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Archive for May 2012

Red Lion investors are restless, based on withheld vote count for directors

Red Lion Hotels, the Spokane hospitality company working its way through some investor discontent, held its recent annual meeting at its downtown headquarters. The May 23 meeting included the re-election of board directors.

We went back one year to Red Lion's 2011 annual meeting, at a time when there was less investor revolt. We checked to see what changed in the election numbers.

In 2012 these same three Red Lion directors were all approved, but with significantly more “withheld” votes than in 2011. 

Richard Barbieri in 2011 got 8.4 million “for” votes, 5.2 million votes withheld.

In 2012 Barbieri got 9.4 million “for” votes, and 5.7 million votes withheld.

Jon Eliassen in 2011 got 13.2 million “for” votes and 403,804 withheld votes.

In 2012 Eliassen got 9.5 million “for” votes and 5.6 milliion votes withheld.

Melvin Keating in 2011 got 13.1 million “for” votes and 537,700 withheld.

This year Keating got 9.5 million “for” votes and  5.6 million withheld votes.

You can go back and see that in the past several months two large groups, including the largest single shareholder (Columbia Pacific) have indicated they want major changes in company operations and strategy. Red Lion execs have agreed and hired Bank of America consultants to provide advice and options.

The huge increase in withheld votes, even without an organized campaign mounted against the officers, suggests that Red Lion shareholders are still sending a message. When shareholders withhold votes, that's not the same as simply choosing to not send back a card or voting instruction. In a withheld vote, the card or instruction email is sent to the company without a vote “for” the nominee.

The votes for Director Richard Barbieri are the odd result. Barbieri managed to get more “for” votes this year and he received more withheld votes, as well.

The RLH stock chart here shows some buoying of share price, since the company announced plans to look at options, including selling off part or all of the company. 

The Supreme Court barely approves state’s new liquor privatization law (with links)

So you may have heard the Washington State Supreme Court ruled Thursday (May 31) in a 5 to 4 opinion, that the privatization of liquor sales was legal.

Read the key opinion at this link. There is of course a dissenting view, which can be read here.

The dissent, authored by Justice Stephen Warning, includes this summary:

   An initiative can impose new taxes, but the ballot title cannot misleadingly imply that it does not.  Likewise, earmarking a portion of the new tax revenue for public safety is not inherently problematic, but  (the Constitution's) article II, section 19 precludes combining a substantive liquor privatization law with an earmark that has no rational relation to liquor privatization and may have been included only  to win votes.   We respectfully dissent.

Here's the majority opinion summary of the changes that I-1183 makes in the distribution of revenue for local governments, as well as the small changes pertaining to advertising:

The initiative additionally secures the current distribution of liquor revenues to local governments and dedicate[s] a portion of the new revenues raised from liquor license fees to increase funding for local public safety programs, including police, fire, and emergency services in communities throughout the state.  The additional portion is “$10 million per year from the spirits license fees [to] be provided to border areas, counties, cities, and towns through the liquor revolving fund for the purpose of enhancing public safety programs.”   

       I-1183 also modified the law pertaining to liquor advertising.  The initiative removed a provision that prohibited the Liquor Control Board from advertising liquor but maintained the LCB's “power to adopt any and all reasonable rules as to the kind, character, and location of advertising of liquor.”   I-1183 also added that the LCB is prohibited from restricting the “advertising of lawful prices.”


One sure thing: I-1183 will create about 200 Eastern Washington distribution jobs

So the Initiative 1183 attacks can begin. Starting Friday, people who voted for the privatization of liquor sales in Washington can claim they opposed it along. Sure, now they can say, “I knew it would lead to higher prices.”

On Friday those prices become available. Today's SR story showed two things: most liquor choices will cost more than in the state system; and a lot of people are not sure how the prices will shake out, after the initial first few months of marketing and hype.

On the retail side, the initiative means higher operating costs and no reason to add jobs. But on the wholesale side, there's clearly a job boom. The big liquor distributors for the state are now Southern Wine & Spirits and Young’s Market Company.

Both have Eastern Washington offices. Combined, the two distributors are expected to add about 210 workers in Eastern Washington for delivery, sales and warehousing. That number comes from John Guadnola, executive director of the Washington Beer and Wine Distributors Association.

State liquor board rejects Seattle’s proposal to extend bar closing times

Washington's State Liquor Control Board on Wednesday rejected requests by the city of Seattle’s to change rules to allow nightclubs to serve liquor later than the state’s current 2 a.m. cutoff.

Board members Sharon Foster and Ruthann Kurose said they were concerned about public safety in voting against the proposal.
A large majority of Spokane citizens voiced strong opposition to the idea during an April public meeting at City Hall.
Law enforcement agencies, including Spokane's Police Department, strongly opposed the idea.
The two commissioners said they were concerned granting the request would come about the same time commercial outlets will be selling liquor under I-1183 and sales could increase five-fold.
Board member Chris Marr supported the proposal and said the defeat represented a lost opportunity for the board to define a new role for itself in an era of increased access to alcohol
Marr, a former state senator from Spokane, said the rule change would have had the opportunity to address public safety concerns. And then, after the rule was formulated, the board would have been able to review how well Seattle had address neighborhood concerns. 

Seven firms or nonprofits win Agora Awards

Seven Spokane area firms or groups were winners in the annual Agora Awards completion, honoring business excellence.

In a Wednesday morning event hosted by Greater Spokane Inc., the winners in several categories were:
  • Large nonprofit: Greater Spokane County Meals On Wheels.
  • Small nonprofit: Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council.
  • Small business: Angus Meats.
  • Medium business: Dutch Bros. Coffee.
  • Large business: Baker Construction and Development.
  • Entrepreneurial spirit: Maid Naturally.
  • Community Service Award: Action Moving Services

This was the 27th year awards were presented.

It pays to double-check the competition, and to complain sometimes

Spokane’s Garco Construction has landed a $35.8 million federal contract after challenging an earlier award for the job to an Oklahoma competitor.

Garco bid on the project last year to build a large truck and maintenance shop at Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma. Last fall the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the job to The Ross Group, based in Tulsa, Okla.

Ross Group got the contract even through Garco’s original bid was lower. The federal contract system gives advantages to small companies that are based in “HUBZones,” a geographical category set up by the U.S. Small Business Administration. HUBZone stands for historical underutilized business zone.

Because Ross Group said it was HUBZone qualified, its bid ended higher-rated due to the HUBZone scoring system.

Later Garco challenged the award saying that Ross Group did not meet the HUBZone requirements. As a result the bid process was reopened.

Garco Vice President Hollis Barnett said Garco last week was notified it won the award. The Spokane construction company already has three current projects at the large Lewis McChord base, he said.

Barnett said it's odd and frustrating that he and Garco had to call into question the legitimacy of Ross Group's bid and status. “That's something the federal government should be doing, not competitors,” he said.

When Garco first loss the deal, Barnett went to Ross Group's site and did some reading. He found mention of its winning an award and having about $80 million in annual sales. That told him, if correct, that Ross Group couldn't be HUBZone compliant. Only firms with less than $33.5 million in sales qualified.

Once the issue was raised, Ross voluntarily offered the explanation that it had incorrectly filed information about its HUBZone status, Barnett noted. 

New Fairchild Fitness Center looks like a million (closer to $20 million, actually)

We posted a short item in Sunday's print editions about the $20.4 million new Fairchild Air Force Base fitness center.

It replaces the original center, built in the 1940s. That old center is being demolished by Lydig Construction, of Spokane. Lydig was in charge of the two-year project.

The new center is thoroughly ready for the 21st century, with swimming pool, indoor running track, large basketball courts, weight rooms and workhout auditorium. 

The center also added some newer features needed for the SERE program, which trains military personnel in survival and evasion tactics. Some added features were new SERE training units designed to be used in the pool.

This photo is courtesy of Eric Olson, of Lydig. 

The $20.4 million includes the cost of demolishing the older center, said Olson.

Getting wet is part of the job, and Red Lion exec was ready with a re-do

Hats off to Red Lion Hotel's Patrick Shimon, area GM at Spokane's  Red Lion Hotel at the Park. On May 24 he agreed to go down the downtown hotel's redesigned pool slide, for photographers.

His stunt was meant to echo the same event when Don Barbieri rode the original slide in 1983. In a suit. In business shoes.

Unlike Barbieri, Shimon had to hit the pool twice Thursday morning.  A news crew from a Spokane TV station didn't show up on time. They asked Shimon to do it a second time. He did it, graciously.  And probably because his job description includes dealing with pesky media types.

The SR's Dan Pelle was there on time and ready with his Canon for the original slide. This is that moment. His photo appeared on page A5 of the May 25 editions of The Spokesman-Review.

Inland Imaging spins off its own tech services company, Nuvodia

Spokane’s growing Inland Imaging LLC has spun off an IT subsidiary, Nuvodia, with plans to become a nationwide provider of technology integration and services.

During a Thursday breakfast hosted by Spokane group Connect Northwest, Nuvodia’s CEO Jon Copeland said the need for reliable, secure technology services in health care is similar to the growing “smart grid” effort across the energy industry.

Nuvodia — a name chosen to suggest “new day” — was incorporated the start of this year. But Copeland said its website and formal launch will come on June 1.

While health care is the obvious first focus, Nuvodia will also extend into other sectors, including accounting and energy, Copeland said.

(Story continues below.)

How basic web searching can save your bacon: A Washington Trust case history

This story, in today's Spokesman-Review, may seem like a little love note to Google. It's not meant to be that.

It's more an example of your good ol' basic seek-and-you-may-find the answer if you keep looking.

It ran online on Here's the short version. The full version is here.

Tech managers, especially those keeping a large company’s computers working, tend to talk about “solutions.”

Computers or networks have issues. IT people go off and identify possible solutions.

Washington Trust Bank’s Chris Green ran into one thorny companywide network issue this year. But the solution that made his bosses happy didn’t come from high-priced consultants or an ingenious system workaround. It was way simpler.
The company was switching 450 workers from Windows XP to Windows 7 systems, plus moving all of their computers to a more secure, easier-to-maintain virtual desktop system. Virtual desktops have no hard drives; they connect to and access data stored in a local data center.
When the first dozen or so workers tested the new system, Green found the transition was moving smoothly.
But things didn’t go so well when the number of Washington Trust workers reached 90.
“At 90 users we ran into a tipping point,” Green said. “We saw the network performance take a big hit.”
The solution?  Searching on Google. 

Franchise expert to present two lectures next week at GU.

A noted franchise expert, Ben Litalien, will be on Gonzaga University's campus next week for two lectures on “Franchising for Community Impact.”

The two 90-minute presentations will be Thursday, May 31, starting at 7:30 a.m. and then at 9:15 a.m.
Both are in the Wolff Auditorium at GU's Jepson Center and are free to the public.
The earlier session focuses on issues relevant to business owners and entrepreneurs. The second session ocuses on franchising and nonprofit groups.
A press release quotes him saying, “Given the sustained unemployed an under-employed populations across our communities, taking a deeper look at the franchise model is essential for providing economic stimulus.”
GU is cohosting the event with SNAP, a Spokane-based nonprofit dedicated to assisting people and groups improve their lives.
Litalien operates the company FranchiseWell LLC.

