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Archive for March 2013

Last call center workers once tied to ICT Group will lose their jobs in May

The last vestige of ICT Group's once-massive call center operation is closing this spring.

Sykes Enterprises, which acquired ICT Group in 2010, has announced its laying off its last 148 Spokane Valley call center workers in late May.

At one time, ICT Group had more than 1,200 workers handling calls at the University City Mall.

After acquiring ICT Group, Sykes began making adjustments to the Spokane workforce.

In 2012, Sykes laid off about 170 workers. At that point the work group had moved out of the U-City buildings.

Sykes Enterprises spokeswoman Andrea Burnett Thomas said the decision is part of ongoing business practices, including helping clients find the right level of effective support services. Those Spokane Valley jobs are not being transferred to another city, Thomas said.

Sykes has more than 80 call centers in more than 20 countries, said Thomas.

Most of its clients are in telecommunications, financial services and tech services.

Thomas said she could not divulge details of severance packages for the Spokane Valley workers. They will be invited, she added, to apply for at-home call service contracts. Like many other call center companies, Sykes uses home-based workers who provide the same inbound or outbound calls as office workers do.

Cedar Crossing project adds brewery and fire-roasted pizza place

A commercial and residential development in north Spokane’s Five Mile area will introduce a new craft brewery and an artisan pizzeria, each operated by Spokane food business veterans.

The two businesses will be Waddell’s Brew Pub and Grille, owned by Michael Noble, and the Boiler Room, operated by Matt Goodwin.

They’re the first two businesses moving into the five-acre Cedar Crossing project near the intersection of Francis Avenue and Cedar Street.

The developers of Cedar Crossing are Gib Brumback and his son, Nick Brumback. In addition to four eventual commercial buildings, Cedar Crossing will include 36 apartments in four buildings, Brumback said.

The two buildings housing Noble’s and Goodwin’s businesses will be roughly 30 to 40 yards apart. Both expect to move in by this fall, Brumback said.

Noble has operated Waddell’s Neighborhood Pub and Grille on Spokane’s South Hill since 2008. It will stay open and eventually serve beers made at Waddell’s Brewing at the north side location.

The new brewery and pub will satisfy two groups, Noble said: those wondering when he’d open a north Spokane location, and when he would introduce his own craft beers.

“Our customers thought we had our own craft beers, but we didn’t have the space you need to do that kind of brewing,” he said.

The brewery will start producing five original beers and a seasonal special. Noble said he expects to hire about 35 employees.

Goodwin has been part owner of three restaurants in Spokane: the Marquee Lounge, Press Public House and Fast Eddie’s.

His new eatery will serve gourmet pizza and offer a cocktail lounge, Goodwin said. The Boiler Room will serve some of the Waddell’s beers as well.

Coldwater Creek’s stock over past five years: a humbling graphic

The good news for investors in Coldwater Creek, it has to get better.

We spotted this chart in the Sandpoint-based women's clothing retailer's annual report for the fiscal year ending Feb. 2. The chart came with the company-written explanation below.

 If you can't read the graphic, here's the summary of what the FOUR key lines represent: (Also, click the chart to enlarge it.)

SOLID line with rectangle is Coldwater's stock valuation measured as an index starting in Feb. 2008 at 100. All four indices started at the same 100 point five years ago.

DASH line: NASDAQ composite.

DOT dash line: S&P apparel retail group.

SOLID line with circle: Apparel peer group.

The following graph compares the cumulative five-year total return to stockholders on Coldwater Creek Inc.'s common stock to the cumulative total returns of the NASDAQ Composite Index, the S&P Apparel Retail Index, and a customized peer group of Chico's, Christopher & Banks, and ANN INC (referred to as the “Peer Group”). Due to Talbots, one of the companies that was included in the Peer Group for fiscal 2011, becoming a privately held company, and in an effort to include a broader range of companies that includes industry sectors in which we operate, instead of comparing our stock performance to an individually selected group of peer companies, we have used a published industry index. Accordingly, for fiscal 2012, we are including the S&P Apparel Retail Index and we do not intend to present the Peer Group in future fiscal years. The stock performance shown below is not necessarily indicative of future performance.

