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Alaska's Cuba service recalls Russia Far East venture

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Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE It was logical and appropriate that the first air carrier to connect the Western United States to Cuba should be Alaska Airlines, given that carving out new frontiers and seeking new challenges has been the culture of the airline over its eight-plus decades.

“As we kick off our 85th anniversary year, the inauguration of Cuba service marks the latest in some fascinating twists and turns to our route network,” said Joe Sprague, Alaska’s senior vice president for external relations.

Indeed the Cuba service launch brought back particular memories of Alaska’s far-out decision a quarter century ago to begin regular service to the Russian Far East, seizing what was then a thawing of relations between the two countries and the emergence of the Seattle area as a key player in that relationship that was beginning to verge on friendship.

Back in 1991, Seattle had already hosted the Goodwill Games competition between the U.S. and Russia, and business relations were being pursued. So Alaska launched summer service that year to Magadan, a sister city to Anchorage, and Khabarovsk, described as a European-style interior city that was the commercial and industrial hub for Russia’s Far East.

Part of the U.S.-Russia relations that emerged prompted creation of the Foundation for Russian American Economic Cooperation FRAEC), whose then-president Carol Vipperman recalled in an email exchange this week “the Alaska flights to the Russian Far East were very meaningful to both sides.”

The challenges of some of Alaska’s early flights, eventually extending to five cities in the rugged Far East of Russia, could provide comedy-script material, but also confirmed the pioneering spirit of Alaska’s people.

The inaugural flight to Magadan, 400 miles south of the Arctic Circle, turned up the fact the airport had no de-icing service. It was reported the pilot rounded up every bottle of vodka available and sprayed it on the wings with a garden hose.

And when Alaska launched service to Petropavlovsk, the largest city on the Kamchatka Peninsula, as the inaugural flight loaded with dignitaries was about to land, ground authorities told the pilot he did not have landing rights so the Alaska jet was forced to turn around and return to Anchorage.

Alaska was forced to end the service, on which the airline insisted it made money over the nearly a decade of doing business, when the Russian economy collapsed in 1998.

Vipperman recalls being on the next-to-last flight, with long-time Secretary of State Ralph Munro and some Alaska officials.

“We had come from a bilateral meeting, and at the Kamchatka airport we were taken off the plane to meet with the governor of Kamchatka and other officials so that we could talk about the impact the closure would have on their region,” she recalled in our email exchange. “While we sipped vodka, the plane sat on the tarmac waiting for us to come back.”

“I was personally sad to see the service to the Russian Far East end,” she added.

Alaska’s innovative outreach to the Russian Far East actually went back almost two decades earlier, in the early ‘70s, when the still young carrier began charter service to the Soviet Union’s Siberia as a result of what have been described as “secret negotiations” between the airline and Soviet Authorities.

When the U.S. Department of State learned of the deal, it decided not to block the plan, indicating it didn’t want to create a negative response from the Soviet Union. It might also be assumed the agency wanted to avoid a negative response from Washington State’s two U.S. senators, Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson, then among the Senate’s most powerful members.

I emailed Sprague for some thoughts on the service that began in the ‘90s.

“The service to the Russian Far East was really something,” said Sprague, who was then with an Anchorage-based regional airlines. “It still amazes me to look at the map and think how far away from home base we were flying our old MD-80s for that service.”

Sprague noted Alaska’s long history of connecting communities, with the Russian Far East and now Cuba as key pieces, but also including launch of service to resort cities in Mexico, Hawaii, then points to the East Coast and Midwest.

The latest, of course, being the merger with Virgin America, which will create Alaska linkage of all the major cities on the West Coast.

“Our various moves have been good for the company, but we also like to think they have been good for the communities we serve,” Sprague said.

An example of serving communities is the fact that, despite filling it planes with passengers destined for popular vacation and business destinations, the airline continues to serve a special role in the infrastructure of the state where it was born as an airline connecting remote locations.