Occupy Spokane moves into its first clubhouse, on East Sprague

The Occupy Spokane group has started its own “Occupy Spokane Clubhouse” on East Sprague. It's open for business and is looking for volunteers and donated second-hand items.

It's renting a storefront at 1808 E. Sprague. The goal is to raise some money for Occupy events through sales of second-hand items as well as new T-shirts.

It's also selling coffee and some baked goods, said John Dain, one of the club's organizers.

Other organizers include Terry Hill, Chuck Moreland and Tara Williamson.

The relatively small space (see photo here) has been the home for a computer repair shop and Khali's Place, a vintage clothing retailer.  Hours for now are from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m, seven days a week.

Hill said the Occupy Spokane group needed a place to store items, to hold meetings and serve as a gathering spot. The focus for the group will continue on addressing community issues and talking about jobs, the economy and support for local businesses.

Dain said the group plans to hold several events in coming weeks focusing on the plight of homeless U.S. veterans. “There are studies saying about 40 percent of the homeless population comes from vets,” Dain said.

For more infomation on the clubhouse, call 535-4040.

Revenue Dept. hosts Spokane sessions covering unclaimed-property rules

State rules say that businesses or local governments cannot generally transfer or dispose of unclaimed property — including most gift cards and the contents of safe deposit boxes.

Washington's Department of Revenue will host two Spokane workshops to summarize the rules and the obligations faced both by businesses and government agencies.
The workshop for businesses runs 9 a.m.-noon on June 13; a second business workshop just for financial institutions runs 1 p.m.-4 p.m. on June 13; the local government workshop will be 9 a.m.- noon on June 14.
The list of unclaimed stuff includes: paychecks, utility deposits, bank accounts, refunds, life insurance proceeds, stocks and bonds and contents of safe deposit boxes.
Businesses have to report unclaimed property after losing contact with owners for an extended period, generally three years.
To register dial  (360) 570-3264, extension 4. Or go to

Survey finds Idaho best place for starting a business; Washington 43rd

According to one business website, Idaho ranks as the No. 1 state for starting and running a small business. 

The survey came from, in partnership with the Kauffman Foundation. The survey determined that small  businesses ranked Idaho first in the nation for overall small business friendliness - earning the state an 'A+' overall and edging out Texas for the top spot.

Washington state scored a C-, based on survey results. 

Idaho earned the top ranking despite the survey ranking Idaho as the 6th-worst state for the cost of hiring a new employee.  

The Thumbtack survey said its findings are derived from small business owners themselves. Its press release said: “The Small Business Survey is the only survey to draw data from an extensive, nationwide universe of job creators and entrepreneurs themselves in order to investigate the best places in the country to do business.
“After a two-month survey of over 6,000 small business owners nationwide, Idaho comes out on top as the most friendly place for small business,” said Sander Daniels, co-founder of “For small businesses looking for a place to hang a shingle or to plant a flag, they can't do much better than Idaho.”
The Washington results in the Thumbtack survey show a state ranking 43rd overal in economic vitality for small business, the survey showed. 
To review the findings, go to the summary page here:

WSBDC offers 26 concise online sessions for small business owners

If you're not spending enough time online, the Washington SBDC (Small Business Development Center) website at is now offering 26 short self-paced webinars to help understand the fundamentals of starting and growing a business.
The series is underwritten by U.S. Bank, and all 26 courses are in English and in Spanish.
The webinars were created by Virtual Advisor, an interactive multimedia production company that produces programs for professional development.
For an overview of the webinars, check out the Virtual Advisor page
Along with the Washington SBDC, others working to improve access to business advising for Latino business owners include Washington State University Extension, the Association of Washington State Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, Skagit County’s Latino Business Retention, Mercy Corps and others.
The Washington SBDC promotes economic vitality within Washington communities by providing expert business advising, demand-driven training, and applied research to existing businesses and entrepreneurs. The network is a cooperative effort of Washington State University, other educational institutions, economic development organizations and the US Small Business Administration.

Liberty Lake TierPoint sold to St. Louis-based Cequel Data Centers

The Spokane area’s largest data center, TierPoint in Liberty Lake, has been acquired by Cequel Data Centers, LLC, a St. Louis-based company with similar operations across the United States.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. But the size of the transaction was “significant,” according to TierPoint CEO Octavio Morales. He said he could not elaborate on the sale.

While the amount of the purchase was not disclosed, a press release noted that five financial services firms were involved: Goldman Sachs, CapitalSource Bank, US Bank, ING Capital and CoBank.

Morales said TierPoint’s 24 current employees will not be affected. The main goal of the deal, he added, was to provide more capital to help the company grow and reach more Northwest customers.

TierPoint operates three data centers at its campus in Liberty Lake. Together the buildings provide more than 30,000 square feet of raised-floor data-center space and almost 4.4 megawatts of power. Its third data center building also pioneered using geothermal cooling water to control building heat.

The founding investor in TierPoint is Bernard Daines, one of the area’s leading technology advisers. Daines is no longer a manager of the company, having sold his interest to the company’s other partners.

TierPoint’s list of regional clients includes several banks and dozens of Northwest companies including f5, Coldwater Creek, IT-Lifeline and Red Lion Hotels.

The decision to acquire TierPoint was largely based on its offering a location in “one of the safest areas of the United States, with relatively low power costs and high fiber connectivity,” said Paul Estes, the CEO of Cequel Data Centers.

TierPoint’s strategic focus will continue on expansion into colocation, managed technology services and cloud computing services, Estes said.

(Photo: 2007 SR photo)  TierPoint executives, from left, Bernard Daines, Octavio Morales, Chris Walter and Dan Seliger at their headquarters in Liberty Lake.

