Wednesday, April 29, 2009

► On the Record

“We’re constrained by the sins of our fathers, who didn’t consider land use.”

- Scot Walstra, the Port of Camas-Washougal’s director of planning and development

Reporter's Notebook

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at


We Washingtonians are a vocal bunch. Last year, we flooded the Attorney General’s Office with 25,197 written complaints about businesses – the most since 2002. Telecommunications companies once again secured their No. 1 spot of the most complained about, but health care and commercial banks broke into the top 10.

The AG’s office had expected complaints about collection agencies to bump telecommunications out of the top spot, but complaints about collection agencies dropped to the No. 3 spot, allowing retailers to move to No. 2.

Sure, no one is vying for these “honors,” but I don’t see a reason to panic. Communication from the people we serve is rarely a bad thing – it generally makes business stronger and more successful.

Vancouver-based online technology company Dotster has taken to addressing customer complaints and concern via Twitter, and told the VBJ this practice is leading to improved products and boosted customer morale.

Read more about how local companies are getting hip to social networking in Friday’s VBJ.

Business Around the Northwest

Live-work units planned for Alberta Arts District, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Study shows housing preferences may shift toward higher densities, Idaho Business Review

River valley along Hwy. 9 a treat, Bellingham Business Journal

Friday, April 24, 2009

► On the Record

“(Social networking) is kind of like accepting Visa and debit cards a few years ago – If you’re not doing it now, you will be.”

- Jennifer Crego, director of business development at Vancouver-based GiftTree

Reporter's Notebook


Bankers all say they are lending money, but all of the local business people I have talked to say they can’t get a loan. Owners of commercial properties that are fully occupied and have cash flowing can’t get a loan. Businesses with long, successful track records and expanding business demands can’t get a line of credit. Real estate developers with sizable high equity portfolios can’t get loans to finish projects started before the credit freeze hit.

The problem with the banks is that they are just as frozen as the market they portend to serve. Congress has said, “Here, take this money!” But it isn’t free and comes with many strings attached. Some of those strings bankers find too rich for the taking and so have declined the money or, in those cases in which they are “told” to take it, they have held onto it and hope to return it ASAP.

The real problem is the FDIC and its failure to deliver clear and concise rules and guidelines to the banks – guidelines that line up with Congress’ wish that banks free up credit for businesses and individuals. There are many viable projects and business plans just waiting for capital needed to move them forward and get the local economy moving as well.

Until the FDIC enacts and explains reasonable rules that the banks can rely on, it doesn’t appear that we will see the credit market thaw anytime soon. Hopefully the conflicting signals being sent by Congress and the FDIC will be addressed soon so the economy will warm up with the weather.

- Steve McDonagh can be contacted at

Business Around the Northwest

Wage growth in rural Idaho outpaced urban counties in 2007, Idaho Business Review

Portland art sculpture honors green development, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Local software developer makes technology breakthrough, Coast River Business Journal

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

► On the Record

“Once you sell a business, the passion is gone. I stay late with customers. I open early for them if I need to. I don’t choose designers who aren’t passionate about what they do.”

