the brand going forward. Selling these two properties also furthers our effort to restructure our balance sheet, which will give the company more financial flexibility and increase shareholder value.”


Apple isn’t really too keen on letting store workers unionize

Apple's retail stores seem a happy place. Unless you believe in unionizing the workers who toil there, in which case Apple may not be “liking” your Facebook page.

In response to at least one serious effort to create a union for Apple store workers, the Cupertino head office sent out notices this week and asked store managers to take part in a training course today, Tuesday.

A CNET story lays out the key goal of the training: “This course is intended to provide managers with a practical understanding of how unions affect the workplace, how and why employees organize, and the legal do's and don'ts of dealing with unions,” the training description reads. “This is a mandatory class for all new managers, and is required biannually for all managers.”

The posting adds that the course “is a great opportunity to meet our legal team and ask any questions you may have.”
That note suggests this has been an ongoing concern, and that perhaps the effort that started back in May has only mildly reignited the need to make sure managers are on the same corporate page.
Another CNET story noted that a website calling itself posted this explanation: “The group said wages are the big target, as are Apple's break schedules, training opportunities,” and “the selection and hiring process for internal candidates for open positions.”
Photo credit: Apple employees preparing for the launch of the iPhone 4 last year at Apple's flagship store in San Francisco.

(Credit: James Martin/CNET)

US Postal Service lists parcel shipping deadlines for the holidays

Despite the dour forecasts for the U.S. Postal Service, they still do a solid job during the holiday season.

They helpfully notified us of their recommended shipping deadlines for customers sending items domestically; so here they are:

First class mail, cut off date Dec. 20

Priority mail, cut-off date Dec. 21

Express mail, cut-off date Dec. 22

Parcel post, cut-off date Dec. 15 

Sterling to buy Vancouver, Wash.-based bank

Sterling Financial Corporation of Spokane announced this morning that Sterling Savings Bank plans to buy First Independent Bank of Vancouver, Wash., including all deposits and banking operations, 14 branches in southeastern Washington and two offices in Portland. The purchase is expected to be completed early next year, subject to approval by regulators.

“We are pleased to welcome First Independent employees and clients into the Sterling family,” Greg Seibly, president and CEO of Sterling Financial, said in a prepared statement. “First Independent is an important strategic addition for Sterling … (and) provides an attractive opportunity to acquire a healthy community bank franchise within our identified strategic growth footprint along the I-5 corridor.”

Sterling will initially pay $8 million in addition to the net value of the acquired assets and assumed liabilities at the time of closing. Sterling has agreed to pay First Independent an additional premium of up to $17 million over an 18-month period following closing based on the credit performance of the acquired loans and the amount of any reductions in core deposits and wealth management income.

First Independent will retain about $49 million of existing loans and $34 million of other assets identified by Sterling, which Sterling did not seek to acquire. Sterling will assume all of First Independent’s deposits and certain customary obligations relating to its banking business, but no other material liabilities in the transaction.

Inside McKinstry’s building: a video tour of the 1907 electric train repair depot


In addition to the story we ran this week, plus a great slideshow by SR photographer Jesse Tinsley, we produced a quick two-minute video tour of the renovated McKinstry building along the Spokane River.

Colin Mulvany provided additional production tweaking to this video.

Ceremonial but special: Intrinium Networks cuts ribbon for new office

Intrinium Networks' brand new office celebrated an opening open house on Thursday.

Kevin Dudley of GSI came back with a photo of the ceremonial ribbon cutting. 

We certainly salute Intrinium and CEO Nolan Garrett for growing to nearly a dozen workers.

They've located at new offices at 505 N. Argonne Road, Spokane Valley. Check them out.

Northwest Farm Credit reports 3Q profit

Northwest Farm Credit Services, the Northwest’s largest farm lending cooperative, reported a $45.8 million third quarter profit.

Good crop yields and high prices continued to make agriculture a bright spot in an otherwise dull economy.

The results compared to a $41 million profit for the same three-month span in 2010.

Earnings for the first nine months of this year total $117.4 million.

Northwest Farm Credit announced slight increases in loan volumes. The third quarter report also showed the lender had fewer problem loans than last year.

CEO Phil DiPofi said in a press statement that Northwest Farm Credit expected to make a “significant patronage return to our owner-customers in early 2012.”

Northwest Farm Credit offers financing and crop insurance to people and businesses involved in farming, ranching, timber, fishing along with rural homeowners in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

Horizon Credit Union merges with Montana lender

A merger between Horizon Credit Union and Montana First Credit Union has been approved by both credit unions’ boards.

