Friday, August 28, 2009

► On the Record

“[Parents] can give us the proverbial thumbs up, or thumbs down. People are so busy nowadays that this offers just one more way they can engage with us … without having to come out to a meeting.”

-- Carol Fenstermacher, director of community relations for Vancouver’s Evergreen Public Schools, which unveiled its own Facebook and Twitter pages this month – just in time for the beginning of classes Wednesday.

Reporter's Notebook

John McDonagh can be reached at

Business, Dancing and an Evening on the Row

Last Saturday, Pearson Air Museum and Pearson Field hosted many of the area’s prominent business leaders, philanthropists and enthusiasts on what was one of the finest evenings of the summer for “Dancing with the Local Stars.”

Clearly this event has to be one of the most unique and enjoyable fundraisers in the community. Complete disclosures on the table, yours truly was in fact a participant in the evening’s events, but more on that later.

What I really want to highlight here is the business principles at play. Let’s look first at the marketing of the event. Keeping in mind the four P’s of marketing, the Fort Vancouver National Trust, whose Board of Directors is populated with key local business leaders, have a Product like no other in the community – an airfield in use longer than any other in the nation and a Museum that so engagingly chronicles its rich history.

Then we have another “P” – Place – again a one of a kind situation. Located on the campus of the National Historic Site, it begs for history buffs and aviation buffs, young and old, to visit.

Third on the marketing list, Promotion begins with the event itself. Unique among many other nonprofit fundraisers in the greater metropolitan area, the Trust hits all the right points. The fact that an event which began as a “Hangar Dance” is itself the promotion component is absolute genius. Take a group of involved and dedicated business folks in the community, convince them to dance in front of their co-workers, community associates and family (a dance, I might add, they’ve likely never danced before) then give them a moniker of “local star.” I know of no one who could do this as comfortably and convincingly as Kim Hash, Director of Programs and Donor Relations for the Trust.

Last of the four P’s of marketing is Price – which for this event takes on multiple forms. For those attending, admission ranged from $20 for a walk-up ticket for those who wanted to watch and mingle to $43.75 per seat for a reserved table with catered dinner. Local Stars included Battle Ground Mayor Mike Ciraulo; Susan Courtney of Courtney Consulting; Tamara Fuller, NAI Norris Beggs & Simpson; Lisa Lowe, Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt; George Middleton, Limoges Investment Management; Terry Murphy, Design Showroom Inc; Tommy Owens, Tommy O’s – and me.

Who better than well-connected business people to go out and market not only the event but the fundraising as well? After all, who would decline the opportunity to support a “Local Star”? Whether or not donors attended the event they could still support their favorite star by voting with their dollars.

Many attendees had never been to the museum before and certainly weren’t aware of the rich local history it represents. Finally, to put over 500 people in the museum for an event raising over $72,000 is a commendable feat in good times. To accomplish such a feat amid the worst recession in 40 years, with over 15 percent more money raised this year than last year, is simply great business.

And without a doubt, local business was the heart of it, with local business associates, vendors and customers coming out to support the event. Hats off to the Trust and Pearson Air Museum – both nonprofits that understand business.

When you see Susan Courtney, be certain to congratulate her for being this year’s “Local Star” winner for raising the most money – so much so that reports had her still making solicitation calls the day after the event to collect on pledges that hadn’t been paid yet.

Click here for photos of the Local Star dancers

An evening on the Row

This Tuesday evening was another shining moment for small business, as well as another indication that even if the recession may not be over, the local community is certainly done with it.

The seven chamber members with offices on Officers Row hosted this month’s Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce “Business After Hours” event as a progressive affair. Awakening Tuesday morning to gray skies and soggy lawns around VBJ’s offices we were more than a bit anxious that the event would be a washout. Luckily, those doubts proved ill advised as the skies cleared and the event begun on one of the finest evenings of the summer. Over 225 chamber members and guests enjoyed a stroll along the Row as they visited each of the co-hosts and enjoyed appetizers from chamber member caterers. The evening concluded with door prizes drawn at the VBJ.