- Sherri Harvey-Weiser, owner of Studio 7 Boutik in Vancouver

Reporter's Notebook

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at


Happy Earth Day, everyone.
On a drive back from a visit to the Port of Camas-Washougal this afternoon, I was pondering how Earth Day has changed since I was a child. Growing up, my mom would dress me up in an ‘Every Day is Earth Day’ T-shirt embroidered with endangered, albeit happy looking, animals and send me off to school, where we would inevitably plant a seed or learn about owl digestion.
That was pretty much the extent of it.
Today, however, green is a movement, despite the trendiness of it all. We hear and speak words like “conservation,” “sustainable” and “renewable” daily in the business community. The cynical view is that promoting green is a way for businesses to capitalize on the fad to make a buck. But I think being green and reducing our impact on the earth personally and professionally is a good way to save money and the environment.
Below are a few tips to greenify your workplace, but it doesn’t include my favorite sustainable tip – doing business in your community with locally owned businesses.
• Place a recycling center in a prominent location in your office. If a complete set of recycling containers would take too much room, put a waste paper recycling box near the printers and a general recycling box in the staffroom. Empty the recycling boxes regularly.
• Use "real" mugs, glasses, dishes and cutlery instead of disposables. It takes just seconds to wash a mug.
• Use coffee filters that are made of recycled paper, or even better, get a coffee maker that doesn't require paper filters. Compost coffee grounds if possible.
• Make sure your office has at least one large plant in it. They're not only green and pretty but great for recycling the air.
• Make sure that your office is being cleaned using green products that are not damaging the environment.
• Use email rather than faxing whenever possible to cut down on paper waste.
• Print one copy of memos and other inter-office documents and circulate them rather than printing off a separate copy for everyone.
• Use whiteboards and/or overhead projectors to display meeting agendas rather than printing and distributing them.
• Get and use a battery charger - using rechargeable batteries in equipment will save money over time and help reduce the amount of toxic materials sent to landfills.
• Set a company policy to shut off all lights, machinery and equipment when not in use, particularly on nights and weekends. Much equipment is idle and unused for up to 90 percent of its life. Simple inexpensive timer devices can be used to accomplish this task easily.
• Install low-cost energy monitors that can provide an accurate display of the cost and energy use of individual equipment. Research shows that this step alone can lead to energy savings of up to 40 percent. See, for example,
• Lighting can account for up to 40 percent of energy costs for many businesses. Install motion-sensor and/or automatic dimming switches for all lighting to be certain that you are not inefficiently lighting areas when no one is present.
• Upgrade the energy efficiency of your older equipment. Modern equipment is much more energy efficient, often with less than half the energy use of older equipment. High-efficiency upgrades for motors and drives for equipment, air compressors, lighting, and other energy-consuming equipment generally have rapid payback periods, often less than one year.
• Always buy Energy Star qualified products for your business.
• Travel and transportation costs have been rising rapidly as fuel costs increase. Efficiency in transportation is often an effective way to lower your energy costs. If your business has company-owned cars or a fleet of vehicles, consider purchasing vehicles that are hybrid whenever possible. Check for the latest information on hybrid vehicles.
• If your company ships products or is a truck or rail company that delivers these products, look into the EPA SmartWay Transport Partnership, a collaboration between EPA and the freight industry to increase energy efficiency while significantly reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution. See
• Develop a company-wide policy to eliminate unnecessary idling of truck engines. One way is by installing auxiliary power units that will heat or cool the truck when stopped, allowing the main engine to be shut down.
• Computers and their peripherals consume a surprising amount of power. Consider using laptops as desktop computers. Laptops are far more energy efficient and can consume up to 80 percent less energy than equivalent desktops. Inkjet printers use 75 percent to 90 percent less energy than laser printers.
• Turn your computers off when they are not needed. It does not harm modern computers to be turned on and off repeatedly. Enable power management modes on your computer. These features allow computers to go into lower-energy modes after a certain amount of time. Sleep modes can save up to 90 percent of the energy consumed.
• Examine all waste generated by your business and look for ways any current waste products can be reused on-site or by other businesses,eliminated or radically reduced. Brainstorm with the employees who are involved in the generation of the waste for fresh ideas. Look for ways to alter your waste generation so that the waste produced can be reused.
• Consider developing a comprehensive green business plan for your business that encompasses energy and water efficiency, waste reduction, transportation, computing and equipment efficiency, building design and the design and actual operation of your business.

Business Around the Northwest

All in the family – business owners pass torch to sons, daughters, Bellingham Business Journal

Developer sues Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, Jobs With Justice Education Fund, South Sound Business Examiner

Architects explore options for Memorial Coliseum, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Friday, April 17, 2009

► On the Record

“I think it goes to show that our business community is strong because I moved here four years ago and didn’t know a soul. The business people in Vancouver, they’re really the ones that helped launch this and keep me busy.”

