Wednesday, December 23, 2009

► On the Record


“Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”

-- John Lennon (1940-1980)


Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

Looking beyond the Holidays

They’ve been welcomed like victorious Allied soldiers liberating a small French village this holiday season, with the “thwack” of cash registers and door chimes jingling in adulation.

Yes, I’m talking about the American shopping public, the insatiable force behind an increasingly integrated worldwide economy brought to a standstill, in large part, when they decided to stay home last year.

But now they’re back – at least for now.

Though undeniably a boon for shopping centers, boutiques and the U.S. Postal Service this holiday, the question of what reinvigorated shoppers might do once the tinsel is packed away, remains unanswered.

Just ask any local retailer about the future beyond the New Year, and you’re likely to get a blank stare, a short laugh or a reply like Westfield Vancouver Mall general manager Connie Stankivicz’s: “Let’s talk when this is all over.”

The worst thing about an economic recession is that it tends to mire people in a difficult and exasperating present, with the focus not on next year, next month, or next week. For some, making it through a single day is enough.

But there is still much to be thankful for this holiday season. If nothing else, the thousands of shoppers returning in force is indicative of an almost-miraculous optimism by Southwest Washingtonians facing down double-digit unemployment, falling home values and tightening lines of credit.

Maybe it’s just gratefulness, or relief that the promised financial apocalypse did not come to pass. Instead, many of us are still here, with more than a few bucks to spare.

And some of us are bound and determined to spend it.

Happy Holidays from the VBJ

Happy holiday wishes to you, your family and friends, from all of us at the VBJ.

Just Business will next appear Wednesday, Jan. 6.

See you next year!

Business around the Northwest

Retailer plans to set a beading record Saturday, South Shore Business Examiner

Video, music stores rocked by change, Spokane Business Journal

Wal-Mart to build new Portland store
, Portland Business Journal

Friday, December 18, 2009

► On the Record

“If she thinks this is going to provide badly-needed revenue for the state, she is sadly mistaken.”

-- David Montei, owner of Richey’s Tire Factory in Vancouver, on state Rep. Deb Wallace’s recent proposal to eliminate sales-tax exemptions for out-of-state residents.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

Of Smartphones and sanity

‘Tis the season for tinsel, for impromptu smooching underneath the mistletoe, and in my case, the annual barrage of emails, texts and calls from my wireless provider, begging me to upgrade my antiquated flip-phone to a flashier, Web-enabled model.

Call me Luddite. Call me cheap (you wouldn’t be the first): I will not get a Smartphone.

Like many Just Business readers, I find myself caught in the middle of a delicate high-wire balancing act between the competing pressures of work and home, with a blurry vision of peaceful retreat becoming more and more a mirage on the horizon.

So being able to check my email, Facebook profile or Twitter feed anytime, anywhere might be just the thing that sends me over the edge – to a career in public relations perhaps, or government, where Blackberrys are as much an appendage as a suit-and-tie at a GOP fundraiser.

It’s a struggle I’ve been hearing a lot about recently, from professionals looking for guidance about returning an urgent work email, call or text during a family dinner to the small businessman burnt-out from being in constant contact with clients, employees or investors.

There’s no doubt: business is a 24/7 proposition. There is a market open somewhere on the globe every minute of almost every day. The recent financial crisis reminded many investors about what can happen in the span between Sunday night and Monday morning in terms of life-savings lost, careers ended and businesses going under.

But it is still incumbent upon us as fathers, daughters or friends to connect occasionally with actual people – not just a glowing LCD screen.

So look down at your iPhone, your HTC Hero or Droid. Appreciate its design, its ease of use and its convenience. Now power it down.

Take a deep breath. Isn’t that better?



O.K., you can it turn it back on again.


That Facebook update, Tweet or email you just missed probably wasn’t that important, anyway.

Business around the Northwest

Study finds Idaho’s tax burden sixth lowest per capita, Idaho Business Journal

Oregon highways nation’s 22nd worst
, Portland Business Journal

Incomes up slightly
, South Sound Business Examiner

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

► On the Record

“It seems like we're going to have pretty slow going for quite a while nationally, and that means pretty slow going in Southwest Washington.”

– Scott Bailey, regional economist with the Washington Employment Security Office.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

Good banking by the bottle

In this year of economic tempest, with numbers reflecting massive job losses, shuttered businesses and depleted 401Ks, one figure rises above the rest: 133.

That’s the number of banks to fail this year as of Monday, according to numbers provided by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., with the latest casualty of the continuing financial meltdown a relatively-small Kansas savings-and-loan.

It’s the highest number in the history of the FDIC, the ubiquitous mother-of-all acronyms, once a complete afterthought, a peeling decal sticker on a teller’s booth – now the savior of capitalism as we know it, the garbage-man cleaning up the detritus of banks large and small.

There’s no doubt the economy is in desperate need for some good news. Lucky for us, a hint of what our President might call an “audacious” glimmer of hope came in the form of Monday’s opening of a Columbia Bank branch in downtown Vancouver, occurring on the same day as the 133rd U.S. bank failure of 2009.

Yes, in the midst of the bloated corpses of financial giants and the bony remains of small savings-and-loans, there are banks in this country that are expanding into new markets, fattening their deposits and writing new loans.

So what’s Columbia Bank’s secret? To get an answer, as is custom in my profession, I picked up the phone and made a call.

As opposed to calling say, Citi’s chief Vikram Pandit or departing Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis, both armed with taxpayer-funded phalanxes of public relations professionals, contacting Columbia Bank senior vice president Mark Brandon was relatively painless.

Brandon seemed in good spirits, excited about this week’s branch opening in the Angelo Building downtown, as well as the bank’s planned opening on the 27th Floor of Portland’s Fox Tower in March.

And the optimism on his part seems justified: the Tacoma-based bank’s expansion into Clark County has all the hallmarks of being a well-planned venture, with Brandon hiring longtime local bankers like Gordon Rodewald and Joan Cooper and a new branch located on what is increasingly known among local realtors and developers as Vancouver’s “bank row.”

But the planning for success in today’s economy began well before Clark County was even on Columbia Bank’s map. At the height of the housing boom, the financial institution’s exposure to residential real estate investments was 12 percent of its total assets, a figure that has since declined to 6 percent, according to Brandon.

So local people, a good location and a conservative take on risky investments… what exactly has Brandon been drinking? And how can we bottle some to pass out at board meetings, Federal Reserve conclaves and cabinet sessions?

I, for one, wouldn’t know. I’m still waiting for Vikram and Ken to return my calls.

Business around the Northwest

PR pros help businesses navigate muddy media waters, Bellingham Business Journal

Bank approves loan for long-stalled project
, Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce

Portland economy shows little improvement, Portland Business Journal

Friday, December 11, 2009

► On the Record

“We will govern differently or we will not survive.”

