Wednesday, September 29, 2010

► On the Record

“That must mean we’re old!”

Betty Sue Morris, former Clark County Commissioner when being introduced as a member of a four person ‘History of Clark County’ panel focusing on the county during the 1980s and 1990s during the first full day session of the 2010/2011 Leadership Clark County class at the Washington State School for the Deaf. Joining Morris on the panel was former Mayor of Vancouver Bruce Hagensen, Elson Strahan, President and CEO of the Ft. Vancouver National Historic Trust and John McDonagh, Publisher of the Vancouver Business Journal.

Reporter's Notebook

John McDonagh can be reached at

Much to be proud of

Well, not everyone has been glued to their computers or TV news station to see the latest YOUTUBE hit from Vancouver. Rather, most of us have been busy trying to find new opportunities and customers, hang on to old ones and do what we can to continue to make Vancouver and Southwest Washington one of the best places in the country to live. So I thought you would want to hear about some of those things. Most of the info you’ll find in here will never make it to “viral video” status, but it is the stuff that keeps our community going and people talking.

Here we go…… Clark College and WSU Vancouver stepping up to their largest enrollments ever!... and despite the draconian cuts in state funding allowing the best and brightest to remain at home and get a quality education. Then there are the more than 50 private and public construction projects, representing over $200 million dollars of investment, celebrated recently at WSU Vancouver during the VBJ’s annual Southwest Washington Top Projects event. The Projects represented a variety of sectors including infrastructure – roads, the Vancouver Library and clean water, schools and health care facilities, and low income housing and business expansions.

A short while ago the “Portland – Vancouver Land Here, Live Here” campaign kicked off and is beginning to take hold and spread. Over two dozen organizations and businesses are making this a part of their marketing efforts including: Riverview Community Bank, Columbia River Economic Development Council, Prestige Development, Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Eric Fuller & Associates and Identity Clark County.

Our region is more than a YouTube video or a horrendous headline. We are good, strong, innovative companies, and hard working welcoming people with the wherewithal to weather this economy and come out on top!

Here is who we’ve spotted doing their thing:

JD White popping up at the Community Choices luncheon, not retired, “re-fired” Kim Capeloto counting donuts and supporting his former tenant, Sharon Pesut. Dominique Meriwether espousing the virtues of the World Greatest Bank and his vast football knowledge Martine Slater earning every dime Nathan Cano is paying her… …Nathan listing lots on Prune Hill Ed Piel battling, printing and supporting CCYF Jason Reid grabbing toner cartridges and seats on the 40 yard line Kenny Vance, publishing… and ever so humble now that he is a print guy and not on the radio anymore Meanwhile Temple Lentz providing the 2010 LCC class with a history lesson even native’s from the ‘couv found enlightening Dave Scott snapping and sharing football photos Megan Patrick Vaughn pinch hitting for the ol’staff …and much appreciated it is!.... Greg Seifert shooting down the rumors and setting it straight on health care reform changes Bob Dingethal exchanging a glass of wine for a size 9 shoe Tracie Siegel selling the old fashioned way…. and letting Scott Firstenburg buy lunch Linda Frischmeyer staying connected and offering sage advice…..for free!

Business From Around the Northwest

Nautilus receives NYSE delisting warning, Portland Business Journal

Recommendations approved for CRC project
, Daily Journal of Commerce

Social media distracts workers
, Herald Net

Friday, September 24, 2010

► On the Record

“The City of Vancouver has been more than helpful in these tough times to help us get projects from infancy to completion. It’s been a breath of fresh air.”

–Dean Kirkland, a principal of Dean Kirkland Development, who is currently wrapping up Plaza 192nd and about to break ground on 192nd Station in east Vancouver.

Reporter's Notebook

John McDonagh can be reached at

Building business when business is down

For too many months we’ve all been talking about how much our businesses have been negatively affected and the resulting consequences on our companies. One of the most telling consequences, borne out by the staggering unemployment figures for our area, is how few folks we have left on staff.

Having fewer employees on staff brings along its own set of concerns in addition to the cost savings. One is that the remaining employees take on more responsibilities and, as a result, some things just don’t make the “must get done today” list—a list that never seems to get any shorter.

Too often one aspect of business that suffers on that list is the regular contact and conversation we used to have with clients, which may have facilitated a higher volume of orders. But since their favorite person is no longer on staff, a client misses out on those conversations and the relationship becomes less familiar until months may go by between exchanges. When the customer’s orders taper off, we pass the blame on to the economy.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve had the opportunity to visit with a few of our clients who, over the years, have stayed steadfast with us but for a host of reasons were doing less and less business with us.

Those discussions were important for a number of reasons. I learned that a former employee simply hadn’t treated a customer with the professional courtesy and attention I thought was part and parcel of how we interact with all our customers. Another had been given information about one of our products but we failed to make certain the information was understood, resulting in a decision that didn’t include our proposal. Still another shared that it takes so much energy and attention just to keep their company afloat and on course right now that if our people don’t call and get their attention, the business priorities of the day soak up any available time and pretty soon it’s weeks or months later.

How much business are we losing because we cut our sales and customer service staff and at the same time cut our ability to maintain a relationship with our existing customers? At the tail end of a previous down economic cycle, there was a TV spot featuring a CEO handing out airline tickets to his key staff. As he did so, he was saying it was time to get to know their customers again. In other words, reestablish a relationship, understand what their needs are today and show them that we care. I think we’ll be doing that more frequently—no, we won’t be offering airline tickets, but just checking in to see how things are going and finding out what we can do to help can go a long way.

When was the last time you had a conversation with your longstanding customers just to check in? I think you’ll be surprised by the reception and the business there is to be done even in a down economy.

Business From Around the Northwest

House approves $42B for small businesses, Daily Journal of Commerce

Vancouver gets $3M redevelopment grant
, Portland Business Journal

Business spending on capital goods rises in August, Seattle Times

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

► On the Record

“The fact that new sales activity has remained so consistent since May indicates a surprising stability in new sales actvity.”

Mike Lamb, Associate Broker, Windermere Vancouver in his September edition of Clark County Market referring to the stabilizing of the residential real estate market in Clark County.

Reporter's Notebook

John McDonagh can be reached at

Politics and Business

Some years, election season is more about business than others. We believe the 2010 ballot is full of potential and consequence for business in Washington. For that reason, over the next six weeks Just Business and the Vancouver Business Journal will look at the various initiatives and candidates on the ballot.

The races and initiatives we think stand to have the greatest impact follow.

U.S. Senate: After 18 years Patty Murray was described Sunday by The Herald in Everett as “one of the most reliable Democratic votes in the Senate.” Dino Rossi has made it clear that he is a smaller government, lesser tax candidate. The winner here will weigh in on the next round of policy regarding healthcare, job creation and what to do with the national debt.

3rd Congressional District: Regardless of one’s political affiliation, Brian Baird’s absence from the Washington delegation will undoubtedly be felt. Republican candidate Jamie Herrera is coming off a solid first term as Washington state representative in the 18th District. Denny Heck, candidate for the Democrats, touts a strong career in state government followed by success in a number of small business ventures. Of late both are actively seeking that moderate middle ground.

State Representatives: Each of the local districts and positions has a race on the ballot with the exception of Position 2 in the 18th District, in which Ed Orcutt, incumbent Republican, is running unopposed. The other four districts all are contested and we’ll look more closely at the candidates as we approach Election Day November 2.

County Commissioner: Steve Stuart seeks his second four-year term as commissioner and is challenged by a competitor who’s been mostly absent from the campaign trail, Alan Svehaug. Though we’ve heard little from Alan during the campaign to this point, he promises to “work for you to bring more employment opportunities to Clark County by helping to enact business-friendly policies.”

Clark Public Utilities Commissioner: Nancy Barnes is seeking her third six-year term on the commission and brings with her a wealth of knowledge gleaned from nearly two decades. Her opponent, Mike Lyons, understands the role, having served 10 years as a fire commissioner. As new manufacturers locate in Clark County and existing manufacturers look to expand, the successful candidate here will determine whether the increased cost is born by all rate payers or the business user.

Vancouver City Council: Newly appointed councilman Bart Hansen seeks his first regular term on the council, having been appointed in January to fill the unexpired term left open when Tim Leavitt became mayor. Hanson is challenged by John Jenkins, who is running on a platform of experience and leadership, having served on a number of city committees as well as opposing any tolls on a reconstructed Columbia River Crossing.

Each race will have a direct effect on business. As Election Day approaches, we’ll see just how that might take shape.

Business From Around the Northwest

Hospitals embrace sustainable engineering, Sustainable Business Oregon

LEED for retail launches this fall, Daily Journal of Commerce

Inside the liquor battle: who'd win, who wouldn't, Seattle Times

Friday, September 17, 2010

► On the Record

“Aren’t you the mayor? Mayors are supposed to wear suits and ties.”

-- Sophie, the young hip hop dancer who performed at Dancing with the Local Stars at Pearson Air Museum last Saturday night, questioning Mayor Tim Leavitt after his participation in the Couve Nation rendition of MC Hammer’s “U can’t touch this” complete with gold lame hammer pants and gold chain.

Reporter's Notebook

John McDonagh can be reached at

To everything . . . there is a season

These words, taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes and put to music by Pete Seeger in 1959, remind us that change is necessary part of life – particularly in Southwest Washington of late.

In Vancouver, we have a new mayor for the first time in 16 years and will soon have a new city manager following a decade of service by Pat McDonnell. Vancouver will also have a new Fire Chief with the announced retirement of Don Bivens.

And that’s just the beginning.

The forthcoming election in the 3rd U.S. Congressional District will provide a new representative for Southwest Washington; Southwest Washington Medical Center’s discussions with Peace Health, if successful, will provide new leadership for a large component of the medical community in Clark County; the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors just this week announced new leadership with the appointment of Kelly (Love) Parker as president and CEO to replace Kim Capeloto, who left the Chamber to lead the operations and marketing efforts at Riverview Community Bank.

Change has also been a factor in our region’s media sector, with the new ownership at The Reflector in Battle Ground. In June, Lafromboise Communication, Inc., owners of the Centralia Chronicle purchased the paper from longtime owner and publisher Marvin Case, bringing in a new publisher, Steve Walker, and appointing Ken Vance as editor.

We at the Vancouver Business Journal also have a transition of leadership underway in our newsroom. Our editor of the last 13 months, Paul Leonard, this week announced in this space his acceptance of a position back in his home state of New York. We’re disappointed the amenities of the great Pacific Northwest and the Clark County lifestyle weren’t enough to keep Paul, but the position he has accepted is one in which he’ll be part of creating a new online destination. Having had the opportunity to embark on a new venture in helping launch the Portland Tribune, I was not one to argue much against his decision. We wish Paul all the best, with the knowledge that for his part of the launch, it will be done with the same energy, focus and edge he’s provided our readers in the past year.

Transition is a polite way to say that what our region, our companies and organizations, our news outlets are dealing with is change. And where we are seeing the most transition is in our leadership positions – the men and women we look to for direction and inspiration. These leaders are, or should be, individuals from whom the community gains confidence that we heading in the right direction, that we own the tools and resources to think and work our way out of this difficult economy and get back to business of thriving.

For all of us, it is important to find not just the best person available, but to find the best person for the job. We congratulate Kim Capeloto and Kelly Parker and are confident those respective organizations chose the best person for the position. The rest of us need to follow suit. We cannot cut short the due diligence required to find the best candidate while keeping in mind the consequence of making the right selection as well as settling for the best available.

Business From Around the Northwest

Database: 2009 CEO pay, Portland Business Journal

Networking becomes more focused, South Sound Business Examiner

Advocates worry about clean energy's future, Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

► On the Record

“Small businesses today need another loan like they need a kick in the pants.”

– Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), speaking on Tuesday in regards to a Senate Small Business Bill which would set up a $30 billion fund to encourage small community banks to grant loans to small businesses.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Fare thee well

As many of you have already heard, this week will be my last as Managing Editor of the Vancouver Business Journal.

Like all “lasts,” this one triggers two diametrically-opposed impulses: an urge to look ahead to the future while simultaneously taking stock of the past. However, for the interest of clarity, I am forced to take each impulse separately, starting with the future.

In my absence, the coming weeks and months are set to be exciting ones for the VBJ.

On Oct. 29, the first issue of VBJ’s Women In Business Directory, building on the growing role of women in every aspect of the regional economy, will hit newsstands and subscriber mailboxes. In November, the VBJ will again honor our Accomplished & Under 40, introducing new names and faces to the growing number of talented professionals which make up Southwest Washington’s business community. And as the Holidays draw near, readers can expect VBJ’s Health Resource Guide and Book of Lists to again guide them through the year ahead.

Now, on a more melancholy note – at least for me – we come to the past.

To begin at the beginning, I would like to thank VBJ publisher John McDonagh and business manager Steve McDonagh for entrusting the editorial duties of their paper (some might say their “baby”) to an unknown New Yorker with a mercurial temperament and a somewhat off-putting habit of blurting out whatever comes to mind, regardless of the situation.

Next I would like to give my sincerest appreciation to the small, yet incredibly dedicated VBJ staff, who often work long hours to put out not only a quality newspaper every week, but a quarterly magazine, numerous special publications and events as well.

And last, but certainly not least, I’d like to thank our readers. Your countless helpful suggestions, news tips and yes, even your complaints, have been my privilege to receive.

As VBJ’s staff prepares for Thursday’s Top Projects awards at Washington State University-Vancouver, I am reminded of last year’s event held in July 2009 – officially my second day on the job. I remember feeling somewhere nervous at first, stumbling to connect unfamiliar names and faces, not knowing what the next weeks, months and year would bring.

Tomorrow I look forward to quite another experience, celebrating the achievements of people I’ve been lucky enough to call friends, colleagues and sources, perhaps for the last time.

Business From Around the Northwest

Kelly Parker to lead Vancouver chamber, Portland Business Journal

Real estate winners, losers, Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce

Unemployment rate holds steady
, South Sound Business Examiner

Friday, September 10, 2010

► On the Record

“We see ourselves as a key part of the reuse trend.”

– Mark Haley, manager of the Clark County Habitat For Humanity Store on Fourth Plain Boulevard in Vancouver, which will be profiled in the Sept. 17 issue of the VBJ.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

On the waterfront

“This is not South Waterfront.”

That’s Barry Cain, president of Gramor Development, Inc., referring to the planned $1 billion-plus Vancouver Columbia Waterfront Development in 2008.

More than two years later, the effort which will clear the way for this enormous development, the Waterfront Access Project, broke ground this week in a ceremony which included local, state and federal elected officials.

The beginning of riverfront access work was certainly a win for downtown Vancouver – long separated from one of the region’s natural treasures by BNSF tracks and inaccessible industrial land.

However, it also raises questions about the development planned to follow the completion of the project. Approved by the Vancouver City Council last year, Gramor is set to develop 32 acres of the former Boise Cascade waterfront property into a set of mixed-use towers, walkways and storefronts.

The plans are a stunning vision for a bustling waterfront district – finally integrating Vancouver with a river the city has turned its back on for nearly a century.

“This property will once again become a center of economic activity,” Cain told The Columbian at Wednesday’s groundbreaking for the Waterfront Access Project, projecting that work on the mixed-use development could follow as early as 2013.

The project would dump an estimated 1.2 million square feet of office space and 400,000 square feet of retail space on a market some real estate experts say will be dogged by excess inventory for years to come.

Meanwhile, this week downtown Vancouver bakery Je ’Taime closed after being open less than a year, the commercial office vacancy rate in Clark County held steady at close to 19 percent and realtors offered one-bedroom condos in South Waterfront’s John Ross building in pre-foreclosure for $150,000.

“This is an excruciatingly short sale,” the listing read.

Business From Around the Northwest

Commercial brokers get lucky on Craigslist, Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce

Federal gov’t sends $5M in housing help to Idaho, Idaho Business Review

Portland No. 40 on stressed-out city list, Portland Business Journal

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

► On the Record

“I won't hold my breath.”

– Beavers' fan Steven Parker of Vancouver in Tuesday’s Oregonian, in regards to the prospect of a new Portland-area stadium for the Pacific Coast League AAA franchise. The Portland Beavers played their last game at PGE Park on Monday.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Nine men out

Monday marked a somber milestone for baseball fans stuck in what is now a 700-mile dead zone for our national pastime, roughly stretching from Sacramento to Tacoma.

That’s right: with this week’s final game played by the Portland Beavers at PGE Park, the closest Triple-A baseball city is Tacoma, 133 miles away. The Portland-Vancouver media market, the 22nd largest in the nation, currently doesn’t even rate a single-A baseball team.

Instead we have a new soccer franchise, complete with its own “army” of fans so numerous that they couldn’t be detected in the lackluster Nielsen ratings for this summer’s local broadcasts of the 2010 World Cup (for the uninitiated, think of a World Series of soccer played only every four years, i.e. a big, big deal).

As I’ve written in this column previously, I still believe Clark County to be the perfect home for a relocated Beavers ballclub. However, it quickly became clear that the city of Vancouver and Clark County had pockets nowhere as deep for Beavers and expansion MLS Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson.

Meanwhile, Portland – with its zeal for preserving squat, Minimalist and underutilized structures – decided to scrap Memorial Coliseum as an option for a new ballpark.

So who’s to blame for the demise of a 107-year-old institution?

Though attendance figures have been widely reported as being low compared to other Pacific Coast League teams, I wouldn’t blame the fans. For one, as long as I’ve lived in the area, I have not seen one shred of marketing, not one TV, newspaper or radio spot, by management of this team. Second, the Beavers’ affiliation with the far-off San Diego Padres wasn’t ever going to be an asset. And last, PGE Park might be the worst place to put a baseball park – located in a difficult-to-navigate, parking desert in uptown Portland.

And while baseball clearly doesn’t rate high on Mayor Sam Adams’ list of priorities as he seeks to build on Portland’s reputation as a mecca of (environmental) sustainability, bike-friendliness and systemic underemployment – he and his City Council aren’t solely to blame either. Considering this story in today’s New York Times on how King County still owes more than $80 million on a demolished football stadium, their reticence in allocating $30 million in taxpayer funds for a new minor-league ballpark seems not only understandable, but a foregone conclusion given the current fiscal situation facing almost all local governments.

In regards to Paulson, I’m not going to engage in the kind of shoot-the-rich rhetoric circulated in other outlets, which often are careful to make vague approximations of his family’s vast fortune.

But I will say this: all owners of sports franchises, no matter how small, need to treat their stake in their teams as an investment – not only in terms of capital, but as members of a community.

Business From Around the Northwest

Alaska Air gets Timbers jersey deal, Portland Business Journal

Vancouver waterfront: Can’t get there from here
, Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce

New look on the way for Olympia waterfront
, South Sound Business Examiner

Friday, September 3, 2010

► On the Record

“I can identify with people seeking to survive in tough times. With these lessons – support, focusing on what I could control, patience and a survivor mindset – I was able to persevere and reclaim my life.”