As Sprague noted: “We are proud that we still serve 19 points within the state of Alaska, only three of which are connected to the road system.”

 

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Baseler reflects on Ste. Michelle 50th anniversary

Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Far-flung Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, guides what he proudly refers to as the winery “string of pearls” from an office in the French-style chateau that houses what may be the most visited winery in the world and reflects on the 50th anniversary of the brand.

Baseler, who joined Ste. Michelle as marketing director in 1984, marked 15 years as president and CEO last year with a couple of key accomplishments. One was the special award Ste. Michelle Wine Estates received in November in London when it was presented the trophy as 2016 “United States Wine Producer of the Year” in the International Wine & Spirits Competition.

The other was adding the first Sonoma winery, Patz & Hall, to what Baseler proudly refers to as the “string of pearls” to describe the collection of estate wineries that stretch across Washington and into Oregon and California. The string is the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates company that holds the “pearls.”

While Chateau Ste. Michelle, on its 87-acre estate, is the state’s largest winery and has revenues in 2015 of $692 million and profit of $152 million, the role Baseler and his company have played in helping build Washington’s wine industry to more than 850 wineries valued at more than $10 billion is noteworthy.

And he thinks the Ste. Michelle numbers will double in the next decade, adding that he is “bullish on Washington because of both quality and prices,” adding “it’s hard to find a quality wine in the Napa Valley for less than $100 a bottle.”

In additiom, he notes that “America os going from beer drinking to wine drinking, particularly true with millennials.

The birth of the Ste. Michelle brand provides an amusing tale of the value of competition. There was a time when only the wine produced in this state could legally be sold at retail outlets. It was possible to go to the state Liquor Control Board and order a case of wine from California, which would then arrive several days later.

Washington wines were produced by an all-but-forgotten winemaker called American Wine Growers, which produced almost entirely fortified sweet wines, sometimes affectionately referred to as “rot gut.”

Then in 1967, The California Wine Bill was introduced in the Legislature with the goal of permitting wines from California and elsewhere to be sold at retail outlets. Opponents lamented loudly that it would kill the Washington wine industry and proponents countered “let’s hope so.”

But there were others who understood that competition would benefit all and AWG, that same 1967 landmark year for the industry, began a new line of premium vinifera wines under the name Ste. Michelle and contracted with renowned wine expert Andre Tchelischeff to guide production. Within two years, the wines were receiving “good marks.”

In 1972, a group of investors headed by Wally Opdyke bought out AWG and formed a company under the name Ste. Michelle Vintners, which became successful, soon to be bought out by American Tobacco Co., which was acquired by Altria Group in 2009.

Baseler’s business strategy in guiding his company’s growth is to retain the legacy and reputation of acquired properties and allow them to continue to operate somewhat autonomously.

“We’ve observed other big wine companies that have grown and consolidated their operations, and basically destroyed what they’ve acquired as the wineries lose their flair, their personality and their legacy,” Baseler said.

Another part of Baseler’s strategy is to foster the growth of the industry in this state by viewing the hundreds of wineries as family rather than competitors, expressing at one point the conviction that Ste. Michelle Vineyards needs all the other wineries for the state to have an industry.

An example of that support was In 2004, when a rare arctic storm wiped out the grape harvest for a dozen Walla Walla wineries, Baseler stepped up to sell his grapes to keep the wineries from facing ruin. As Baseler was quoted in a profile in Seattle Business magazine a few years ago, “We could have used the grapes, but this was more important.”

It was a key example of his realizing that without the smaller players scattered across the state producing quality wines in a growing number of wine regions (known as AVAs), a Ste. Michelle standing alone would be diminished.

But Baseler’s focus has not merely been on supporting wineries in this state, but also on bringing quality wineries in other regions under the Ste. Michelle umbrella, or string.

I once remarked, somewhat apologetically, to Baseler at an event where we were discussing wines, naturally, that my favorite wine was Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from Erath Vineyard in Oregon. He smiled and replied “That’s ok, we own Erath.”