Two medical clinics move into new office space in Sandpoint

Who says we don't cover Sandpoint business?  North Idaho Dermatology has leased 4,000 square feet of brand new medical office space  in the Sandcreek Office Park, a class A three story office building on Highway 95N in Ponderay, Idaho. 

Chris Schreiber of Kiemle Hagood represented both the leasor and leasee.

Schreiber and Kiemle Hagood also concluded a second Sandpoint deal: Life Choices Pregnancy Center is leasing 2,400 square feet of medical space in the Selkirk General Surgery Building, 502 N. 2nd, Sandpoint.

Did anyone care Texas flip-meister-presenter had ‘F’ rating from the BBB?

Does anyone care if a company has a bad grade with the Better Business Bureau?

We're asking because we may want to examine how companies get a bad grade, and then what happens in the minds of consumers.

Recently, the BBB notified Spokane-area media that a Texas-based workshop presenter would be in Spokane and in Coeur d'Alene. 

This was Armando Montelongo Seminars, LLC. His spiel is called “'Flip & Grow Rich,” and he's managed to earn his position in part from a cable show called “Flip This House.”

The BBB mailing notified the media that Montelongo's business in San Antonio has an “F” grade with the local BBB. That F is based on some government action against his firm for alleged deceptive marketing and failure to address consumer issues adequately.

We get the impression the people who attended the session didn't know about the BBB rating. Or they did, but didn't care.

If anyone went to the sessions here, give us a holler. We'd like to discuss you views. Contact us at Include a phone number where we can reach you.

Rosauers’ CEO Jeff Philipps is rare instance of open, transparent information

It wasn't surprising to find many grocery companies are reluctant to give too much information about their deployment and investments leading up to June 1, the day liquor can be sold privately across Washington state. That's the day Initiative 1183, approved last fall by state voters, takes all liquor sales out of the hands of the state and transfers it to thousands of retail locations.

We were mostly surprised by how candid and helpful Rosauers Supermarkets CEO Jeff Philipps has been. See the story we printed here

Our online story now includes comments unavailable when we printed the paper version. The new comments are from:

  • Winco Foods, based in Boise. Spokesman Mike Read noted that Winco is placing its liquor not near beer or wine shelves, but in a separate secure location in the customer service area of its two Spokane stores.
  • Gary Morgan of Trading Co. Stores, which operates three stores in Spokane County. Those three stores are still planning how best to install shelves, security systems and inventory controls, Morgan said. He said the stores aren't going to be selling liquor on June 1, as the planning proceeds.  They will later, he said.

Also, a number of other retailers didn't respond at all. Notably, Safeway repeatedly received requests for a comment but chose not to respond.

Comcast rolls out two options for highest data consumers, drops 250 gigabyte limit

Comcast officials said on Thursday they're discarding the current 250 gigabyte data use limit on residential customers, replacing it with two new options that will raise the limit to 300 gigs per month.

Comcast officials hosted a conference call from Philadelphia saying it's moving forward with two test options, both of which will be tested evaluatued “to maintain and insure the highest quality service” for its 20 million U.S. data customers.

It's not clear when the two new options will be tested in Washington state. 

The Comcast blog statement is here.

One option is to introduce a tiered system, with customers starting with no limits for using 300 gigabytes of data. Customers choosing to use more can set paid plans at $10 for each additional 50 gigabytes per month.

Option two will start with 300 gigabytes of free use per month, and then offer “on demand” additional blocks of 50 gigs as needed. Prices might vary for those additional blocks, but might be identical to those in option one ($10 for 50 additional gigabytes).

David Cohen, a Comcast executive vice president, said the change will occur over time and will determine which of the two tests is most flexible and the best solution to maintain network quality.

Cohen also said “the vast majority” of Comcast's 20 million U.S. customers do not come anywhere close to the 250 gigabyte limit. Since being implemented in 2008, Comcast has on occasion shut down residential customers who exceed the 250 gigabyte limit.

Cohen said the decision is a recognition and a “philosophical adjustment” to our highest volume customers, and that it reflects the view by Comcast that “we don't want to discourage you from using Comcast and having an 'essentially unlimited data service.” 

Delegation makes pitch for new air tankers at Fairchild AFB

Washington’s entire congressional delegation has signed a letter asking the Air Force to select Spokane’s Fairchild Air Force Base as the home for new air tankers. The Spokane base is already home to aging KC-135 air tankers.

The letter was spearheaded by Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. They want the new KC-46A tankers to be built by Boeing to be based in Spokane.

They say Fairchild is well-positioned for the nation’s military needs, and is a popular posting within the Air Force.

The full text of the letter follows: finds Spokane home sales up, but not as fast as in Seattle and Boise has generated a national ranking of home sales at the metro level, and found Spokane in April of this year ranked 143 out of 146 cities, based on the number of visitor searches on the website. price increases and declines in number of homes for sale. said April showed a continuing improvement in sales and prices; inventory of single-family homes, condos, townhouses and co-ops nationwide declined by 18.85 percent in April 2012 compared to a year ago, and declined in all but five of the 146 markets.

The company's data for Spokane was:

  • median price of property sold in April: $184,900, down 2.1 percent from April 2011, up 2.8 percent from March 2012.
  • total listings: 2,620, down 13 percent from April 2011, up 4.5 percent from March 2012.
  • median age of inventory: 70 days; down 14 percent from April 2011, down 14.7 percent from March 2012.                                                       

Seattle ranked 65th in total searches in the April listing, and Boise landed at 135th.

Seattle's major showing is a gain of 6.1 percent in median prices since last year, and a 4.5 percent gain in median prices of sold properties since March of this year. Seattle showed a whopping 40 percent decline in total listings on the market since April 2011.

Nationally, the median age of the inventory fell 11.57 percent on a year-over-year basis last month, and the median national list price declined slightly, down 0.35 percent in April 2012 compared to April 2011.