– Republican Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt, after voting for a 1 percent property tax hike on Thursday. Boldt joined Commissioner Steve Stuart, a Democrat, to approve the increase, with the new funds mostly going to prevent further cuts at the county Sheriff’s Department.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

To the next Congressman, or woman

Love him, hate him or merely tolerate him: Brian Baird was – and still is, despite this week’s announcement of his retirement after 10 years in Congress – a man more practical than ideological.

Whether it is skepticism over healthcare reform, unfailing support of the military, or a fiscally-conservative voting record spread over six terms in the House of Representatives, Baird has been an almost-perfect mirror of the values shared by a clear majority of his constituents.

He’ll be a hard one to replace.

Nevertheless, the jockeying to fill his shoes in the 3rd District is well under way – especially on the right side of the aisle, with Olympia financial consultant David Castillo, Washougal City Councilman Jon Russell, YouTube healthcare town hall sensation David Hedrick, and perhaps, state Rep. Jaime Herrera all in the GOP mix.

Though it may be hard to predict who will emerge from what promises to be a tough primary next year, here’s some advice for any of Baird’s would-be successors:

Keep it about business and leave the partisan party politics alone.

While many might not agree with Baird’s votes on healthcare, the Troubled Asset Relief Program and this year’s economic stimulus package, there’s no doubt of his willingness to buck his own party to weigh the cost vs. benefit for his constituents.

And in regards to TARP, Baird displayed a true grit rare for a career politician, meeting earlier this year with business interests and ex-depositors after Bank of Clark County’s implosion, defending his decision to support the bailout in front of a tough audience.

It was at that meeting that Baird spoke, not as a member of the Democratic caucus, but as the region’s advocate in the halls of Congress.

Match that bipartisan spirit with David Castillo’s recent invective against the science behind climate change or David Hedrick’s Internet rant on healthcare reform, and the differences seem stark indeed.

Baird was reelected five times because he knew Southwest Washingtonians prefer practical solutions to party ideology every day of the week, twice Sundays.

Let that be a lesson for anyone, Republican and Democrat, looking to succeed him.

Business around the Northwest

SBA names new regional chief, Portland Business Journal

Recession raises unemployment tax rates, South Sound Business Examiner

Weak employment growth expected in early 2010, Bellingham Business Journal

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

► On the Record

“The message sent by increasing taxes in such tough times would be terrible – it would be like saying, ‘we know you’re struggling, but we’re going to ask for more taxes anyway.’”

– Mayor-elect Tim Leavitt, writing on his blog after voting against a 1 percent property tax increase on Monday. The Vancouver City Council voted 4-3 against the tax hike, which would have helped plug a $6.4 million deficit in the projected 2010 budget.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

Shop local

There’s nothing like an arctic blast to make one want to ditch the convenience of online holiday shopping in favor of patronizing locally-based businesses.

But seriously, it’s never been more important to shop local.

For hundreds of Southwest Washington retailers lucky enough to make it this far through the recession and today’s nascent economic recovery, this holiday season will most likely make or break their bottom line in the year ahead.

We’ve already seen what a lackluster holiday shopping season means for local retailers.

Last year, a trifecta of massive layoffs, stock market losses and an icy, snowy start to winter made for one of the most disastrous shopping seasons in regional memory.

For those who lost a job, or had a family member laid off, the sound of jingle bells was replaced with the flap of wallets snapping shut.

Meanwhile, others, with perhaps more money to spend, chose to get gifts from online retailers like Amazon.com – with $25.5 billion spent on Internet holiday purchases, down only 3 percent from the pre-recession holiday season the year before, according to digital sales tracker comScore, Inc.

With that billion-dollar figure in mind, here’s a plea on behalf of local retailers, many of which still teeter on the verge of closing their doors: For every unemployed member of your family, for every laid-off close friend or colleague, buy one present this holiday season from a locally-owned business.

The impact on retailers will be both immediate and long-lasting. And for every dollar spent locally, shoppers will help provide an antidote to Clark County’s disastrous 12.9 percent unemployment rate by supporting the real engine of regional job growth – small businesses.

So we call on holiday shoppers to brave the bitter cold this week and hit locally-owned stores from Main Street, Vancouver to Main Street, Ridgefield and everywhere in between.

Yes, we know it can be much more convenient and pleasant to sit with one’s laptop by the fireplace and point-and-click through the holiday season. And yes, we know it’s cold out there.

But don’t worry: this is why ear-muffs were invented.

Business around the Northwest

As vacancies rise, malls form new plans, South Sound Business Examiner

Resellers need new permit by Jan. 1 to avoid sales tax
, Bellingham Business Journal

Oregon AG’s office: avoid these charities
, Portland Business Journal

Friday, December 4, 2009

► On the Record

“The commute will be a nightmare. I’m hoping the amenities on the other side will compensate for that.”

-- Camas resident Dave Howell, founder of iPhone app builder Avatron Software, of his decision to relocate his company from Vancouver to Portland.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

Build the CRC, already

2012 isn’t just the apocalyptic end-date on the 5,125-year-long Mayan long calendar. It’s also the earliest work on the Columbia River Crossing project can begin – that is, if a miracle occurs in downtown Portland this afternoon.

As I write, 10 members of the Project Sponsors Council are meeting to take comments and suggestions, all in the attempt to forestall a vote CRC backers are afraid they might lose.

There’s no doubt: the scaled-down $2.6 billion project is in trouble, the victim of budget-squeezed local and state governments, a divisive “no-tolls” Vancouver mayoral campaign and plenty of angst from Portland-based alternative transit advocates.

Strangely enough, lost in all the wrangling is an essential sector of our regional economy, the one with the most to lose if the CRC does not go ahead as planned: freight haulers and the businesses from Mexico to Canada depending on their services.

Let’s get real. The real reason for a replacement bridge isn’t so that Portland bicyclists can have a beautiful view of the river, or to cut 15 minutes of drive time between Hazel Dell and downtown Portland – though both of those perks would be a nice by-product of a brand new span.

The real reason the governors of Washington and Oregon met at the banks of the Columbia River seven years ago was to find a way to facilitate commerce between two economically interconnected and interdependent states.

That’s it.

Instead the project has been hijacked by the interests of light-rail advocates and car-bound commuters alike, bloating the CRC like a piñata stuffed with too much cheap candy.

At this moment, the only topic that should be up for discussion among the PSC, which includes outgoing Vancouver Mayor Pollard, mayor-elect Leavitt and Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council vice-chair Steve Stuart, are ways to build a replacement bridge as quickly, cheaply and safely as possible.

The time for bickering between Oregon and Washington, Clark County and Portland, is over.

The fight now should turn to the feds, with both sides of the river focused on securing more funding for a project essential to the economic well-being of both states for decades to come.

Business around the Northwest

Oregon sets out to see if toll road is one it wants to take, Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce

Portland has 19th worst traffic, Portland Business Journal

Shopping local for your holiday gifts, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

► On the Record

“Even though the full-time staff number is small – around 40 troops – we are glad to not lose 160 years of history.”

-- Jan Bader, an administrator for the city of Vancouver, on news of a $28 million army training facility at Birtcher Industrial Park in Orchards, to be completed in 2011.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

Training Day

With the announcement of a new military training facility in Orchards, Vancouver seems destined to remain, at least in part, an army town.

And as early as 2011, that facility will be home to hundreds of recruits, with many drawn to military service because of love of country, family tradition or simply out of a desire to be gainfully employed in what promises to be a tough job market for years to come.

Just where those recruits will be going – where they will serve, fight and in some cases, die – depends in large part on President Obama’s strategy for the eight-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. Obama outlined a plan Tuesday for more than 30,000 additional troops at another, better-known training facility, West Point.

On the day of the President’s speech, I spoke with Congressman Brian Baird about his recent trip to the war-torn region and his thoughts on the decision to send more troops, as well as the war’s effect on economic priorities closer to home.

VBJ: Do you agree with the President’s decision to send in more troops?

Baird: That’s not the important decision. The most important decision will not be what we say, but what we do. What’s clear is that military action needs to be contingent on real action by the Afghan government to end the corruption there.

VBJ: With today’s announcement, do you think Afghanistan has finally become Obama’s war?

Baird: That’s a silly question. And one that’s typical of our political process [since] we think we get to start over every four years. People need to understand that this decision is vastly influenced by what came before. Given that history, what do we do? Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone has that answer.

VBJ: You made a recent trip to Afghanistan. What was your impression of the situation there?

Baird: I was also in Pakistan, in Islamabad and Peshawar, near the Afghan border. The Pakstani army took over Taliban areas nearby, and that was mostly a good thing for the people. But it took 30,000 troops to take a small valley from the Taliban. My question is what it will take to clear a whole country [Afghanistan].

VBJ: What do you say to parents of young people looking to join the military, as well as family members of troops on their second or third deployment? Are you comfortable with your support of the war?

Baird: The short answer is that I’m never comfortable with these decisions… The minute I saw the fireball over the Pentagon on 9-11, I thought the world has changed, that there’s no question that we are going to war, and that means people are going to die. The question then and always is the safety and security of the country. But it’s not quite as clear now what the mission is, or what we can do to succeed.

VBJ: Has the spiraling cost of the Afghan war affected your view on priorities at home like healthcare reform?

Baird: The problem is that we tried to fight both in Iraq and Afghanistan without paying for it and now we’re borrowing billions from the Chinese to keep things going. Before we start adding more things on the list, we need to find ways to pay for them.

Business around the Northwest

Utilities get $9 million from Enron scandal, South Sound Business Examiner

$88M grant aids utilities in quest for efficiency, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Oregon gets $699K from fraud settlement, Portland Business Journal

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

► On the Record

"Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. [Football] Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence."

- Legendary columnist Erma Bombeck (1927-1996)

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

The case for taxes

Chances are you’ve scanned this headline and wondered, “What in the world is this editor drinking?” To actually suggest that a case can, or should be, made for a scourge afflicting humanity since the dawn of commerce seems completely against the values of most members of this business community.

However, one fact cannot be ignored – our tax system is broken, and if we are to emerge from this recession stronger than we were entering into it, we need a common-sense approach to funding government services essential to business growth and prosperity.

In order to do this, our business community should take the lead on the following measures: finally overturning the overly-burdensome Business & Occupation tax, as well as repealing the 1 percent cap on property tax increases throughout the state.

Here’s why it’s so important that one tax be eliminated and the shackles restricting another tax be removed:

Our government, at least at the county level, is going broke.

Last Friday, the Clark County Budget Office announced its recommendation of a $12.4 million cut of the 2010 General Fund operating budget, the third steep reduction in the past year.

Faced with the sudden loss of revenue from an unprecedented residential and commercial housing boom, the full effect of Tim Eyman’s misguided Initiative 747, passed in 2001 and capping an essential stream of government funding growth to a measly 1 percent per year, is now painfully clear.

On Dec. 31, the Clark County Sheriffs Department will let go of 16 deputies, more and more road maintenance projects will be deferred and our Health Department will continue to be increasingly dependent on nonprofit assistance to provide services essential to the wellbeing of all residents.

And that’s not all. For what the future beyond 2010 might hold if I-747 (upheld by the Washington Legislature in 2007 after the state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional) continues to strangle local government, we need only turn our gaze to the south.

California’s budget apocalypse, a business-killing cataclysm with no clear end in sight, can be traced back to 1978 with voter passage of Proposition 13, which caps property values at 1 percent of its assessed value at the time of sale.

Here in Washington, surely we can learn from another state’s mistake – for proof, one need look only to earlier this month, with a majority of state residents rejecting another Eyman initiative that failed so miserably in Colorado a decade ago.

However, before you term this New York native as another tax-loving liberal, the second part of my proposal involves killing off another long-hated levy – the B&O – for good.

The B&O, a tax on all gross receipts, has long been a burden on small businesses, stifling growth and innovation among revenue-generating and job-creating companies.

One common-sense alternative to the B&O is the replacement of the current gross receipts tax paid on each business activity with a gross receipts margins tax based on total receipts, an idea proposed by Center for Small Business director Carl Gipson and Center for Government Reform director Jason Mercier.

Along with the legislative overturn of the tenets of I-747, this alternative business tax might be just the proposal to put both local government and business on the road to a responsible and sustainable economic recovery.

Happy Thanksgiving

From all of us at the VBJ, happy holiday wishes to you and yours.

As a reminder: since the editor plans to be in the grip of a 48-hour tryptophan-induced coma, Just Business will not appear this Friday. Our column will resume Wednesday, Dec. 2.

Business Around the Northwest

Clark County waterfront dispute winds down, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

FDIC shows banks recovering, not lending
, South Sound Business Examiner

More than a quarter of households to shop Friday
, Idaho Business Review

Friday, November 20, 2009

► On the Record

“The widespread and growing lack of health insurance in Washington state is hurting families, communities and our state’s economy in ways that we can no longer afford to ignore.”

– Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. A commission-sponsored report released Thursday predicted the number of uninsured Washingtonians would soon hit one million, costing the state nearly $1 billion in uncompensated medical care.

Reporter's Notebook

- Steve McDonagh can be contacted at smcdonagh@vbjusa.com

Taking the good news with the bad

It’s not all Gloom and Doom out there.

While the bottom of the recession has been reached at least seven times in the national media and the term “jobless recovery” is quickly becoming a punch line to jokes that are only funny to those who are still employed, the economy really isn’t as bad as it was just a year ago.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s still bad out there and could get worse, depending on how certain future events unfurl – with Mother Nature having a say in things, I am sure.