But the relationships extend beyond this country with partnerships with two quality European vintners. A partnership with Tuscany’s Piero antinori led to creation of Col Solare, which  Baseler describes as “the most beautiful winery anywhere.” Eroica Reisling is the result of a partnership with Mosel’s Ernst Loosen, a logical relationship for Chateau Ste. Michelle’s role as the world’s leading producer of Reisling wine.

Baseler has demonstrated that his commitment as a business leader is not just to the industry but also to the state, though he laments when pressed that the state makes little financial effort to support the industry.

In 2002, Baseler was approached about establishing a scholarship fund to support high-achieving, under-represented minority undergraduates at University of Washington. The story goes that Baselder said “no.” Then after a pause, the WSU alum and Regen at the Pullman school said: “but I’ll do it for UW and WSU.”

The program expanded in 2009 to include students attending any college or university in the state. Since inception, more than 100 scholarships totaling more than $3 million have been awarded. Students in the program, which is administered by the College Success Foundation, have a graduation rate of 85-to-90 percent.

Among recent achievements, Baseler led fundraising efforts for a Wine Science Center, a 40,000-square foot, high-tech research and education facility that was opened in June of 2015. The Center, located next to the Washington State University Tri-Cities campus, was a $23 million project developed as a public-private partnership.

Baseler’s comment about the Woodinville winery being “the most visited winery in the world” is supported by the fact that visitors to the winery total more than 250,000 but when attendance at the array of concerts held on the grounds is added in, the total reach about half a million a year.

Ste. Michelle has several events planned throughout the year to celebrate the anniversary, with  large public celebration at the Chateau over the Labor Day weekend, serving as a capstone of sorts as well as a grand re-opening of a major renovation that will be undertaken this year.

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Why preclude future voter revisit for ST-3?

When American poet John Greenleaf Whittier penned his memorable couplet "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'" it was an ode to the maiden in the field and the nobleman who rode by, noticed her, but decided not to stop. It was an ode to lost love but has become a reference point to remind individuals or groups about lost opportunity.
 
Thus ever since Puget Sound voters, almost a half century ago, briefly met at the ballot a light rail package from which they turned away, the "might have been" has been dangled like a badge of shame whenever a new rail-based transportation package is discussed.

After all, Atlanta got our federal funds and built a light-rail system.

 

 

The might-have-been lament is being played again this year in the Puget Sound area, among other arguments put forth by proponents of $54 billion ST-3, a proposal that would provide a 25-year basically blank check to Sound Transit to create a system that will connect an array of communities across three counties.

 

As posed at the start of his op-ed piece in the Seattle Times, my friend Charles Collins, whose background as a civic leader and transportation expert provide impeccable credentials for the integrity of his comments: "$54 billion. Really? The sheer size of Sound Transit 3 staggers the imagination. A Google search yields nothing remotely comparable ever asked of local voters...anywhere."

 

Collins went on to point out that Sound Transit's own statistics show it won't reduce congestion, despite its election-season claims. "Buried in Sound Transit's original Environmental Impact Statement is a very different story: their own analysis indicated that there would be no difference in congestion whether the rail system were built or not built."

 

One story for an environmental impact statement and another for the voters might seem dishonest. But the fact is, I and most citizens have a respect for the integrity of individual members of the board, each a local elected official in one of three counties.

 

But I'm equally convinced that as a board, the members' candor tends to give way to the group reality that commitment of major public dollars means major income to an array of contractors, architects, professional firms, and so on. And each makes campaign contributions to those board members when they run for re-election to their local offices, which is obviously the main function of each of those elected officials, with Sound Transit board membership a secondary, or supportive, duty.

 

That's why there should be no surprise in the story this week in the Seattle Times that 62 percent of the money for the campaign on behalf of ST-3 has come from contractors, engineers, suppliers, unions and others for whom the $54 billion would be an income and jobs windfall.