Thanks go out to our fellow hosts for the evening: Rob Pool of Arcadia Investment Advisors, Mike Westby of Westby & Associates, Suzy Taylor of the Restaurant at the Historic Reserve, Bruce Wilson and Karen Laksamana of Formations Design Group, Ronnie Noize of Soho Marketing Guru and Elson Strahan and his crew at the Fort Vancouver National Trust. Special thanks to Eliza Lane of the Trust who provided guests with rides up and down the row in “Trusty” the mini-bus.

Business Around the Northwest

Bellingham to be new BALLE headquarters, Bellingham Business Journal

Business Showcase has new home, South Sound Business Examiner

Health Care Hero honorees announced
, Idaho Business Review

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

► On the Record

“I could not believe it when I first walked out on the floor of the Senate and he walked over to welcome me. From that day on, he became a valued friend, a courageous partner, and a personal mentor.”

-- Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on the passing of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) early this morning

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Proof of life in the local economy

Slowly but surely, signs of an economic turnaround have begun to surface in some corners of Southwest Washington.

On the national jobs front, a survey released today by employment search engine CareerBuilder and staffing giant Robert Half International found that 53 percent of employers expect to hire full-time employees in the next 12 months.

Close to home, small businesses, especially in the long-struggling retail sector, are sprouting up from Battle Ground to Vancouver to Camas. That’s good news for thousands of unemployed Southwest Washingtonians since it is small shops like these that account for more than 50 percent of the private work force, according to the American Small Business League.

Yesterday, former Erik Runyan Jewelers employee Rand Schiltz told the VBJ he planned to open his own retail showroom in downtown Vancouver this November. That same day, we spoke to Lulu Suchinda, co-owner of Lulu’s Boutique, a clothing store set to join soon-to-be-opened Bones Steak and Chop House in Battle Ground Village – itself a model of what the region’s business future might look like.

To be certain, the growth in the number of new businesses seems hardly a flood and more like a trickle after a long, dry spell. But we’ll take the good news, albeit with the expectation that there will be much more to come.

Here’s to good shopping and eating in the meantime.

Business Around the Northwest

Sandwich chain expects big growth, Spokane Journal of Business

Credit union celebrates grand opening
, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

New store joins Bellingham’s antique hub, Bellingham Business Journal

Friday, August 21, 2009

► On the Record

“Could it get any hotter underneath this tent? I don’t think so…”

-- Participant at a successful Builder-Realtor Night at the Building Industry Association’s Clark County Parade of Homes in Battle Ground – held as Wednesday’s temperatures nudged the 100 degree mark.

- Paul Leonard can be contacted at

If all else fails, buy plaid

Historically, plaid started out as a marker of the Scottish clan. Much later, it became the pop-cultural emblem of the Pacific Northwest, literally lifted whole cloth from the working man by grunge bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Today, the tartan colors could be a vital part of another, much different kind of stimulus plan for the nation’s sagging retail sector.

Yes, plaid is back, and local retailers like Jeff Shafer, owner of Agave Denim Outlet in Ridgefield, are hoping it will bring a flood of customers to lift all boats in a local economy battered by an unprecedented drop in consumer spending.

“People are still buying very conservatively, which is bad for business,” Shafer said. “For us, it’s about bringing back excitement, a sense of fun and newness to the store.”

That’s where plaid comes in. Clothing manufacturers and retailers see the fabric as the perfect blend between a sense of utilitarian necessity brought about economic recession and the cyclical nature of fashion.

“Plaid is a nice bridge between function and fashion,” Shafer said. “It’s something that seems practical and fun and exciting at the same time.”

Unsurprisingly, the Pacific Northwest is at the center of the reemergence of the trend toward gear once almost exclusively belonging to lumberjacks, cowboys and longshoremen.

Even in fashion-forward New York, young people have been flocking to plaid-heavy Seattle-based outdoor boutique Filson, making it one of the few outperforming retail outlets in the nation, according to Shafer. Other Pacific Northwest outdoor apparel manufacturers and retailers like Pendleton are also well-positioned to cash-in on the new trend.