But more and more often, I hear from business people that are doing better or at least are a little more optimistic about the future. Mind you, no one speaks publicly about this because there are plenty of businesses still teetering on the edge, making those who are doing well right now or starting to see an upswing in orders a little loathe to talk.

However, I did speak with the owner of a local IT company last week who told me that they had their best October ever this year. Another local business owner said he is busier than last year with fewer and shorter gaps between being busy.

At the VBJ, we try to bring you the stories and information important to you. What readers have told us in the past is that they want to know who is doing well and to the extent they are willing to share the secrets to their success, or at least their best practices, for the benefit of other members of the business community.

Our readers also tell us they want to hear about the businesses that don’t make it, with an emphasis on the “how” and the “why,” so that maybe they can learn from the misfortune of others in order to avoid their own.

As we continue to cover this turbulent and trying business environment, the VBJ occasionally receives emails and comments about running “negative stories.” However, we will continue to tell the stories we think our readers want. More often than not, it is a business success story. But we would be remiss if we only reported the positive and skipped the story on the store that failed on Main Street, closed their doors on 99th, or downsized their space out on 192nd.

So tell us what you think, what you like and what you want to know. We’ll do our best to bring it to you in a way that informs, educates and empowers our business community.

Friday Fish Wrap

Paul Speer retired but NOT, again, Congrats Paul……Gina Bacon back at the Chamber and communicating…David Lawson, a Class act…..Dennis Pavlina serving up Bones and recommendations.…Jim Jacks demonstrating his Tao of Pooh…...Tom Hunt paying off and hanging with the young dogs.. …Ralph Stevens – eerily quiet… TVD hawking phones and counting touchdowns….Robert Stewart first one in the pool ….Temple Lenz taking a break and looking for the next one… …Courtney Givens working and celebrating the Under 40 luncheon - well deserved and THANK YOU! …… Bob Dingethal every week is a bye week…..Bye, Bye.

Business Around the Northwest

U.S. manufacturing hits growth spurt, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

Papa Murphy’s up for sale, Portland Business Journal

Stimulus health care coverage deadline looms for laid-off workers
, Idaho Business Review

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

► On the Record

“My sense is that we have somewhat stabilized. There is the sense that we’ve finally hit bottom.”

-- Deborah Ewing, vice president of Vancouver commercial real estate brokerage Eric Fuller & Associates, reacting to news of the $8.3 million sale of Quad 205 Business Park on Tuesday.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

An apology – and cash – from Goldman Sachs

They were more than participants in the largest market meltdown in history – they were pioneers in the creation of the complex financial instruments, such as credit default swaps, that helped make it happen.

And now, more than a year after the crash froze credit lines for thousands of small businesses, including many in Southwest Washington, Goldman Sachs says it’s sorry.

The investment house-turned-banking giant announced today that it would launch a $500 million initiative to help 10,000 small businesses. The fund will be partly run by Goldman majority shareholder Warren Buffett, who said the program would provide “greater access to know-how and capital – two ingredients critical to success.”

Access to capital critical to success? Thanks for the tip, Mr. Buffett.

The continuing unavailability of credit for established small businesses locally has to be the most puzzling aspect of this year’s economic downturn – even more so given President Obama and Treasury Secretary Geithner’s almost daily pronouncements of victory over the financial crisis.

To be sure, $200 million will go far to help some cash-starved businesses – even perhaps a few here in Clark County – ramp up spending and start hiring again.

However, here’s another figure to consider: $10.5 billion.

That’s the amount of small business lending sucked out of the system in the last six months by 22 of the nation's largest banks – many of which were recipients of taxpayer money via the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Long an investment and trading institution, Goldman joined the savings-and-loan ranks as a condition of its own bailout package late last year.

So let’s put these figures in perspective: if $10.5 billion is a gash requiring stitches, then $200 million seems more like a Band-aid.

However, cash wasn’t all Goldman had to offer today. Nearly 14 months after an unregulated derivative and credit default swap trading market helped almost bring the entire financial system to near collapse, this apology: “We participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret,” said Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein today in New York.

Thanks Lloyd.

As for Warren Buffett’s unapologetically naïve comments regarding capital flows to small businesses? Don’t worry, we won’t take it personally, Warren – we’ll still take your money.

Business Around the Northwest

Assurances from FDIC, South Sound Business Examiner

Horizon Bank accepts VP Hoekstra’s resignation, Bellingham Business Journal

The world will feed the world, Idaho Business Journal

Friday, November 13, 2009

► On the Record

“Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn't mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar."

– Veteran radio and TV news journalist Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965)

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

The curious case of Brian Baird

Much like the residents of the 3rd Legislative District he represents, Brian Baird likes to go his own way.

In 2006, as Iraq seemed poised on the precipice of sectarian apocalypse, the Vancouver Democrat stood behind then-President George W. Bush’s troop surge, almost completely alone among the anti-war rank-and-file of his own party.

More recently, in the thick of this year’s healthcare debate, Baird penned an editorial last month advocating the replacement of popular government-run healthcare programs such as Medicare with a pre-paid system combined with catastrophic insurance. Interesting? Perhaps. But it was miles away from any reform proposal, Republican or Democratic, then being debated on Capitol Hill.

Then came last weekend’s big healthcare vote in the U.S. House, with a sweeping $1.2 trillion reform bill barely squeaking past 220-215. Joining Baird in their “No” votes were 176 of 177 House Republicans and a group of Democrats mostly from districts either won by last year’s presidential GOP nominee John McCain or narrowly won by President Barack Obama.

Baird was one of only four Dems representing districts Obama carried last year by five percentage points or more to vote against the healthcare reform bill – a list including single-payer healthcare proponent Dennis Kucinich and Artur Davis, an Alabama Democrat preparing a gubernatorial campaign in one of the most conservative states in the Union.

As for Baird? In a statement released on the eve of the vote, Baird praised his party’s healthcare bill, calling attention to a number of improvements and elements “that could at long last correct the Medicare payment disparities that disadvantage our state,” before going on to write that he was voting against the bill anyway.

One of the reasons behind his “No” vote, according to Baird, was that there was not enough time to consider Republican amendments to the legislation – a concern apparently held without regard to the GOP-led chants of “Kill the Bill” outside the Capitol last week.

As written here and here, the spiraling cost of employee healthcare coverage is the number one issue for small businesses – one that threatens the survival of those lucky or nimble enough to get this far through the deepest and most prolonged recession in 60 years.

These are concerns that Baird, as evidenced by VBJ’s Q&A with the Congressman last September, shares with his business constituency – making his vote against the healthcare bill all the more puzzling.

Make no mistake: the Congressman’s willingness to strike out on his own path, regardless of party or political expediency, may be one of his best qualities.

Even some of the mightiest doves in the Iraq debate of 2006-7 now agree with Baird that the surge was the right course, paving the way to relative stability in a nation still plagued with continuing violence and political turmoil.

However, when it comes to Baird’s choice of sides in this latest national debate, the passage of time may prove to be far less forgiving.

Business Around the Northwest

I-5 Bridge hits gridlock, Portland Business Journal

Columbia River Crossing faces obstacles in its path
, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

At work on recovery
, Spokane Journal of Business




Wednesday, November 11, 2009

► On the Record

“For these reasons, until more information is available on premium estimates and Medicare impacts, I will vote against the legislation in its current form.”

– Rep. Brian Baird (D-Vancouver), in a statement explaining his “No” vote on H.R. 3962 – The Affordable Health Care for America Act. The bill passed the U.S. House 220-215 last weekend.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

The truth behind the “ultimate sacrifice”

Whether it be called Fort Vancouver, or just plain Vancouver, Washington, this is a community that places a high value on service to one’s country.

Nearly 2,400 Washingtonians are stationed at posts throughout the world. Only last August, nearly 150 Clark County residents returned home from battle zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, with about a hundred remaining behind enemy lines.

On this Veterans Day, many Americans will remember the sacrifices and services of wars and military actions past. However, this year also brings sobering reflection on the ever-increasing list of perils facing our servicemen and women stationed abroad, and tragically and inexplicably, here at home as well.

What we term the “ultimate sacrifice” may seem poetic, full of much-deserved honor, dignity and respect. But underlying this phrase is the gritty reality of death, often inglorious, tragic and incomprehensible.

Politics aside, as President Obama prepares to decide the future course of this $231 billion (and counting) Afghan conflict, here’s a number, amongst many others, for him to keep in mind – 18.

That’s the number of Washingtonians killed in Afghanistan, including 25-year-old U.S. Army PFC Christopher “Ian” Walz, a Hudson’s Bay Graduate, Clark College student and a longtime Vancouver WinCo market employee with dreams of experiencing the wider world beyond his hometown.

“He really just wanted to travel, and he found the military was a way to do that,” WinCo produce department supervisor Shane Budge told the VBJ this week. “He had the travel bug.”

On Oct. 27, Walz was killed when his military vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in the Arghandab Valley near Kandahar. He was the eighth soldier stationed at Fort Lewis to die on the same day in an eight-year Afghan war against an insurgency growing bolder and deadlier with each new deployment of fresh American troops.

Back in Hazel Dell, Budge remembers Walz as a diligent employee, always smiling, with a laugh that he said stays with many employees at the store – many of whom worked with the fallen soldier for close to six years.

“I’ll always remember him as a good kid,” he said.

There’s something else Budge recalls clearly: Walz’ enthusiasm regarding Obama’s historic candidacy last year, made all the more poignant since it was the President who greeted this fallen soldier upon his return on his final voyage home.

Business Around the Northwest

Business execs more optimistic, South Sound Business Examiner

Retailers voice merry outlook
, Spokane Journal of Business

Small Business Index rises
, Idaho Business Journal

Friday, November 6, 2009

► On the Record

“A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back the minute it begins to rain.”

-- Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

A message to the mayor-elect

After the most expensive race in city history, today there is no doubt that Councilman Tim Leavitt will become the 57th mayor of Vancouver. And like anyone else campaigning in a hard-fought election for the past eight months, perhaps he feels like he’s in for a little break.

But if mayor-elect Leavitt is looking for a vacation, he’s in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

The problems our city and region faces are too important to wait for Day One of the Leavitt Administration.

After covering his campaign this summer and fall, it is clear Tim cares deeply about a city he’s called home since childhood. But in regards to certain promises made on the campaign trail to the business community – well, we plan to hold him accountable in the coming months.

First and foremost on that list – jobs. Clark County continues to be one of the hardest-hit in terms of unemployment in the state. Firms just emerging from the longest recession in 60 years are still reluctant to hire. Many other companies, retail outlets and restaurants have shut their doors for good.

When we talk about jobs, other issues seem to diminish in impact. For example, the controversy over proposed CRC bridge tolls would be far less pressing if thousands of Clark County residents did not have to commute to jobs in Oregon everyday.

Mayor Pollard was willing to travel anywhere, anytime if it meant landing a new business for Vancouver. His successor has a golden opportunity to coax across the river Oregon business owners nervous about impending tax hikes, as well as California companies looking to ditch a state notoriously unfriendly to business interests for one ranked in the Forbes Top Ten.

Second, the mayor-elect needs not only to keep his promise to convene a business advisory council, but to carefully select its members. The council should be composed of business leaders from companies of all sizes and all economic sectors, including those who may have supported the incumbent in this year’s election.

So Mr. Mayor-elect, if you’re out there – the time for decisive action not only to help sustain our economy, but to be an integral part of its growth, starts now.

Business Around the Northwest

Cut prices? Raise value? Both play part in strategy plan, South Sound Business Examiner

Encoder maker sees economy as bottoming, Spokane Journal of Business

Report: hiring to improve in November
, Portland Business Journal

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

► On the Record

“We are disappointed in last night's results, but the voters did speak and we will respect their decision.”

-- Marsha Manning, campaign manager for Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard’s reelection campaign (see VBJ’s story on Election Day here).

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

The opposite of exuberance

In 1996, then Federal Reserve Chief Alan Greenspan famously coined the phrase “irrational exuberance” in regards to imprudent dot-com era investors.

Fast-forward to 2009, with this reporter looking up an antonym for “exuberance” in an attempt to describe the current state of the regional economy.

Apathy? Lethargy, perhaps?

By any name, it seems just as irrational as the overly-speculative dot-com boom or the debt-filled housing bubble of the last decade.

My awakening came as I reported the closure of Princeton Athletic Club last week. Researching past articles on the business, I discovered a quote from PAC owner David Lawson, talking about downtown Vancouver’s economic prospects in the fall of 2007.

It was like reading a note from my third grade self buried next to the jungle gym in a time capsule – distant, yet strangely familiar.

“I like the area, and it has obvious advantages with the new construction coming in and the growth,” PAC’s owner said in the Oct. 5, 2007 edition of the VBJ.

Instead of reveling in the fruits of a downtown boom, today David is unemployed and his business bank-owned, with a last-ditch effort to modify his loan shot down because his lender “didn’t see growth potential in the area,” he told me this week.

Here’s my reply to David’s lender regarding the apparent lack of growth in Vancouver, Washington:

My hometown of Albany, New York – the capital of the fourth-largest state in the Union – has been stuck at around 95,000 inhabitants for decades. By contrast, Vancouver today has 162,400 people, up from 143,560 in 2000 and 32,464 in 1960.

And let’s not forget nearly $1 billion in private waterfront investment set to break ground nearly a stone’s throw away from PAC’s newly-minted “no growth” zone.