 

There are many who have made the points Collins made but I quote him primarily because his views were so cogently stated in his Times' op-ed piece and because, while others may be assailed for having vested interested in opposing ST-3, even proponents of the plan would concede there's not much way to try to question his credentials.

 

Collins, incidentally, was being a little generous in saying nothing similar has been asked of local voters. The fact is that the amount local voters here are being asked to approve with ST-3 is 25 percent greater than voters in the entire state of California approved in 1968 so 800 miles of high-speed rail lines connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco could be built. So the three-county proposal is greater than even the pricetag on the most costly plan put forward in the nation's largest state.

 

The California plan, naturally described to voters in 2008 as "visionary," is to whoosh riders from Southern California to San Fran in an unheard-of two hours and 40 minutes. The trains would reduce air pollution and ease congestion on the state's famously clogged freeways and construction would create tens of thousands of new jobs. So the voters approved $9.95 billion in bonds of the $43 billion plan to usher in a new era of transit for the Golden State.

 

But times have changed, and the recent past has been a rough time for the project. The latest poll shows that 59 percent of Californians would vote against the bonds if they could do it again. Cost estimates have grown from $43 billion to at least $98 billion, and the completion date of the first phase has been pushed back 13 years.

 

If ST-3 is approved and in a few years it becomes obvious that $54 billion and 25 years are dramatic underestimates, which would parallel what is happening in California, the same inability of the voters in this region to rethink what would have become a very bad idea will amount to the same unfulfillable wish to do it over.

 

In fact, there's a double down on the logic of a voter review somewhere, ideally as stages of the project are completed, and that's what Collins and others point to as it being obvious "that we are at the threshold of the most fundamental transportation revolution since the combustion engine."

 

Autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles may provide a chuckle to some, but to companies ranging from Ford to Google, there's full speed ahead with the knowledge that autonomous vehicles will be here with a prominent if not dominant transportation role.

And, as Collins notes in his op-ed piece, "Opinions vary on when self-driving (autonomous) vehicles will arrive in large numbers on American streets, some say in as little as five years, some say as many as 15. No one says 2040, the year ST3 is complete."

 

"What public policies and investments will be required to take advantage of self-driving technology?" Collins questions. "New lanes? Publicly owned fleets? Contracted services with the Googles, Fords and Ubers? But whatever makes sense, it is clear that approval of ST3 rail system will commandeer all reasonably available local transportation funds for a generation and preclude any chance to advance new technology."

 

That's why I find it intriguing, in a most troubling way, to have people I basically respect being absolutely adamant in insisting there's no reason that voters should have an opportunity to review the progress of a $54 billion quarter-century plan at various intervals.

Never mind that it might be an outdated transportation mode in a quarter century.

 

To echo the most compelling of Collins' comments: "Really?"
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Forman's quarter-century focus on rural development

 

 

Washington has been more attuned than most states to the reality that creating successful economies in rural communities results from helping them grow and nurture what they have rather than merely trying to attract businesses from elsewhere to relocate.

    Maury Forman
Now as Maury Forman, the man who built this state's image of focusing on rural economic development for nearly 26 years, passes the baton, a new program aimed at attracting successful urban entrepreneurs to mentor rural business people is seen by his successor as a "priority program" for the future.

Recruitment and retention, generally in that order, have been the key words that guided the programs of economic development organizations in smaller communities across the country for years, usually with marginal success. But retention has been a generally amorphous patchwork.

But for a quarter century as senior manager in the Washington State Department of Commerce and head of the Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness, Forman has kept his focus on enhancing the success of rural communities by emphasizing the words nurture and growth.
Forman, who has served under five governors, a similar number of department heads and in an agency that has occasionally changed names to connote sometimes different emphasis, is retiring from the role he stepped into in 1991 and soon thereafter began crafting a rural-support image for the state.

And his vision for rural enhancement has grown over the years, coming to emphasize the importance of entrepreneurs and more recently the importance of young people to their communities.
He once shared with me the view that if programs are to enhance local economic development they "must nurture the belief that young people who grow up in rural communities can be guided to start businesses in their own community rather than moving to urban centers."
"Just as young people are looking at new ways to enter the work force other than working for someone else, so too are communities looking for ways other than recruitment of businesses from elsewhere to grow their economies," Forman told me in an interview last year.
Anne Nelson      
Now Forman is turning over the role of guiding rural communities on successful economic development paths to Anne Nelson, who has started several businesses and worked as a community and economic developer before becoming an instructor at Walla Walla Community College in business, entrepreneurship and marketing.
In an example of Forman's typical sense of humor, he says "she will essentially be serving those rural areas as Executive Innovator and Enlightener of Ideas Officer (or EIEIO as we say on the farm)."
In fact, Nelson shared with me an incident in the Eastern Washington community of Dayton that she thinks may serve as a model for what she hopes will emerge as urban-rural mentoring.

Seems a much-loved bakery in Dayton was closing because the owner was retiring. Nelson heard discussion about it at a local restaurant, was aware of a young woman who was hoping to someday own a restaurant and created a contact with retired Seattle restaurant owner Paul MacKay. The founder of El Gaucho and a chain of other restaurants had retired with his wife a few years ago to Walla Walla to a 100-acre spread to grow wheat and grapes.

But once he learned of the Dayton bakery situation, MacKay soon got the young woman set up as owner manager of the bakery.
"I see the support for that young, aspiring bakery owner from Paul MacKay as a model we can see more and more of across this state," Nelson said. "The key is that rural entrepreneurs are clear about their sense that mentoring is even more important than capital."

The program, called Startup365, has been running for about a year under the management of Greater Spokane Inc., the region's chamber of commerce, aimed at connecting Spokane area business people as mentors for entrepreneurs and small businesses in Asotin and Whitman counties.

But Nelson says Startup 365, created by the legislature, is aimed at retaining the intellectual wealth and economic vitality of rural areas by focusing on entrepreneurship and small business growth. "That will help communities flourish organically and will be a priority program that I can spend more time on, functioning a large part of my time in Walla Walla."

"I do believe that urban-rural mentorship will be a key piece in building rural businesses, especially as I see the urban entrepreneurs being more in touch with the technologies and tools that help businesses be successful," said Nelson.

One of those technology tools, Skype, she hopes will be employed at least once a week in connecting rural entrepreneurs with their urban mentors. The Spokane program is being supported by Avista, the Spokane-based utility that has a long track record of supporting business development in the region.

But before Nelson gets to focus on developing the urban-rural mentorship idea, her first order of business will be overseeing in November the fifth annual Global Entrepreneurship Week activities in all 39 counties.

Although in Washington, the annual celebration of innovators and job creators involving 88 countries last year became Global Entrepreneurship Month. Nowhere is GEW, or GEM in this state, treated as a bigger deal than what Forman put in place in Washington, which is the only state with events in all counties.

Jack Schultz, whose focus on assisting rural economic growth helped him come to be known as the guru of rural economic development as keynoter at more than 400 conferences around the country and author of "Boomtown USA: The 7 ½ Keys to Big Success in Small Towns," credits entrepreneurial support as a key to rural success.

Schultz, of Effingham, IL., whose Agracel Inc. is the largest industrial development company focused on developing projects and creating jobs in rural towns, told me he had not heard of a mentorship program like Startup 365.

But Schultz, who said he has long been an admirer of Forman's, said "I think it makes a lot of sense and is something very innovative."

Referring to findings from his visits to hundreds of small towns to gather information for his book, Schultz said in an email: "Embracing entrepreneurism in communities was a key factor which differentiated great communities from also-rans.  Increasingly, we are seeing those great communities taking it a step up by tying their local entrepreneurs up with their young people, educating them on both entrepreneurship and also the great things happening in the private sector of their towns."
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'Tipping point' pledge for planned Bellevue arts center

A "tipping point" matching pledge of $20 million, half from the Arakawa Foundation, for the planned Tateuchi performing arts center in downtown Bellevue was announced Wednesday evening at a festive gathering of supporters at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue next to the site for the planned $200 million facility.