But will plaid salvage the sinking fortunes of retailers? For Shafer, who just opened his store on South 11th Street in Ridgefield last month, times have been tough. “We can only do as well as our customer base,” he said. “And they’ve gotten hit over the head with a baseball bat by the economy.”

Shafer does see plaid’s potential for getting warm bodies and more cash-flow into the store. But as with all trends, this one could be just as fleeting – next year it could be a pair of castaway bell-bottoms taking the spotlight from the once-mighty plaid.

Business Around the Northwest

Voices of recovery – In their own words, Idaho Business Journal

Stimulus jobs listed at Worksource, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

Kayak maker stays afloat with custom boats, Bellingham Business Journal

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

► On the Record

“All I know is that when government gets involved, it usually makes things worse.”

-- Joy Goodell, a La Center mother of five, outside Rep. Brian Baird’s Town Hall-style meeting on healthcare reform Tuesday at the Clark County Amphitheater.

Reporter's Notebook

- Paul Leonard can be contacted at

The incredibly shrinking Clark County voter pool

Between yesterday’s Vancouver mayoral primary and Rep. Brian Baird’s healthcare reform meeting, it seemed like there was no escaping politics – though it seems around 80 percent of eligible Clark County voters tried their best on a sweltering hot late-summer election day.

The 80.4 percent figure is a Clark County Board of Election estimate of the number of voters who did NOT bother to drop-off or mail-in their ballots Tuesday.

After last year’s contentious Presidential primary season, it’s understandable that historically-high voter participation rates had only one direction to go – down. However, a rock-bottom 19.6 percent voter turnout is not good news for any democracy, especially in a time of falling revenues, unbalanced budgets and stretched-thin public services that threaten local, county and state government.

With a tight race seemingly inevitable between Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard and Councilman Tim Leavitt in this November’s general election, a race that will likely determine the future direction of the city for decades to come – surely, we can do much better.

Thank you, VBJ readers

Over the past week, the VBJ newsroom received quite a few messages about recent Just Business columns focusing on the healthcare reform debate. Some agreed with our views on this contentious issue – many others did not.

Regardless, we are humbled by the response from readers who took the time from their busy work day or perhaps much-deserved summer vacation to weigh-in on a debate that we can all agree is crucial to our nation’s future.

As Managing Editor of the Vancouver Business Journal, it is my goal to include as many different viewpoints on the important issues facing Southwest Washington’s business community as possible.

Thanks for reading, folks.

Business Around the Northwest

2009 Primary Election Results, South Sound Business Examiner

City of Bellingham announces more layoffs, The Bellingham Business Journal

Job hunting? Watch what you tweet, Portland Business Journal

Friday, August 14, 2009

► On the Record

“The message coming from regulators was to put one foot on the brake, even as they were putting one foot on the gas pedal,”

-- Rep. Brian Baird (D-Vancouver), talking Thursday about what he called the “failure” of the first federal bailout to unfreeze credit markets for small to medium-sized businesses.

Reporter's Notebook

- Steve McDonagh can be contacted at

We need discussion, not name calling, on healthcare reform

Healthcare Reform has taken over the spotlight in a big way. And everyone seems to want their moment in the spotlight – moms, plumbers, doctors and politicians, all trying to yell louder than the other guy. Ads from the left, from the right, from insurance companies, the A.M.A. and people on street corners waving the flag and holding signs for or against healthcare reform.

Much of the discussion on healthcare reform is focused on the discussion, or lack thereof, in the “Town Hall” meetings held by our elected representatives (or, in the case of Vancouver Rep. Brian Baird, trying to hold or cancelling). The news on TV is filled with video of shouting matches between hecklers and congressmen, with women throwing up their hands or in some cases throwing in the towel.

One guest on CNN this week likened it to the passions stirred up when cross-town high schools meet for the big football game. I say, hardly, since if you acted like these people at any high school game I attend, odds are you would be asked to leave the stadium. Patently rude behavior and threats of physical harm are not debate or discussion. How can you know if you disagree with the other person’s position if you don’t let them speak?

We need discussion and debate on healthcare reform – not allegations of “un-Americanism” “socialism, “Death Panels” or “Nazi-like” behavior.

Instead participants should be asking questions, listening to answers and evaluating the options being presented by the opportunity given us – healthcare reform finally making into the spotlight.

Some of the questions that should be asked and answered before we ever move on to the vagaries of what will and what won’t be covered by individual policy options, include:

WHAT is the federal government going to do to reduce the estimated $60 billion – yes with a “b” – lost annually to Medicare and Medicaid fraud?

HOW are they going to reduce the nearly $25 billion the government made in improper Medicare and Medicaid payments?

WHEN will they finally tell us exactly what additional burdens businesses will be expected to take on when reform is implemented?

WILL there be any exceptions for small business owners who are already reeling from the recession and frozen credit markets?

WHY does “reform” have to happen all at once?

There are plenty of problems with healthcare in this country – problems that almost all of us agree need to be fixed. We can also agree, for the most part, on the proper steps to eliminate those problems. I encourage everyone to join the discussion, but do so with respect and civil behavior as our forefathers once taught us. And like our forefathers, civil discourse will lead us to the answers.

Friday Fish Wrap

Paul Montague offering tips on the best time and place to exercise…..Byron Roselli serving up compliments and opportunities…Scott Miller, nice to meet you, finally...Alisa Arenz bringing the rain with her to the park…Ralph Stevens late to the party, again… but relaxing in his chair….Megan McDonagh celebrating another birthday with a camping trip….Steve Schaljo – sans cape – flying all over town…Courtney Givens scouting out the best locations….Nelson Holmberg already buried in the Fantasy Football magazines hoping to take home the bacon.

Business Around the Northwest

Federal stimulus needs to build some steam, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Small biz growing bigger, South Sound Business Examiner

Positive first half results for local bank, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

► On the Record

“I will raise as much money as it takes to win,”

-- Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard, speaking to VBJ today with five days to go until Tuesday’s mayoral primary

Reporter's Notebook

- Paul Leonard can be contacted at

America, meet H.R. 3200

AT over 1,000 pages, Health Reform Bill H.R. 3200 is American democracy’s answer to the Russian novel, with the long labyrinthine list of foreign names replaced by equally foreign-sounding terms like “gainsharing demonstration” and “basket percentage.”

And that’s just on page 838 of one of the five versions of the bill currently in committee.

So it’s pretty clear that very little is clear about healthcare reform. Even a veteran politician like Pennsylvania party-jumper Sen. Arlen Specter had trouble explaining to a befuddled constituent at a recent town hall-style meeting that he couldn’t say for sure how he’d vote on reform – mainly because there is no Senate bill to vote on yet.

Since few people have read every provision in H.R. 3200, I thought it would be helpful to discuss what’s NOT in any version of the bill, according to money for abortion procedures, an opt-out clause for members of Congress or one mention of a government-run “death panel,” where decisions are made about a sick person’s “level of productivity in society.”

To be fair, what’s also lacking is a concrete estimate of how much healthcare reform is going to cost. There’s also scant mention about how many uninsured Americans will be covered under the plan or how the heavy burden of healthcare costs will be lifted off the backs of individuals and small business owners.

Despite HR 3200’s shortcomings, there seems little chance that Americans are going to turn their backs completely on reforming the system. “We need healthcare reform this year, we don’t want to wait,” said Julia Patterson, chair of the King County Board of Health at a Seattle rally for healthcare reform Monday. “The status quo is not acceptable.”

Speaking for those a little bit closer to home at the event, Clark County Board of Health Advisory Board Council member Dave Seabrook put it another way: “It’s morally wrong that millions of people have no access to healthcare … it harms all of us.”

Business Around the Northwest

Greenberry continues work at Corvallis hospital, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

National firm to build hospital complex
, South Sound Business Examiner

Three Idaho hospitals recognized among nation's most wired, Idaho Business Journal

Friday, August 7, 2009

► On the Record

“That’s a laugh,”

- Unemployed Camas mechanic John Carter, on whether today’s job report meant the economy had “turned the corner.”

