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Office Hours

Archive for April 2012

Spokane developer builds web browser that increases privacy

PCWORLD had this write-up on the web browser Spokane's Mike Tigas built for Apple devices. Tigas is also a web developer for The Spokesman-Review.

By Jeremy Kirk, IDG-News-Service:Sydney-Bureau

A new privacy-enhancing web browser aimed at Apple users has steadily risen in popularity in the company's App Store.

The “Onion Browser,” built by Mike Tigas, uses The Onion Router (TOR) network, a system originally built by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory that routes browsing traffic worldwide through a network of servers. The Onion Browser is compatible with iPhones and iPads running iOS 5.0 and higher.

Tigas, a web developer with the The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, Washington, wrote since the application went on sale last week, it hit number one in the rankings for paid utilities for the iPad and iPhone last Thursday and Friday.

The browser is useful for people who want to maintain greater privacy. Web sites visited using the Onion Browser will not see a user's true IP address. Web traffic is also encrypted, which prevents an ISP from recording sites that have been visited, and the traffic usually can pass through firewalls configured to try to block certain content. Since TOR routes traffic through many other servers, web browsing is slower, however.

Read the full article.

Coming Sunday: Q&A with appraiser Sam P. Wood

Sam P. Wood’s career has revolved around the local real-estate market for more than two decades, first as an agent and, since 1996, also as an appraiser. The Lewis and Clark High School and Eastern Washington University graduate describes Spokane as “an island unto itself” where real-estate prices are concerned. Learn what he thinks of the Spokane real estate market today, how he describes what he does for a living, and his take on the role of appraisers in the housing boom and bust.

Read Michael Guilfoil's “Front & Center” profile this weekend in Sunday Business.

Retail sales up in most places, but not in Spokane

Taxable retail sales as well as retail trade fell in Spokane last year, unlike most other metro areas, including its plucky offspring, Spokane Valley.

Taxable sales totaled $3.6 billion in Spokane in 2011, a 1.2 percent dip over 2010, the state Department of Revenue said today.

And retail trade, a component of all taxable sales that includes retailers but excludes other industries, was $1.8 billion in Spokane last year. That's a decline of 2.3 percent over 2010.

The numbers were better elsewhere. Statewide, taxable sales increased 3 percent, and were up 4.2 percent in King County, 5.7 percent in Vancouver and 6.6 percent in Seattle. Sales did dip 0.6 percent in Tacoma and 1 percent in Pierce County.

And despite the slowdown in Spokane, taxable retail sales were up 2.2 percent throughout Spokane County, to $6.9 billion. The retail trade in the county rose 1.4 percent last year, to $3.4 billion.

And that brings us to Spokane Valley: retail sales in 2011 were $1.7 billion, or 5.9 percent higher than the year before. Retail trade there was up 5.3 percent year over year.

In other local cities, taxable retail sales in 2011 were:

Airway Heights: up 2.3 percent

Cheney: up 20 percent

Deer Park: down 9 percent

Liberty Lake: up 10 percent

Medical Lake: up 17 percent

Millwood: up 3 percent

Open House weekend features Kendall Yards townhome, 500 others in area

It's “open house” weekend in Spokane, with Realtors hosting open house events Saturday and Sunday at more than 500 homes on the market.

The event sponsor is Greenstone Homes, which has the “headquarters house” at the development company's Kendall Yards project on the north bank of the Spokane River near downtown. The fully­-staged townhome is at 408 N. Elm St., west of the Maple Street Bridge.

People visiting any of the open houses this weekend can register to win a $1,500 gift certificate from The Tin Roof. The winner will be announced Wednesday.

All of the open houses can be found at spokaneopen.com.

Coeur d’Alene mine to return to full production earlier than planned

Coeur d'Alene Mines Corporation’s Kensington gold mine in Alaska will resume full production ahead of schedule, the Coeur d’Alene-based company announced today.

The company in November announced a temporary reduction in mining and milling activities to allow for completion of several underground and surface projects at Kensington, 45 miles north of Juneau.

The majority of these projects have been completed or are scheduled to be completed by the end of July, Coeur said.

The mine contains 1.3 million ounces of gold in proven and probable reserves, and is expected to produce 82,600 to 86,500 ounces of gold this year.

