Wednesday, November 26, 2008

► On the record

“Refinancing carried us through the last recession, but it won’t be there in this one…Consumer behavior is hard to predict around the holidays, but over the coming year I think we’re due for a correction in both finance and retail, in which both sectors become leaner.”

– Scott Bailey, regional economist for the Washington State Employment Security Department

Reporter's Notebook

The Black Friday Strategy

As much as I love shopping, Black Friday seems like a migraine in waiting.

But it’s a great opportunity for shoppers and retailers, said Jan Teague, president and chief executive officer of the Olympia-based Washington Retail Association. The key for both is strategy.

For retailers it means careful merchandising and marketing and specialized customer service. For shoppers, it means making a shopping list, rising early and teamwork. The reward? Saving more than half on holiday gifts, Teague said.

For about five years, she has developed her Black Friday strategy with family members. They make gift lists and compare prices online, then hit the stores at 4:30 a.m., wearing four layers of clothes and waiting an hour before doors open.

Inside, one person grabs a cart while the others spread out. The team fills it while the cart-driver waits in line for the register.

“You’ve got to go with the right spirit,” Teague said. “You have to have patience with the lines.”

Teague recommends starting with toy and electronics stores, since they run out of stock first. Then hit the clothing stores.

“If you’ve missed the discounts and the items are gone, move on,” she said. “You can come back for it with a coupon…You can probably (visit) three stores before everything is picked over by 11 a.m.”

That’s when she finds a grocery store for coffee, donuts and a deal on poinsettias.

Read more about the holiday retail outlook in Friday’s VBJ. Also, Just Business will not be sent out as usual on Friday because of the Thanksgiving holiday. Not to worry, it will resume on Wednesday, Dec. 3.

--Charity Thompson can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

Stillaguamish Tribe’s Angel of the Winds Casino to triple size in December, Snohomish County Business Journal

Office parties can be risky business, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

State launches video to help businesses with tax planning, South Sound Business Examiner blog

Friday, November 21, 2008

► On the record

“I tell you, the things I do for Arch Miller.”

- Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard, being outfitted in a chef’s jacket and toque for a pizza dough toss at a celebration of the Northwest Culinary Institute, the renamed culinary division of the International Air and Hospitality Academy. Miller founded IAHA.

Reporter's Notebook


I think we’ve all been doing a lot of reading about the economy lately. But recently, it was an article about art’s role in Washington’s economic development that caught my eye. In it, author Valerie Grigg Devis of the Department of Community Trade and Economic Development argues that it’s entrepreneurs and artists who make an essential contribution to the economy.

They are the ones who create something new – and that is what grows an economy. We spend a great deal of money on art without even thinking about it – on music, clothing, home furnishings, movies, books. Many of us travel to legendary cities like Paris and New York largely for the theater, architecture, museums and arts festivals. Even when we travel for a sporting event, Grigg Devis writes, we’re watching a team supported by another team of designers who created the stadium, uniforms, logo, mascot and merchandise.

Nationally, according to a recent study by Americans for the Arts, just the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity, creating 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs, $104.2 billion in household income and $9.1 billion in state government tax revenues.

In Washington, arts-related jobs make up about 2 percent of the jobs in the state. Doesn’t seem like much. But the latest Creative Vitality Index, published by the Washington State Arts Commission, shows that Washington’s participation and employment in the arts sector was 26 percent higher than the national average in 2006. But while Southwest Washington’s creative vitality grew 42 percent from 2003 to 2006, it was still 23 percent weaker than the national average. An updated report is due out later this year.

I’d love to see this region support the local arts sector to boost the economy. Southwest Washington has some outstanding arts-related businesses, and spending your dollars at them this holiday season keeps money where we need it most – locally.

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

Andersen Construction appeals fine by Oregon OSHA following accident at condo work site, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Weak retail growth predicted for the holidays, Snohomish County Business Journal

Can you bank on your bank or credit union?, Coast River Business Journal

Thursday, November 20, 2008

► On the record

“I honestly said, ‘If I have to go to work and talk about chicken breast and broccoli, I might have to kill myself.’ ”

– Letha Brandenburg, who has owned The Healthy Weigh in Vancouver for 18 years and developed weight loss workshops combining nutrition and exercise with psychology

Reporter's Notebook

The optimist’s Magic 8 Ball

Predicting the end of a recession, or anything, is tricky. But Michael J. Parks took a stab at it last week at the Columbia River Economic Development Council’s annual luncheon. Parks is an economist who publishes Marple’s Pacific Northwest Letter. He’s also a self-proclaimed optimist, which is unusual these days.

Parks said the economy is in recession by definition, but that we won’t see another Depression. Unemployment isn’t anywhere near 25 percent like it was back then, he said.

(Funny that one who doesn’t expect a depression is now an optimist. That’s like saying you’re funny because you tell knock-knock jokes or that you’re healthy because you don’t have cancer. It speaks to the state of our economy, doesn’t it?)

But Parks is a studied optimist. He thinks we’re close to the end of the recession, which he said began in January 2008. The average post-World War II recession has lasted 10 months, he said. Recessions of the 1970s and early 1980s lasted 16 months, meaning the current situation could end in April 2009.

Also, Washington’s economy has long been above average. Even as it falters, he doesn’t think it will fall that far. It’s partly because the mortgage crisis hit hardest in California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida, not the Northwest. It also comes from increased exports we enjoy when the dollar is weak.

“But suddenly it’s much less satisfying because the bogie is starting to shrink...Average is below the line,” Parks said.

When times are slow in one area, often a boon emerges elsewhere, he said, recalling the 1960s when Boeing’s business contracted two-thirds and its backlog collapsed.

“That turned out to be when the semiconductor boom began,” he said.

And we all know how much Southwest Washington loves semiconductors.

Charity Thompson can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

College construction totals $155 million, Spokane Journal of Business

The impact of the economic crisis on the workplace, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

Competitions attract tomorrow’s tech leaders, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Friday, November 14, 2008

► On the record

“The Washington state economy resembles the children of Lake Wobegone – Garrison Keillor described the people as ‘All the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.’ It’s just that we’ll be a little less above average than before.”

- Economist Michael Parks discussing the recession

Reporter's Notebook

Hello, future

I am so far out of the technology loop that the simplest forms of it are mind-boggling to me. I still watch “Steel Magnolias” on VHS, thank you very much.

I just learned there are phone applications out there that can tell you the name of a song that’s playing wherever you are – and then download the song to your phone. You’d think the person who turned me on to this wizardry had just informed me she’d be vacationing on the moon for Thanksgiving.

But today, I was enlightened about a fascinating form of technology that could have much further-reaching impacts than digital “Name That Tune.” Diane Cook, a Washington State University Pullman professor, is leading the research and development of artificial intelligence applications for our homes, offices and beyond.

The technology used in the research is not new – in fact, much of it has been available for some time. But the way the WSU team has used it allows the technology to reason. This, of course, freaks me out – thinking computers? But it is remarkable nonetheless.

Using a network of sensors in your business office, the system can understand you enough to predict your behavior then act by welcoming you to the office – because it knows who you are - turning on your desk lamp and starting your coffee pot, if those are the things you normally do as you enter the office. And all of this without you having to program it to do so.

The researchers have turned their efforts to using the technology for allowing the aging population to remain at home as long and independently as possible, which could go far to improve quality of life and save money.

But back to our workspaces. What I wouldn’t give for technology that senses I’ve been sitting in front of a computer too long and makes a glass of wine and masseuse appear...

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

How to survive and thrive in the current rocky economy, Bellingham Business Journal

Bracing for a rise in utility bills, Spokane Journal of Business

Portland Development Commission strengthens its bid to buy Northwest Portland property, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

► On the record

“Generally, people hear about this (treehouse project) and laugh. Then they call us a few days later and say, ‘How does this work?’ ”

– Jim Misner, partner of Battle Ground-based Kiddigan Investments, which plans to develop a community of treehouses in Cowlitz County. Read more about it in Friday’s VBJ.

Reporter's Notebook


Word nerd that I am, I’m in a book club. Go on, make fun of me, but I love it.

This week we’re discussing “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” by Barbara Ehrenreich. It chronicles Ehrenreich’s attempt, basically, to pay rent and feed herself while working minimal wage jobs in 1998.

Her experience was temporary and she lacked housemates to share rent with or family to support. But it was revealing. With weekly rent as high as $240, her hourly wages of $5.15 or even $7.50 weren’t enough for housing and food, let alone anything else.

Fast forward 10 years, and Washington’s minimum wage is $8.07 or $15,494 annually before taxes. Vancouver’s average rent is about $700 a month, more than half of a minimum wage earner’s monthly income.

“In Clark County, you would need to earn $14.56 an hour to afford rent at 30 percent of your income,” said LaVon Holden, deputy director of the Vancouver Housing Authority.

When more than 30 percent of a person’s income goes to housing, they’re likely to be less active consumers, especially in today’s economy. In 2006 in Clark County, 41,294 people lived below the poverty level of $20,614 annually for a family of four or $10,488 for singles.

“If you live in a community where housing is not affordable, it’s a challenge to have stable employees because they’re always at risk.,” Holden said.

Holden welcomes your thoughts on this issue, and so do I. In the meantime, I recommend reading “Nickel and Dimed.” For starters, it’s made me a better tipper.

Charity Thompson can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

Forecast: ‘Worst recession since 1982’, South Sound Business Examiner blog

The Wal-Mart effect: Can it be reversed? Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

Expedia announces partnership with Helsinki-based Finnair, Eastside Business Journal

Friday, November 7, 2008

► On the record

“Ours is the only technology center that grew up in the absence of a research center. Our goal is to get the research capacity here.”

- Bart Phillips, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, comparing the Southwest Washington to places like Silicon Valley, Seattle and Boston.

Reporter's Notebook


I swear there has been something akin to the plague making its way around Vancouver. It certainly made its way around the VBJ, like many workplaces in town. But when I got it, what did I do? Came to work anyway.

“I’m not that sick,” I said to myself. “I’m just tired. I have so much work to do. I have to go, or the work won’t get done.” The excuses went on.

Since the haze has passed, I’ve been able to reflect on what a terrible decision it was to work sick. It may seem self-indulgent and impossible to stay home and catch up on Ellen when you’re not feeling well, but an article on the BusinessWeek website clued me to why it’s not only bad for you, but your company when you try to be Superman (or woman).

1. We can’t meet the needs of clients when we’re sick. Seriously, who wants to do business with you while you’re hacking up a lung?
2. By bringing your germs to work, you’re increasing the likelihood your coworkers are going to get sick. Not a good way to make friends and…
3. You’re hurting your company. “Presenteeism” – the problems that arise when employees come to work in spite of illness or distracting life issues – can have negative repercussions on your business performance.
4. You’re not being fair to yourself – you need and deserve time to heal.

This is not easy for many motivated workers who think they carry the weight of their companies on their shoulders. But from my own unscientific estimation, I felt drained and unwell, was unproductive and potentially infected my coworkers for five days. Had I taken a day or two off, I could have been back in full force for three days out of that work week.

Now this doesn’t mean you should take advantage of the situation and stay home every time one of your eyelashes doesn’t feel right, but take care of yourselves. When you don’t, everyone suffers.

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

Portland Cement Association: Demand is dropping, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Aircraft Rubber: From Race Cars to Space Shuttles, Cascade Business News

Holiday frills attract spirit and customers, Bellingham Business Journal

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

► On the record

“For people who wonder why they aren’t making a difference or reaching their goals, look at yourself and think about what you do when a decision comes. Sometimes there’s an easy choice and a hard choice, but the hard choice could have better outcomes. Make the hard choice.”

– Ron Frederiksen, president and chief executive officer of RSV Construction and the VBJ’s first-ever Kyle Corwin Lifetime Achievement Award winner

Reporter's Notebook


Today is quite an important day-after. Yesterday we voted in record numbers to choose new political leaders and 20 young leaders were honored at the VBJ’s Accomplished and Under 40 luncheon with Frederiksen, noted above.

All of this got me thinking about effective leadership. While interviewing the honorees, I was struck by the subtle qualities that allow them to have such economic, civic and philanthropic influence.

Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I gleaned while researching the honorees:

  • “Success comes from a lot of hard work and people who believe in you.”
  • “Somebody has to do it.”
  • “Every day I’m critical of myself and feel like I fall short, like I’m not reaching out. It’s not that I lack self confidence, it’s just that I keep reaching.”
  • “From the electricians to the masonry workers to the landscapers, he treats everyone as an equal and with respect.”
  • “She constantly displays qualities one usually associates with an older person: wisdom, consistency, balance.”
  • “When you call looking for assistance, I’m always ready to jump, probably to my detriment.”
  • “He has an easy-going manner and ability to work with others who are almost never as prepared as he is.”
  • “She won’t ask anyone to do anything that she wouldn’t or hasn’t done herself.”
Profiles of Frederiksen and each Accomplished and Under 40 honoree will be in the Nov. 14 issue of the VBJ. All the best to our leaders, near and far.

Charity Thompson can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

Can you bank on your bank or credit union? Coast River Business Journal

What is affordable housing? Bellingham Business Journal

Bankers are cautious, but still OK loans, Spokane Journal of Business

Sustainable design theorist to visit PNCA, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce