Friday, July 31, 2009

► On the Record

“I’m not quite sure what I bid on exactly. But I’m pretty sure I got a good deal,”

- John, owner of a business that maintains logging roads on the Washington Coast, just after putting in a winning $15,000 bid on what turned out to be a 10-year old truck at today’s Ritchie Bros.-run construction equipment auction in Vancouver.

Reporter's Notebook

- Paul Leonard can be contacted at

…And the housing hits just keep on coming

Just-released foreclosure numbers continue to paint a bleak picture, not only for Southwest Washington homeowners, but potential homebuyers. The foreclosure rate for the Portland metro statistical area, which includes Multnomah and Washington Counties in Oregon and Clark County in Washington, jumped 1 percent for the month of June over the same period a year ago, according to numbers released this week by American CoreLogic, a Sacramento, Calif.-based real estate tracking firm.

But foreclosure filings are only the endpoint of a long process – one that tells only part of the story. Even more troubling, 4.4 percent more metro area homeowners are falling behind 90 days or more on their loans compared to a year ago. “There has definitely been an increase in the number of local distressed properties and short sales,” said Lynn Krogseng of Keller Williams Realty in Vancouver.

Unlike much of 2008, the recent uptick in foreclosures is not so much the result of bad loans coursing through the system, but the result of mounting job losses in the region, according to Windemere associate broker Mike Lamb. In Clark County, June unemployment was up 6.3 percent from a year ago, to 12.4 percent. Cowlitz County’s June unemployment stands at 12.8 percent, Skamania at 11.2 percent.

Searching for a bright underside to this week’s dismal foreclosure numbers, I asked Krogseng if she had any advice for potential buyers hoping to snag a bargain. “It’s definitely a ‘hold on to your seats, it’s going to be a bumpy ride’ moment,” Krogseng said. “Be prepared to maybe get as much as six months into the process and still not get the deal.”

Krogseng reported a success rate of about 50 percent on recent short sale bids. In a short sale, a homeowner accepts a bid under the pay-off amount of their mortgage(s). Even in a declining housing market, a lender may choose to reject a short sale offer, opting instead to sell a house at auction, according to Krogseng.

As bad as things seem for buyers and sellers in this volatile housing market, the two realtors contacted by VBJ seemed bullish on the prospects for a rebound. “We’re already seeing a little recovery,” Lamb said. “This is just the rat moving through the snake.”

And in other (bad) news…

The fed’s cash for clunker initiative, which unexpectedly ran out of money Thursday after only a week, begs the question: “Where was this program when I was driving my 10-year old Volkswagen with no A/C in high school?”

And in more somber news: healthcare for low-income Southwest Washington women and children just got a little bit more unaffordable. SWMC announced today that it has closed its Healthy Steps Women’s and Children’s Clinic. Facing cuts up to $7 million in state funding, the hospital said it could no longer afford the 20-year-old facility’s $3.5 million annual price tag.

Business Around the Northwest

Six month foreclosure filings jump, Spokane Journal of Business

Concessions to renters could prove costly, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Feds keep ‘Cash For Clunkers’ alive, Portland Business Journal

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

► On the Record

“X-ray technicians usually spend so much time in the dark ... I can’t tell you how good it feels to walk around, bathed in all this light,”

- Lesley Dyckman, RTRM, walking underneath new skylights installed at SWMC’s $5.7 million Kearny Breast Cancer Center, opening to the public Monday.

Reporter's Notebook

- Paul Leonard can be contacted at

Hello! Stimulus

After months of waiting, Southwest Washington’s share of the $787 billion federal stimulus package continues to trickle down – with local law enforcement agencies and over-stressed regional food banks getting much needed cash this week to continue providing essential services.

Vancouver topped the list of big winners announced Tuesday, nabbing $2.58 million to pay the salary and benefits for 10 new police officers, with Longview receiving a sizeable $664,000 in funds to hire three officers of their own. Both municipalities beat larger cities like Seattle and Portland for a share of over $1 billion in federal grant money allocated for law enforcement agencies across the nation.