Coeur d'Alene Mines is the largest U.S.-based primary silver producer and a growing gold producer.

Marketing efforts honored at Spark Awards

Marketing efforts for a farmers market, an Advent calendar, Gonzaga University and a stink bug trap won top prizes in this year’s Spark Awards presented by Spokane MarCom, the regional marketing and communications association.

The awards recognize the best work by local marketing, communications and public relations professionals.

The Brightest Spark Award recipients were:

Advent Calendar website by Gonzaga University (Electronic and Interactive Communications – External Internet Site)

Stink Bug Trap product launch by RESCUE! Pest Control Products (marketing and communications campaigns – external communications)

Liberty Lake Farmers Market social media campaign by Greenstone Homes (electronic and interactive communications – social media)

@Gonzaga by Gonzaga University (electronic and interactive communications – e-zines, e-newsletters, etc.)

The best of show Dussault Award went to RESCUE! For its Stink Bug Trap launch, which the judges said was handled “creatively and smartly.”

More winners can be found here.

Northern Lights Brewing Co. renamed No-Li Brewhouse

Spokane's Northern Lights Brewing Company has been renamed No-Li Brewhouse.

The new venture is headed by Northern Lights founder and head brewmaster Mark Irvin and craft beer industry veteran John Bryant, both of whom have deep roots in Spokane.

The distribution plan for No-Li Brewhouse will initially be Spokane, Denver and New York City.

“No-Li Brewhouse is a hometown brewer with aspirations of a regional brewery that builds an even stronger Spokane centric identity as a national craft beer destination,” Bryant said in a press release.

no-li brewhouse logo squareNo-Li will produce 22-ounce bottles as well as draft brands in three styles that are an extension of Spokane and the culture of Expo ’74. They are Born & Raised IPA, Crystal Bitter and Silent Treatment.

The partners said they expect No-Li Brewhouse to be a significant economic contributor to Spokane through job creation, special events and philanthropic giving.

“When the economy was tough, we took the high road and re-invented, grew and became energized by the short-term set-back, just like other relatively small Spokane and U.S. companies,” Irvin said. “In other words, we dug-in.”

For eight years, Northern Lights made its home in Airway Heights producing primarily draft beer and self-distributing kegs to local restaurants and bars. In June 2002, it moved into Spokane to its location on the Spokane River and began operating as a brewery and pub.

For more information: www.nolibrewhouse.com.

Inland Northwest NAWBO wins SBA Women in Business award

The Inland Northwest National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) won the Small Business Administration 2012 Women in Business champion of the year award for Washington and the Northwest region.  

The award goes to the organization or individual who has fulfilled a commitment to the advancement of women’s business ownership and has supported legislative or regulatory action and other efforts to increase small business opportunities for women. 
 
The Inland Northwest NAWBO is a chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).  NAWBO, headquartered in the Washington, D.C., is  the only dues-based national organization representing the interests of women entrepreneurs.
 
NAWBO-NW has over 90 members and corporate partners.  
 
The champion award went to the Spokane chapter based on its efforts to increase business and financial opportunities for women and for efforts to strengthen the role of women business owners within the community.
  

Timothy Wilkinson named new Whitworth Global Commerce dean

Dr. Timothy WilkinsonTimothy Wilkinson, the current interim dean at Montana State University, will become Whitworth University's new dean of School of Global Commerce & Management.

Wilkinson, 53, will start the job on July 1.

Wilkinson was lauded in a Whitworth press release for his educational resume and his business connections.

He's had nearly 20 years of experience in business education.

He will oversee faculty and staff serving nearly 400 students in traditional undergraduate programs in accounting, economics, business management, international business and marketing; a non-traditional program in organizational management primarily serving working adults; and master's programs in business administration and international management.

Wilkinson is also considered an expert in the area of exports and export promotion. He's published numerous articles in publications such as the MIT Sloan Management Review, the Journal of International Business Studies and The Wall Street Journal. In 2011, he won a prestigious Berry-AMA Prize for the best book in marketing for The Distribution Trap! How to Retain the Value of Your Innovation, which he co-authored with Andrew R. Thomas.

State approaching 1,404 liquor retailers; latest Spokane spirits count: 99

Today we ran a quick story on the plans by Spokane's Dry Fly Distilling to develop a system of getting more of its gin, vodka and whiskey across the state, once the floodgates open on June 1. That's when the vast changes pushed through by Initiative 1183 take effect.

The story said the state will likely have more than 1,600 spirits retailers when that date comes, and that Dry Fly clearly wants to be more widely distributed than it is today.

A day later, we can be a bit more precise than that.

According to the state Liquor Control Board website, one can look and find exactly how many spirits retailer licenses have been applied for.

Statewide, as of April 24, the total is 1,404 applications, including applications by former operators of contract liquor stores (for an example, we wrote about the store in Medical Lake a month ago).

Add the 167 or so state stores whose liquor licenses were recently auctioned off, that brings the current total to 1,571 licenses, either approved or pending.

One caution: applications for the state stores are not yet officially filed.

Will it hit 1,600?  Very likely. The Spokane County application total, as of April 24, is 99 locations.

A month ago when we wrote about the list of applicants, the statewide count was just 1,200 and the Spokane County count was 90 license applications.

Fifth of Seattle phone book deliveries halted

The city of Seattle says about one-fifth of the homes and business — 75,000 addresses — in the city have opted out of phone book deliveries since the choice was offered a year ago.  

The city says that’s 420,000 unwanted deliveries, saving 375 tons of paper, the Associated Press reports.

The Seattle Public Utilities department expects another 25,000 homes and businesses to halt deliveries of phone books and yellow pages this year.  

Residents can opt out online or with a phone call or postcard.

Sea-Tac tries expedited security PreCheck program

Next time you’re at an airport how would you like to speed through the security line without taking off your shoes and belt or removing laptops and liquids from carry-on bags?

The Transportation Security Administration is starting an expedited screening program today for some passengers on Alaska Airlines at Sea-Tac Airport, the Associated Press reports.

It’s called PreCheck.  

The only Sea-Tac travelers eligible for now are members of Alaska’s frequent-flier program invited by the airline and pre-approved by TSA. Also members of expedited border crossing programs run by the Customs and Border Protection, such as Nexus.

Boeing reportedly planning composite wing plant

Boeing workers in Washington hope the company will decide to build carbon-fiber composite wings for a bigger 777 in the state.

Mark Blondin of the International Association of Machinists union says a new wing plant would be a giant win for the state.  

The Seattle Times reports a manufacturing plan for the 777X is expected to go to the Boeing board by the end of the year. The plane would likely be assembled at the Everett plant where current 777s are put together. A new wing plant would add hundreds of jobs.  

The only sizable composite pieces built in Washington now are the 787 tail fin and the 777 tail, which are made at Boeing’s Frederickson plant near Tacoma.

State liquor license auction nets about $30.7 million for Washington

More than 120 people or companies placed bids over the past 45 days to acquire 167 Washington-run state liquor stores. The auction concluded Friday evening, and the total bid amount came to $30.7 million.

That's what the state will reap as private operators start selling booze. The auctions are not for the stores, which the state was leasing. The auctions give winners only a right to sell liquor at the physical location of the state store.

The auction follows last fall's statewide approval of Initiative 1183, which takes the state out of the business of selling alcohol. The changes go into effect on June 1.

The first-time-ever auction attracted 551 bidders who cast more than 14,620 bids — including one worth $4.6 million for all 167 stores. That bid was not successful.

The single largest bid was $750,000 for a store in Tacoma, followed by $500,100 for a store in Seattle.

Tupac or Ann? Aetna uses Next IT’s avatar to give quick customer info

The April 16 WSJ.com featured a story on the use of avatars and virtual assistants in health care.

The story mentioned Spokane's Next IT and its “Ask Ann” tool developed for Aetna Insurance. (The WSJ may require a subscription to read the full story.)

Notably, this appeared in the same week that Digital Domain Media Group, a California tech firm, produced a “virtual Tupac Shakur,” a projected image representing a singing stage version of the late rapper.

Which opens this topic: where will virtual agents make the fastest progress? Helping people stay healthy or toward holographic entertainment?

We're voting toward entertainment.  As the WSJ story noted, there are clear limits to the virtual role computers and software can play in a complex area like health care.

