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Archive for April 2014

Garco begins work on city’s big solid waste fleet building in NE Spokane

The city of Spokane has begun construction of its $14 million combined Solid Waste Management & Fleet maintenance facility, known as the Nelson Service Center, at 915 N. Nelson.

The center will allow the city to convert solid waste trucks to compressed natural gas from diesel fuel, to save money and operate more efficiently.

Work on the two-story, 57,500-square-foot service center is expected to continue until summer or early fall of 2015.

It's on the south side of a 32-acre, city-owned parcel in the Chief Garry Park Neighborhood.

This is the city's first major use of a design-build project.  Garco Construction and Bernardo Wills Architects LLC, both of Spokane, are the building’s contractor and designer.

That option was chosen to speed construction and maintain better control over costs.

AAA of Spokane finally moves, opening its new South Hill office

AAA of Spokane moved into its new offices today. It's taking over the building at 1314 S. Grand Blvd., on Spokane’s South Hill.

The travel company is taking over the vacant space last used by Savory.

It will open doors for business on Monday, after closing its previous downtown office, at 1717 W. Fourth Ave. The new location comes with a 10-year lease. The property is owned by an LLC that includes Spokane developer Dave Black.. AAA of Spokane agreed to lease the property nearly one year ago.

AAA of Spokane will host an open house and grand opening May 12-16.

Its two other Spokane locations will continue operating as usual.

Rich Hadley gets ready for one more D.C. fly-in, as GSI looks ahead

Greater Spokane Incorporated President and CEO Rich Hadley is about to do his 20th, and final, GSI D.C. fly-in.

More details in this Saturday SR.com story.

Anyone who spends time around Hadley realizes he is, in fact, a marathon runner. He will keep going, keep running, until he hits the line.

The fly-ins are similar in focus. They don't produce quick results and press releases. They gradually produce successes, such as increased funding for the North Spokane Corridor, expansion and new construction at Fairchild Air Force Base, and funding to do studies, such as the one GSI got in order to protect the Spokane Aquifer from a possible power plant construction in North Idaho.

I've never been along for one of the fly-ins, but it would be fun to do a video tracking the delegation's three-day jaunt.  Maybe someone will do one soon.

 

 

 

Back when it was built, the Park Tower Apartments was on Trent, not Spokane Falls

It is a notable event, the sale of the iconic (not always aesthetically pleasing) Park Tower Apartments, across the street from the DoubleTree Hotel and the Convention Center.

Today's story explained the reasons for the sale to California Commercial Investments  by the previous owner, The Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund.

This archive photo shot in April 1974 shows the building during construction.

At that time, there was no Riverside Spokane Falls Blvd. in that section of town (which went through major upgrades due to Expo 74). The address at that time was on Trent Avenue.

Notably, Don Barbieri at the time was taking on several development projects. Right around the time of the fair he also put together a syndicate of investors, some from Bellevue, who worked on building the Sheraton Hotel, one of downtown's first modern hotels. That hotel later became the DoubleTree.

Photo credit:  Spokesman-Review photo archive

 

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New Women’s Business Center opens in East Central Community Center

Today's metro section had a business story on the new Women's Business Center being run by SNAP at the East Central Community Center, 500 S. Stone.

Here's a part of it:

Heather Riviere is a month away from starting her first real business, a mobile food truck serving crepes at markets and fairs.

Riviere, 44, lost her job last fall and realized she had the chance to make the transition to something rewarding and creative.

She got the kick-start she needed while taking courses recently at Spokane’s new Women’s Business Center, Riviere said.

The women’s center, managed by nonprofit assistance provider SNAP at the East Central Community Center, offers free training and financial guidance for women looking to start a business.

It opened about a month ago and celebrates with a grand opening Friday.

Funded by a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the program offers classes and one-on-one counseling for women – and men – starting a new business or trying to grow a startup.

It also offers business webinars and guidance on applying for loans or learning how to apply for government contracts.

Federal officials say they want to increase the number of women-owned firms in the United States from the current level of 28 percent. That number is for all nonfarm businesses, according to the National Women’s Business Council, a nonpartisan federal advisory council.

