Friday, January 30, 2009

► On the record

“Vertigo – that whirling, unsettling sensation when all coordinated effort fails, like stepping onto an untethered boat without a rail. Not unlike trying to navigate the American health care system.”

- Dr. Rebecca Hoffman, owner of Great West Family Care PC in Salmon Creek

Reporter's Notebook

Green jobs in the spotlight

State economists say the private sector in Washington has already created 47,000 green jobs – nothing to sneeze at. But Gov. Gregoire thinks there’s even more room to grow those green-collar jobs.

This week, she announced the Green Jobs and Climate Action legislative package, which aims to create jobs, expand the state’s green economy and move toward energy independence. Sounds good to me, especially in light of announcements this week of more layoffs at Washington business icons Starbucks and Boeing.

Clearly we can’t continue to rely on the same industries to buoy Washington’s economy. The green movement has proven its staying power and Gregoire’s proposed legislation includes $455 million in investments for energy-reducing transportation projects, energy efficiency projects, green buildings and clean-energy technology – which will support about 2,900 jobs in the next two years.

The Maryhill Museum of Art already has jumped on an innovative way to benefit from the green movement. The museum agreed with Windy Point Partners to site 15 wind turbines on the east end of its 5,300 acres in Goldendale. Once the turbines begin producing energy later this year, the relationship is expected to generate more than $100,000 in revenue for the museum annually.

It is believed to be the first wind energy project in the country to generate revenue for a nonprofit museum – well done!

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at

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Business around the Northwest

Conveyor belt restaurants winding their way north as the sushi trend grows, Snohomish County Business Journal

Changing lanes on the Columbia River Crossing, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

From the desk of the divorce lawyer: You can’t afford a divorce, Eastside Business Journal

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

► On the record

“There are guys out there who are at a point where they will do a job, knowing they will lose money, just to get out of the house and do work.”

- Jim Misner, owner of Brush Prairie-based Pro-Touch Painting Inc.

Reporter's Notebook

How to get paid

One of my part-time jobs in college was at a small, family-owned insurance company. At least twice a week I was tasked with calling customers to remind them that they owed us money. I often got no answer. But when I did, the conversations were more pleasant than you’d expect. And they almost always led to a payment.

It was a somewhat tedious task, and I was always a little afraid of catching a customer on a bad day. But as the economy gets slower and slower, I’m realizing just how important my phone calls were.

Business owners shouldn’t be afraid to call customers who are behind in payments, said Jan Stockton, a Vancouver-based certified public accountant.
“Hold them to (the payment),” she said. “It’s hard to do, but once you do it, it’s hard for the other person to say no.”

Along with those phone calls, clear policies on credit and collection help ensure payment, according to financial professionals at Frumenti, Lander and Wallace. Here are a few tips from the Vancouver-based firm:
• Define, maintain and communicate clear guidelines for credit and collections.
• The faster you send invoices, the faster you’ll get paid. Send invoices with product shipments if possible.
• When past-due customers agree to make payments, set specific dates and terms.
• Make clear the consequences of not paying, and follow through according to your policies.
• Make follow-up calls if no payment is received.

“My instinct is to make it my last resort to call them for payment, but I find if I do, it’s much better,” Stockton said. “They have a chance to tell you what’s going on and it allows them to understand they’re not the only one in this (economic) situation.”

--Charity Thompson can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

Learning from past recessions, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Weyerhaeuser closes two more mills, South Sound Business Examiner

Farmers view high tech as key to world food supply, Idaho Business Review

Friday, January 23, 2009

► On the record

“They went in like Stormtroopers.”

- Paul Winters on the takeover of Bank of Clark County

Reporter's Notebook

Friend or foe: what is the media’s role in hard times?

This has not been the best week for Northwest business.

To name a few key happenings:
A week ago today, Bank of Clark County was in the midst of its last day of operation before being shut down by the Washington Department of Financial Institutions and taken over by the FDIC.

Logitech made cuts at its Vancouver branch, Intel announced its computer chip factoring in Hillsboro will close, OHSU is cutting 1,000 to 1,500 workers and Microsoft dropped the bomb that due to a massive sales decline, it will cut 5,000 jobs – 1,400 were cut immediately, 872 of which were in Washington.

This is not news any of us likes hearing, but I would argue that it’s news we all need to hear. The business climate has changed and it affects us all. It is common and inevitable in these times of seemingly endless bad news that readers form a rally cry for positive stories. We report good news, but we can’t ignore the bad, even though the press is often blamed for magnifying shaky situations.

At the VBJ, we talk a lot about our role: Are we a voice for or a voice of the business community? The VBJ tends to be pro-business. We see the positive impact business can have on the local economy and community at large.