The Ask Ann avatar developed for Aetna really is an information clearing house. An Aetna spokesperson noted that Ann helps members retrieve forgotten user names or passwords and more importantly, it helps members with questions about claims, claim status, coverage, ID cards and benefits.

Aetna started using it two years ago.

The tool is similar to avatars Next IT has sold to the U.S. Army, Merrill Lynch and some airlines. The debate is whether computer agents can take on any of the diagnostic or prescriptive roles that doctors, nurses or physician's assistants can do. 

Any thoughts on that?

To get a quick tour of the Ann avatar at Aetna, it's available here.

A short couple of minutes on John Adrain’s Bed Bunker story

Your truly, the Office Hours scribe, appeared today on KHQ.com, interviewed by Dave Cotton.

Topic was today's Spokesman.com story on Spokane inventor John Adrain, who has developed the Bed Bunker, a gun safe meant to be hidden under one's mattress.

Here's the video. Now you know why I write and don't appear on TV.

Itron one of several ‘smart grid’ firms helping push ‘apps for energy’ contest

A good app may be worth $30,000 in prize money. And Spokane-area Itron Inc. is taking part in a nationwide effort to find and reward the best apps that use and analyze energy use.

Itron has positioned itself as a major component as the nation makes a slow but inevitable swing toward the “smart grid.”
 
The Obama administration has decided to work the tech street a little harder and is urging software developers to get in the smart grid game; As part of a “apps for energy” contest, a total of $100,000 will go to developers of apps that change how utilities and consumers understand and use data related to power. The money is provided from the U.S. Department of Energy.
 
The Energy Department’s “Apps for Energy” competition is summarized here. The deadline to submit is May 15 at 8 p.m. ET.
 
Along with Itron, other companies involved include Pacifc Gas & Electric Company, and Gridwise Alliance.
 
The judges of the contest include Sharelynn Moore, Itron’s vice president of corporate communications. 

Ambassadors lists headquarters for sale

Ambassadors Group is putting up for sale its Spokane headquarters, a 133,000-square-foot building and surrounding property near the Spokane International Airport.

The building and 11 acres of land are listed for $13.3 million.

Ambassadors, which promotes cultural-immersion trips for students, said today it would move into a smaller, leased location in Spokane.

The headquarters, at 2001 South Flint Road, will be marketed by real estate broker Goodale and Barbieri Company.

President and CEO Jeff Thomas said in a news release today that the sale “is consistent with actions we have taken to right size our business and would enable us to monetize an underutilized asset and strengthen the Company’s financial condition. We will continue to maintain our strong presence in Spokane and remain an active member of the community.”

A sale, the company said, would reduce facility and maintenance costs for the publicly traded company.

“Our current building is a beautiful facility, and the campus made sense for us when we began construction in 2006,” Thomas said.

GSI announces 2012’s Agora Awards nominess

The annual Greater Spokane Inc.-sponsored Agora Awards will be announced May 30. Here are the nominees in the five categories:  For additional information on the awards, the GSI link has it.    

Small nonprofit

  • Christ Kitchen
  • Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council (GSSAC)
  • Inland Northwest Community Foundation
Large nonprofit
  • Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels
  • Shriners Hospitals for Children – Spokane
  • Spokane Guilds’ School & Neuromuscular Center
Small business
  • Angus Meats, Inc.
  • Maid Naturally, LLC
  • Modern Construction & Consulting Services, LLC
  • Zipline Interactive
Medium business
  • Action Moving Services
  • Crown West Realty, LLC
  • Dutch Bros. Coffee
  • State Bank Northwest
Large business
  • Baker Construction & Development, Inc.
  • Haskins Steel Co., Inc.
  • InCyte Pathology
  • Inland Empire Distribution Systems, Inc.

Annual Home Builders Home Improvement Show runs through Sunday

Good weather and the annual home show. Your weekend awaits.

The annual Spokane Home Builders Association's Premier Home Improvement Show kicked off earlier this week and runs through Sunday at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center.

Tickets are $8.00 with kids 12 and under free.

This year the featured attractions include a G&S Landscape “pro corner” and a 72-inch doghouse and a chicken coop built by student apprentices in the SHBA training program. Hours Saturday are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Schweitzer Engineering starts relay production at its Lewiston site

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Inc. announced on Thursday its new Lewiston manufactuing plan is producing digital relays that are being shipped globally.

Since 1982 privately owned SEL has operated out of a growing Pullman, Wash., campus. Thispast January it opened a 100,000-square foot Lewiston production center.
 
The company employs about 120 people at that location, producing the relays that are used to control the flow of electricity on electric power utility networkes.
 
SEL Lewiston operates two production shifts. For now relays are only being manufactured during the morning shift. The second shift will start relay production later this year,  to a company release.

Fatbeam signs a deal to upgrade Yakima School District broadband network

Fatbeam, a Post Falls-based telecom provider, has signed a deal to provide the Yakima School District a high-capacity fiber-optic network, along with lit fiber services.

The eight-year contract comes to over $2 million, a Fatbeam release noted.

Like other districts, the Yakima district is using the federal E-Rate Program, which allows for schools to upgrade bandwidth and networks with money set aside through the Federal Communications Commission.

Fatbeam's pipe will give the district buildings 20-gigabit connections. That's about 20 times the previous bandwidth capacity.

Post Falls staffing firm Command Center restates earnings for 2010, part of 2011

Post Falls-based Command Center, Inc. announced on Wednesday it's restating its financial statements from 2010 and 2011.

The company provides temporary and on-demand staffing. 

A press release said company auditors concluded financial statements for 2010, and the interim periods ended April 1, 2011, July 1, 2011, and September 30, 2011 “should no longer be relied upon.”

It did not say when Command Center will restate those earnings.

The company trades on the OTC as CCNI.

The release noted the restatement recognizes an incorrect overstatement of prepaid insurance policy deposits.

Details are described in a Form 8-K filed on Tuesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission..

Glenn Welstad, chairman and company CEO, said in the release: “The restatements were deemed necessary when the company discovered that a material discrepancy existed between premium payments and collateral deposits paid to insurance brokers in 2006-2008 to cover future workers’ compensation claims and the actual amounts received by the insurer, AIG Insurance.

“The restatement does not reflect any trends in Command’s business or any current or prospective impact on the company's results of operations; nor does it impact compliance with our debt covenants.”

The release also noted:

As a result of the restatement, the accumulated deficit for the period ended Dec. 31, 2010 increased by $716,000 from the reported amount. 

The restatement will not affect earnings per share for 2010 but will affect earnings per share for the third quarter of 2011. Earnings per share for the third quarter of 2011 are expected to increase by approximately $0.01.

The company anticipates filing amendments to its Forms 10-Q for the affected quarterly periods to reflect the corrections to its quarterly consolidated financial statements in the near future.  The company has made the necessary changes for 2010 in its Form 10-K filed on April 9, 2012.

 

Three area business events: marketing, biotech and sleep’s effect on metabolism

An OfficeHours roundup of coming events:

  • On Thursday April 12, from 6 to 8 p.m., the Greater Hillyard Business Association is holding its monthly gathering, with guest Wes Ward of iZigg Mobile Media. Ward will lead a discussion on how mobile marketing is changing how many businesses operate and connect with customers. 

The event is at Market Street Station, 5101 N. Market. To register, go here.

  • On Friday April 13 downtown, Greater Spokane Inc. is sponsoring a monthly Good Morning Spokane program focusing on biotech. Chris Rivera, head of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association, will be talk about the industry and its impact on Eastern Washington. Tom Fritz, CEO of INHS, and Lisa Shaffer of Signature Genomics will also give their perspective.  It runs from 7:30-9 a.m. at the downtown  DoubleTree Hotel. For details or to register, go to GreaterSpokane.org.
  • On Wednesday, April 18, Washington State University Spokane hosts its Chancellor's Research Breakfast. It starts at 7:30 a.m. at the Riverpoint South Campus Facility Court. 

Dr. Levente Kapas, associate professor for the WWAMI Spokane Medical Education Program, will present remarks on the effects of sleep on metabolism. Registration deadline is Friday, April 13. You can call 509-358-7504 or email requests to spokane.chancellor@wsu.edu.