Not to be left out, the region’s food banks, including eight in Cowlitz County operated by Food Lifeline, also recently received federal relief funds through the state’s Emergency Food Assistance Program to buy essentials like eggs, cheese and frozen turkey breasts for needy families.

Though the recently announced grants are definitely a welcome sight for state and local agencies battered by the longest recession since World War II – plenty of unanswered questions about the federal stimulus package remain.

First and foremost, what took so long? Since the stimulus package in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was signed by newly-sworn President Barack Obama in February, a long winter, spring and early summer has passed with little funding for essential programs to help the growing ranks of the state’s poor, hungry and unemployed.

Funding for state infrastructure projects has also been slow to arrive, despite the number of shovel-ready projects, as well as unemployed workers, in our region.

I acknowledge that many of our readers question the very existence of such an enormous, government-run relief program. But like it or not, the federal money is there, so let’s spend it already – to employ, feed and keep safe as many Washingtonians as we can.

Business Around the Northwest

Job losses continue in construction sector, Idaho Business Review

Sacred Heart Hospital’s expansion plans in flux, Spokane Journal of Business

Stimulus adds jobs, but not for long
, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Friday, July 24, 2009

► On the Record

“I’ve lived in Clark County for 20 years and been a banker for 20 years … so this is a great day.”

Mark Brandon, regional director of Columba Banking Systems Inc., just before Thursday’s announcement of the opening of the bank’s first Vancouver branch in the nearly-completed Al Angelo Building.

Reporter's Notebook

- Paul Leonard can be contacted at

Closing a window, then a door, on health care reform?

It’s not often a reporter gets a front-row seat to two vastly different perspectives on the health care debate – all in the course of one busy afternoon. But that’s what happened this week, with Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire coming to town for a Thursday luncheon held by 10 different local business associations, along with Rep. Brian Baird (D-Vancouver) calling VBJ from our nation’s capital.

Gregoire’s stop in Vancouver mostly focused on touting her administration’s efforts to boost the state’s economy for an audience of business groups from Battle Ground to East Vancouver. But there was no escaping the escalating debate on health care reform, which seemed to stall this week due to concerns about costs and worries about the “public option” provision in the proposed bill. “If it doesn’t happen by December 31, then a window will close,” Gregoire said. “And I think that’s a tragedy, because we just can’t afford it.”

Not so fast, Baird said, in a conversation with VBJ later that afternoon. “Before we pass this thing, everyone needs to do two things,” he said. “And that’s both reading and understanding the bill we’re voting for.”

So if you’re confused by President Barack Obama’s health care legislation – you’re in pretty good company, according to Baird. It turns out even this six-term Congressman and former professor of public policy at Pacific Lutheran University doesn’t understand all of the provisions in the different versions of the bill currently working their way through Congress. That’s why Baird called a meeting of the Democratic caucus for Monday so that policy experts can explain the bill to the men and women expected to vote on it. “If I wrote the bill, it would be much simpler, that’s for sure,” Baird said.

As for the timeline of health care reform, does Baird agree with our governor that a bill must be passed before the political free-for-all of next year’s midterm Congressional elections? “With all due respect to the governor, I’m a bit skeptical that Congress is always dysfunctional in an election year,” he said. “We will get this done.”

Business Around the Northwest

Columbia announces $6 million quarterly loss, Business Examiner

Idaho’s top construction projects honored at IBR event, Idaho Business Review

Stimulus adds jobs, but not for long, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

► On the Record

“We need bedrooms AND boardrooms.”

-Ron Arp, president of Brush Prairie PR firm Amplify Group, making the case for a renewed effort to woo more businesses to Southwest Washington

Reporter's Notebook

- Paul Leonard can be contacted at

Obama’s Tough Sell

Tonight, President Barack Obama will make his pitch to breathe new life into the mother of all tough sells – his signature health care reform effort. This isn’t the first time Just Business has advocated a health care reform bill that tackles the high-cost of health coverage choking small businesses across the region and the country. And it won’t be the last.

But as Congress considers legislation the Congressional Budget Office estimates will cost over $1 trillion, while possibly still leaving millions of Americans uninsured, it’s time to shed some light on a process so far obscured by the usual partisan bickering.

The small business owner in Washougal struggling to cover his or her employees, the unemployed worker in Vancouver making due without health insurance and every taxpayer expected to foot the bill for any plan – all of them ought to know exactly how much health care is going to cost and how we are going to pay for it.

That’s why we call on Congressman Brian Baird and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to continue keeping their constituents up-to-date on the process of health care reform so that everyone can fully participate in what might be the most important piece of legislation since the New Deal.

Business Around the Northwest

Metro Area Unemployment Dips Slightly, Columbian

Portland Tribune Makes More Cuts
, Portland Business Journal

City Tries to Limit Diesel Emissions, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Friday, July 17, 2009

► On the Record

Wes Hickey, owner of Loan Wolf Investments, uses as a development motto the following Greek Proverb:

"A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit"

Reporter's Notebook

- Steve McDonagh can be contacted at

Is it really starting to thaw?

Housing starts are up although prices continue to slide. The price of gas has gone down – a little. IBM -- long a bell weather of future economic activity – made more money on less gross revenue, hmmm?? I think we are on to something here. Companies big and small have been cutting, cutting, cutting, they have been cutting benefits, personnel, capital expenditures, bonuses (well there are some exceptions-See AIG) wherever they can. To be sure there are companies that were running way to fat and the recession forced them to make cuts that they might otherwise have continued to put off. The net effect of all these cuts has until now been mostly reflected in higher unemployment, higher medical costs for employees and the unemployed and, despite a shrinking economy higher consumer prices on many items. What the IBM numbers tell us is that many businesses are starting to see the cumulative effect of all these cuts -- more profits. Profits are good. All of us are in business to turn a profit and grow our business. The hope now must be that companies that have started their return to profitability will start to reinvest that money in their businesses by hiring—smartly- new employees, making the capital investments necessary for increased efficiency that they have been putting off for the past year and half, and returning benefit levels to a level that makes them once again an attractive perk of working for a particular company and affordable for middle income wage earners. Just recently several large companies announced new marketing and advertising campaigns that will get underway in the coming months. It will take just these kinds of actions by the businesses (large and small) that have weathered the storm and are now turning a profit to get the economy chugging back up the hill again and as the engine warms up we should all enjoy the THAW.

Out and About ….. Lisa Lowe enjoying BBQ ribs and discussing her dance moves…. Mike Smith making a guest appearance and stirring it up…… Meanwhile… Joe Zarelli was missing in action, in Cowlitz County. The Commish still pounding the pavement….Tim Leavitt...white shirt to a BBQ, and left with it unscathed!!.... KC raising big money for the Hough Foundation and having a good time at it…..Rob Stewart looking casual and enjoying a glass of wine on the lawn… Barbara Brace advising that there are deals being closed….Ralph Stevens busy teaching the ropes and passing out tips to the fresh faces in the job market.

Business Around the Northwest

Portland may soon have taller turbines, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Agencies in nationwide mortgage modification sweep, Bellingham Herald

The “magical” four-day week, Idaho Business Review

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

► On the Record

"I've never been afraid to ask for something on behalf of someone else."

- Donna Bleth of Vancouver-based Sole Purpose nail salon

Reporter's Notebook

John McDonagh can be contacted at

From Health Care to Hogwarts

National Health Care Reform
I won’t argue for or against the need for a National Health Care System. I do agree the system both on the provider of health services as well as the provider of health insurance have significant shortcomings. Those shortcomings are in fact the reason many businesses, especially small businesses that collectively employ the lion share of our workforce, can’t afford to offer benefits. The solution is not a government run, tax funded and bureaucracy laden program. Use government rather to create the policy necessary for the private sector, providers and insurers, to create the solution. Then hold us accountable to make the necessary changes and fix the parts that keep too many of our citizens without coverage.