But is it our job to be an advocate?

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

Tough opening for Machine Works in Pearl District, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Open source software company achieves record year in 2008, Eastside Business Journal

Commercial projects continue throughout Central Oregon, Cascade Business News

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

► On the record

“Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of
protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that
time has surely passed.”

– President Barack Obama in his inaugural
speech Jan. 20, 2009

Reporter's Notebook

Snapshots of history

I have been struck by real-life pictures lately – everyday scenes that
remind me this is a pivotal time in history.

Yesterday I was listening to President Obama’s inaugural speech as I
approached the former Bank of Clark County for snapshots of its first
day as Umpqua Bank after the FDIC takeover. In my ears were words about
our nation’s economic woes: “Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses
shuttered. … For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.” I
entered the elaborate bank lobby and saw a statue of a bald eagle and an
American flag. A gaggle of well-dressed BOCC and Umpqua workers scurried
about, trying to make sense of their new situation. Friday afternoon, as
FDIC officials prepared for BOCC’s transition, I was in Ridgefield
interviewing Jeff Shafer, designer and chief executive officer of Agave
Jeans Co. His company’s green-built headquarters has a view of a nature
preserve and industrial complexes. The vista sums up Ridgefield’s
business climate – rapid progress next to ruralism. This has been a boon
to $10 million companies such as Agave, but could be tough on the town
of about 4,100 residents.

Which brings me to the next real-life snapshot: In downtown Ridgefield,
women’s boutique Farrell and Eddy has “store closing” signs in its
windows after serving high-end shoppers for nearly two years. Locals say
the economy is to blame. The shop was one of Ridgefield’s rich but
sparse retail offerings, and this makes me wonder how much rapid growth
small communities can sustain.

The pictures don’t lie – times are tough. But remarkable changes are
afoot that will affect business and everyday life before we know it.

Keep your eyes open.

--Charity Thompson can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

Minimum wage freeze proposed, South Sound Business Examiner

Passive House movement reaches the Pacific Northwest, Portland Daily Journal
of Commerce

Top 10 business stories of 2008, Bellingham Business Journal

Friday, January 16, 2009

► On the record

“It’s the worst possible timing to look at increasing anything – fees, taxes, anything.”

Marty Snell, director of Clark County Community Development

Reporter's Notebook

Calling in the big guns

Ron Edwards, president of Vancouver-based Western Construction Services Inc., has big plans to attract a restaurant to the mixed use development he has designed for Felida.

The Board of Clark County Commissioners approved a zone change from urban low density residential to mixed use for the parcel where the project will take shape at the intersection of Northwest 119th Street and Northwest 36th Avenue, and now the project is in the permitting stage.

The preliminary site plan included space for a 2,500-square-foot restaurant. Restaurants have not been an easy sell in Felida, especially in financially tricky times.

But Edwards is thinking big. He has considered calling the Food Network to pitch a reality TV show that would follow the search for the next great restaurant to locate in the space.

I can’t help but wonder what catchy name the Food Network would come up with for the show – any ideas?

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

Bellingham’s ski industry may not be prominent, but it’s thriving, Bellingham Business Journal

Committee submits a wish list for transportation projects, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Gig Harbor Historic Waterfront Association working on Main Street designation, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

► On the record

“The crafting business now is booming because people are making things instead of buying things.”

- Nicholette Hoyer, owner of Vancouver-based StitchCraft

Reporter's Notebook

Green and greener

We hear a lot about the green building sector these days, and as time goes on, it’s looking like less and less of a fad.

The United States Green Building Council reports that the green building sector of the national economy continues to rise despite slowdowns in other sectors. Its popularity has been bolstered as businesses look for ways to cut operating costs and consumers seek more economically sustainable homes.

Here are some numbers to help quantify the green building sector’s growth:
• 75 percent of commercial real estate executives said the credit crunch wouldn’t discourage them from building green. This includes developers, rental building owners, brokers, architects and engineers surveyed in a study for Turner Construction Co.’s Green Building Barometer.
• Projects certified by USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System are tied to more than $10 billion in green materials, and that could increase to at least $100 billion by 2020, according to a study by Greener World Media.
• More than 80 percent of commercial building owners set aside money for green initiatives in 2008, and 45 percent plan to boost those investments in 2009, according to the 2008 Green Survey: Existing Buildings by USGBC and three other entities.
• 70 percent of homebuyers are more inclined to buy a green home rather than a traditional home in a down market, according to McGraw-Hill Construction’s 2008 SmartMarket Report. Interest in green homes was at 78 percent among those who earn less than $50,000 a year.
• The green building market is likely to more than double to at least $96 billion by 2013, according to McGraw-Hill Construction’s SmartMarket Report. Green building is expected to comprise at least 20 percent of new commercial and institutional construction starts by 2013.

As we’ve all seen recently, the building industry has a way of impacting the economy at large. What lasting impacts do you expect the green economy will have on your work in 2009?

--Charity Thompson can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

Pierce County flood total to top $2 million, South Sound Business Examiner

Likewise Software named a company to watch in 2009
, Eastside Business News, Bellevue

Forbes names Boise one of 25 weakest housing markets, Idaho Business Review

Friday, January 9, 2009

► On the record

“I had no idea – I’ve never seen kids lining up for second and third helpings of Brussels sprouts before.”

- Elisa Wells, Camas Roots garden coordinator

Reporter's Notebook

Come on, we can take it

We at the VBJ aren’t kidding when we say we want to be your No. 1 source of local business news. To make sure we’re hitting that mark, we need to hear from you.

The newspaper is blessed to have a wonderful Reader Advisory Board that continually provides the management with thoughtful and insightful feedback that has shaped our news coverage and goals for the future. Now it’s time to get that feedback on a larger scale.

Is there something you want to see in the paper? Something you don’t want to see anymore? Essentially, how can we serve you better? We’re also looking for feedback on Just Business.

And bonus – if you complete the survey, you’ll be entered to win two custom shirts or blouses from Personal Haberdasher Joseph McCoy, the Southwest Washington representative of Tom James Co. (who doesn’t like anything that’s personally haberdashered?).

To take a few minutes and help us out, follow this link to the survey:

Thanks in advance from all of us at the VBJ.

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

Portland rolls out its Infill Design Toolkit, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

State economist projects four quarters of decline in 2009, Idaho Business Review

Unemployment claims set new records, Tacoma Business Examiner blog

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

► On the record

“There’s only one bone, but there’s a whole lot more dogs trying to fight over that bone.”

- Steve Lilly, Vancouver-based Union Corner Construction

Reporter's Notebook

Turn off the computer?

I’m a subscriber to Tim Clark and Mark Cunningham’s Soul Shelter blog, which attempts to, as they put it, “protect the soul against the deadening effects of techno-culture.”

My response to this blog is almost always the same: “Yes! Let’s turn off our computers and web phones already! Let’s forget about email for a while.” Because when I do those things, it’s often a relief. It helps increase productivity, or at least clarity of mind.

But, of course, I read the blog on a computer and you are reading these words online. I am a reporter on the technology beat. I am a nature-lover. I am enamored of my new laptop. But I often have more fun when it’s turned off. I am torn.

“How we interact with machines and technology in many ways defines who we are,” writes local anthropologist Amber Case. She posits that that communication technology such as cell phones and Internet devices help people connect with “community in an increasingly isolated urban environment.”

But does it also contribute to that isolation?

Communication technology has helped business take leaps and bounds in many ways. Deals are made via video conference calls. Employees can work and communicate from home, from the road, in a park. Businesses save on printing costs, and information is distributed faster than ever. But in keeping us connected continually, does that same technology slow us down?

How does communication technology affect you? Does it enhance your life and work, or does it get in the way?

--Charity Thompson can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 records its biggest year ever, Eastside Business Journal

Community college stumbles to a start, Idaho Business Review

‘Life Beyond Boeing’ weighs the company’s importance in the economy, Snohomish County Business Journal

Friday, January 2, 2009

► On the record

“When work is hard to come by, it’s tempting to cut corners and bid low on projects. Don’t kid yourself. This is never the answer.”

- Larry Schlecht, president and chief executive officer of Schlecht Construction

Reporter's Notebook

Just say no

In researching the prevalence of substance abuse in the workplace, I came across some alarming statistics, but I also became aware of the alarming lengths some workers go to get away with drug use.

Even if a workplace has drug testing in its policy, there are more than 1,300 drug masking agents easily available online – and they work, said Terry Johnson, president of the Vancouver franchise of AccuDiagnostics drug, alcohol and background screening.

The good news, he told me, is that testing labs are quick about finding ways to detect adulterants.

However, workers can be even craftier. Products like the Whizzinator – a prosthetic genital device for men and women worn as a belt to pump out clean urine kept at the right temperature by hand warmers – keeps testers who are at times required to watch workers do their business on their toes.

Other workers have been known to self-catheterize or inject clean urine into the walls of their bladders with syringes.

Which leads me to question – wouldn’t it just be easier not to do drugs?

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at

Business around the Northwest

Whidbey Island becomes a wine destination, Northwest Business Monthly

Ron Paul targets Multnomah County property for Portland Public Market, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Healthy New Year options for stressed-out entrepreneurs and employees, Coast River Business Journal