 

Here’s a look at the first two Kendall Yards office buildings (with restaurant)

Today's business news story is an update on progress at the near-downtown mixed use development, Kendall Yards. (Story may require Spokesman.com access to read it in its entirety.)

The project has, up to now, been focused exclusively on building out the residential half of the project. About 60 units have been built and sold to date.

Now the company behind the project, Greenstone Corp., is starting two new commercial buildings. The first, in the rendering above, is the building on the left. It's called the Cedar Street Park Commercial Building.  A restaurant will fill the side facing the river.

The second commercial building is the one on the far right. It will be a two-story — plus daylight basement — office building, with no tenants yet announced. The two other buildings between those are also on the drawing boards, but will not move forward until some tenants/owners are lined up, said project manager Adam Jones.

Renderings come from Spokane's nystrom + olson architecture.

Unlikely that Congress would approve cutting Saturday mail delivery

Last week a group of Spokane area postal workers and their backers gathered downtown to voice opposition to plans that would shut down hundreds of post offices and dozens of processing centers across the country.

The Postmaster General has said those cuts are needed for the privately funded, non-tax supported Postal Service to eliminate an $8 billion shortfall in its annual budget.
 
While people debate the issue of whether cuts at that level are needed, others are concerned that the Postmaster General will push plans to eliminate Saturday delivery.
 
That concern, however, seems to be one that won't gain much support in Congress; any initiative to cut Saturday delivery has to be approved by Congress.
 
Last week, more than 100 members of Congress signed a letter in support of six day mail, rural post offices and new innovations.
 
Rep, Don Young (R-Alaska) joined a number of other D.C. legislators in circulating a letter that read, in part:
“Rather than pass legislation which dismantles the Postal Service, Congress must be a partner in building a postal business model for the 21st century,” said Connolly.
 
“By allowing the Postal Service to innovate and relieving the retirement prefunding obligation imposed by Congress in 2006 we can protect the infrastructure of a $1 trillion mailing industry while maintaining universal service for all Americans—rural, suburban, and urban.”

City officials announce launch of Spokane ‘certified sites’ website

Spokane city officials have launched a “certified site” program that will help planners, landowners or commercial developers find information quickly on area properties.

Owners of commercial or industrial land can submit information to the city to review if their properties meet environmental, zoning and utility criteria.

Once certified, the shovel-ready property will be listed on the city's certified website.

Spokane Mayor David Condon backed the idea in his election campaign, saying simplifying site information can help the area’s economic development.

Greater Spokane Inc. President Rich Hadley said the certified site program is the first in Washington state. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire sent a note to the city saying, “It’s important to help businesses cut through red tape and get to work on our economic recovery.”

The website for the program is: http://developingspokane.org/siteselector/default.aspx.

Proctor & Gamble plans worker web barrier, halting access to music, video

Proctor & Gamble hates their freedom.

Specifically P&G hates its workers' freedom to stream music and movies on company computers.

The big company announced on Thursday it will block net access for workers who try to use the Pandora music service or the Netflix streaming video service.

The ban goes into effect for the consumer products company's 129,000 employees. The reasons and ramifications are spelled out in a story on WSJ.com. Note: site is paywalled and you may need a subscription.

Key concern was the need to maintain adequate bandwidth across the company, a company official explained.

At the same time, P&G said it will not block social network sites because they are now important tools for marketing and business information sharing.

Do you agree that Facebook deserves to be slapped for ignoring women?

Don't get Ultraviolet mad.

The women's group called Ultraviolet has come out swinging at Facebook, saying the media and social network company has shown immense gender blindness. The Ultraviolet announcement on Thursday demanded Facebook appoint at least one woman to its board before the company goes public in the coming weeks.

It's also asking Facebook users to sign its online petition at this link.

The announcement made a good point: about 58% of Facebook users are women but the company, based in Northern California, has no women on its board.

Said Nita Chaudhary, a co-founder of Ultraviolet:  “The fact that a company as large as Facebook with a massive global reach does not have a single woman on their board is nothing short of shameful. Facebook owes it success and makes a ton of money off of its women users. 

“Women are responsible for nearly two-thirds of the sharing that happens on the site. In addition, women account for more than 70% of daily fan activity on the site, which is a huge source of revenue for the company.” 