Community Supported Agriculture is a growing part of the local economy and making its way deep into the urban and suburban households. At a dinner meeting last evening our host let us know that most of our meal was coming from her share of a local farm (CSA). Others at the table were also share holders of CSA farmers and talked about the value of having a relationship with the farmer, of knowing how the food is grown and the joy they get in sharing the harvest with neighbors when the bounty is plentiful. Talk about farm to table, this is what buy local is about.

Managing Editor Search

As many of you have no doubt read or heard our Managing Editor, Megan Patrick-Vaughn, has decided to join the staff of Second Step Housing (formerly Y Housing) as an asset manager. While creating a great amount of angst just after she gave her notice our search has resulted in a number of exciting candidates and we hope to make an announcement as to who our next Managing Editor will be in a few days.


If your family has members in the under 30 years of age demographic then undoubtedly like my family there is keen interest in the release today of the latest installment of the Harry Potter series. Given the numbers expected at the theaters maybe we’ll have our own little stimulus going for the theater owners, area restaurants and coffee shops catering to the before and after movie crowds.

Business Around the Northwest

Political theater at the port Gov. Chris Gregoire joined staff and tenants at the Port of Tacoma this morning to celebrate completion of the first Economic Stimulus-funded project

Firms make tough choices about perks in the recession
- With a recession in full swing and development projects struggling to obtain funding. . .

Sales weaken for high-tech manufacturers - High-tech manufacturers in Spokane have seen sales decline in 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

► On the Record

“We’re trying to get as many of our people as possible out of California. The Bay Area in particular is terribly employee-hostile … just brutal for those trying to create a family.”

- Ken Fisher, CEO and CIO of Fisher Investments, which is moving forward with plans to construct office buildings in Camas

Reporter's Notebook

- Steve McDonagh can be contacted at


I was perusing CNN’s 2008 list of the Top 100 places to “Live and Launch.” Not lunch – San Francisco would win that one hands down! Rather, it is a listing of the best places to live and start and/or grow a business.

These entrepreneurs are the men and women with the vision and courage to go out there and start a business they believe in. Most are small businesses, those who collectively employ the bulk of your neighbors and pay the biggest share of the taxes.

So I was thinking, why isn’t Vancouver on this list? Bellevue was No. 1, and it is subject to the same arcane state B & O tax we are, its home prices and cost of living are higher and traffic is much worse. The survey touted Bellevue’s closeness to an airport (PDX is closer to Vancouver than SeaTac is to Bellevue) abundant parks, excellent health care and schools.

We have a multitude of parks and green space, the Columbia River, two state-of-the-art hospitals and ready access to facilities in Portland. A quick check of “Blue Ribbon School” status shows Bellevue had one high school rated in 2003, while Vancouver’s School of Arts and Academics was rated a Blue Ribbon School as a high School, middle school and elementary in 2005. Image Elementary was also a Blue Ribbon School in 2005.

I point this out because I believe Vancouver could and should be in the Top 100. Portland, with all of its problems and burdensome tax ramifications for business, was No. 6.
• Bellingham - No. 27
• Olympia - No. 40
• Spokane - No. 77
• Bend - No. 87
• Eugene - No. 96

Obviously the Northwest was well represented. I’ve been to these cities many times and lived in Spokane for awhile. Vancouver has as much and more to offer to businesses looking for a place to “live and launch.”

During these recessionary times, business owners, start-ups and existing businesses alike are looking for the best place to not only do business but survive and get ready to capitalize on the recovery. Vancouver can and should be that place.

Vancouver and Clark County need to do more to make themselves a known destination and be more welcoming to businesses. We have landed a few nice additions to our business community in the past few years.