The $10 million pledged by Yoko and Minoru Arakawa, to name the 2,000-seat centerpiece of the center the Arakawa Concert Hall, puts the facility $122 million in cash and pledges on the way to the spring of 2018 groundbreaking of the $200 million facility, which is increasingly viewed as serving the region rather than just the Eastside.

Cathi Hatch, chair of the campaign, said the Arakawa gift, matched by $5 million each from the Freeman Family and Microsoft Challenge Matches, means "we need another $58 million to go to groundbreaking." Arakawa is founder and former president of Ninetendo.

While the facility will be the venue for many Eastside performing arts groups, the collection of Seattle arts leadership on the Tateuchi advisory board is evidence that the Center is coming to be viewed by Seattle arts organizations as an asset rather than the threat it was viewed as when it was first announced a few years ago.

The center, when completed, is viewed as complementing Seattle arts venues like McCaw Hall, Benaroya Hall, the 5th Avenue and Paramount theaters while filling a regional need by providing a more convenient venue for Eastside residents while offering an Eastside platform for Seattle arts groups.

Other significant donors were also honored at the Wednesday evening event, including the Tateuchi Foundation, for whose donation the center is named. Tateuchi board chair Alex Smith acknowledged tbe role the Bellevue City Council played with its unanimous vote in May of 2015 to provide $20 million toward construction.

The initial boost, when the center was first envisioned, came from the Kemper Freeman family committed the land where the center will be built.

" Between now And groundbreaking in the spring of 2018, our campaign committee will continue to focus on recruiting Founders Society-level donors," said Hatch, who added that donors at all levels will soon be sought, "including children with their penny jars."

The changing attitude of Seattle performing arts leaders toward a Bellevue concert center is in response to an increasing reluctancd of Eastsiders, who account for more than 50 percent of Seattle arts subscribes and Seattle ticketholders, to face the twin traffic challenges of Lake Washington bridges to Seattle and traffic tie-ups in downtown Seattle.

The strategy of Seattle arts organizations is to use the 2,000-seat center for the double benefit of attracting new audience while helping retain existing ticketholders and supporters.

The way it might work, for example, is a ticketholder for a season of 10 performances of a Seattle play, symphony or opera might wind up with seven of those in Seattle and three on the Eastside.

As I noted in a column last fall, the center isn't being done on the cheap, but its supporters like to talk about how the $200 million pricetag compares with projects like the recently opened Las Vegas center, the same eize, that had a pricetag of $400 million.
 

 
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Sound Transit ballot plan faces emerging challenge

As Sound Transit marks its 20th birthday, it faces the biggest-ever threat to its future in the form of an emerging transportation alternative that may well cause voters in the three Central Puget Sound counties to reject the agency's $54 billion transportation package to allow the alternative time to develop.

Not even in their darkest nightmare would Sound Transit's board and the proponents of its megabillion-dollar ballot measure likely have envisioned the emergence of a growing fervor over a new transportation innovation just as the time for a November voter decision on dramatically extending the rail-based package nears.

The transportation innovation that's attracting increasing attention is autonomous vehicles, previously referred to as self-driving cars, with both automobile and truck manufacturers projecting emergence of fully autonomous vehicles within five years. And the Seattle area is being talked up as the nation's launch region for this development because companies like Google, Car2Go and ReachNow have committed to bring that about.

The challenge facing Sound Transit is that its proposal would put a lock on the region's transportation future for the next quarter century, tying it to a system for which rail is the keystone. By then autonomous vehicles and the congestion-easing result of their emergence might well render rail the transportation innovation of yesterday.

And the uncertainty surrounding the transportation future has created a growing sense, expressed not just by Sound Transit critics but also some longtime supporters, that rather than a full-blown package committing the region to a 25-year plan, a series of packages should be placed before the voters. The most recent example of growing concern over the measure called ST-3 was the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce board's decision Tuesday to oppose it.