– Trisha Meili, known to the world as the “Central Park Jogger,” her name withheld for years after her recovery from a brutal assault in 1989, in front of a packed house at YWCA’s annual luncheon at the Hilton Vancouver Washington on Thursday.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

A ‘Top Projects’ preview

A newspaper editor doesn’t need to tell anyone that it’s been a tough year for the construction sector, both nationally and regionally.

But what may not be commonly known to people who might notice only the empty lots and half-finished building projects which dot Clark County – is the incredible resiliency of many contractors, architects and engineers.

Many of the construction efforts included in this year’s Top Projects, which will be celebrated at a ceremony on the campus of Washington State University-Vancouver on Thursday, Sept. 16, are each in their own way precious gems, created under the intense pressures of tightening credit, deflating real estate prices and high vacancy rates.

They are survivors.

Due to the economy, some of the projects included this year had to be downsized, their designs rethought, budgets revised. But in a testament to the flexibility that is the cornerstone of the construction industry, these projects managed to move forward – with each brick laid, pressurized glass installed and steel beam placed in the hope of a better tomorrow.

So it is with that same sense of hope that I look forward to seeing many Just Business readers help us celebrate the triumph of these innovative efforts at our Top Projects event on Sept. 16.

Reservations for the event can be made here. Admission is $35. We look forward to seeing you there!

Business From Around the Northwest

Construction company thrives after returning to its roots, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal

PCC works through long list of projects, Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce

Clark Co. considers business fee holiday, Portland Business Journal

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

► On the Record

“I stand in esteemed company in an organization that draws its inspiration from courageous program participants, dedicated staff and volunteers, and generous donors.”

– Sherri Bennett, the newly-announced executive director of YWCA, replacing Kathy Kniep at the Vancouver-based nonprofit.

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Wading into politics

Though I am a business newspaper editor, part of my job is to cover politics – however, only as it relates to the local business community.

Practically, this means that I do not usually write about politics. Which, frankly, fits into my philosophy about the true nature of newspapers – that they should reflect, not dictate, the reality of the “beat” in which they cover. As such, a newspaper inside the Beltway of Washington, D.C. will naturally be obsessed with the tiniest minutiae of political wrangling, innuendo and active throat-cutting. A paper in Burbank or Studio City would be, by necessity, an avid follower of the entertainment industry, imbued with all the superficiality that comes with covering that world.

So what reality might a business journal in Vancouver, Washington reflect?

Personally, I find our Vancouver to be (mostly) refreshingly apolitical. Apart from a few protests, Tea Party-like sentiment hasn’t really taken off here. And though members of the business community certainly identify themselves by party, they are only slightly less likely to denounce a member of their own camp than the other guy’s.

At best, this sentiment allows Southwest Washingtonians to consider differing solutions to problems, regardless of where the ideas are coming from.

At worst, the region’s apolitical character can degrade into apathy, with a broad brush painting all members of the public sphere as “crooks,” “con-men” or “phonies” – that it doesn’t matter who’s in control because all politicians are the same. I call this a “toss the bums out” mentality, which seems to be spreading across the U.S. in the run-up to November’s mid-term elections.

My only problem with this sentiment – which at times I share myself – is that it represents a denial of civic responsibility one might expect from a teenager, not grown men and women.

We cannot distance ourselves from our government.

But many of us already have. And we can see the results. Slowly, and inexorably, American civic strengths such as bipartisanship and pragmatism are bleeding out of our political system as practical-thinking people retreat and extremists from right and left rush in to fill the vacuum.

So how can Vancouverites combat this sea-change in American politics?

I say it’s as simple as displaying in the public realm the characteristics which I believe define this region’s business community – common sense and an open mind.

Business From Around the Northwest

Murdock Trust awards more than $7M, Portland Business Journal

Two buildings redeveloped in Vancouver, Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce

Not holding out on remodeling, South Sound Business Examiner