But for Vancouver to get its fair share of businesses looking for a place to move to (like all those California businesses that aren’t comfortable operating in a state that is bankrupt) or start a new business, ALL of us need to do our part to not only promote Vancouver as not just a great place to live but a great place to “Live and Launch.”

As one who appears to understand that status quo won’t help us, Bart Phillips, CEO of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, wrote in today’s VBJ, “Failure to recognize and make adjustments in strategic direction could be fatal if not merely unprofitable when the economy recovers.”

Business Around the Northwest

Business owners are worried about bridge closure, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Sisters looks to shift economic focus
, Cascade Business News

'Real Yoga' studio opens in East Bremerton, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

► On the Record

"The Columbia River Economic Development Council is embarking on a strategic planning process because I am convinced that if we in Southwest Washington continue to practice economic development as we did earlier this decade we will fail in this new environment."

- CREDC CEO Bart Phillips in an opinion column that publishes in Friday's VBJ

Reporter's Notebook

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at


As some of you have undoubtedly heard, I am planning to depart the Vancouver Business Journal as of July 14. The next issue of the newspaper you receive will be the last with me at the helm.

Leaving was a hard decision to make – in three years, I’ve made many great memories with the awesome staff here at the VBJ and with many of you readers, contributing writers and sources – but I’m certain the person who fills my shoes will bring new energy, ideas and vision to the newspaper.

I still passionately believe in the mission of journalism and I still believe in the VBJ.

As for me, I’ll be working as an asset manager for Second Step Housing, a Vancouver-based nonprofit that works to foster self-sufficiency for at-risk women and families through affordable housing linked with community services.

It’s a new direction for me, but I sincerely hope that I can stay in touch with the many people I’ve met in my journey as a reporter and editor of the VBJ.

Cheers and thanks for the good times.

Business Around the Northwest

Developers of low-income housing must show they’re working hard to find equity investors, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Walla Walla wine producer to open Woodinville tasting room, Eastside Business Journal

Buying local keeps money in the local economy
, Bellingham Business Journal

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

► On the Record

“I believe one of the reasons President Obama won is because people are sick of the health care system. The components are the best – we have the best physicians, the best-trained nurses – but it’s a shipwreck of a system.”

- Joe Kortum, president and CEO of Southwest Washington Medical Center, today at a health care forum with Sen. Maria Cantwell

Reporter's Notebook

-Megan Patrick-Vaughn can be reached at


I know some of you are probably oversaturated with coverage of the loss of music great Michael Jackson, but I, too, have some thoughts about it. His death last week, both shocking and sad, also highlighted an interesting class war in journalism, bringing up further debate about new forms of media, credibility and ethics.

TMZ, a guilty pleasure that many view as the National Enquirer of celebrity news, broke the news of Jackson’s death on June 25 and for more than an hour was the only outlet running with the news. Everyone had noticed the news, to be sure – it was plastered on Twitter accounts and Facebook status almost instantaneously – but it was only until the L.A. Times confirmed the death that the news hit other news sites.

Even a coworker, when I shouted out the news in the office, said, “Has anyone other than TMZ reported it?”

And even when the news was confirmed, some newspaper credited the L.A. Times with the scoop, leaving TMZ on the sidelines. Since the dawn of citizen reporting, the blogosphere and instant news, there have been questions about credibility – journalists are trained to seek out news, confirm it and report it fairly and accurately (that’s what we strive for, anyway), but who knows what qualifies Perez Hilton to report news and he’s got more readers than us all.

But TMZ got it right. Period. What changes do you think this signals or highlights for the industry?


Editor's note: We won't be publishing Just Business on Friday, July 3, due to the Fourth of July holiday. Have a safe and fabulous weekend!

Business Around the Northwest

Marriott to be largest hotel in county, Bellingham Business Journal

Team combines diverse skills to create beds for residents of the Interfaith Family Shelter, Snohomish County Business Journal

Oregon’s stimulus spending sparks debate
, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce