Wednesday, September 30, 2009

► On the Record

“In fact, these are not ‘rights’ so much as they are entitlements,”

-- From a study by pro-business group Washington Policy Center on Proposition 4, a voter initiative guaranteeing affordable healthcare and greater input in land-use decisions for city of Spokane residents. Appearing on ballots mailed out this month, the measure has prompted confusion and determined opposition in Washington state’s second-largest city.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached

Shot or no shot?

With concerns about the H1N1 virus growing, the CDC and many other health organizations are encouraging people to get vaccinated for both the seasonal flu and H1N1, as soon as the vaccine for the new strain becomes available.

Some places have gone even farther – such as my home state of New York, which last month made H1N1 vaccination compulsory not only for hospital employees, but employees of companies doing business with them as well.

However, there are medical practitioners who believe lining up for either flu jab this year isn’t such a good idea.

Take Harley Youngblood, a registered nurse, doctor of chiropractic and owner of Family Chiropractic in Salmon Creek. Youngblood says that even though U.S. flu vaccination rates have risen over the last few decades, the death rate has not decreased. “Flu shots are pretty ineffective,” he said.

Youngblood is also concerned about the possible adverse effects of flu vaccinations – in particular the as-yet-unreleased H1N1 vaccine, which he said may contain an organic compound called squalene. According to Youngblood, the chemical could lead to joint and neurological problems later in life. However, the CDC says it does not plan to include the compound in its H1N1 vaccine.

In terms of the efficacy and safety of flu vaccinations, Youngblood is in the minority among health professionals, many of whom believe the benefits of the shots far outweigh any real or perceived negative effects.

Gov. Chris Gregoire (D-Wash.) today announced $5.56 million in federal grants to buy vaccines for children in the hopes of boosting immunization rates.

“Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and your family from seasonal flu. Because this year’s flu season is complicated by the spread of H1N1 flu, we strongly urge everyone to get a seasonal flu shot early as a way to minimize illness in our community,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, health officer for Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties on the Wash. Region IV Public Health Dept. website.

For more on Southwest Washington businesses gearing up for flu season, check out the Oct. 2 edition of the VBJ.

Jodie Gilmore contributed to this column.

Business Around the Northwest

Companies urged to relax rules for sick days, Bellingham Business Journal

Tigard’s building fees increase by 6 percent, starting Thursday, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce

Idaho sees biggest month-over-month construction employment rise in nation
, Idaho Business Journal

Friday, September 25, 2009

► On the Record

“The site, long closed to the public, will now have the opportunity to be experienced by everyone,”

-- From page 9 of the 81-page of Columbia Waterfront LLC’s Master Plan Application for Vancouver Waterfront Development.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Job hunting for women vets

Subscribers to Business Extra may have caught this story imagining what it would be like to come home from a war-zone in Iraq and Afghanistan to find your job gone in the middle of one of the worst recessions since WWII.

But in my typical “man-centric” manner, I left out another scenario – of single mothers coming back from stations overseas to take care of their families while hunting for employment in a tough jobs market.

On this important front – stats from the U.S. military estimate about 20 percent of all active duty and reserve U.S. military forces are women – there’s some good news in the form of a pilot program based in Vancouver seeking to connect local job-creators to unemployed female veterans.

Called the Veteran Women Program, the new service organization made a quiet debut last week via a Craigslist ad for a full-time coordinator to help women veterans with job hunting, coaching and training.

VWP posted the notice on the same day scores of Southwest Washington businesses, including the Vancouver Business Journal, signed a pact at Vancouver Barracks to recognize, honor and enforce the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which bars workplace discrimination based on military service.

“We really hope to have an immediate impact on the lives of these women, many of whom are going through a different set of challenges than male soldiers,” said Pam Brokaw of the Vancouver jobs-service organization Partners in Careers.

Brokaw will serve as the new group’s interim coordinator until a candidate is selected. With $45,000 secured from a Clark County Community Services Block Grant, Brokaw hopes to expand VWP’s services to include housing assistance and transportation.

The new service organization joins other initiatives seeking to help unemployed reservists and National Guard in a city with a long and illustrious military tradition dating back to Capt. George Vancouver of the British Royal Navy.

For those interested in more information about the program, VWP will hold an Open House event on Thursday, Oct. 15 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at PIC, 111 W. 39th St., Suite B, in Vancouver.

Business Around the Northwest

State accepts restriction on proposed payment cuts to disabled service-providers, Idaho Business Review

Advice: 'Think positive' as manager
, South Sound Business Examiner

Law school grads challenged with tighter legal labor market, Spokane Journal of Business

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

► On the Record

“A not so "normal" way to begin the fall season…”

-- Weather forecaster Rod Hill, referring to yesterday’s temperature record-setting 24th day above 90 degrees at the weather station at Portland International Airport.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

If you build it…


It’s an essential ingredient for any big construction project – one that’s rarely spelled out in building proposals, applications for state or federal funding, or in agreements like one made last week between the city of Vancouver and the private investors for the proposed Waterfront Redevelopment project.

It’s also an unanswered question, buried beneath all the projections and the statistics practically guaranteeing success: If we build it, will they come?

To be sure, Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard’s advocacy of riverfront development is nothing like Kevin Costner taking baseball diamond-building dictation from a higher power in the film, “Field of Dreams.”

For starters, the proposed redevelopment site is no Iowa cornfield. It’s a plot of land a stone’s throw away from Vancouver’s existing downtown – with a planned riverside park hundreds of runners, bikers and sunbathers would flock to if given the chance.

But will condo buyers, renters and business owners follow?

Let’s hope the experience of Portland’s South Waterfront doesn’t augur the future of Vancouver’s own riverfront ambitions. Last Sunday, 40 unsold condos in the project’s 200-plus unit Atwater tower went to auction – with one real estate broker advertisement promising bids 63 percent off the listing price.

Eric Holmes, the city’s economic development director, dismissed any comparisons between South Waterfront and Vancouver’s riverfront revitalization plans. “As far as its proximity to an existing residential and commercial base, South Waterfront is pretty removed.”

According to Holmes, the proposed Vancouver project would not rely as heavily on condo units, proving so much the Achilles heel of developments past. Included in the current plans will be rental units and worker housing.

“The agreement is laid out to allow the flexibility that is necessary to match the development to market dynamics,” he said.

Business Around the Northwest

Mortgage Bankers Association: applications jump, Portland Business Journal

Peppertree developers get loans, Spokane Journal of Business

Meridian begins downtown master plan process
, Idaho Business Review

Friday, September 18, 2009

► On the Record

“Brandon’s currently ranked #7 in the league, and I’m here telling you that he’s a better person than he is a basketball player.”

-- Tom Penn, assistant general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers, talking about shooting guard Brandon Roy’s commitment to community service at last night’s Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

RIP 12-lane CRC?

Portland Mayor Sam Adams suspended a February agreement today on the proposed Columbia River Crossing project, putting the future of a replacement span in question even as a leading figure in Vancouver’s business community announced last night a reinvigorated push to get it built.

While Adams’ decision wasn’t completely unexpected, what was a bit unusual about today’s statement was the degree of skepticism shown by Portland’s leading citizen about the level of support among Vancouverites for the project’s tolling and proposed light rail components.

In an interview this afternoon with the VBJ, Adams said today’s statement was made in response to toughening attitudes against bridge tolls on this side of the river. “The context has shifted,” he said. “Tolls have long been assumed to be part of the new bridge.”

Also reached by the VBJ this afternoon, Leavitt saw the death of the February agreement as an “incredible opportunity” to rethink plans for a replacement bridge, including paring down the number of lanes open to vehicle traffic, reconsidering the location of highway interchanges and changing the construction timetable on the project.

One point, at least, there seems to be agreement between Adams and Leavitt: “My take on things is that the 12-lane proposal is off the table,” Adams said.

That development could be seen as a blow to Vancouver’s business community, as well as Southwest Washington commuters, who have emphasized maximizing the number of lanes open to vehicular traffic on the span from the very beginning. Last night, newly-installed Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce Board Director Don Russo called for local business to increase pressure on Olympia and Washington, D.C. to get the replacement bridge built.

With the framework of an agreement between the two cities on either side of the replacement span apparently in tatters, what are the chances of getting greenhouse gas-hating Portlanders and toll-weary Vancouverites on the same page on the CRC?

Adams said he hoped there was still room for agreement. “The most important thing is the freight,” he said. “We have an opportunity to help both of our ports to compete with the world, as well as getting 20,000 commuters from the north side of the river to get on light rail.”

Business Around the Northwest

Labor office in Twin Falls extends hours, Idaho Business Review

Entrepreneurs increasingly optimistic, South Sound Business Examiner

Hood River builds its way through the recession, Portland Daily Journal of Business

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

► On the Record

“Basically, we’re optimists in the social services world and tend to see the best in situations and in people that we can. We think better times are ahead…”

-- Doug Lehrman, executive director of Clark County Educational Opportunities for Children and Families, one of several nonprofits profiled in VBJ’s forthcoming Philanthropy issue.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

The state of local nonprofits

We hate being the bearer of bad news.

From time to time, the VBJ gets feedback from readers regarding the “gloom and doom” in our coverage – from the region’s deflated construction industry to the bottoming-out of its real estate sector. And with today’s jobless figures pegging Clark County unemployment at a miserable 13.9 percent, it’s no wonder much of the news lately has been a bit pessimistic.

But there’s more going right than there is going wrong in our communities. Even in tough economic times, Southwest Washington’s chief asset – the hard-working character of its people – remains steady and is even on the increase.

This isn’t just a business newspaper editor telling his readers what they want to hear. For proof of Washingtonians’ unique blend of self-reliance and empathy for one’s neighbors, one should look no further than VBJ’s forthcoming Philanthropy issue, which hits mailboxes and newsstands Friday.

In this issue, we talk to diligent and optimistic members of the region’s nonprofit community, working to help runaway teens, newly-homeless construction workers and blind athletes.

And surprisingly, some of them have told us that giving has remained steady, and in some cases, increased even as the recession continues to put the squeeze on many household pocketbooks.

With an economic recovery waiting in the wings, it’s clear what mettle Vancouverites and members of surrounding communities are made of – not of unforgiving iron, but of a tough, interwoven cloth that connects all of us with one another.

Festival of Trees

Vancouver Rotary’s Festival of Trees today put out a call for partner sponsors for the event, which takes place at the Red Lion at the Quay on Thanksgiving weekend. All funds will go to programs supported by the Rotary Foundation.

Partner donations start at $2,000. To make a pledge, or to request more information, email VBJ Publisher John McDonagh at

Business Around the Northwest

Community garden takes root in Cordata, Bellingham Business Journal

Peninsula Credit Union celebrates Member Appreciation Day
, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

40% of U.S. employers plan to rehire laid-off workers, Portland Business Journal

Friday, September 11, 2009

► On the Record

“Our City Council is ready to lead again, and we’re going to do that for the next four years,”

-- Councilmember Tim Leavitt at Thursday’s Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce mayoral debate at Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver.

“I’m prepared to give four more years of my life … because I love this city,”

-- Mayor Royce Pollard, also at Thursday’s GVCC debate.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

The day when business stopped

On this day last year, this journalist found himself at a loss for words, perhaps for the first time ever.

I was interviewing retired Deputy FDNY Chief Al Santora and his wife, Maureen, on a rainy, grey morning, with the remnants of Tropical Storm Hanna racing over St. Michael’s Cemetery in the Woodside section of the borough of Queens in New York City.

Even then, seven years after the collapse of the South Tower of the World Trade Center killed their firefighter son, Christopher, the Santoras still seemed to be in a state of shock, experiencing a grief perhaps unique to parents who outlive their children.

Hardly a cub reporter, I found myself thrown back to Journalism 101: What should I say to the Santoras? What kind of questions should I ask?

It seemed absurd to ask them what they were feeling on this day of mourning – it being a question seeming both trite and obvious. Still, I thought, people should know exactly what they are feeling, to know exactly what a terrible toll that day wrought on hundreds of families.

With every anniversary, many Americans try anew to make sense out of a basically senseless tragedy. In cities and towns across the nation – including our own – dignitaries, first responders and a dwindling number of onlookers take a moment to stop what they are doing, to pause and reflect. “I’m here to remember, and that’s it,” said Marilyn Sigler at this morning’s memorial service in the amphitheater at Vancouver Landing.

Also at the service, Vancouver Fire Chief Don Bivins dispelled any doubt about the continued relevance of Sept. 11 observances, eight years after the first plane hit WTC’s North Tower, kicking off a day of death and destruction. “May we remember always the inhumanity and injustice that was visited upon 3,017 of us that day,” he said.

Today’s service in Vancouver, taking place under clear, blue skies, seemed the perfect counterpoint to my interview last year with Al and Maureen Santora – both of whom continue to advocate on behalf of Sept. 11 victims and their families from their modest home in Long Island City, a place just across the East River from the towers of Manhattan.

It wasn’t much of an interview and I didn’t get a front page story that day.

I heard them talk about Christopher – a rookie member of FDNY’s Engine 54 for two months before he died at age 23. When they finished speaking, I shook Al Santora’s hand. Before I ran back to my car to feed the meter, I remembered to say one important thing:

“I’m sorry.”

Business Around the Northwest - From the Archives

Attacks affect local building managers, Portland Daily Journal of Commerce, 9/12/01

Terrorism hits business plans, Spokane Journal of Business
, 10/26/01

Boise airport reports 31% drop in passengers from same month last year, Idaho Business Review, 10/29/01

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

► On the Record

“The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.”

- President Barack Obama, speaking to schoolchildren in a televised address broadcast throughout the nation Tuesday.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Another swine flu threat – absenteeism

It’s certainly a sobering statistic for small business – 40 percent.

That’s the percentage of workers that could be affected by a potential swine flu epidemic, according to a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With that figure in mind, and as this year’s flu season creeps ever closer, the VBJ called several Southwest Washington businesses to see how they would be affected if they lost up to 40 percent of their workforce.

Julia Maglione, vice president of AlphaGraphics of Vancouver, with a total of three employees: “Yikes, that is a scary, scary thought. I guess it all would depend if our employees could work from home, so if they had someone home sick, they could work remotely.”

Linda, manager of Paws-N-Claws Thrift Store, with seven employees at their Minnehaha area location, seven in their Orchards area store: “I guess that would be one of those things I would just have to deal with. We would definitely just carry on with the people we have. If need be, we would move people from one store to another.”

Roch Manley of Vancouver’s Manley Architects, with a total of two employees: “For us, it would be somewhat devastating … and certainly frightening. My wife is a nurse so I can’t back away from having this discussion. But they state the cut-off age is 57. I hope that holds up since our workforce is just squeaking past that age … I hope we’re sitting pretty.”

Speaking of yet another Vancouver small business, with 11 employees total – all of us at the VBJ hope to be sitting pretty come flu season as well.

Get well soon, Jerry.

At today’s Rotary Club meeting, word got out that past Vancouver Rotary President Jerry Petrick was undergoing tests due to recent health issues. We would like to extend our best wishes to Jerry, with hopes for a speedy recovery.

Look for our coverage of the day’s featured speaker, Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard, in a forthcoming issue of the VBJ.

Business Around the Northwest

Portland among most stressful cities, Portland Business Journal

Foreclosure hurts health, too, study says, Spokane Journal of Business

Construction company chooses to partner with medical providers, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

Friday, September 4, 2009

► On the Record

“Tony, you will be missed.”

-- Longtime Vancouver resident Jim Mains, one of many reacting to word of local news publisher and reporter Tony Bacon’s passing Wednesday.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

In search of the elusive silver lining

It seems for every step the economy takes forward, the next day it takes two steps back. And today seems the perfect example of an economy walking backwards.

The national unemployment rate released today jumped to 9.7 percent – a 28 year high that only reinforces the buzz around the Internet water cooler about the prospect of an economic recovery, called either “jobless,” anemic, or even continental European.

And then there’s the commercial real estate market, the engine for much of Clark County’s growth over the last decade. First, to get a feeling for the mood on the national front, I’ll cite a senior analyst at Deutsche Bank, who called the distress coursing its way through the commercial real estate market as being only “between the first and the second inning” in Wednesday’s New York Times.

To take the pulse locally, one needs only drive past downtown Vancouver’s Al Angelo Building, which is filling up slowly – albeit at rates reportedly below the per-square-foot asking price. Last Monday, Met Life closed on 6,984 square feet of office space at the building, according to Brian Sullivan at Coldwell Banker Commercial, who helped broker the deal.

The vacancy rate for office space in Clark County stands at 20.92 percent for August, up from 20.48 percent last month and 19.96 percent in June, according to a report by Eric Fuller and Associates of Vancouver. That’s bad news for landlords, many of whom have loans coming due early next year from deals made at the start of the building boom in 2005-6.

So for all the gloom in today’s news, where’s the promised silver lining?

I asked the same question of Adam Roselli, associate broker at Eric Fuller and Associates and the author of this week’s commercial office space report. While acknowledging market weakness would continue through next year, Roselli hinted at glints of possible recovery on the horizon.

The first comes courtesy of our neighbors to the south. This year, the Oregon Legislature passed a $733 million tax hike that Roselli thinks could send even more businesses our way – helping to both put a lid on vacancy rates and generate more revenue for cash-strapped landlords. However, those tax hikes are the subject of a contentious ballot initiative fight and not yet a done deal.

Second, the dearth of commercial construction projects – while continuing to squeeze Southwest Washington builders – will help cap supply as the demand for office space recovers.

For now, Roselli says, we wait. I say, we’re long overdue for another step forward.

Business Around the Northwest

The Columbian plots exit from Ch. 11 bankruptcy, Portland Business Journal

Most construction still lagging
, South Shore Business Examiner

Tribe's West Plains plans advance
, Spokane Journal of Business

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

► On the Record

“There are so many possibilities with the technology offered in the classroom that I don’t think we’ve figured out exactly what to do with it yet,”

-- Chef Rick Browne, host of PBS’ “Barbecue America” and a cooking instructor at Clark College, talking about his state-of-the-art kitchen classroom at the school’s new Columbia Tech Center in east Vancouver.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Filming Vancouver

The requests come in emails marked, “Urgent,” and are usually followed up by an over-worked casting director, talking fast, sometimes out of breath. As an editor of a newspaper in Vancouver, Washington, I get more than my fair share of these casting notices and set location inquiries from TV and film productions from places like Los Angeles, New York and Toronto.

No matter how urgent, my reply is the same: “Wrong Vancouver.”

As you might have guessed, these companies are looking to film in that other Vancouver, long a haven for Hollywood productions drawn to its generous tax incentives, relatively weak Canadian dollar, mild winters and West Coast proximity.

But imagine for a moment: What if we were the “right” Vancouver?

It’s not such a stretch. In America’s Vancouver, it doesn’t (usually) snow all that much, and to boot (not to be confused with the Canuck “a-boot”) we’re even closer to sunny L.A. via the 1-5 corridor. Further, the allure long enjoyed by our neighbors to the north fluctuates along with the fortunes of the Canadian dollar relative to our own. And alone on the West Coast, Washington enjoys a relatively business-friendly reputation – though there are some who would argue that fiscally-hamstrung California and regulation-heavy Oregon aren’t exactly giving the Evergreen State a run for its money.

So it comes as no surprise that some in Southwest Washington are already trying to draw in Hollywood – one small production at a time. To be sure, there have been big ones too, including the teen vampire film “Twilight,” TV’s “Leverage” and the soon-to-be-released “Crowley” with Harrison Ford.

In the next issue of VBJ coming out Friday, we look at a film shoot last week at Erik Runyan Jewelers – along with a joint effort by the city of Vancouver, the Southwest Washington Convention and Visitors Bureau and the state to bring in even more.

For a region looking to diversify its economy and put more unemployed Washingtonians to work, it’s hardly a trickle, but not yet a flood. But it’s a promising start.

Business Around the Northwest

Enrollment surges at community colleges in dour economy, Spokane Journal of Business

Service industries push for state concessions, incentives
, Idaho Business Review

Fewer job cuts in August, South Sound Business Examiner