Those pressing the idea of sending Sound Transit back to the drawing board would seek ballot proposals in staged packages, with a vote to provide funding for one segment, which would be followed by another vote when that project was completed, and so on. Then at any point, the voters could decide times have indeed changed and no more Sound Transit rail construction is desired.

As one of those longtime supporter put it when I called to get his candid thoughts: "If you are saying the voters should be offered segments of the total plan over a period of years as each prior segment is completed, of course that's logical."

But Sound Transit, officially the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, formed in 1996 by the county councils of King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, is looking to corral all 25 years' worth of funding from voters. There is a clear Sound Transit reluctance to even contemplate going back to the drawing board.

As longtime Sound Transit critic, Bellevue developer and business leader Kemper Freeman Jr., sees it, Sound Transit realizes that ST-3 is likely the last time voters might be willing to consider a mega transportation package with taxes that will hit every property owner in the three counties. Too many things, including transportation alternatives and other uses for that massive property tax amount, are certain to emerge in future years.

Intriguingly, this is the second time in its 20 years that an alternative to Sound Transit's rail focus has been offered. Despite the business and political credentials of the five people who teamed up, a year after Sound Transit began operation, to suggest a lower-cost and more efficient idea than the then-planned $1.6 billion Link Light Rail, the idea was basically brushed aside back in 2000.

The plan was called Ride Free Express, offered by two former governors John Spellman, a Republican, and Democrat Booth Gardner, along with John Runstad and Matt Griffin, two well-regarded business leaders, and Charles Collins, one of the region's long-respected transportation experts.

The plan would have eliminated fares for existing as well an expanded express bus fleet and created vanpools, reducing peak congestion by 5 percent at a price a sixth of the cost of new riders on Sound Transit's Link Light Rail, "even assuming they could build, LINK for the original $1.6 billion," Collins said. A recent Seattle Times analysis showed that in the end LINK wasn't built for that price, actually exceeding its budget by 87 percent.

"All of our projections, including that our plan would attract six times the number of new riders, flowed from well-established and independent market studies or actual transit experience," Collins notes. "Not a single board member except Rob McKenna thought that the issues we raised were even slightly interesting."

"They were committed to a project whereas we wanted to reduce congestion," Collins summarized pointly.

"Nothing has changed," said Collins, whose credentials include having been Spellman's Chief King County Adminstrator, Director of Metro Transit and chair of the Northwest Power Planning Council, the State Higher Education Coordinating Board and the State Commission on Student Learning.

Indeed while Sound Transit operates express bus services in addition to rail and light rail service to the region, there has been little doubt in the community that members of the board view themselves as creators of the region's light rail system.

Sound Transit and its proponents have routinely tried to picture the opposition as primarily Kemper Freeman., since a wealthy Eastside businessman makes an easy target for those Seattlites who view rail as something approaching Holy Grail. 

Collins, with impeccable credentials for public service, business success and transportation expertise, as well as being a decorated Vietnam veteran and retired Army Reserve Brigadier General, makes an opponent who many Sound Transit believers will find it uncomfortable to attack.

"If we are committed for 25 years and a good idea like autonomous van pools takes shape, good luck since the bond attorneys have made sure the money can't be diverted," Collins told me. "And autonomous van pools would be a good idea and could also be an energy answer."

Freeman sought this year to boost his years-long campaign for roads over rails with report he funded called Mobility 21 that outlined a fact-based alternative to the existing long-range plans. He has presented Mobility 21 at an array of speaking engagements around the region. 
Freeman told me the first presentation on the Mobility 21 study was made to officials of the Puget Sound Regional Council, which oversees dispensing federal dollars to the four counties.

"They admitted to us that the idea of autonomous cars had never been envisioned in their 25-year plan," freeman said.

