Friday, June 26, 2009

► On the Record

"In these hard economic times, it makes celebrating any anniversary - especially the 35th - very exciting."

- Tim Schauer, president of MacKay & Sposito Inc., at the company's 35th anniversary celebration barbecue Thursday

Reporter's Notebook

- Steve McDonagh can be contacted at

...over? The bottom? The recovery? A Reset?

Nobody seems to know where we are at or where we are going, but there does seem to be some consensus that we are at or near the bottom. But every time I hear we’ve hit it, another shoe drops – this thing has more shoes than Imelda Marcos! If it isn’t home builders or car manufacturers its whole states – California and 17 others, according to CNN, are going under.

The price of gas is going up while demand is going down. Speculators have returned to virtually every financial market. Local businesspeople say borrowing is still difficult. But at least two local bankers have told me they have seen some movement the past couple months from people have been sitting on the sidelines for the past year, and that their banks are making loans. Yes, loans.

What exactly does all this mean? It means don’t look at the stock market numbers on a daily basis or plan your business’ activity for the next quarter based on the price of oil today. Take time to look around our community and see what opportunities are presenting themselves to your business. Has a competitor pulled back or gone out of business? Have new tax incentives made it worthwhile to invest in capital improvements? The labor pool is swollen. Is there an opportunity to hire someone who might have commanded a salary beyond your ability to pay two years ago?

Even if we are in reset mode and not a recovery, there are opportunities out there. We need to keep our eyes and ears open and take advantage of them when they are presented. Vancouver is, for the most part, weathering this storm better than a lot of areas of the country. As California and others continue to struggle and/or fail, we should see renewed in-migration of people and businesses. These new residents and businesses will present a myriad of opportunities to existing businesses.

Stay the course and stay alert.

Business Around the Northwest

Bankruptcies leave big real-estate holes, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

University of Idaho awarded funds for nuclear research, Idaho Business Review

Animal farm: the business of livestock
, Coast River Business Journal

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

► On the Record

“Housing might bring immediate revenue, but it’s actually finite revenue, especially versus something that has a perpetual income such as wine. It used to be that you could sell them as fast as you could build them in Clark County, but I don’t know if that’s true anymore. So maybe it’s the perfect timing for wine.”

– Michele Bloomquist, Heisen House Vineyards

Reporter's Notebook

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at


I glanced at the calendar this morning, and did a double take when I realized today is June 24. How is it possible we’re less than a week away from the end of the month? And summer is in full swing, which means one thing here at the Vancouver Business Journal – Top Projects.

For those of you who don’t know, Top Projects is a celebration of the major construction projects that broke ground in Southwest Washington in the last year. Every year, we publish a magazine that outlines the projects, which coincides with the Top Projects awards reception and sustainability showcase.

This year, I’m particularly excited because the event will be at a building many of us have seen rise before our eyes: The Al Angelo Building at 400 Mill Plain Center. I, for one, am pumped to get to see inside the site before it is open to the public – don’t miss out on this exciting opportunity!

The Top Projects awards reception and sustainability showcase will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. on July 23 at The Al Angelo Building at 400 Mill Plain Center (at the corner of Mill Plain Boulevard and “D” Street in Vancouver).
Registration is required and tickets are $35, available by calling 360-695-2442 or online.

Business Around the Northwest

Re-examine ‘business as usual’ to thrive in today’s economy, Northwest Business Monthly

What if Boeing leaves?, Snohomish County Business Journal

Deals to manufacture streetcars lead to work for local firms amid recession, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Friday, June 19, 2009

► On the Record

“You really need to find your center of gravity and lower it.”

- Jim Jacks, giving instructions on successful limbo methods at the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce golf tournament Thursday

Reporter's Notebook

- Steve McDonagh can be contacted at


Health care costs are suffocating small business. Yes, I saw all kinds of headlines this week about health care reform and how small businesses are bearing the brunt of the current run up in health care costs and insurance premiums – and may well be expected to carry the load in any future health care reform package.

What is surprising to me about these stories is that it didn’t just become news this week –this has been an issue for small business for years. Here at the VBJ, we have been writing about it for more three years.

Employees are now more concerned with benefit packages than they are by the actual monetary compensation they receive. Many small business owners are “trying to do the right thing” by offering health benefits to their employees, but the continuous increases in premiums are making it more and more difficult to continue doing the right thing.

Why do small employers even try? Because we live here with our employees. We know their kids, see each other at the store or the Little League field. The big companies that don’t offer benefits or who manage their employees’ hours so they’re ineligible for benefits don’t have to worry about doing the right thing.

The corporate officers making the decision don’t shop at the farmers market on Saturday, attend the church around the corner or listen to free concerts in Esther Short Park on Thursday nights. They don’t have to see their employees struggling to pay their insurance premiums or hefty medical bills. There is quite simply no motivation for them to make it better because they believe that making it better for their employees will make it worse for the bottom line.

No one knows for sure what is going to come of the current efforts in Washington, D.C., to affect some kind of health care reform. What I do know is that small businesses need to make their voices heard and NOW. Contact the offices of Congressman Brian Baird and Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray. Let them know exactly what impact the continued rise in insurance premiums has meant to your business and your employees. Let’s help Congress see what needs to be done so small business owners can continue to do the right thing!

The VBJ staff congratulates Jennifer and Kris Small on the arrival of their new daughter, Amaya. Best of luck!

Business Around the Northwest

The rules for health care 'reform', Idaho Business Review blog

Omega Center is contending to become the first to meet the challenge posed by green building council, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Local auto dealers maneuver through road blocks, Cascade Business News

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

► On the Record

“Don’t use Twitter to constantly hawk your goods or services. Nobody likes the insurance guy at the party who hands out his cards and follows up relentlessly to try and sell you something.”

- Denise McVey, president of marketing bigwigs S3

Reporter's Notebook

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at


As part of a former Fourth Plain Boulevard business, I’ve kept a particular interest in the revitalization effort of the sadly rundown area. It’s got a subarea plan, it’s got a revitalization task force and now the Business Coalition branch of the task force is working to up its visibility and get more businesses involved.

On Saturday, businesses along Fourth Plain from Fort Vancouver Way to Falk Road will see 120 to 140 volunteers in matchy shirts brushing up the neighborhood.
The desired outcome is two-fold: instilling a sense of pride in the area and raising visibility of the coalition to inspire businesses to stake a claim in the revitalization effort – demonstrating that the community is pulling itself up by the bootstraps.

“Businesses along the corridor are negatively impacted by the beauty or the ugliness of it,” said Sharif Burdzik, chair of the Business Coalition. “This is something to make it a little more upbeat – to show something positive can actually happen on Fourth Plain and prompt others to make their own contribution.”

The effort is still in its infancy, Burzdik said.
“For us to be relevant, we need more involvement,” he said. “To get more involvement, people need to see relevance.”
It is wise to think this way and it’s something many of us are working on at the moment.

Many businesses, both in the Fourth Plain Corridor and in other parts of the city and county, take a negative view of the area, some pretending it doesn’t exist. But Burzdik raised an excellent point – what is good for the areas that need attention is good for the whole community.
“If we can raise Fourth Plain up just a little bit, think of the amount of relief that will provide for Public Works in terms of graffiti removal and more,” he said. “It’s good for all of Clark County.”

Businesses that are interested in getting involved can contact Sharif Burdzik at or 360-759-3528.

Business Around the Northwest

How to maintain a positive workforce despite hard economy, Bellingham Business Journal

Business coaches show upside to down economy, Snohomish County Business Journal

Senate committee considers cuts to Business Energy Tax Credit
, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Friday, June 12, 2009

► On the Record

“Previously, we provided you a substantial legal analysis prepared by Miller Nash, Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt and Steve Madsen. Notwithstanding the city attorney’s disagreement with each and every point of this analysis, we remain convinced that the city’s legal interpretation of the issues are incorrect.”

- from a letter to Mayor Royce Pollard about the “path the city is taking” in regard to stormwater requirements and several calls to action, signed by representatives of law firms Miller Nash LLP and Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, the BIA Clark County, Killian Pacific, Olson Engineering, RSV Construction Services Inc. Sturtevant, Golemo & Assoc., Al Angelo Co., Hahn Lee & Assoc., Nutter Co., Planning Solutions Inc., PLS Engineering, HDJ Design Group and AKS Engineering & Forestry

Reporter's Notebook

-John McDonagh can be reached at


Admittedly, the gray hair I have is on my chin instead of the top of my head but gray nonetheless. But enough about aging and onto the perspective it provides, especially when it comes to development. Having lived here and been a part of the business community for the past 34 years, give or take a few, I have the historic advantage of looking at the community through the lens of having heard the vision first and been around to see whether the vision was delivered.

The amenities in this community haven’t always just been here and it’s important to remember, as we consider more than a few projects that are still in the visionary stage, not only what it takes to have a vision but what it takes to hold to it, deliver it and the impacts it will have on the community for years to come.

It was 1983 when the first Washington State University courses were offered at the Southwest Washington Joint Center for Education, then housed in Hudson’s Bay High School. In 1989, it moved to Bauer Hall on the Clark College Campus and was officially designated a branch campus. In 1994, the university broke ground at the current campus location, which now offers a full curriculum for four year college degrees. Nearly three decades of vision commitment and follow through culminated in a graduation class this year 20 times larger than the first graduates of the Vancouver branch campus in 1989.

Other projects that were presented as visions within the last three decades include the Esther Short Park redevelopment, Clark County Amphitheater, Cascade Park, Columbia Tech Center, Battle Ground Village, Vancouvercenter and Heritage Place, the Vancouver waterfront development from I-5 east to Columbia Business Center, Vancouver Mall and county-wide transit via C-Tran.

There are likely a dozen more examples, though I think these will do nicely enough to put some of the current visions into perspective. Plans are moving:
• The Columbia Waterfront LLC has this week submitted the specific vision to the city for consideration of how the 35 acres will be redeveloped in the next 10 years
• The Columbia River Crossing task force was several years in the visioning process, culminating in its recent recommendation to the governments involved about the crossing should entail
• Washougal developed a vision for its downtown and for reconnecting it to the waterfront. On June 22, a major component gets underway with the ground breaking of the pedestrian tunnel under state Route 14.

Each of our local communities is in one phase of the vision-to-reality continuum. As members of the community, it is our responsibility to understand the vision, engage actively in the debate about the best vision for our community and make those visions become real for our future generations.

Business Around the Northwest

Kitsap Bank refuses TARP funds, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

Sewage system will be showcased in Port of Portland building under construction at airport
, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Madras redevelopment vision coming to fruition, Cascade Business News

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

► On the Record

“Now is survival time for a lot of businesses – remember that if you can make it now, you can make it through anything.”

- Benno Dobbe, owner of Woodland-based Holland America Bulb Farms

Reporter's Notebook

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at

It is an odd feeling when newspapers, which are full of reporters trained to observe and present unbiased reports about other fields and other businesses, have to start reporting on themselves. But because of the state of the newspaper industry, there has been an awful lot of that recently.

A headline about the industry today caught my eye: “Report: Times Co. will take bids to sell Globe.
Yeesh. It’s the Boston flippin’ Globe we’re talking about here – who would have thought we’d be reading reports about the famed newspaper losing $50 million in operating losses in 2008 and a projected $85 million loss this year?

And will anybody step up to buy the Globe? We all saw how quickly the now-defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer was snapped up when it was for sale. It’s a shame to lose news sources of that caliber.

But back to reporting on ourselves. When I first came to the Vancouver Business Journal three years ago, when I was in public, the question I got all the time was, “What is new on in the business community?” Now, it’s inevitably, “How are you guys doing?” For the record, the answer is that we’re getting by but this is a hard time. I’m sure there are a few of you out there who can relate to this.

The inevitable follow-up question is what to do about newspaper relevancy. What I’ve forecasted for a while and am seeing to some extent is that daily papers – which have for so long been the go-to source for news about everything, everywhere – have been hard hit by online news, which is available in real time, en masse. But smaller community and niche publications are relatively solvent right now because they’re delivering what people want and can’t always get elsewhere – solid news about their community and strictly what they’re interested in.

There are, of course, many other facets to the situation, but in my opinion it comes down to giving people what they want. But that also means we need to hear from you – what do you want to see in your newspaper? What format to do you want it in? What can we do better or different?

Share your comments on the blog.

Business Around the Northwest

Uncertain market means more, cheaper rentals, Coast River Business Journal

Metro utility turns sludge into a profitable product
, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Snoqualmie Casino brings back the cigar dinner to Washington State, Eastside Business Journal

Friday, June 5, 2009

► On the Record

“It’s a mess”

- Scott Campbell, publisher of The Columbian, referring to the newspaper industry at a Rotary Club of Vancouver meeting Wednesday

Reporter's Notebook

-John McDonagh can be reached at


When is the right time to jump back into (fill in the blank)? This seems to be the question on the minds of many developers, manufacturers, retailers and small business owners when it comes to investing, expanding or upgrading their businesses.

If just a few of these folks who are waiting would just do it, to borrow a phrase from Nike, their collective decision could conceivably create the floor everyone is looking for and kick start the local recovery. I’m beginning to think it might be that simple.

Local examples of a few businesses that are tired of waiting for the bottom and are choosing to move forward include:
• Vancouver Sign Company, which recently filed for permits to proceed with building a new facility at Union Ridge in Ridgefield. This is a move the sign company has been weighing for some time and owner Dick Miller has decided this is the right time to go.
• Brickhouse Bar and Grill - Stephen and Angela Deans, along with Stephen’s parents, are moving ahead with the build-out of the new bar and grill at Main and 15th streets in Vancouver.
• Well more than 30 construction and development projects submitted for the VBJ’s 2009 Top Projects. Business is continuing and these projects, which will be celebrated at the July 24 event are a clear indication some won’t be controlled by the ‘too early, too late’ conundrum.

Bart Phillips, CEO of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, reports that through the CREDC’s 2009 initiative to offer support to the top 100 traded-sector businesses in the county has turned up a number of local firms – primarily manufacturers – with significant expansions taking shape.

For those frozen by the ‘too early, too late’ dilemma, it begins to feel as if the speed of the recovery is going to be determined by ego. After all, who wants to tell their friends and associates, “Yeah, I was impatient and left a few thousand dollars on the table because I couldn’t wait.”? Rather let’s all follow the lead of those who have already decided to get on with business and are doing just that.

Have we seen the bottom? Are you now moving forward with a project that has been on hold? Let us know by commenting on the blog.

Business Around the Northwest

Nutter gets Powell Butte Reservoir job, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Mixing in-office, Web programs can benefit all companies
, Snohomish County Business Journal

Cathlamet suffers deeply from economic crisis, but optimism remains, Coast River Business Journal

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

► On the Record

“The arbitration is binding – it’s final.”

- David Ripp, executive director of the Port of Camas-Washougal, regarding the the conclusion of the liability phase of an arbitration process between the port and developers RiverWalk on the Columbia LLC. The arbitration panel found on behalf of the port in late May.

Reporter's Notebook

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at


I ran across a fascinating tool on the National Retail Federation website this morning that was the best educational time suck I’ve had in a while. It gives state-by-state, district-by-district breakdowns of the employment impact of the retail sector. Those of you who, like me, enjoyed statistics may have fun giving it a whirl.

I learned that the Third Congressional District (us) has 56,188 retail jobs at 3,614 retailers – that’s 17.15 percent of the district’s total employment. Exploring further, the Third District has $11.74 billion in retail sales, which makes up 10.8 percent of the state’s retail sales. Not bad.

So where are the jobs? Like most districts, our largest employers are restaurants and bars (32 percent), followed by department stores and super stores (16.5 percent) and grocery and liquor stores (12 percent). Our smallest retail employers are in catalog and Internet sales (1.6 percent).

That got me curious about how we stack up against the Portland metro area. Oregon’s Third District (both the Third and Fourth districts include the Portland metro area, but their numbers are nearly identical, so I opted for the Third), boasts $12.6 billion in retail sales, 20.6 percent of the state’s sales. Restaurants and bars account for 43.7 percent of employment, followed by grocery and liquor stores (10 percent). But employment in the big-ticket item categories is not as different as you’d expect.

Southwest Washington employs more people in the motor vehicle sales sector (8.7 percent vs. 7.45 percent), whereas Oregon’s Third District employs 2.5 percent in electronics sales (2 percent here) and 2.7 percent in furniture stores (1.6 percent here). It will be interesting to watch how these numbers change after we emerge from the downward spiral we’re on now.

What is your experience? Do these numbers reflect the employment situation we find ourselves in?

Business Around the Northwest

Local firm establishes itself as streetcar manufacturer, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Tutta Bella’s signature Neapolitan pizza now available in Issaquah, Eastside Business Journal

Efficiency and waste reduction pay off, Bellingham Business Journal