The grant provides $136,500 per year for five years, with the option to renew the grant for an additional three years, said Kerri Rodkey, director of SNAP’s financial access program.

The manager of the new center is Laurie Roth-Donnelly.  In case the name sounds familiar (as it did to us), Laurie at the center is not the same Laurie Roth who was a conservative radio talk show host in Spokane about three years ago. That Laurie Roth's web page is here. We don't know where that Laurie Roth is; she is not affiliated with the business center.

 

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A look back to 1945 and an SR story featuring the man who built the Germond

If you like downtown Spokane history, you have to feel good about the renovations going into the former Germond Building, at the corner of Lincoln and Sprague Avenue.

The owners, Diamond Parking, have committed several million dollars into turning the building into high-end apartments plus a renovated lower level for retail and commercial use.

Today's SR story goes over some of the building's history, including its brief run as the home to the Travo's restaurant.

Here's a photo taken from a 1945 Spokesman Review story that shows a photo of Eugene Germond, the French immigrant to built the Germond building in 1890. Bob Spooner, with Goodale & Barbieri Co., the leasing agent and property manager, said it's uncertain if the lower level of black stucco will be kept or removed. That stucco was added in the 1970s and clearly changed the character of the building.

Sandpoint test of ‘smart highway’ will look a little like this stretch of road

A Sagle couple are hoping to land a substantial federal grant to help develop a pioneer project using smart highway technology.

SR reporter Scott Maben covered the latest developments  in a recent story.

Scott and Julie Brusaw are the Sagle-based developers of a system to create solar-powered stretches of highway with embedded LEDS that will generate electricity, melt snow and increase driver safety.

The couple is looking for a grant to use the technology in a test project for downtown Sandpoint. As Maben's article noted: “We want to do a sidewalk and a driving section,” Sandpoint City Engineer Kody Van Dyk said. “That way we can demonstrate which one works best, which one has best opportunity for viability, and see what the constructability issues are.”

Similar smart-highway projects are taking hold around the world. The Netherlands recently began a test project with similar goals. As stated in an article on SmartPlanet, the country plans to create a 1,640-foot stretch of highway equipped with road markings that can glow in the dark. The design includes road markings with “dynamic paint” that has a “special foto-luminising powder” that charges during sunlight hours and lets off light at night.

The photo here is an illustration of the possible view from a vehicle. The highway has not yet been equipped; work is expected to begin there next month. The main difference — apart from the Sandpoint test using solar panels and not paint — is that the Idaho stretch of road is inside city limits, while the Flemish test is on a highway.

Eventually, designers envision an embedded charging system in highways that would recharge electric batteries of vehicles driving across them.

 

We lost a corporate headquarters with Umpqua merger, but the new bank looks solid

While some may lament the loss of another company headquarters in the merger of Umpqua and Sterling banks, the good news is the new bank combines Sterling's solid lineup of strong departments with a bank widely considered an innovator in the financial services area.

Saturday's SR story on the merger noted the merger is now official.

Both banks in fact have been listed by Forbes magazine on its list of most respected U.S. banks.

In 2012 the bank listed Umpqua Holdings Corp. as the top-rated Oregon bank. It landed at 28 overall on the list.

Forbes used several criteria to devise the rankings, including profits, bad loans and several measures of capital.

Sterling was ranked No. 40 on the same list.

Photo credit: Dan Pelle for The Spokesman-Review

 

 

Moody’s upgrades Spokane Valley bond rating

Moody’s Investor Services has upgraded the city of Spokane Valley’s bond rating to Aa3.

“The upgrade … reflects the city's low debt burden, sizeable tax base which is expected to expand into the medium-term, and healthy financial performance, which is maintained through strong management practices,” Moody’s said in announcing the April 9 upgrade while also praising the Valley’s healthy financial reserves.

The Aa3 category is used by the rating company to reflect general obligation bonds it considers “high quality” with “very low credit risk.”

Moody’s noted that the city’s rating could continue to climb if its tax base keeps growing and if its structurally balanced operations are maintained. Conversely, the rating could slip if the tax base deteriorates or if the city’s financial reserves significantly shrink.

The upgraded rating affects about $7.4 million in existing debt from the city's last bond issue, which was in 2003.

As a newer city, the Valley’s previous bond rating was A1, which Moody’s uses to reflect “upper-medium grade” investments. The company rates risk based on a scale ranging from its top rating of Aaa to C at the lowest level.

20 to 25 percent of large firms are still using Windows XP. Any of them here?

Most people know that Microsoft shut down product support for individual users of Windows XP. But it still offers custom product support for companies that want to maintain that operating system.

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley summarizes how that works in this article.

The article noted that despite the relative advantages of Windows 7 and 8.1, a lot of companies are maintaining a base of XP machines. Those are mostly large organizations with dispersed operations in different locations.

The article says:  “Gartner estimates 20 percent to 25 percent of enterprise systems are still running Windows XP, and that one-third of enterprises have more than ten percent of their systems still on XP. Often times, enterprise customers are still running XP because they have custom applications and/or peripherals that make migrating complicated and difficult.”

“In 2012, Gartner says some customers were claiming Microsoft was charging as much as $5 million for extended support coverage for Windows XP. But by 2013, according to Gartner, that cost was closer to a maximum of $2 million.”

The big takeaway: if you still need XP support, bargain. Microsoft will start higher than you will end up on the pricing.

We'd like to find some area examples of companies still using XP in their workplaces.  Send your comments to business@spokesman.com.

Foley also wrote: “It's also worth noting that there is a time limit  — which Microsoft is not disclosing — on how long the company will continue to provide XP patches to those users who are paying for CSA coverage. And in order to qualify for CSA coverage, customers must have migration plans with quarterly deployment milestones and a project completion date.”

 

Four company founders lead a session on ‘I’ve started my company, now what?’

More ideas for people with new business ideas.

There's an entrepreneurial panel on Wednesday April 16 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the ShareSpace Spokane office on the third floor of Steam Plant.

It's free. It features Brandon Foote, founder and CEO of OnPoint Imaging; Laura Bracken, founder of Design Spike; Josh Neblett, co—founder of Green Cupboards, now renamed as etailz; and Steve Tabacek, co-founder of CXOWare.

The session is sponsored by the Center for Entrepreneurship at Spokane Community College, and Avista Corp.

To RSVP:  http://goo.gl/N6qmnV

 

 

 

 

The three winning ideas from last weekend’s #StartupWeekend Spokane

Katie Neal and Paige Bernier are getting set to earn their Gonzaga engineering degrees this spring.

But they found time last weekend to be one of three winning teams during the Startup Weekend Spokane competition.

Thirty three ideas were pitched and 11 teams moved on to final presentation on Sunday.

The winning three were;

• Rebooked, a marketing notification app that businesses would use to convert canceled reservations or appointments into contacts with customers able to fill those slots. The idea came out of a collaboration of team members Ed Reese, Dan Gayle, Philip Glenn, Darin Herleikson, Connor Simpson, Tuan Nguyen, Georges Pons and Nathan Drechsel.


• Obloco, an improved retail point-of-sale system to eliminate paper receipts. The idea came from Victor Yefremov, and team members included Tim Aton, Adam Parish, Malachi Riedl, Jeff McGee, Max Delsid and Jason Shepherd.

• Forge Ahead, a company sponsoring creative competitions for engineering students looking to address real-world technical or business problems. It was pitched by Gonzaga students Paige Bernier and Katie Neal, with members Craig Meredith, Jacob Voegele, Jonny Wang, Rebecca Writz, Eric Norman and Josh Villars.

As top finisher, the Rebooked team gets to make a funding pitch to Spokane Angel Alliance, a venture fund.

The Forge Ahead business plan was the first-time Startup Weekend effort by Bernier and Neal. Bernier said she and Neal lost their zeal for engineering in their second year at GU, wondering if their work would create any lasting value for others.

Then last year they competed in an engineering competition sponsored by Eurekatory.com.

“The light bulb went on then, and we’ve been on a mission ever since,” Bernier said. “We want to bring that same excitement to other students.”

Nobody wants the domain Spokane.com? What would you offer to buy it for?

News alert:  No one offered to buy the domain Spokane.com in a recent online auction. No bids came in.

The owner set starting bids at $125,000, hoping to hit a reserve price of $250,000.

That's apparently too high.  No one made a single bid, said Aron Meystedt, who runs a division of Heritage Auctions, which ran the recent auction. The auctioneer is based in Dallas.

The auction ended April 9. The listed owner lives in Hilton Head, SC. He owns a domain company, meaning that his firm owns a fair number of other domains.

As a result the owner has sent the property to a buy-it-now sale at the following link.

There the buy-it price is a staggering $287,500.  The owner also offers a “make an offer” option.

Meystedt emailed the SR saying the domain is regarded (by some) as potentially worth a lot.

He said, by email, “The major city .com domains are selling for 7 and 8 figure amounts (Dallas.com, Chicago.com, Boston.com).  Spokane.com is a fraction of these amounts.”

Yes, but what fraction would that be?

What do you think Spokane.com is worth?  Keep in mind the best likely use for a domain like this would be for some tourism-related, location-promotional kind of organization.   Trouble is, the organizations that do that kind of work already have established and successful URLs. Why would they even want Spokane.com? 

Note: The Cowles Co. (publisher of The Spokesman-Review) owns the domain Spokane.net. It has never owned Spokane.com.

 

 

 

Economist Justin Wolfers dives through the data and finds who’s really happy

Here's a condensed version of tomorrow's story, about the visit by economist Justin Wolfers to Gonzaga University's econ symposium.

Rich people are happier than poor people, not just according to popular opinion. Wolfers has spent the past several years examining studies that support that claim, plus dozens of other measures that try to explain why some groups of people are happier than others.

Wolfers, 41, is one of the web’s best-known economists. Born in Australia, he’s now a U.S. citizen and has earned respect for his ability to summarize economic issues and relate them to everyday concerns.

Some of his takes:

  • Men in recent decades in America are happier than women. “No one knows exactly why,” Wolfers said. It may be that women have internalized several measures of success, more than the basic “am I popular” focus young women faced growing up in the 1960s, he said.
  • Young people are happier than middle-aged people, at least in most countries. The reason: raising a family and going through career advancement make life harder, he said.
  • Older people are generally happier than middle-aged people. That’s the flip side of the previous question; as people reach retirement they can start relaxing after raising children or concluding career goals.
  • In general not only are the rich happier than the poor, but globally, richer nations are happier than poorer one, Wolfers noted.
  • People who are married are happier than those who aren’t. But there’s some uncertainty why, Wolfers said.

“It could be that people who are generally happy to start with are those who get married more often,” he said.

 

 

Why did promising ReliOn only sell for $4 million? Fuel cell firms are struggling

Unless Spokane-based hydrogen fuel cell company ReliOn could land a big investment or find a buyer, its chances of riding out 2014 looked bleak, its former chief executive officer said this week.

So to keep the company operating, ReliOn’s investors agreed to sell the company to New York-based fuel cell maker Plug Power Inc.

“The advantage for us is that we’re now part of a larger company,” said Gary Flood, who became CEO of ReliOn nine years ago. With the sale, he’s no longer in charge but is still ReliOn president.

The company faced challenges widespread across the fuel cell industry, Flood said. Companies have generally focused on one niche area, with the result that they incur significant operating expenses without generating enough cash to be self-sustaining, he said.

ReliOn’s niche has been designing and selling stationary backup power systems. Plug Power has been selling power units for companies that use vehicles to haul equipment and materials.
Discussions that started earlier this year led to this week’s announcement that Plug Power was gaining ReliOn’s customers, patents and inventory for $4 million.

That sale price wasn’t as high as ReliOn’s investors were hoping to get, Flood said.

“Unfortunately, you’re worth what you’re worth,” Flood said, noting that the buyout essentially wiped away ReliOn’s outstanding debt.
Plug Power, launched in 1997 and traded on the Nasdaq, still hasn’t had a profitable year for the same reasons faced by ReliOn, Flood noted.

Get both sides of the minimum wage debate in a live session at GU tonight

The second of two live debates on the topic of an increase to the national minimum wage will start this evening at 7 p.m. at Gonzaga University's Jepson Center.

The event is free to the public.

Sponsored by the Washington Policy Center, tonight's debate will feature:

  • Steve Moore, Wall Street Journal Editorial Board
  • Sarah Jane Glynn, Center for American Progress
  • Dr. T. William Lester, University of North Carolina
  • Dr. Eric Fruits, Portland State University
  • Rep. Timm Ormsby, (D) – Spokane, Workforce Development Committee Member
  • Rep. Kevin Parker (R) – Spokane, Business & Financial Services Committee Member

“Our intention is to have a fair, open-minded discussion on this important topic that is front and center in our state this year,” explained WPC President Dann Mead Smith. “This is about policy solutions, not politics.”

Washington state’s minimum wage is $9.38 per hour – the highest in the country. The city of Sea-Tac recently adopted a $15 per hour minimum wage for some workers, and the city of Seattle is considering a similar measure. The legislature also has discussed increasing the state minimum wage to $12 per hour.

The WPC hosted its first state debate Wednesday evening at the University of Washington.

Emceeing the debate is TV newscaster Nadine Woodward.

Check out the online WPC-sponsored debate over a minimum wage increase

There's a debate this evening on the topic of a national minimum wage. It's presented by the Washington Policy Center and hosted by the University of Washington.

You can check it out online through TVW, the state television network.

The Washington Policy Center hosts a public debate on the minimum wage issue - panelists include State Rep's. Chris Reykdal (D-Olympia) and Matt Manweller (R-Ellensburg), Stephen Moore (Wall Street Journal Editorial Board) and moderated by Robert Mak.

Mak is a longtime political journalist and former host of “KING 5 News Up Front.”  Over the past 20 years, Mak has covered many of the major news events shaping public policy in Washington State and his news reports have been recognized by numerous organizations.

 

Alaska will be home to the highest-flying wind turbine, floating at 1,000 feet

A Boston company later this year will try to launch the largest high-altitude wind turbine in Alaska.

Altaeros Energies plans to launch a 1000-foot-high floating wind turbine south of Fairbanks to bring affordable power to a remote community. Altaeros managers explained to The New York Times its cost to produce power will be about $0.18 per kilowatt-hour, about half the price of off-grid electricity in Alaska.

The $1.3 million, 18-month project will deploy the Altaeros Buoyant Airborne Turbine (pictured). It would be the first long-term, commercial-scale use of  an airborne wind turbine.

Once floating the BAT will be over 275 feet taller than the current record holder for the highest wind turbine, the Vestas V164-8.0-MW.

It will have a hub height of 460 feet and blade tips stretching over 720 feet high. A prototype was recently installed at the Danish National Test Center for Large Wind Turbines in Østerild.

The $1.3 million Alaska project is being funded by Alaska Energy Authority’s Emerging Energy Technology Fund and RNT Associates International, which is owned by the former chairman of the Indian conglomerate Tata Group, which includes Tata Power, India’s largest integrated power company.

Why should people use high-flying and transportable turbines? The IEEE explains here.

Sterling employees start looking toward their future with Umpqua

We'll be asking what the actual headcount reduction will be, following today's announcement that the Umpqua Bank merger with Sterling Bank has cleared all hurdles.

The first signs of the deal will be Sterling’s regional signs being replaced by Umpqua Bank signs the weekend of April 18 and continuing for the next 10 weeks.

Portland-based Umpqua will gain a financial services foothold in Eastern Washington. It is considered Oregon’s largest bank.

It’s paying about $1.9 billion in stock for Sterling, which has around 650 area workers and more than 2,600 across the service area, which includes Idaho, Oregon and California.

Sterling has 176 branches in those states and in Washington.

“We’ll be the largest community bank on the West Coast and the 34th largest community bank in the country,” Coon noted.

Sterling CEO Greg Seibly will stay with the company, previous news releases have said.

Merging with Sterling gives Umpqua roughly $22 billion in assets and almost 400 total branches.

Coon said the merger will result in the loss of some area Sterling positions. The full scope of that reduction is still being determined, she said.

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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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