- Tiffany Couch, owner of Vancouver-based Acuity Group and a winner at the VBJ’s Business Growth Awards Thursday

Reporter's Notebook

-Charity Thompson can be reached at


A few years ago, if someone had told me I would become a reporter at a business journal in a place called Vancouver, Wash., I would have given them a funny look. If they had told me it would happen in the midst of a global economic crisis, I would have laughed.

But both of those things happened, giving me better understanding of our region’s economy than I could have asked for. I call economists and get to pick their brains. I call business owners and get to hear their stories. I’m privileged that many of you call me when you want to start community dialogue. And, as a lucky word-nerd, I get to turn all that into the news that you read.

My role in this community is changing soon, as I leave my full-time work at the VBJ and become a graduate student. I’m headed for teaching certification in the public schools, which makes me sound like a glutton for punishment, I know. But it’s a career calling that I can’t ignore.

It’s likely that you’ll still hear from me from time to time as a freelance writer for the VBJ and North Bank magazine. And I’ll remain plugged into Vancouver’s business community in my part-time work with Northwest Builders Resource and Estimates Northwest.

If anything has ever been bittersweet, it’s been this last week at the VBJ – celebrating this community at last night’s Business Growth Awards while preparing to sign off from a position that has brought me such unexpected joys. Few communities rally together like Vancouver does, and you all have been a delight to work with and learn from. Keep the news coming.

Business Around the Northwest

Family business: Risks and rewards of working with loved ones, Bellingham Business Journal

Game Changers: Companies making good by breaking the mold, Seattle Business Monthly

Sisters are building it for themselves, Idaho Business Review blog

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

► On the Record

“We pride ourselves on being one of the first companies (teenagers) might work for in their lifetime. Sometimes when you’re training a 16-year-old, you don’t realize you are training them with skills they will have for a long, long time.”

- Clarice Turner, president and chief operating officer of Vancouver-based Papa Murphy’s

Reporter's Notebook


Much has been written lately about the death of newspapers and the alleged impending death of journalism as whole. It is interesting to me how, as this more and more becomes the information age, the people we have trained to be information gatherers, processors and story tellers are now somehow to be pushed aside for Twitterers and iReports.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is a place for Twitter, Facebook and iReports, but they shouldn’t be your source of reliable and accurate news. Remember the old adage, “Things are not always as they seem.” So it is with instantaneous “reporting” by Joe Citizen via his BlackBerry.

Yes, citizen reporters get some remarkable video and sometimes shed light on an otherwise clouded issue or event. But to really know what is going on at a City Planning Commission hearing or in backroom meetings in Washington, D.C., we need – you need – professional journalists who can discern an issue, track down a lead and turn it into a news story of value to you, the reader.

So as you hear about the impending closure or bankruptcy of another daily newspaper, remember that professional journalists – particularly those in print media – are, without question, a vital and important part of you being an informed and active member of your community.

If you’re reading this, you are most likely a member of the Southwest Washington business community. The Vancouver Business Journal (and VBJ Online) is your community newspaper and we will continue to strive to bring you the news that is important to our community and your business.

In return, we ask for your continued support of our efforts through subscribing, advertising and attending our business events. Which, by the way, make great Twitter fodder!

- Steve McDonagh can be contacted at

Business Around the Northwest

Will Memorial Coliseum soon be demolished?, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Outsourcing and using independent contractors can be a legal minefield, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

Why access to credit makes the business world go round, Coast River Business Journal

Friday, April 10, 2009

► On the Record

“If I won the lottery, I would buy downtown Carson and make it a town with shops and gifts and create a little atmosphere. We don’t really have ‘centralness’ to the town, and we need that.”

- Abby Coates, co-owner of Gator Creek Gardens, Carson, Wash.

Reporter's Notebook

-Charity Thompson can be reached at


A few of this week’s local business happenings:

  • There might be a light at the end of the Wall Street tunnel. Kory Johnson, owner of Vancouver-based Johnson Financial Strategies, said today that the Great Depression fears of fall 2008 don’t look realistic. After the stock market crashed in 1929, he said, there was no government intervention for four years – quite a different scenario from today. And while we all feel the heartache of institutions such as Bank of Clark County, in 1933 there were 11,000 failed banks out of 25,000 nationwide. “I hate to be too optimistic, but I think we may have seen a bottom,” Johnson said.
  • After acquiring Lake Oswego-based software company Infinet Systems on Monday, Washougal-based iCooper has also inked a deal to develop health records software for mobile devices with Sunrise Health and Hospice, a fast-growing health agency in Arizona. Not bad for a startup. Not bad at all.
  • Vancouver’s Uptown Village Association will host First Friday art walks from May through September this year! Claire Ghormley, president of UVA and owner of Mon Ami cafĂ©, said the event series will include artists’ booths, food vendors and live music.
“We’re trying to start things off this year (by) getting our neighbors involved,” Ghormley said. “We don’t stay open unless they support us and we appreciate that.”
Only six days until the VBJ’s annual Business Growth Awards! This is a great opportunity to learn about companies that aren’t just surviving the recession, but thriving in it. Winners will be announced at 5 p.m. April 16 at the Hilton Vancouver. Tickets are $45. Visit or call 360-448-6006 to RSVP.

Business Around the Northwest

David Evans and Associates hires Hwee as CRC lead, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Developers pull plug on private Boise hospital
, Idaho Business Review

Boeing to slow production, South Sound Business Examiner

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

► On the Record

“It’s exciting to go into work every day – there’s always something new to find, someone new to talk to.”

- Heidi Olsen, co-owner of Vancouver-based Ecolution NW

Reporter's Notebook

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at


This morning brought a sad shock when I saw the news that after 50 years and two generations, Vancouver-based Koplan’s Home Furnishings is calling it quits. Citing the bad economy and nearing retirement, the downtown store will close after a going-out-of-business sale.

There have been rumblings that downtown Vancouver is dying, similar to the grumblings heard when Vancouver Mall was built in 1977 and again in the late ’80s when downsizing was the focus. Similarly, critics are suggesting the waterfront redevelopment along the Columbia and adjacent to downtown Vancouver will be wasted.

I have to believe otherwise.

Yes, there are plenty of empty retail spaces. Yes, downtown seems to be challenged in attracting shoppers from other parts of the city. But I’ve noticed many of us who spend time there make a real effort to support the shops, restaurants, galleries and gyms, many of which are locally and independently owned. Let us keep in mind how much more of an impact our spending has on the local economy when it’s spent at these locally owned businesses, rather than at big boxes and out-of-state retailers.

Retail across Vancouver is feeling the squeeze. In the first quarter, retail vacancy was up to 7.9 percent – the second highest in the Vancouver-Portland metro area, according to numbers from NAI Norris, Beggs and Simpson.

The current economy notwithstanding, downtown will bounce back – especially with investment in the waterfront development. If anything, businesses will be attracted by new development, as long as rates stay affordable. Look at what an impact Esther Short Park’s redevelopment had on downtown. It can and will happen again.

Yes, I am an optimist. But from my viewpoint, these empty storefronts offer opportunity for the next faces of downtown Vancouver.

Business Around the Northwest

Made In Oregon sign debate ends – new sign will say Oregon, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Les Schwab: An independent powerhouse, Snohomish County Business Journal

New patient care tower at Salem Hospital, Salem Business Journal

Friday, April 3, 2009

► On the Record

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Litigation is usually the most expensive way to do things.”

- Todd Mitchell, Bullivant Houser Bailey PC

Reporter's Notebook


There are times – and this may be one of them – when keeping the status quo is desirable and successful. For some. But numerous pundits and best selling authors posit that economic climates like the one are the best time to grow your business.

Businesspeople have all become value shoppers (not to be confused with coupon clippers) and are seeking out and demanding more value in the goods and services they consume. In the past, they may have taken these items for granted or had them on autopilot.

Savvy businesspeople know this, and instead of being content to hang on to what they have – which may be impossible because you will lose some customers through no fault of your own! – they are actively trying to grow. They do this through marketing and promotion, upgrades and/or expanding products and services offered, networking and all-in-all staying visible and active in the market.

Believe me, there are businesses that are thriving in the current economy and it is not just the candy stores.

On April 16, the VBJ will celebrate its fifth annual Business Growth Awards. The event is the premier business networking event in Southwest Washington. Start-ups, innovators and businesses in varying stages of their life cycle will be featured with awards and in the showcase portion of the event, when attendees can interact with these successful companies. It’s a great chance to be visible and network with some of the most successful companies and businesspeople in our community.

The cocktail reception with hearty hors d’oeuvres will be at held at 5 p.m. on April 16 at the Vancouver Hilton Hotel and Convention Center. Tickets are $45 and advance registration is required at or by calling Debbie Trimble at 360-448-6006.

-Steve McDonagh can be reached at

The 2009 BGA finalists are:

Start Up of the Year:
• Tully’s Coffee
• Stitchcraft

Fastest Growing, One to Five Years:
• Simply Thyme Catering
• Acuity Group

Fastest Growing, Six to Ten Years:
• Electrix
• On Line Support
• Creative Computer Solutions Inc.

Fastest Growing, More Than Ten Years:
• Silicon Forest Electronics
• Papa Murphy’s
• Foster and Assoc.
• ControlTek

Innovator of the Year:
• Ecolution NW
• Nutrition Now

Nonprofit of the Year:
• Humane Society for Southwest Washington
• Share
• YWCA Clark County
• Dream Big Community Center

Business Around the Northwest

Eastside Business & Eastside Life newspapers print last issue, Eastside Business Journal

University of Idaho art, architecture studio will help students learn by building, Idaho Business Review

Portland reservoir project to create 1,500 jobs, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

► On the Record

“We’re trying to figure out – how does a house of cards not get blown over in a hurricane?”

- Curtis Miller, owner of Battle Ground-based Darby Rural Corp., who gathered builders in March to discuss economic survival strategies

Reporter's Notebook

--Charity Thompson can be reached at


Legislation is advancing in Olympia that the Building Industry Association of Clark County fears could put some builders out of business. Senate Bill 5895 and its companion, House Bill 1393, are intended to improve residential construction in several ways, including:

  • Creation of an Office of Consumer Education for Home Construction
  • Boosting home warranty protections
  • Requiring third-party inspections of remodels and new homes
  • Beefing up contractor registration requirements
  • Setting worker certification standards for foundations, framing, siding, roofing, windows and doors
The House version had its first reading Jan. 20 and it debuted in the Senate Feb. 5. The Legislature’s Democratic majority has passed the bill through a handful of committees on both sides. If I were having my home built or remodeled, I would feel better knowing the project had third-party inspections, certified workers and strong warranties. I would be glad to know I could call a state office if I had trouble with my builder, heaven forbid. If I were a builder, it seems that these regulations could be a headache. But it also seems that the new state office could help protect builders. It would require consumers to file claims for investigation and mediation before pursuing lawsuits. Steve Madsen, BIA of Clark County’s government affairs director, said the bill’s proposed warranty requirements could make it too expensive for general contractors to stay in business. There aren’t insurance underwriters for the proposed warranties, making difficult to get coverage, he said. Builders who can’t afford to operate that way might find consulting a more affordable business venture, Madsen said. Some homeowners are acting as their own contractors these days under guidance of consultants. “These contractors do have a lot of expertise,” Madsen said. “I think state legislation will have a big influence on how popular that (consulting) trend becomes. … Unless the legislature puts him out of business, the general contractor’s going to be around as the primary source of residential construction.”

Business Around the Northwest

Outlook for Bellingham’s recreational marine industry unclear, Northwest Business Monthly

Dean Allen: McKinstry's presidential moment, Seattle Business Monthly

Researcher finds a bright spot in delayed retirement, South Sound Business Examiner blog