Reporter's Notebook

- Paul Leonard can be contacted at

Unemployed workers react to today's jobs report

It’s hard to find a lot of optimism these days at the Southwest Washington WorkSource Employment Center on East Mill Plain in Vancouver. Outside, cars packed the center’s parking lot. Job seekers milled about, talking about job prospects – and an uncertain future.

Despite today’s promising jobs report, those prospects and that future still seem hazy for many of the region’s growing ranks of unemployed.

According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national economy shed 247,000 jobs last month – far fewer than the 320,000 most economists anticipated. The national employment rate dropped one-tenth of a percent, from 9.5 in June to 9.4 in July, ending a 15-month streak of increases.

That’s good news, right?

Well, yes and no. Not included in last month’s employment numbers were 709,000 workers who gave up looking for work during the four-week period surveyed by the U.S. government.

But the decline in overall job losses in July was a promising sign, according to Paul Winters, president of Winters and Associates, Inc., a Vancouver-based business consulting firm.

Last month’s workforce reduction was about half the average for November through April, with about 645,000 jobs shed nationally each month. Local job numbers for July have not yet been released. “If the rate of decline continues to diminish, I think it won’t be long before we’re in positive territory,” Winters said.

Already some sectors are seeing signs of recovery, including the local residential housing sector, according to Winters. But he expected the economic pain to persist for many.

“Most people don’t relate to numbers,” he said. “They either have a job or they haven’t. And for those who don’t have a job, there’s still going to be a lot of suffering out there.”

Don’t bother spreading that news at the WorkSource on Mill Plain.

Business Around the Northwest

U.S. unemployment eases at 9.4%; job losses shrink, Portland Business Journal

Idaho unemployment jumps to 8.8 percent in July, Idaho Business Journal

More layoffs could be coming to development bureau
, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

► On the Record

“This funding will be used for research that will develop and commercialize new potato varieties that will result in improved product quality, increased yields and a decrease in input requirements,”

- From the office of Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), announcing $1,037,000 in federal agriculture funds for WSU’s Potato Research Group

Reporter's Notebook

- Paul Leonard can be contacted at

A few thoughts on tolls – and living in the Northwest

Seems I can’t get away from tolls, no matter how hard I try.

As a former New York newspaper editor, regularly expected to drive to any point in the city on a moment’s notice, my Nissan Altima is still fitted with an essential device – a six-by-six square of molded tan plastic, called the “E-Z Pass.”

For urban East Coast drivers negotiating cramped highways and byways, the E-Z Pass came as a godsend when the 14-state system was introduced in 1993. Instead of paying the full toll at bridges, tunnels and highway on-ramps, E-Z Pass customers pay a reduced rate, while getting the added bonus of zipping through toll plazas without stopping.

For New Yorkers, paying a reduced rate on tolls is a very big deal. Here’s the rundown on some of tolls in and around my native state: Queens-Midtown Tunnel, $5; Lincoln Tunnel, $8; and the granddaddy of all, the Verrazano Bridge at $11 (soon to be upped to $13).

I know this ain’t New York, but electronic tolling is already a familiar sight on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and it may yet be a familiar sight much closer to home.

Until that day, my relic of urban driving will be glued to the windshield, ready, waiting – a constant reminder of a more cramped and crazy life that may yet follow me, 2,950 miles away in Vancouver.

Sneak preview

Coming out in VBJ’s August 7 edition: Nancy Thompson, former president of the Washington Association of Health Underwriters, speaks out about healthcare reform, while VBJ covers one of the largest construction equipment auctions in Southwest Washington memory.

Birthday wishes

Steve McDonagh, VBJ business manager extraordinaire and the original “Super-Steve,” celebrates his birthday today. Happy Birthday, Steve!

Business Around the Northwest

PBJ Poll: No to Government-run healthcare, Portland Business Journal

Freeway construction around the bend
, The South Sound Business Examiner

Washington's wheat farm ranks dwindle
, Spokane Journal of Commerce