City offers business amnesty for unlicensed business owners

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Maybe a business “amnesty” program is a great thing to celebrate.

Spokane City officials, as part of “Spokane: Open for Business” month, have designated the week of May 21 as amnesty week.
It means that any unlicensed business owner can apply for a license without interest or penalty.  To be eligible for the interest and penalty waiver, previously unlicensed businesses must pay for all licenses due during the amnesty period and must not have been previously contacted by the city over unpaid business license requirements. 
Specifically, the amnesty in this offer applies to fees a business owner may have incurred from being referred to collection, including any penalties or interest charged.
Owners or representatives should go to the Taxes and Licenses Department on the first floor of City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., to take advantage of the amnesty week.
For other questions about business assistance, call Spokane's Business & Development Services Department at 625-6983. Or visit

Export-Import Bank reauthorization passes Senate, to Obama next

A number of Washington Congressional representatives spent time Tuesday pushing forward the Senate bill that reauthorized the Export-Import Bank. The final vote of 78-20 was a victory for Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who's been a major proponent of the bill.

If not passed, the the Ex-Im authorization would have expired on May 31.

The bill also increased the bank's financing authority to $140 billion by 2014.

Cantwell, who is running for another six-year term, toured Eastern Washington last month and spent time speaking about the value of the bank, which underwrites U.S. companiesexports to foreign customers. 

We covered that visit with this report.

In the Senate vote, Idaho's two Republican senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo voted against.

The next step is having the bill signed by President Obama.

The Senate vote followed last week's passage in the House of HR 2072, the formal reauthorization bill.

The House vote was a whopping 330 in favor, 93 opposed. Only one Northwest House member voted “nay” on the reauthorization.

And that was Idaho's Rep. Raul Labrador.  Every other Northwest Republican voted in favor.

Here comes the Fiat 500. Barton Fiat opens its downtown dealership

Barton Auto Group gets back into selling new cars in downtown Spokane this week, launching the area's only Fiat dealership.

Fiat, the longtime Italian carmaker, joined forces with Chrysler in 2009 and ended up taking a 58 percent stake in the company. It's been more than two years since the Bartons used their dealership at Monroe and Second to sell new vehicles.

Starting Wednesday, Barton Fiat, at 1002 W. Second, will sell the Fiat 500, the Italian-made subcompact that is aimed at drivers wanting a small but sporty vehicle.

It comes in five models. Later this year, the higher-end, turbocharged version, the Fiat Abarth, will be added to the mix, said Jeff Barton, president of Barton Auto Group.

The locally owned dealership also operates Barton Jeep in the Spokane Valley and is building a Barton dealership on Newport Highway. It will open later this year.

In 2010 the Barton Saturn dealership sold its last Saturn, after parent automaker GM decided to shut down the brand.

Since then the Bartons have kept open the downtown dealership selling used cars and managing costs carefully. Jeff Barton said the family hoped to get the first Fiats in 2011 but the Italian company only released them to major U.S. cities last year.

The only other Fiat dealers nearby are in Boise and Seattle.

Wire photo: The Fiat Abarth, sport class

Baumgartner aide named new Builders Association government affairs director

Spokane Home Builders Association (SHBA) has hired Michael Cathcart as its director of government affairs.

Cathcart has worked as an aide to State Sen. Michael Baumgartner and done other political and neighborhood organizing. He managed the Save Our Spokane campaign in opposition to the Envision Spokane Prop. 4 in 2009 and worked on Baumgartner’s state senate campaign in 2010.
Until recently, Cathcart was state field director on Baumgartner's U.S. Senate campaign. That paid position has ended, according to Joel White, the association's executive officer.
as the statewide field director.
The association has had directors of government affairs for more than two decades. “One of our primary goals is advocacy for our members. It's a part of our mission statement,” White said.

Why Washington gas prices are so high

Washington and other West Coast states have the highest gas prices in the nation – in some case 50 cents higher than the national average.

In the Spokane area, average prices remain below $4 a gallon, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Guage Report.

On the state’s west side, average prices for a gallon of regular gasoline are $4.25 in the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett market, $4.26 in Tacoma and $4.34 in Bellingham, AAA reports.

Statewide the average is $4.21, up 13 cents since last week. Meanwhile, the national average price dropped 5 cents to $3.73.

“The West Coast is zigging while the rest of the country is zagging,” said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.

A shortage of gasoline tied to issues at the region’s refineries has caused prices to spike in the wholesale market, analysts said.

Dias, MacKay Manufacturing, Leisure Concepts win state manufacturing awards

Some good business news for a change:  Three area folks have won big in this years's Washington Manufacturing Awards, sponsored by Seattle Business magazine.

The awards were announced two weeks ago in Seattle.

Manufacturer of the Year: (midsized company (tie): MacKay Manufacturing, Spokane,  and Watson Furniture Group of Poulsbo.

Executive of the Year:  (midsized company) Craig Dias, Haskins Steel Company, Spokane.

And in the Silver category,

Manufacturing Innovation of the Year: Leisure Concepts of Spokane.


BNBuilders moves into its larger offices in Spokane Valley

BNBuilders Inc. is opening a larger office at 15920 E. Indiana Ave., Suite 202, in Spokane Valley. It will serve clients throughout Eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana.

BNBuilders offers preconstruction and construction services for complex, management-intensive projects. Those include ground-up construction and tenant improvements for higher education, health care, biotechnology, retail, mixed-use and corporate/commercial.

Before the relocation, the Seattle-headquartered construction firm had its offices in downtown Spokane. The new space provides more room for expansion, said a comany press release.

Among other awards, BNBuilders was recognized as one of Engineering News Record’s (ENR) Top 100 Green Contractors.

BNBuilders is working on the Washington State University campus in Pullman, completing the $22 million Duncan Dunn & Community Halls Renovation.

Joe Bash, a principal in the company, will head the office. Co-founders are Brad Bastian and Jeff Nielsen.

Photo: By Cheryl Click, BNBuilders

For Spokane, recession slogs on

The Spokane region remains in the grips of a stubborn recession even as the Seattle area and other leading cities across the country rev up economic activity and new jobs, said Shaun O’L. Higgins, a marketing executive and consultant who for years has delivered financial outlooks for the Inland Northwest.

He provided an unvarnished assessment during a Greater Spokane Inc. meeting Friday morning of what the past four years brought Spokane: “Since March 2008, we have lost jobs at a rate almost twice the national rate.”

Higgins noted that job prospects are expected to begin growing to replace the loss of 14,200 positions, but it won’t happen quickly.

“Local employers still find it easier not to hire, than to hire and then layoff,” he said.

Higgins retired from The Spokesman-Review in 2010 after a 31-year career that culminated in his role as marketing chief. He now runs The Oxalis Group LLC.

Airway Heights formally approves annexation of Spokane Tribe’s STEP land

News from our SR West Plains bureau: the City of Airway Heights announced on Friday it's formally annexed the 145 acres the Spokane Tribe hopes to use to develop its  Spokane Tribe of Indians Economic Project (STEP).

Which would be a casino and eventual resort, if the Department of Interior approves the request to use trust land for a gaming business.
Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing said the annexation, which received unanimous support from the Airway Heights City Council, marks a major milestone in the city’s vision for future growth and economic sustainability.
He said: “The Spokane Tribe’s STEP Project is a smart development that is compatible with land-use regulations in Airway Heights and does not encroach on Fairchild Air Force Base.”

Critics have seen otherwise. Many have said the proposal would potentially create encroachment that would cause the Air Force to alter flight paths, and possibly even reduce the Fairchild Air Force Base mission.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs is continuing to review the proposal.

Restored Milk Bottle features clever repurposed ceiling bottle lights

Among the pleasant discoveries inside the new and restored Mary Lou's Milk Bottle, the fire-damaged food place on West Garland, was the open ceiling area near the main door.

Owners Ed and Kris Ritchie found that the ceiling of the building, before the fire, hid the bottle's interior open “neck” — the 15-foot cylindrical opening that is distinctive to this type of architecture.

When working with Compass Contruction of Spokane to reopen, they all agreed to restore the neck's open space.

Nicely, Compass owner Fred Anderson decided to add one non-authentic but fun detail. He took four old milk bottles purchased on Craigslist and converted them into lights that hang inside the ceiling opening.

He made the fixtures himself and donated them to the Ritchies, in time for tomorrow's public opening of the Milk Bottle, at 802 W. Garland.

Fun fact: he bought eight, but broke four in the process of making the lights. Luckily, he only needed four.

Rural postal cuts would not change processing center closures

Wednesday's announcement that the US Postal Service is considering reductions in hours for 13,700 rural post offices doesn't impact other plans that would close urban post offices, including three in the Spokane area. Those are in Hillyard, Parkwater and Dishman.

That's the view of Ernie Swanson, the USPS spokesman for Washington.

Swanson said the new plan also doesn't change earlier plans by the USPS to shut down some postal processing centers.

That plan, released earlier this year, would close processing centers in the TriCities, Yakima and Wenatchee, as well as one in Missoula.

Those closures would mean additional workers at Spokane's West Plains mail processing center. But a final decision on all those closures will wait until later this year, the USPS has said.  

Shaun Higgins to provide GSI members with economic overview on Friday

Longtime Spokane economic “handicapper” Shaun O'L Higgins gets on stage tomorrow, May 11, for another in his annual forecasts for the region.

Higgins, formerly marketing and circulation manager for The Spokesman-Review (now retired), will go over the upticks, downsides and unlikely indicators that provide guidance on how the economy is doing.

The presentation is sponsored and presented by Greater Spokane Inc. and starts at 7:30 at the Marie Antoinette Room of the Davenport Hotel.
Prices, if you haven't registered yet: $30 for GSI members; $55 for others.
To register, go here.

Jensen Byrd building not likely to be demolished until next year

When we last left the Jensen-Byrd saga, the historical preservationists were forming a posse, trying to figure out a way to hijack the former downtown Spokane warehouse and hide it somewhere on the Palouse, to keep it from being torn down.

The Texas-based company that wants to tear it down, Campus Advantage, was trying to obtain the needed certificates to move forward with a slow-motion, brick-by-brick demolition. They intend to replace the JB with a modern student housing structure designed for the 21st century.

And how will it play out? 

It appears it's going nowhere for now. A recent WSU Spokane Bulletin says the building (not yet deemed a historic building) is on life support for about a year. Barb Chamberlain, who works for WSU, is the author of the bulletin item saying the sale won't close until 2013, citing the WSU Real Estate Office.

Chamberlain said the original deal is being held up because of extended timelines to obtain permits. 

If all the permits come together and Campus Advantage hasn't moved onto something else, the plan is to break ground next year and move students in in 2014. The goal, according to the buyer, is to house about 460 residents in the new building.

Twinkie maker says unions have to shed benefits to keep company intact

So the parent company of Twinkies is warning about 250 state workers their jobs are in jeopardy unless union concessions are offered. Fourteen of those 250 work in Spokane. has a brief summary here.

Our hope here is to offer a bit more focus on what exactly the company, based in Texas, feels is needed. The company is going through Chapter 11 reorganization.

Hostess is asking a U.S. Bankruptcy judge in White Plains, New York, for permission to reject union contracts, warning that it faces liquidation if it can’t modify labor deals.

A previous AP story summarized some of the key company requests:

Hostess wants to withdraw from some multi-employer pension plans. New hires would be covered by the same 401(k)-type retirement accounts used by nonunion and management employees.

The company’s new CEO, Gregory F. Rayburn, said Hostess wants to cut annual pension contributions from $103 million to $25 million. Hostess also wants to change work rules that sometimes require two trucks instead of one, and to outsource deliveries to small stores.
Consumers increasingly have been buying other snacks, such as yogurt, and more wheat bread. White bread’s popularity has plunged — in 2000, it was eaten in 54 percent of all U.S. homes compared to 36 percent last year, according to consumer-marketing research firm NPD Group.
As part of its turnaround plan, Hostess wants to raise at least $400 million from current lenders or new investors or by selling brands. Rayburn said he has talked with a potential buyer of one of its small, regional brands.

Three events for your business brain: GSI, LaunchPad, Connect NW set speakers

The lineup of coming business-related events: 

Thursday, May 10: Greater Spokane Inc. sponsors a  conversation with Jeff Philipps, CEO of Rosauers and chair-elect of GSI's board of trustees.

It runs 8 - 9:30 a.m. at the GSI offices, 801 W Riverside, Suite 100. Register here.

Friday, May 11: LaunchPad Live hosts a live networking luncheon (and taping) on the aerospace sector. Topics include the Air Washington Project, made up of 11 community and technical colleges that train workers for the aviation industry.

It starts at 11:30 a.m., at Nectar Tasting Room in downtown Spokane. For more information or for seats, go here.

May 24:  Executive Connect Northwest Breakfast  hosts Steve Duvoisin and Jon Copeland at the Georgian Ballroom, Spokane Club. It runs from 7:30 to 9 a.m. 

Duvoisin is CEO of Spokane-based Inland Imaging, one of the area's prime radiology groups. Copeland is the CEO of a newly formed information technology company, which is the combination of the Spokane-based Inland Imaging IT and TROI IT Solutions teams and QuickStudy Radiology, based in St. Louis, Mo.
Register here.

Washington ‘confidence survey’ finds workers uncertain about recovery

Until today we'd never heard of Everest College. It's a nationwide network of for-profit schools operated by a publicly traded education firm, Corinthian Colleges, out of Santa Ana, Calif.

Everest has operations in Seattle and Portland, but nowhere near Spokane or Idaho.

The college sent out a release noting that job scares still have a large impact on Washington workers.

It cited data found in the fourth annual Washington State Workplace Confidence Survey, conducted for Everest by Harris/Decima.

The data suggest people have been hit hard by the Great Recession.

The survey reported 33% of Washington workers were concerned about losing their job, similar to 2011 where 30% of respondents said they were concerned about losing their jobs.

Among other findings:  About half, or 54% of respondents, said they have considered making a change due to the current economy and tougher job market. Two-in-five (42%) have considered returning to school, either to enhance their current career (28%) or to train for a new career (24%).

If no barriers existed for changing careers, 40 percent of Washingtonians said they would do it. Those with a high school education or less (compared to those with at least some college training) were more likely to change careers by a wide margin of 58% to 34%.

The survey also brought in results from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, suggesting that careers with a future remain strongest in health care and computers.

Red Lion Hotels revamping website to get more booking revenue, using hyperlocal content

Spokane’s Red Lion Hotels is revamping its website in hopes of getting more people to book visits there instead of through online travel sites.

Company Executive Vice President Harry Sladich said the makeover will affect the main site plus 44 microsites for the chain’s individual hotels.

The goal is to save money by gaining more online reservations at its own sites instead of through online companies such as Expedia or

“When (guests) make reservations through online travel agents, we take a substantial discount on the money they’re spending,” Sladich said.

The discount varies depending on how big the booking site is. Big sites like Expedia or Travelocity get close to 35 percent; smaller sites are taking cuts in the 20 percent range, Sladich said.

All bookings made at Red Lion’s site stay with the company.

To read the full story, go to starting after 9 p.m. on Friday, May 4.

diVision Thrift Store offers cash or credit for used household items and clothing

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The diVision Thrift Store has begun accepting recycled used or unused clothing and household items and will pay cash or provide store credit. The store's address is 2915 N. Division.
Owner Karen Thurston said the goal is to help with community recycling and provide funds for area charities. Thuston's nonprofit, Community Green Cross, collects the clothing and other items from North Idaho charities, which are paid by the pound for the items.
The diVision Store pays five cents per pound or 10 cents per pound for store credit for items that are clean, dry, and odor free.
Unlike consignment stores which require nearly new and current style clothing, diVision Thrift Store will accept items with missing buttons, broken zippers, or stains, as long as the clothing meets the clean, dry, and odor free criteria. 
Household items must be in good repair and unbroken, and the store will also accept small furniture items not weighing over 100 pounds.   No electronic items are accepted.
Items in excellent condition will remain in the store for resale, Thurston said. Other items will go to a number of exporters who direct the items to stores across North America and overseas.

McKinstry’s downtown building will start adding companies in its innovation center

If you haven't had a chance to visit the renovated McKinstry Spokane & Inland Empire Railroad building, you ought to find the time.

The company, with headquarters in Seattle, has a corps of about 100 workers in the Spokane area. Last fall it finished a $20 million renovation of the former electric railway maintenance and repair depot, on Spokane Falls Blvd. east of downtown and across from Gonzaga University.

Today's story on the business pages highlighted plans by McKinstry to set aside about 38,000 square feet of the building for an innovation center. The center will open its doors in August, and become a gathering spot-incubator for companies that are looking to accelerate their growth.

At least four companies will move in, come August, said McKinstry VP Tony Stewart. He projected about two dozen tenant companies will eventually fill up the innovation center.

A large portion of the McKinstry building is designed for open space — which is not easy to illustrate, given the unusual configuration of the building. We ran a story last year on the building, with a video, and those images still didn't capture the appealing and deceptively welcoming nature of the interior design.

Former Bulldog tavern now calling itself the University Bar and Grill

The patrons have voted, and the new name for the former Bulldog in the Gonzaga Neighborhood is ….University Bar and Grill.

Owner Mary Livingston said this week more than a thousand people voted and helped select the location's new name.

After Livingston took over the business (and could not use the trademarked name, Bulldog) she went through several names, including the 1305 Club (for 1305 N. Hamilton, the business address). It was also, briefly, zagZ and for awhile The Dog.

“We had hundreds of great names suggested and the final decision was tough,” she said. She said the hope was to connect with nearby GU's community but also not alienate fans and patrons from other colleges and schools.

The bar will celebrate with a three-day grand opening that starts next week, Friday May 11.

Ecova building gets a brand new sign

Spokane's Ecova, which started life as Avista Advantage and went through a few name changes, has hoisted a new sign on its company office building, 1313 N. Atlantic. The most recent name was Advantage IQ.

The company, which manages and analyzes office energy consumption and billing, was recently featured as the April volunteer of the month for the City of Spokane Parks & Recreation Department.

Seven2 one of two dozen finalists to win a $25K office makeover in online contest

If you're a fan of Spokane's Seven2, you can help the company win a $25K office makeover. Seven2, a digital marketing agency based downtown, is a finalist in an online competition hosted by ecommerce company Turnstone.

Seven2 is going up against 23 other businesses, with five firms selected based on an online vote.

That vote can be submitted at Voting runs through May 13.

Turnstone, a Steelcase brand, created the “Win a Sweet New Office!” contest for small and emerging businesses – companies with less than 100 employees – to showcase the correlation between good workspaces and improved creativity, productivity and growth.

Seven2 got to the finals by submitting a video at this link.

Red Lion sees a loss in first quarter earnings but room revenue grows

Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels on Tuesday announced it lost $6.6 million in the first quarter of 2012, a net loss of 34 cents per share, compared to a net loss from continuing operations of $4.5 million or 24 cents per share, in the first quarter of 2011. 

In the first quarter of 2012, comparable EBITDA from continuing operations (before special items) improved to $1.2 million, compared to a loss of $.5 million in the first quarter of 2011.

Since hotels are a unique industry, earnings include an occupancy and REVPAR (revenue per available room) formula to track numbers.

For this past quarter, the occupancy for its owned and leased hotels was 52 percent; average daily rate was $72.29 and REVPAR for the quarter was $40.21.

That's up, except for ADR, from the first quarter of 2011, when the three key numbers were 48.4 percent, $77.47 and $37.47.

RevPAR growth outpaced the midscale hotel segment and resulted in an increase in total revenue and EBITDA, said President and Chief Executive Officer Jon E. Eliassen.

“We successfully implemented targeted sales and marketing programs that allowed us to improve occupancy in what is typically our slowest period, without sacrificing rate,” he said.

Forest Steel sold to Pacific Steel & Recycling

Pacific Steel & Recycling, based in Great Falls, Mont., has purchased Forest Steel Inc. in Dalton Gardens, Idaho, for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition is effective today.

The facility will operate under the Pacific Steel name. Pacific is retaining all 37 employees of Forest Steel, and owner and president Grant Forest will remain in a consulting capacity.

Pacific moved branch manager Ben Halderman from its steel service center in Pasco to the Dalton Gardens facility.

Forest Steel was started in 1982 in Coeur d’Alene. Originally a one-man operation, it processed recycling and sold new steel.

Pacific Steel & Recycling is entirely employee-owned, with 850 employees at 43 branches in Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah and Colorado.

Originally incorporated as Pacific Hide & Fur Depot, the company started as a one-man operation by Joe Thiebes Sr., a German immigrant, in Spokane in the 1880s.

Pacific sells steel to fabricators and also processes scrap metal to be recycled at steel mills.

Itron completes $100 million purchase of SmartSynch

Itron, Inc. has finished buying SmartSynch for $100 million.

The Liberty Lake company said today the acquisition strengthens its cellular communications offering and will bring greater choice to utility customers across the spectrum of smart metering deployments.

Jackson, Miss.-based SmartSynch is the leading provider of point-to-point smart grid solutions using a cellular network for communications. It has more than 130 customers, including nine of the top 10 utilities in North America.

Most recently, SmartSynch’s technology was selected by Consumers Energy for a cellular smart grid network serving 1.9 million electric customers.

Itron provides energy and water resource management solutions for nearly 8,000 utilities around the world. It has more than 9,000 employees doing business in more than 130 countries.

Leaders kick off construction of wind farm on Palouse

The wind power farm to be built on the Palouse this summer will include 58 windmills between the town of Oakesdale and State Route 195.

That's a little larger than previously announced. Boston-based First Wind had said the wind farm would include 46 turbines. The 58 turbines each will be able to produce 1.8 megawatts of electricity, capturing the prevailing southwest wind, for a total of 105 megawatts of power.

The company has a 30-year agreement to sell the power to Avista, the Spokane-based utility serving Eastern Washington and North Idaho. When finished, the wind farm will generate power for about 30,000 Northwest homes.

The company will mark the start of construction today at the project, about 45 miles south of Spokane in northern Whitman County. Construction is expected to be completed by November. The project will be online and operating by the end of the year.

Today's event will be attended by State Sen. Mark Schoesler, State Rep. Susan Fagan, Avista CEO Scott Morris, First Wind CEO Paul Gaynor and other industry and community leaders.

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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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