Southwest adds nonstops from Chicago to Spokane, starting June 2

Southwest Airlines  announced Monday it will begin one nonstop route between Chicago Midway International Airport and Spokane International Airport,  starting June 2.

The new service includes legs to and from Chicago to Jacksonville, Fla. The morning flights come from Florida to Chicago, then continue to Spokane. The same option, the other direction, allows no-change, one-stop flights from GEG to Jacksonville, said Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins.

The Spokane-Midway service will run daily through Sept. 8. The new service between Midway and Jacksonville Airport runs from June 2 to Sept. 28.

This is the first nonstop flights between Spokane and Midway on Southwest, Hawkins said.

Former Alpine Auto owner sentenced and fined for failing to pay state sales tax

The former owner of the now-closed Alpine Auto Wholesale in Spokane had pled guilty to felony theft of sales tax and filing false state tax returns, the state Department of Revenue announced.

Marc Eugene Reed, 45, admitted his business collected $179,675.33 in sales tax on retail vehicle sales in 2009 and 2010 but failed to remit it to the state.

Reed went to court and was sentenced to 45 days and ordered him to pay $180,275.33 in restitution and court costs.

The charges were filed in November 2011 by the Financial Crimes Unit of the Washington State Attorney General’s Office..

Court documents noted that Reed and his late mother Linda Lee Reed admitted to state investigators that they knew that they should have remitted the collected sales tax to the Department of Revenue but were “going to get caught up later.”

Jamaicans continue working Eastern Washington farms, filling ag labor gap

With famers geting ready to put crops into fields and orchardists preparing for the growing season, immigration reform picks up as a topic across much of Eastern Washington.

As immigration uncertainties have disrupted the traditional supply of Latino workers, some Eastern Washington farms have turned to hiring Jamaican laborers to supplement other workers, primarily migrant field workers.

One of the first farms in Eastern Washington to hire Jamaicans is Gebbers Farms, in Brewster, which grows apples and cherries. Back in 2010 it reported having hired about 300 Jamaicans.

Most of those, at the time, were working through the H2A visa program, a temporary agricultural visa. They continue getting those guest visas as farms across the state continue to rely on Jamaica laborers.

Northwest Public Radio correspondent Jessica Robinson put the situation into context with a recent radio report on how immigration uncertainties continue leaving both employers and workers in economic limbo.

Her solidly reseached report shows that Gebbers, one of the largest employers of ag workers, has to walk a fine legal line in order to pull in enough laborers. As her story explains:

Gebbers Farms  … did not respond to repeated interview requests for this story. But according to the Washington Farm Labor Association, Gebbers is one of 35 growers now using the guest worker program. The industry complains it's an expensive system that requires a company to coordinate with six different government agencies. And it still doesn't provide enough workers. The association estimates as many as 70 percent of agricultural workers in Washington are not what they call “work authorized.”

New York court gives AP a major victory against news ‘scraper’ in Norway

The Associated Press just won a major victory in an effort to sue a Scandinavian web firm that scraped (cut and pasted) headlines and some story sentences and then charged its customers for them.

In a decision announced this week in New York City, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote said the Norwegian web aggregator, Meltwater, failed to convince the court that what it was doing was “fair use,” a legal term allowed in some cases without compensating the source of information.

The company Meltwater scours websites, including the AP and numerous newspapers. It then produces news summaries paid for by its clients, who include companies and governments.

As stated in Friday's story on the ruling, courts use a four-part test that  that tries to define fair use. Famous examples of fair use include a parody rap song of “Pretty Woman” and Google’s display of thumb-size pictures in its image search. In the AP case, however, Meltwater’s fair use defense failed.

The New York District Court rejected Meltwater's claim, which was based on asserting its “results” were equal to those in a search engine.

Judge Cote instead ruled Meltwater is more like a business rival to AP: “Instead of driving subscribers to third-party websites, Meltwater News acts as a substitute for news sites operated or licensed by AP.”

Meltwater officials said it would appeal the ruling. It's also not clear how much in damages AP will attempt to collect.  The New York Times also offered a legal brief on the side of the Associated Press.

The PaidContent summary noted: “The judgment also points to the amount of content that Meltwater replicated. Whereas fair use allows anyone to reproduce a headline and snippets, Cote suggested Meltwater took 'the heart' of the copyrighted work by also reproducing the 'lede' and other sentences.”

Auble, Jolicoeur renamed, joins national network Valbridge Property Advisors

Spokane and Coeur d’Alene-based real estate consulting firm Auble, Jolicoeur & Gentry, Inc. had changed its name, joining national firm Valbridge Property Advisors.

It opened its Spokane office in 1984.

It now uses the name Valbridge Property Advisors | Auble, Jolicoeur & Gentry Inc.

Privately held Valbridge is based in Naples, Fla. The Spokane office is the 42nd local group to join its network.

Valbridge is owned by its local practice leaders, not by a brokerage firm, investment firm or outside investors, a press release noted..

Senior Managing Director Bruce Jolicoeur said the decision was in response to customer desire for working with a national firm. The arrangement also gives the local offices access to national data and technology services, Jolicoeur said.

ESPN gets a couple free bags of Zags Blend coffee, thanks to Cravens

Our second leftover from the Merch Madness story that ran today in The Spokesman-Review.

Cravens Coffee, a big fan of GU basketball, has seen plenty of sales for its Zags Blend coffee.

Since Neil Everett is an announcer at ESPN, company owners Simon Thompson and Becky Templin sent two bags of Zags Blend to ESPN's Connecticut office.

“Everett is a graduate of Lewis and Clark H.S.,” Thompson said. It was worth a shot, and maybe on a slow day someone would be seen pouring out a cup of the Spokane-roasted coffee.

So far, however, that's all there is to the story.  Not even a thank you note, at last check.

Why isn’t Hersheys really riding the Zagnut connection for March Madness?

Today's story on “merch madness,” and the boost in sales for products related to Gonzaga University, noted that only one candy bar carries the “Zags” name. That's a bar made by the Spokane franchise of Rocky Mountain Chocoloate Factory.

And yes, why didn't someone really work the Zagnut angle? If ever a bar is ripe for GU merchandising, the Hersheys-owned Zagnut seems the one.

The answer we got from a Hersheys spokesman is that the company has one product and one product only that is the “official March Madness” candy bar. That's Reese's. That's the whole story, as far as we could tell.

The Zags store sells plenty of Zagnut bars, we learned. It's especially popular as a stocking-stuffer.

Washington February jobless rate stuck at 7.5 percent for third month in a row

From the state Employment Security Department:

Washington added an estimated 4,000 jobs in February, while the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained at 7.5 percent for the third month in a row.

Individual county jobless numbers will be released on Tuesday.

“February was relatively uneventful,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a labor economist for the Employment Security Department. “The job growth was close to the monthly average for the past year, with no big surprises.”

The state has added about 65,000 jobs in the past year, averaging about 5,000 per month. So far, the state has regained about 70 percent of the 205,000 jobs that were lost due to the recession.

Industries with the most estimated job gains in February were education and health services, up 3,000; manufacturing, up 2,900; professional and business services, up 1,200; wholesale trade, up 600; information, up 400 jobs; other services, up 400 jobs; and government, up 400 jobs.

Industries showing the most job losses last month included construction, down 3,600 jobs; leisure and hospitality, down 1,100; and transportation, warehousing and utilities, down

Lucky Friday Mine avoids federal safety violation notice, after improvements

Federal mine safety officials will not issue Hecla Mining Co. a violations pattern notice, the mine company announced today.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration had issued a potential pattern of violations notice for the Lucky Friday Mine in early 2012, following two fatal accidents at the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan.

But after further review, and following more than $60 million spent on safety training and mine improvements, the MSHA said no final violation notice will be issued.

If the POV had been issued, the risk was that Hecla might have had to close the mine again, or make more focused safety efforts at the Lucky Friday.

The mine was closed for more than a year as Hecla managers made the investments and installed new equipment in the silver, zinc and lead mine.

“We are pleased that following the rehabilitation of the shaft, training and other work, MSHA has decided that the PPOV is not required. We have worked with MSHA, and are continuing to enhance many aspects of the mine’s operations and safety, including implementation of the National Mining Association’s CORESafety Program,” said Phillips S. Baker, Jr., Hecla’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

The Lucky Friday mine resumed operations last month.

One national report card on health care costs gives Washington state an ‘F’

Washington state has tried to become a leader in adoptng provisions of the new federal health care reform law.

But it doesn't shine when compared to some other states, based on transparency of pricing information and state providers' willingness to disclose health care costs, a national study reports.

Idaho also scored an F.

The report, prepared by the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute, a consortium of large firms that pay for employee health care, said Washington state scores an F according to its report card on price transparency..

Only two states scored an A: Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Five scored a B: Michigan, Maine, Virginia, Wisconsin and Colorado. 

The grades try to reflect how well each state sets policies on requiring providers to list price of medical care. It also looks at how well the state disseminates info, giving points, for instance, for public websites.

The report also values states that require disclosure of actual prices, rather than what hospitals say they bill for a service.

One health care researcher, quoted in USA Today, said that exact discrepancy in fees and more transparency in pricing won't necessarily help consumers.

Modest deductibles and co-payments of any size mean that what the consumer pays does not vary by the provider used,” wrote Paul Ginsburg, economist and president of Center for Studying Health System Change, in USA Today.

He added that more transparency could force up prices, since consumers who equate quality with higher price will gradually shift toward pricier providers.

Spokane County netted $125,000 during its online foreclosure auction

Spokane County’s first-ever online auction of foreclosed properties earlier this month generated 29 parcel sales and more than $125,000 in unpaid taxes and delinquencies.

In a break from traditional end-of-year live auctions, the county’s Treasurer’s office opted for the online method to determine if more bidders took part, leading to more sales.

The jury is still out on whether online is the best way to go, but Chief Deputy Treasurer Mike Volz said by some yardsticks, the online experiment was successful.

Originally planned in December, the online bidding was postponed until March, to give owners more time to pay off bills.

Volz said that allowed owners of 16 delinquent parcels enough time to redeem the roughly $150,000 in taxes, fees and penalty interest they owed.

Had those 16 parcels been included in the online auction, they would have likely been the most sought-after properties, he said. As a result, the county now plans to have all future auctions held in January or February, Volz said.

The county, by law, has to auction off parcels that have three or more years of unpaid taxes and fees.

The Treasurer’s office is still not ready to decide whether to try another online auction.

“We need to do some more slicing and dicing to be sure if it’s the right method,” he said.

By one measure, the live 2011 auction produced more money in recovered taxes. It generated $154,282 for the county in 2011.

The online auction produced $130,247 in sales, but the county also paid $4,350 of that amount to the company that ran the online event.

But by another measure — purchase price as a percent of a parcel’s assessed value — the online auction was better, Volz said.

The live auction’s 27 parcels netted about 35 percent of the property’s valuation. The March online auction produced sales at 49 percent of property values, he said.

Pizza Oven by Gonzaga shuts down, owner blames contractor for unpaid bills

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The Pizza Oven restaurant near Gonzaga University, at 829 E Boone, has shut down.

The restaurant is the second eatery in the retail strip to have closed. Last year, Noodle Works shut down after a few months operation. The property was developed by Spokane resident John Stockton.

Attempts to reach Pizza Oven owner Matt Rai were unsuccessful. He continues operating a Pizza Oven in River Park Square downtown.

Rai posted a sign on his Boone Avenue store blaming the closure on a general contractor who allegedly failed to pay the subcontractors who finished building the store.

The location used to be the home of Mark Starr's David's Pizza. Starr continues to have plans to reopen that business in downtown Spokane.

TEDxSpokane, two other events provide business sessions and networking

A number of events are on the horizon, with opportunities to learn about new businesses or network with peers.

  • Saturday, March 16:

TEDxSpokane sessions, at St. George's School, 2929 W. Waikiki Rd.

To learn more about the TED-styled inspirational presentations, try this link. Presentations start around 9 a.m. and run until 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are available for the event, at the door, for $30.

Among the presenters is Douglas Linman, founder and CEO of Suntco and described by some as the father of “solar liquid power.” His firm is developing paints and sprays that convert surfaces into solar energy collectors.

  • Monday, March 18:

A McKinstry Innovation seminar will run from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., at the McKinstry Spokane building,  859 E. Spokane Falls Bvd.

The topic will be Understanding Operational and Information Security from a Financial Perspective. Presenters include Jack Jones and Steve Tabacek, co-founders of CXOware. Also speaking is Henry Baker, an author on security and an investor in the Spokane firm. Conact if you want a spot.

  • March 27:

The Spokane Valley Chamber's Business Trade Show will run from  2 to 7 p.m., at Mirabeau Park Hotel, 1100 N. Sullivan Road.

This year's theme is “Innovative Ideas to Grow Your Business.”  The Business Show takes place at the Mirabeau Park Hotel in the Convention Center Ballroom located at 1100 N Sullivan Rd. in Spokane Valley.

The event is free. To get more information:

Comcast limited basic subscribers need to switch as final channels go digital

Comcast Corp. is alerting viewers in Spokane who still receive analog, non-digital TV signals for limited basic cable that they need new boxes to watch those programs in digital format.

Getting the digital equipment costs nothing, said Comcast spokesman Walt Neary, provided a customer doesn't need more than three digital receivers.

In  2009 Comcast moved its standard cable lineup — channels 30 to 70 — to the digital format.

The last step, taking place near the first of April, is the conversion of analog channels 2-30, 72-79 and 95-99.

Neary estimated the Spokane area has roughly 2,500 homes or customers who still use receive limited basic in analog format.

Like all other major cable companies, Comcast is making the change so that it can use bandwidth for more channels and more services for customers.

Here's the Comcast summary of the key step:

To continue receiving limited basic channels, customers need a digital cable box or a Digital Transport Adapter.  Similar to Comcast’s offer when we upgraded the expanded basic service to digital, we’re providing up to three Digital Transport Adapters, small cable equipment we call DTAs, for our Limited Basic customers at no charge.

To get the equipment, customers can call 877-634-4434 or log on to

Google’s payout to states includes $135,604 for Washington state as part of settlement

Google is coughing up a fairly piddling $7 million to divide among 38 states including Washington, as part of a settlement it's agreed to, to resolve privacy concerns over data collected by the company's Street View units.

The company acknowledges gathering passwords and other personal informaiton over local Wi-Fi networks with its Street View roving vehicles.  It denies wrongdoing, however.

The settlement includes an agreement by Google to pay the 38 states and the District of Columbia a total of $7 million to be used for, among other things, civil penalties, attorneys' fees and other costs of investigation and litigation, future consumer protection enforcement and education.

Washington's share of the money is $135,604, the state Attorney General's office reported.

State House members do a complete 180, allowing credit card surcharges

HB 1870, originally drafted in the Washington House of Representatives to forbid credit cards surcharges, has been amended into the exact opposite of the first bill.

Originally it was written to outlaw any retailer from adding a credit card surcharge to common retail transactions. (Government business was exempt, as in cases of online license renewals.)

The bill came out of a House committee and then went through recent modification. We wrote about some of the opposition to that bill two weeks ago at Office Hours.

Amended, it now simply says that any merchant who adds a surcharge must notify customers of the surcharge and list the amount at the cash register.

The substitute HB 1870 includes this language: “Any surcharge must be conspicuously and continuously posted at the location. The disclosure must be in a size and location that is easily seen and read by a consumer  prior to a sale. If a surcharge for the  use of a credit card is being imposed in a transaction at a physical location, the disclosure required  in (a) of this subsection must  be conspicuously and continuously posted at the location. The disclosure must be in a size and location that is easily seen and read by a consumer prior to a sale.”

The House passed the substitute bill 68-29. Opponents to the original bill included several pro-business groups, including the Retail Association of Washington.  The substitute retains the earlier exemption that allows some retailers to offer a discount for payments in cash.

The bill has moved to the state Senate. It's not clear what its future is.

As drafted, the substitute bill mirrors nearly exactly the language offered by a federal Appeals Court in a preliminary ruling issued in November. Earlier this year, that court ruling allowed MasterCard and Visa merchants to add a surcharge provided it be posted conspicuously, and not exceed the “swipe fee” the business pays the card-issuing bank.


Red Lion adds its first Leo Collection hotel, the Las Vegas Hilton

Red Lion Hotels Corp.back in January announced formation of its Leo Collection, a boutique-focused line of properties meant to appeal to the off-the-beaten track traveler.

Red Lion recently announced the first property in the Leo group. It's the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. 

The company launched the Leo on its site in time for the recent WCC Conference basketball tournament. 

Here's what's a bit odd. The Las Vegas Hilton is large.It has almost 3,000 rooms. 

When the Leo Collection was announced, one focus, according to the company, was on developing a group of boutique, smaller or historic hotels that retain their names but use Red Lion’s distribution and marketing channels.

The Red Lion hotel announcement does note the hotel apparetnly served as headquarters for Elvis Presley, Liberace and Barry Manilow.  Maybe that's what they mean by histoic? 

Hey someone at Red Lion, can you explain how the Las Vegas Hilton fits that description?

Sherwood buildings sold to two area groups, and both got great deals

The downtown business beat continues producing more real estate deals.

In Friday's paper was the announcement two groups bought the side-by-side buildings formerly called the Sherwood Mall. In fact, the buildings were built in different eras, and are probably best managed as two different structures.

The smaller building is the corner building once known as the home of First National Bank. It's at the corner of Riverside and Stevens.

That building was acquired by an investors group that includes Spokane Chiefs and Spokane Indians owner Bobby Brett, and area developer Chris Batten.

Brett is general manager of 1953 Box LLC, the company owning the corner building … and the name refers to the year this building went up, in 1953. The earlier building that sat there was not two stories. We'll go hunting for the historic photo of that bank that later was torn down.

The plan is to rebrand the building as the Numerica Building, and Numerica Credit Union will take most of the main floor. The rendering here, provided by nystrom + olson archiecture, shows  the exterior of the building after remodeling.

The  “real” Sherwood building, at 510 W. Riverside,was purchased by an LLC called Sure Would, whose principal is  Tom Clemson, the president of Inland Group.

Here's a lesson in market timing. Sterling Financial, which bought the two buildings back in the 1970s, sold them in 2007 to a North Idaho doctors' group, for $3.7 million.

This past month, Clemson's group paid $800,000 for the eight-story building, while Box 1953 LLC paid $500,000 for the corner building. Certainly both properties will take some major renovation. But those are decent deals for good downtown real estate.

In 2010 the properties were assessed at $2.7 million together.

Metro Cafe closed, new Sherwood owners will bring in Spokane architects

Brian and Cami Hamilton, who since 2010 operated the downtown Metro Cafe at 502 W. Riverside, closed the doors on Feb. 28.

The couple subleased the eatery, on the second level of the Sherwood Mall, from Andrew Swanson, who operated it for many years. The business began about 25 years ago and remained a popular lunchtime destination, known for its quality sandwiches and other offerings.

The Hamiltons could not be reached for comment. Sources say they still had more than a year available on the sublease. 

However, last year after Sterling Savings Bank moved more than 200 workers from the next-door Sherwood Building (at 508 W. Riverside) and the lower level of the cafe building, business declined for the cafe, Swanson said.

Some of the tables at the eatery are being repurposed at used at Luna, on the South Hill.

New owners recently acquired the side-by-side buildings. The owners of the former Sterling corner building say a Spokane architectural firm will take the space used by Metro Cafe.

The Spokesman-Review's Friday editions will provide more details on plans for the two Sherwood buildings.

Survival rumors for NorthTown Mall Wholesale Sports not true, manager says

March 10 seems to be a firm closing date for the two area equipment retailer Wholesale Sports locations in Spokane and in Coeur d'Alene.

An OfficeHours post last month clarified and summarized the strange set of facts behind the decision. In brief, the Canadian owner of 14 U.S. Wholesales Sports locations recently sold them to two U.S. firms. One firm, Alama Group, acquired four of the 14 and plans to close them all.  Two of those four are the ones we have here.

Rumors erupted recently that someone might find a way to resurrect or extend the stay of Wholesale Sports at NorthTown Mall. 

A store manager said don't trust the rumors. “We will close on March 10. That is our last working day,” the manager said.

Credit card surcharges better addressed by the feds or by the states?

Today's Olympia-based story on efforts to block credit card surcharges in Washington's Legislature elicited some interesting online comments.

The story demonstrates the unexpected position by a conservative legislator (Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane) who argues a credit card surcharge is best left to federal legislation. States rightrs?  Parker isn't of the opinion that the state should step in.

Here is part of that story:

By Tom Sowa

Washington may join 10 other states that now prohibit merchants from adding credit card surcharges to purchases.

The state House of Representatives expects to vote on HB 1870 today and send it to the state Senate.

But even the bill’s House sponsors say they’re uncertain the state Senate will vote on a bill that some state business groups consider unnecessary.

If made into law, the bill prevents Washington merchants from adding a surcharge to any credit or debit card transaction. The bill does not stop merchants from offering discounts for cash-only purchases.

One sponsor, Rep. Cyrus Habib, a Seattle-area Democrat, introduced the bill in response to a recent federal court ruling that allows merchants to add a surcharge of up to 4 percent of a purchase cost.

That surcharge option took effect on Feb. 1, but national consumer and business groups have said few merchants have opted to use it.

Jan Teague, president and CEO of the Washington Retail Association, said her group opposes the bill because there’s no need to make it a state law.

“None of our retailers in Washington impose a surcharge. In fact, those who use MasterCard and Visa are contractually prevented from doing so already,” Teague said.

“So, it makes no sense to try to turn this into law,” she added. “I know of no retailers here who are doing that.”

The new surcharge option took effect based on a preliminary court ruling in a New York lawsuit filed by retailers against the nation’s largest credit card companies.

The ruling said merchants could add surcharges, but they needed to post them at the point of sale and could not charge more than the actual “swipe fee” – the amount a retailer pays the bank for each transaction.

The National Retail Federation says few retailers are adding the charges; it also notes that the court ruling is preliminary and could be reversed when a judge makes a final ruling later this year.

The bill was approved on an 8-7 vote last week in the Business and Financial Services Committee of the state House. Habib and committee chairman Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, were among the sponsors.

Chompin’ Chuck is best in show from last weekend’s Spokane Startup Weekend

Tired of items about Startup Weekend?  We hope not, as we have one more to add to the pile.

The box score from the 53-hour business-starting marathon reads as follows:

There were 80 paid attendees, from whom about 10 company ideas were voted as worth pursuing. That then led to formation of teams with other attendees.

Top dog “best of show” idea was Chompin' Chuck. This mobile application-game teaches kids which foods to eat to prevent early onset diabetes. Its founders will get $800 worth of market research from the WSU Innovation Center.
Others in the winners group were:

  • Stinky John's will get the opportunity to present to the Spokane Angel Investment group this month.  This group plans to make a product that goes on the back of a toilet to save plumbers hours of time.
  • Social Task will get a free deal-screening at the Keiretsu Forum. The mobile application uses social influence to help accomplish group task lists and minimize procrastination.
  • Reality Check will get a 30-minute executive summary review with local venture capiltal guy John Pariseau. Its product is a web platform for managing inventory rental damage and using images to document inventory.
  • Goob's Cube is a mobile game meant to be played in short bursts while waiting for appointments. It won a month's free office space in Liberty Lake

Avista’s stake in Inland Empire Bioseeds plant comes to less than 1 percent

A Sunday business story about a bankruptcy filed by the managers of Inland Empire Bioseeds LLC mentioned in passing that Avista Corp. was a minority stakeholder in the for-profit operation. The plant is in Odessa.

What we didn't have at the time of publication was the amount of investment made by Avista in that project, which began making commercial biodiesel out of canola oil in 2009. It had the goal of producing 8 million gallons of fuel per year.

We tracked down Jessie Wuerst, who handles investor relations at Avista to get some information on the investment. Her answer is that Avista is an immaterial investor, meaning its shares come to less than 1 percent of the total.

It's also likely that Avista is among the creditors who together comprise about $2.6 million in unsecured debt.

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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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