In America, there is a trend towards seeing the market as heading upward indefinitely – i.e. the years 2004-7; 1996-9 and 1923-9 – or caught in a never-ending death spiral.

However, denying a business a life raft during one of the longest recessions since WWII because of a lack of growth potential in this still-growing city’s downtown core is what I call “irrational apathy” – or lethargy, if you prefer.

Business Around the Northwest

FBI issues small business alert, South Sound Business Examiner

High Tech poised to lead Washington’s recovery, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

Low-turnout election provides few clues on Boise streetcar
, Idaho Business Journal

Friday, October 30, 2009

► On the Record

“Owners who are inflexible are sitting with their properties dormant… those who are willing to take risks are succeeding.”

-- Brett Irons, broker at Coldwell Banker Commercial Jenkins-Bernhardt, one of many regional firms riding a wave of lease deals in a volatile commercial real estate sector.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

As Washington state goes, so goes the nation?


The Evergreen State is known for many things – among them coffee drinking, a nearly-constant threat of showers and a decidedly-independent streak in its politics.

Now add one more item to that list: bellwether.

No matter how the final vote count on Initiative 1033 and Referendum 71 goes down, Washington voters will have already shaped the national debate on crucial issues for individuals, families and businesses.

First, regarding a matter at the heart of Tim Eyman’s bid for a ninth-straight ballot victory, Washingtonians have the chance to send an unambiguous rejection of the notion that vilifying and defunding our government before an economic recovery has the chance to take hold, is the right path for our state.

There’s no doubting the deep well of anger and mistrust held by many toward government on the local, state and federal level, evidenced by the high turnout at Rep. Brian Baird’s town hall-style meeting at Clark County Amphitheater in Ridgefield last August.

But for many others, another belief is emerging – one that sees government as neither the problem, nor the solution to everything wrong with our country. With the federal stimulus program credited today with saving as many as 650,000 jobs nationally, including thousands of Washington state teachers and construction workers, clearly there’s much that government on all levels can do – and must do – on behalf of its citizens.

Which brings us to Ref. 71, a measure asking voters to approve legislation passed earlier this year giving same-sex partners equal protection and rights as heterosexual couples. Though the state’s business community, with the major exception of Microsoft Corp., mostly stayed on the sidelines on this issue, this measure’s extension of basic civil rights to all residents has found considerable support in many different quarters.

One thing is clear: the morning after Election Day, we will know where the Evergreen State stands. Then it’s on to next year’s midterm elections to find out whether the nation followed our lead.

Business Around the Northwest

Kaiser property to get TIF boost, Spokane Journal of Business

U.S. Geothermal gets stimulus funding for Nevada power project
, Idaho Business Journal

Raising an urban village
, Bellingham Business Journal

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

► On the Record

“If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose - because it contains all the others - the fact that they were the people who created the phrase 'to make money.’”

-- From Russian-born American novelist Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957)

Reporter's Notebook

Editor’s note: Today we invited Kim Capeloto, president/CEO of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce to share his views on Initiative 1033, a measure up for voter approval on this November’s ballot. For Vancouver Council for the Homeless executive director Craig Lyons’ thoughts on I-1033, see VBJ’s Oct. 16 Op-Ed here.

Don’t fall for Tim Eyman’s folly

Initiative 1033, conservative political activist Tim Eyman’s latest ballot measure, is bad for businesses large and small and could not come at a worse time for our economy.

Even as we all hear reports that the recession is coming to an end, businesses in Vancouver and all across Clark County continue to struggle. Turning our economy around will not be easy – especially if voters approve I-1033 this November.

Let us not forget mistakes made more than a decade ago by voters in another state. Shortly after Colorado voters passed a similar initiative in 1992, the measure had to be repealed because it cut-off essential funding for the state’s schools, roads and bridges and businesses. Colorado’s economic growth decreased and fell far behind neighboring states just as the country emerged from that decade’s painful recession. Funding for K-12 education in Colorado dropped to 49th in the nation, resulting in the state being ranked among the lowest in the U.S. in high school graduation rates.

Do we have any reason to believe it would be different in Washington state? Not really. Eyman imported two fundamental – and damaging – elements of Colorado’s law. Like the Colorado measure, I-1033 would cap state and local spending at today’s recessionary levels, making the cuts caused by the recession permanent and determining future increases with a flawed formula based on inflation and population growth.

Though this funding formula may sound reasonable, I-1033 would have an immensely negative impact on our ability to educate our workforce, as well as maintain our local roads, both of which are lifelines for a growing economy.

The recession has forced state and local government to cut $1.5 billion in funding to our public secondary schools and universities – with $4.7 million cut from Vancouver public schools alone. This has led to more crowded classrooms and fewer teachers in our schools. For our public colleges and universities, a $500 million cut resulted in double-digit tuition increases. I-1033’s arbitrary limits would make these cuts permanent and cost jobs as companies look elsewhere for a highly-trained workforce.

The quality of our schools will not be the only casualty of I-1033. Eyman’s initiative also looks to undercut other foundations on which our local economy could grow.

Under I-1033, the recent $2 million public investment in Vancouver’s waterfront might not have happened. The same is true for the $1.3 billion Vancouver Waterfront Redevelopment project set to create an estimated 12,000 construction jobs and 2,500 permanent jobs for the area.

Clark County recently announced I-1033 would mean choosing between building new roads and paying police officers because there wouldn’t be enough money to do both.

The nonpartisan Office of Financial Management released a study estimating a reduction in state revenues by $5.9 billion if voters approve I-1033. Cities and counties would drop $2.8 billion over the next five years.

Despite Eyman’s claims, I-1033 would mean fewer jobs and more crowded classrooms. Under his initiative, state residents would feel the recession’s impact long after the rest of the country begins to recover.

I-1033’s rigid and over-simplistic formula has been tested and it has failed miserably.

In closing, Eyman’s initiative is bad for business and would slow our economy just as it begins to rebound. Eyman may not want our government to grow, but under I-1033 businesses would not grow either.

More than 250 organizations are working together to defeat I-1033. These include the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce, East Vancouver Business Association, Vancouver Education Association, Vancouver Firefighters, Vancouver Police Officers’ Guild, Washington State Hospital Association, Washington Education Association, League of Education Voters, Washington State PTA, Community Health Network of Washington, AARP Washington and the Washington Roundtable.

For more information, visit http://no1033.com.

Business Around the Northwest

Key economist sees long recovery ahead, South Sound Business Examiner

Avoid these scary investment moves, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

Workers’ compensation premiums could rise 7.6 percent, Bellingham Business Journal

Friday, October 23, 2009

► On the Record

“We believe in what the founding fathers believed was important – limited government.”

-- Jeff Kropf, state director for the Americans for Prosperity in Oregon and southwest Washington, in a speech on Tuesday at the Clark County Building Industry Association’s monthly meeting.

Reporter's Notebook

-John McDonagh can be reached at jmcdonagh@vbjusa.com

Business and the pursuit of being his Honor the Mayor

Almost from the moment the campaign began, many of our readers have asked whether the Vancouver Business Journal would endorse one of the candidates for mayor of the city of Vancouver.

We gave the matter much thought and deliberation. We poured over Councilmember Tim Leavitt and Mayor Royce Pollard’s positions on the issues, attended many of their numerous debates and heard both men talk about their vision for the future of a city many of us hold dear – America’s Vancouver.

Even after all that – a year or so after this much-contested mayoral race in Vancouver first started rolling – the Vancouver Business Journal has decided not to endorse either candidate in the contest.

Here’s why: For us to endorse a candidate for any office he or she should be the one best suited to address the needs of business through their elected position.

There are many considerations for choosing our mayor. Our interest is by definition easy – is the candidate one who understands business and willing to advocate strongly on our behalf? In our opinion the differences between these two candidates is hardly significant.

When we look at the many issues facing this city, the campaigns of Leavitt and Pollard have much more similarities than differences. And most importantly given the focus of this publication, after studying each candidate’s claims of being the person the business community can rely on to advance their needs through 2013, we see no clear distinction.

Let us first consider their endorsers. A check of their campaign websites shows both Pollard and Leavitt with the support of a variety of businesses, both large and small. So, from a business community support standpoint, there’s not much difference.

Both candidates claim more will be done on behalf of Vancouver businesses. Both claim job creation is the key to economic vitality and offer promises to put plans in motion to address the issue. Both promise to create a business advisory group to help focus the city’s efforts.

The incumbent candidate points to his personal effort to keep major employers and their jobs in the city. His challenger offers his personal experience running a local business as the reason he can carry the business-issues banner best.

At the end of the day, the mayor of Vancouver is one vote on a seven member council. How that vote is leveraged is really what this long mayoral contest is all about. Or as Hamlet might say: ‘Whether ‘tis nobler to travel boldly and smash Portland-themed coffee mugs – or facilitate discussion closer to home, inviting comment and collaboration?’ That is our question.

In recent weeks, the candidates have made attempts to distance themselves from the other, and of late have taken to the tactic of proclaiming the shortcomings of their opponent rather than explaining why they deserve your vote.

Here comes the disappointing realization. Aside from whether or not bridge tolls should be part of the proposed Columbia River Crossing project – a subject which the Mayor of Vancouver has some influence but no decision-making authority – there is little difference between the candidates as it relates to doing business in the city of Vancouver.

We are a city of large employers and Mom & Pops; boutiques and manufacturers; professional servicers and distributors.

Vancouver is a business community of size and consequence in the region because we have all of these elements and more. Without any of these businesses we are less complete. Consequently, our city’s future business strategy cannot be a zero-sum game. It can’t be large employers at the expense of small boutiques, just as it cannot be the Mom & Pop store at the expense of professional services.

Both candidates have missed an opportunity to unite the business community behind their candidacy. Our next mayor needs to provide the leadership that assures large employers and small businesses of their local value and contribution.

Business Around the Northwest

State touts tax ranking, South Sound Business Examiner

Washington County gives developers a tax break
, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Reports of newspapers’ death greatly exaggerated, Idaho Business Journal

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

► On the Record

“We need a single program … which will assure that every American in need has access to affordable, quality medical care.”

-- Rep. Brian Baird (D-Vanc.), calling for a single, pre-paid healthcare program in an editorial in Monday’s Seattle Times. Baird also advocated a repeal of the federal income tax, to be replaced by a “progressive” sales tax on goods and services.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com


Turning out the vote


If you’ve been driving, shopping or just walking your dog down the block the past couple of weeks in or around Clark County, the signs of next month’s ritualistic exercise in American Democracy seem to be everywhere.

Literally.

The signs, billboards, mailers, canvassers – even people allegedly impersonating as canvassers – have sprouted from Fircrest to Hazel Dell. With the first contested Vancouver mayoral race in decades and two statewide initiatives touching on the hot-button issues of gay civil unions and taxes, it seems everyone has an opinion that they aren’t afraid to print in big, black letters or drape in red, white or blue bunting.

While the extra color along Clark County roadways and strewn on kitchen countertops may be good for the region’s sign-makers and direct-mailers, it may not translate into one crucial thing – higher voter turnout.

According to Clark County Election Supervisor Tim Likness, only about 45 percent of eligible voters are expected to mail in their ballots in this year’s general election. Even with the recent dust-up between contenders Councilman Tim Leavitt and Royce Pollard over tolls, taxes and everything East Vancouver-related, that’s an increase of only 2 percent over the county’s last off-year election in 2007.

Granted, that figure includes many Clark County voters outside Vancouver city limits. But between Tim Eyman’s potentially fiscally-disastrous Initiative 1033 and voters deciding the fate of Washington state’s “everything-but-marriage” law with Referendum 71, there’s plenty riding on this election for everyone.

So why is voter turnout in off-year elections so stubbornly low?

Speaking to VBJ this afternoon, Likness had a few ideas. First, Vancouver’s mayoral contest aside, only 34 races are contested out of a total of 81 across the county. And though the two statewide measures up for voter approval are contentious, in past years there have been as many as six initiatives or referendums on the ballot.

Even still, this year’s general election numbers are set to be half that of 2008, with the thousands of new voters helping to make history on the national stage last year seemingly content to sit this one out.

Today, the focus of some poll-watchers is decidedly smaller. “Unfortunately, this is a local election,” said Leavitt campaign manager Temple Lentz, speaking of Clark County voter turnout projections. “This is the most we could expect.”

Business Around the Northwest

Congressman Simpson flags off big regulations, Idaho Business Journal

Video: Sen. Murray supports extension of unemployment benefits
, Bellingham Business Journal

Oregon ranks No. 4 for energy efficiency measures
, Portland Business Journal

Friday, October 16, 2009

► On the Record

“If you can hang in there, the business will come back. The problem is that it won’t be coming back quick enough to save us.”

-- Scott Studer, owner of Studer’s Floor Covering, Inc. in Vancouver. With about 22 dozen in-house and contract employees, Studer’s will close its doors Dec. 31 after more than 45 years in the business.

Reporter's Notebook

In today’s installment of Reporter’s Notebook, Eric Olmsted writes about next week’s long-awaited release of Microsoft Windows 7. Olmsted is the owner of On Line Support, Inc. of Vancouver. He can be reached at eric@on-line-support.com

“7” is your lucky number

If the Vista operating system had you gnashing your teeth and silently (or not so silently) cursing the minds of Microsoft for the last two years – “7” may be your lucky number. After months of development and much hang-wringing by top Microsoft executives and shareholders, Windows 7 is slated for its market debut on Thursday.

In planning Windows 7, Microsoft responded to business customers’ requests – i.e. complaints – for a better-performing, easy-to-use and secure operating system. As anticipated, Windows 7 comes with many improvements over previous operating systems and includes several features targeted to business, including enhanced mobility and improved security.

Here’s a rundown on some major new features:

Enhanced Mobility

One of the new features of Windows 7 is DirectAccess, which connects remote users securely to a corporate network that allows them to access corporate file shares, websites and applications without the need to connect to a virtual private network (VPN). Your employees can even disconnect from the network, work offline and then have their network files automatically updated with any new changes.

Improved Security

Given today’s data protection legislation, many small businesses will appreciate the security controls of Windows 7. If you don’t have an in-house IT department, you may be running with few or no access controls due to a lack of technical knowledge about controlling access to shared networks. Windows 7’s simplified configuration for workgroup networking includes an easy-to-use interface that gives you control of who has access to data and equipment.

Windows 7 also increases control of sensitive data on laptops or USB drives. A feature called Bitlocker, a file security and encryption system, enables you to allow only authorized users to read data on portable media, even if the media is lost or stolen. Another feature, AppLocker, allows an IT administrator or outside consultant to control which applications can run on user computers, providing another way to limit the risk of malicious software.

Other Features

Unlike Vista’s stand-alone operating system, Microsoft added XP compatibility to Windows 7, enabling XP applications to run on the new system unmodified.

If your application still does not run in XP mode, you can create a Virtual PC that runs Windows XP. Your previously-installed applications running on Windows 7 appear exactly as they would on XP – a huge incentive for companies who want to purchase new computers with Windows 7 installed.

Microsoft also incorporates a highly intuitive desktop experience, including a new taskbar displaying larger icons for easier viewing. Another feature allows you to peek inside a file by hovering over a thumbnail.

To upgrade, or not to upgrade…

Though Windows 7 is far-and-away better than either Microsoft XP or Vista, I recommend installing it only on new equipment. The reason is that many older machines utilize a 32-bit operating system that is incompatible with Windows 7’s 64-bit requirements.

Yes, the stars have aligned, Vista seems just a bad dream and Windows 7 is a newer, faster replacement that has all the bells and whistles you’d expect, including one very important thing: it actually works.

Business Around the Northwest

FDIC's advisory committee talks about community banks, South Sound Business Examiner

Condo builders turn to auctions in a tough market, Bellingham Business Journal

Will business embrace new Windows 7?, Spokane Journal of Business

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

► On the Record

“Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it. Is it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls.”

-- Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Me.) shortly before joining Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee yesterday in approving an $829 billion healthcare overhaul. The full Senate is expected to take up the bill in the next few weeks

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

Healthcare reform or revolution?

Having covered the healthcare debate for the VBJ and other publications during my time as a journalist, friends and extended family members often ask for this reporter’s take on a nearly two decade-long debate.

My answer mostly depends on who’s doing the asking.

To one of my mother’s older close friends currently on Medicare, my response to her concerns about the future viability of her government-run plan can be boiled down to this: reform, not revolution.

Though the exact wording of the provisions in the competing House and Senate versions of the bill may differ, most if not all of them contain measures reforming Medicare by trimming costs, improving efficiency and going after fraud and other abuses of the system.

“Not a dime will be used for anything other than Medicare,” said U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a live video chat on healthcare reform with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) this afternoon.

To a small business owner with 20 or less employees asking how current healthcare proposals will affect his or her ability to cover even their sickest employees, my answer again is reform, not revolution.

Stipulations in the House and Senate version of the bill allow for businesses to take advantage of tax credits up to 50 percent of their healthcare costs, as well as allowing more private insurers to compete for the business of small firms.

Speaking today, Murray indicated that some small business may not have to change anything about the way they deliver healthcare coverage to their employees: “The plan is about lowering costs for businesses so that they can keep the coverage they have.”

And last, but not least, to my twenty-something friends, most of them employed but only about half currently with health insurance, I advise them to get ready to storm the Bastille – there’s a revolution coming.

If the Senate Finance Committee’s recently-approved version of healthcare overhaul is any indicator, a stipulation mandating that all Americans get some kind of health insurance is likely to be a reality by this time next year.

Gone will be the days when one my best friends from college got hit by a car and got treatment at an emergency room with the premium-paying insured picking up the tab.

Sure there will be some kind of exception, or perhaps another kind of loop-hole for people who either can’t afford or don’t want to pay for health insurance. They’ll definitely be more than a few young, healthy people who will just ignore the stipulations altogether.

But if there’s anything that this long debate has taught us, it is this: the inequalities and the crippling cost to individuals and businesses from this country’s broken healthcare system can’t be ignored any longer.

Sick and well, young and old, we’re all in this thing together.


Business Around the Northwest

A project to heal Vancouver’s ‘wound’, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

A new prescription for mental health, South Sound Business Examiner

Idaho will get $13M in settlement with drug-maker Eli Lilly, Idaho Business Review

Friday, October 9, 2009

► On the Record

“Any risks associated with receiving the vaccine are far outweighed by the risks associated with getting the H1N1 virus.”

-- Don Strick, public information officer at the Clark County Health Dept. First shipments of the intranasal mist H1N1 vaccine arrived in Southwest Washington this week, with an injectible form expected later this month.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at pleonard@vbjusa.com

Innovate or go home

When the VBJ profiled Joe Foggia’s new business venture last July, it was clear he was a man with a clearly-defined mission – getting his workers back on the job.

“He is passionate about rehiring his employees,” CREDC business recruitment director Jeanie Ashe said of Foggia at the time.

Like many other Southwest Washington employers, Foggia was forced to layoff a substantial portion of his workforce as president of Vancouver-based Christiansen Yachts.

As one might guess, the yacht industry hasn’t quite taken off in the last year, mostly due to a worldwide recession putting the brakes on much of the market for big-ticket luxury items. After seeing a vital part of his shipyard grind to a halt and returning from a half-empty boat show in Europe, Foggia was presented with two choices:

Innovate or go home.

Fortunately for the 200 people set to return to work at Christiansen’s Vancouver shipyard, Foggia chose the former. This week, the federal government awarded $1 million to Foggia’s brainchild, Renewable Energy Composite Solutions LLC, to transform part of Christiansen’s shipbuilding operations into a small wind turbine manufacturing plant.

“As a result, the company will now be creating jobs instead of shedding them, and will help ensure that Southwest Washington becomes a leader in renewable energy production and green job creation in the future,” said Congressman Brian Baird (D-Vancouver).

Set to begin operations shortly, RECS will hire 101 full-time and 99 temporary workers and help the state reach its goal of reducing energy consumption by 25 percent.

Now that’s what we call good news. Here’s for more of the same.