The deal should be closed by the end of the year and give the credit unions extended reach across three states.

Horizon has 38,000 members, 16 branches and assets of $420 million.

Montana First is based in Missoula with two branches, 7,900 members and $60 million in assets. It was established 80 years ago to serve Forest Service employees.

McKinstry renovates downtown historic railroad repair building

This is the first third of our SR business story running tomorrow at

Along with it will be a photo slideshow by Jesse Tinsley (whose shot is featured here), and a video. The print version will appear in Friday's daily editions of The Spokesman-Review.

Several years ago, Dean Allen was driving around Spokane, in search of a site for a company office. He spotted an aging brick building along the banks of the Spokane River just east of downtown, and he decided it had potential.

Allen, the CEO of Seattle-based McKinstry, now says that large building, built in 1907 and originally used as a railroad repair depot, was the best possible choice. It brought together about 90 workers inside a historic building that Allen hopes will become a gathering spot for other creative, innovative companies and startups.

McKinstry, which designs, builds and manages other companies’ properties, has several offices across the Western United States. The firm has operated in Spokane for about 10 years.

But for Allen and others, McKinstry's restored Spokane building is the plum and perfect example of the company’s core values of innovation and historic preservation. The company didn't take the cheap route; they invested more than $20 million in the project.

$600,000 grant to help enroll uninsured teens

A $600,000 federal grant to Spokane’s Health For All program will be used to find and enroll teens who don’t have health insurance.

There are an estimated 40,000 teens in Washington who don’t have health insurance and thus don’t go to the doctor for regular check-ups.

Health For All, a nonprofit agency, expects to enroll or renew 14,000 teens in the Apple Health for Kids program within two years. Apple Health is a low-cost insurance program subsidized through Medicaid.

To find the uninsured teens, Health For All announced it would work with about 100 agencies and groups.

Intrinium Networks hosts an open house at new building this afternoon.

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Spokane-based IT company Intrinium Networks  (not Itrinium) has moved to new offices in Spokane Valley. It's hosting an open house today — Thursday — at the new digs, at 505 N. Argonne Road, Building B.

It starts at 4 p.m. and runs until 8 p.m.

Details can be found at Intrinium's website.

The event has a bunch of giveaways, drawings and assorted fun and games.

If you go, send us a photo and we'll post it here. 

Fourteen Mattress Outlets will switch to new owner, Sleep Country USA

Sleep Country USA has acquired more than 10 Mattress Outlet locations across Eastern Washington and North Idaho, the company announced on Wednesday.

The news announcement, at, explains that the acquisition means 14 stores in Ellensburg, Spokane, Yakima, Wenatchee, Richland, Kennewick, Moses Lake, Lewiston and Coeur d’Alene are now part of the Sleep Country family.

Those stores will reopen later this year. Sleep Country USA is one of the three largest U.S. bed retailers. Its home office is in Kent, Wash.

Ken Mullinax, of Spokane, is the guy who's selling the 14 regional Mattress Outlets.

“We are continually looking for strategic  growth opportunities that allow us to reach new communities,” said Dale Carlsen, CEO of Sleep Country USA. “Acquiring Mattress Outlet enables us to expand rapidly into a brand new region with over a dozen stores,” he said.

Idaho Labor will intercept some federal tax refunds

BOISE – Idaho's Department of Labor will start intercepting federal tax refunds headed to more than 5,000 Idahoans next year, to recover nearly $10 million in unemployment benefit overpayments due to fraud or misreported earnings.

To avoid the move, the people involved, who all are being notified, will have to repay the amounts by Jan. 3, 2012, including interest and penalties; agree to a repayment plan; or request a review. For information, call toll-free (800) 672-5627.

 Department official Larry Ingram said the department has collected $23 million in overpayments, interest and penalties since 2007, and has withheld state income tax refunds as part of its collection efforts, but this year will be the first time federal officials have allowed it to tap into federal income tax refunds.

Avista reports slightly lower earnings

Avista Corp. reported slightly lower third quarter earnings of $10.7 million, or 18 cents per share, this morning, compared to $12.3 million, or 22 cents per share, for the third quarter of 2010.

Through the first nine months of the year, Avista’s income was $75.6 million, or $1.30 per share, compared to $66.7 million, or $1.20 per share for the same period in 2010.

Scott Morris, Avista’s chairman and chief executive officer, said the third quarter earnings were in line with company expectations.

This year’s weather has been cooler than average, with rain, snow and streamflows well above average, he said. As a result, the Spokane-based utility experienced one of the best hydroelectric years on record. Morris said Avista’s customers have benefited from low wholesale prices for electricity, which have been passed onto customers through cost deferrals.

Key Tronic reports earnings for 1Q

Key Tronic, the Spokane Valley contract manufacturer, reported earnings of $1.2 million or 12 cents a share for 1Q of 2012. That's compared with $1.7 million or 17 cents a share one year earlier.

Company executives on Tuesday saluted a very decent quarter, despite the slightly lower earnings from the same quarter of 2011.

The company said quarterly revenue, $69.8 million, was a record. A year ago it was $63.3 million.

Craig Gates, CEO and company president, said in a release, “We achieved the highest quarterly revenue in Key Tronic’s history and continued to diversify our future revenue base by winning new programs involving industrial processing equipment, medical devices, military equipment, educational displays and consumer products.”

Margins were down however, which explained why quarterly earnings fell slightly from a year ago.

Texas challenge: If Boeing adds production, could it be in Spokane?

We should have noted, when posting earlier (Washington and Idaho both fall short...) that area economic development folks know full well that Washington has to compete hard for new businesses.

As the earlier post notes, Texas is the state to beat, and its busy recruiters have managed to convince many companies that they offer a plethora of advantages compared to other states, including tax breaks, land incentives, plus other benefits.

In Tuesday's paper, John Craig's story about the effort to land new business in Spokane County quoted Robin Toth, of Greater Spokane Inc., as saying the challenge of getting Boeing to base airliner production in Spokane will have to go through Texas:

“Spokane’s competition would include Washington cities that already have Boeing plants or possibly Grant County, which has a large runway and cheap electricity. So far, though, Project Pegasus members are focused on beating back other states, such as South Carolina or Texas.
Unencumbered by Washington’s constitutional prohibition on using public money for private gain, 'Texas will write a $50 million check to Boeing,' Toth said.”

Fatbeam provides 2-gigabit fiber links to North Idaho school districts

Both the Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls school districts are ramping up their broadband connections, installing 2-gigabit fiber connections provided by Fatbeam Inc.

Fatbeam, based in Post Falls, signed contracts that average 7.5 years in length and that will total more than $2 million in total revenues.
Both school districts said they were upgrading in order to meet continuing demand for streaming data, video and access to information stored in the cloud.
Until this year, the Coeur d’Alene School District relied on 100-megabit connections at most school facilities. The upgrade provides speeds up to 2 gigabits at district buildings, said Jean Bengfort, IT director of the Coeur d’Alene School District.
Post Falls schools were relying on a wireless network that had reached full capacity, said John Pilmore, the district’s technology coordinator.
Both districts were eligible to use the federal E-Rate program to offset the annual costs. E-Rate money provides discounts on services and products essential for classrooms and libraries to receive voice, video, and data communications.
The amount of the discount depends on the level of poverty and location of the school or library receiving service.
Last school year the Coeur d’Alene District used a different provider and paid roughly $35,000 per year for broadband services, after the E-Rate discount. The contract with Fatbeam raises the cost to about $53,000 per year, after the E-Rate discount.
Fatbeam, in a news release, said it is also adding fiber between Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls.
The goals include added connectivity to the University of Idaho Research Park in Post Falls and a network link to the TierPoint facility in Liberty Lake, which provides data services such as collocation and cloud computing.

Washington and Idaho both fall short in new business-friendly state rankings

Washington government officials sometimes claim they have promoted a favorable business climate. That assertion hasn't always rung true to some business owners, who contend Washington isn't all that friendly for companies considering moving here.

The same assertion can even be made by Idaho business leaders, who can argue the state's income tax isn't a help when recruiting companies.

SiteSelection magazine just published its 2011 list of most business friendly states, based on both objective data and subjective issues such as general sense of cooperation and state support for business.

Washington and Idaho are not to be found in the top 25. We've asked the editor to help us fill in the exact spots the states have in the latest ranking.

The new leader of the pack, by this system of scoring, is now Texas, based on a strong finish in both the objective, data-driven component of the index used to determine the top business climates, and the subjective input supplied by respondents to a survey of site selectors.

Rypien Foundation gives $3 million to Sacred Heart

The Rypien Foundation is giving $3 million to help establish a children’s emergency room within Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center’s emergency department expansion.

 The $18.6 million project will add 24,000 square feet. It serves about 80,000 people a year.

Sacred Heart officials held a groundbreaking ceremony Monday, formally beginning the construction phase, which is scheduled to last about 18 months.

The Rypien foundation was created by Mark Rypien, a former National Football League quarterback who achieved star status by leading the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl victory in 1992. He began the foundation after losing a three-year-old son to cancer.

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

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