On the surface, who can argue with their claim? 

Hecla names new manager for Lucky Friday Mine

Hecla Mining Co. has made management changes at the troubled Lucky Friday Mine.

Ed Sutich has been named vice president and general manager of the underground silver mine in Mullan, Idaho.

He replaces Jeff Jordan, who has moved to Hecla’s corporate office as vice president of technical services.

The Lucky Friday Mine is closed while the company completes about $30 million worth of work on the main shaft.

Federal inspectors ordered the shaft closure in January after a special emphasis safety inspection that was triggered by two fatalities at the mine in 2011.

Sutich, the mine’s new general manager, has 30 years of mining experience. He previously was Freeport Indonesia’s manager of underground development.

Jordan will be responsible for mining and geotechnical engineering and metallurgy in his new position.

Michael Wegleitner has been appointed as Hecla’s safety and health director. He has spent 25 years working on those issues in the mining, construction and energy industries.

Where are Spokane County’s exports going to? EX-IM Bank site explains

Is Spokane County very dependent on exporting its products?

That's a subjective call. Today's story on Sen. Maria Cantwell's (D-Wash) visit to Spokane to boost support for reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, raised the question of how many jobs depend on exports.

The numbers are a bit slippery. As Stan Key of Greater Spokane Inc. noted during Cantwell's visit, the actual totals on exports are registered at the port of departure. For many Spokane firms, that means their numbers fall into those seen for Seattle, Tacoma and Portland.

Key said he did a quick general survey of Spokane County and found firms that rely on exports employ more than 2,700 people. 

The EX-IM bank site has a handy statistical sorter to look at the total benefits extended in each state's congressional district. 

For Eastern Washington, in 2011, for instance, you'd find the following numbers: eight companies received some form of EX-IM help, either through contract assistance or insurance on payments.

The top three countries that bought products from Eastern Washington, in 2011, were: Mexico, the Phillipines, South Korea.

Also listed there is the top dog among companies here taking advantage of EX-IM offers: It's Commercial Creamery Co., based in Spokane. They're using exports to send powdered milk and cheese powder to overseas buyers.

Rural Idaho loses population

Population decline in rural Idaho intensified in 2011, new U.S. Census Bureau estimates show.

More people left the state’s rural areas between mid-2010 and mid-2011, and more counties lost population than at any other time since the 1980s. Eighteen of the 33 rural counties saw population declines.

In the Idaho Panhandle, Benewah, Bonner, Boundary and Shoshone counties all lost population between July 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011, according to Census Bureau estimates. Kootenai County gained about 2,200 residents, or 1.6 percent, in the same period.

Statewide population rose 13,883 – almost entirely in 11 urban counties, the figures show.

Nine counties posted more deaths than births during the one-year period. They include Beneweh, Boundary, Shoshone, Clearwater, Lewis and Nez Perce counties in North Idaho.

Area postal service workers rally Thursday, saying mail service will suffer

 

Area post office workers will hold a rally Thursday in   downtown Spokane, protesting planned cuts they say will degrade mail service.

The rally, organized by the American Postal Workers Union, starts at 4:30 p.m. at 10 N. Post.

It’s meant to call attention to pending cuts and future job losses that the union says are avoidable.

Needing to vastly shrink its budget, the U.S. Postal Service has laid out plans to close more than 220 processing centers and thousands of post office nationwide.

Jack Talcott, a Spokane Valley postal worker and union spokesman, said the closing of processing plants in Yakima, Pasco and Wenatchee will eliminate the one-day delivery Spokane and North Idaho residents currently have.

The postmaster general has said the final decision on cuts and closures would be made on May 15. Talcott said Congress can still intervene and adopt other budget cuts that would avoid most of the closures and preserve existing mail service.

The rally’s goal, Talcott added, is “to educate people so they know what may happen to mail service.”

He said the likely scenario if the three Washington centers are closed would be: all mail normally processed there would be routed to Spokane’s center near the Spokane airport. Even though 22 or so new workers would be assigned to the Spokane center, the extra volume of mail would create a workflow bottleneck.

“It would definitely change what is now a one-day delivery schedule for area mail,” Talcott said.

If Congress makes no changes in the proposed cuts and closures, the postmaster general’s office would start implementing closures and some layoffs in late May. 

Verizon will expand LTE network to Bonners Ferry and Deer Park

Verizon Wireless is bringing more 4G to the Inland Northwest. The company announced its 4G LTE network will be available in the next few weeks in Cheney, Deer Park, Mica, Valleyford,  Bonners Ferry, Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls, Rathdrum and Stateline.

Faster is better, or at least we think so. Just be careful signing up for a metered data plan. In such cases you may have a data plan for 5 gigabytes of data per month at $50, but realize later you'll be spending twice that on data charges because you used way more.

The QR code is dead. Are you ready for the next big mobile search thing?

The OfficeHours blog is nowhere near sad to report the demise of the QR code.

It's the squiggly little black-white pattern found on some store products or on assorted items. It was supposed to change how people bought products or obtained services.

And yes, it was a flop and we suspected that all along.

Some of the credit or blame for the QR demise is the superior advantages of new smartphone tools that let people ask questions directly (as with the iPod's Siri service) or use built-in visual search tools.

Here's an article that argues the “next big” search thing will be MVS — for mobile visual search.

MVS, according to the blog entry at imediaConnection, will be a big deal: “The opportunities are boundless with MVS. Unlike two-dimensional barcodes and QR codes, MVS will have wrap-around and three-dimensional recognition capabilities. Even traditional advertising will be revitalized with MVS.

“For example, picture an interactive print campaign that incorporates MVS as part of a competition or game. Marketers can offer instant gratification in the form of videos, mobile links, coupons, or discounts as incentives for taking the best pictures of a particular product or logo.”

For now, I'll accept that scanning things with a tool that can identify the object and find relevant links makes more sense than scanning a fuzzy wuzzy whirl.  We're not there yet, and no doubt over the next three or four years the opportunities for really smart ID-tools will produce some major improvements.

The proxy battle: Ambassadors sends out a note to its workers

It's not a bad idea to brush up on your knowledge of proxy statements, especially if you have any stock in Spokane-based Ambassadors Group (symbol: EPAX).

Two shareholders, Bandera Partners and Lane Five Capital Management, have each filed preliminary proxy statements, indicating they may or may not be sending out invitations to other shareholders to vote with them on the election of new board directors.

That effort is tied to concerns by those investors, who between them own about 20 percent of the company's shares. They generally regard efforts by Ambassadors board and management as ineffective in reversing a five-year stock decline.

A story on the contest was posted Monday afternoon on Spokesman.com.

Ambassadors is the publicly traded cultural-immersion travel-arranger with offices near the Spokane Airport.

Its CEO Jeff Thomas earlier today released a letter to the company's employees. In it, he said:

“Our board and management team are committed to acting in the best interests of shareowners and are focused on delivering value.”

Financial graph from Thomson Reuters.

Amway plans huge production facility in Port of Quincy, adding 30 jobs

The Port of Quincy has sold 12 acres in its industrial park to Amway, the giant direct-sales company that distributes thousands of household products.

The company, based in Grand Rapids, Mich.,  plans to build a  48,000-square-foot extraction and concentration facility to process ingredients for nutritional products sold under the Nutrilite brand.
 
The company has an option to buy an additional 15 acres of property at the same industrial park. 
 
Amway said it hopes to start the  $31.8 million project later this year. It will create 30 manufacturing and quality assurance jobs, as well as 100 or more temporary construction jobs. 
 
The Amway plant should start production  in 2014.
 
Port officials said the decision is another affirmation of Grant County's and the port district's coordinated efforts to use high-end infrastructure, such as broadband, and transportation advantages to market itself as a world-class industrial site.
 
The port has several other major clients, including Microsoft and Yahoo, both of which have large data centers on land managed through the port.

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

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Contributors

John Stucke John Stucke is a deputy city editor who helps build local news coverage and writes about health care, bankruptcy and rural affairs.

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Alison Boggs Online Producer Alison Boggs posts and manages content on spokesman.com and its social networking accounts.

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Scott Maben Scott Maben is a Deputy City Editor who covers North Idaho news and higher education.

Addy Hatch is the city editor, and formerly was business editor.

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