Will autonomous vehicles become an ubiquitous presence on the region's roadways soon? Of course not. But technological advancements, including accident-avoidance devices, in vehicles before that happens will enhance congestion-reductions efforts. And some such technological advances could require commitment of dollars from the public, which would be more difficult to draw out if $54 billion in taxes is still being imposed.

And it's interesting that Daimler Trucks North America CEO Martin Daum talked recently about how he allowed a robotic truck to drive him nearly 25 miles, without his ever touching the steering wheel or brakes. He said his digital pilot used a combination of GPS, map data and sensors to drive the autonomous truck across highways and two-way streets.

And Freeman admitted to me, in one interview, that he has taken a half dozen trips, logging up to 125 miles, both freeway and city streets, with his autonomous Tesla. He said his hands were poised beneath the steering wheel in case his intervention was needed, bur that he never actually had his hands on the wheel.

Freeman and other ST-3 opponents haven't yet been seeking slogans for the final months of their campaign, but given the new realities facing the $54 billion plan, it could be referred at this time as "not a sound plan."
 
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Huntsman World /Senior Games turns 30 this October

Jon Huntsman Sr.’s vision of creating an event that would attract hundreds of seniors to Southern Utah annually to engage in competition with each other in what he named the World Senior Games has become, over three decades, likely the most successful event of its kind in …well…the world.

Fulfillment of the prominent Utah businessman-philanthropist’s conviction that seniors could be lured to a remote but appealing corner of the West to demonstrate that their competitiveness remained strong despite advancing years will be played out again this fall for the 30th time.

Thus the City of St. George, along with officials and volunteers of the event itself, prepare to entertain almost 11,000 seniors during the first two weeks of October with athletes from every state and many nations. In fact, as Michelle Graves, Director of Sponsor Relations for the Games, emailed me: “Our goal this year is to host 10,950 athletes, which is the number of days in 30 years,” a goal only 400 ahead of the participant total for last year. “We also hope to host 30 nations, one for each year.”

I am registered again this October to be among the competitor in the 100 meters, against other “old guys” of my age (competition in all events is on the basis of five-year increments, as in 50-54 on up). But in addition to track and field, others of the thousands on hand will be participating in events ranging from archery, badminton and basketball to cycling, tennis, swimming and softballr.

The appellation “World” that Huntsman’s marketing acumen attached to the games’ name has, without doubt, been a key attraction for seniors willing to travel to a spot that you don’t get to easily so they can have the satisfaction of competing with the best of peers of their age.

I don’t know whether the intent of Huntsman and his wife, Karen, in their commitment to these games was because of the goodwill it has obviously fostered or economic development for the picturesque region known as “Color Country,” or “Red Rock Country.”

But the fact is both have occurred. The population of St. George was about 25,000 when the games were first held and has now grown to more than three times that at just over 80,000.

As long-time readers of the Harp are likely aware, participating in these games has held an appeal for me since I first learned of them in 2002, wanted to be a part of something called “World” games,  and came to run in the 100 meters and 200 meter events a year later, to my surprise finishing sixth in the 100.

It’s what attracted me back in 2011 after colon cancer surgery, needing to prove something to myself, and was amazed to finish third in the 100 meters in the 70-74 group. And again last year, when I finished second in 75-79 100-meter runners.

These games are a success story that Huntsman himself, now 79, probably couldn’t have envisioned. And except for those aware of Huntsman’s life of giving and caring, people might well be surprised that a multibillionaire who was in the process of building the world’s largest chemical company of its kind and developing a noted cancer hospital in Salt Lake City would have the time or interest to worry about it.

This Harp is, in fact, as much about a regard I have for Huntsman, whom I have never met, as the regard I have held for more than a dozen years for the annual gathering of senior athletes he has been committed to fostering and supporting, making it possible for me and others to test ourselves in peer competition.

A person like Huntsman is particularly important at a time when anger and hostility seem to have become what too many people bring to interactions with each other, rather than goodwill and regard.

Huntsman, a leader in his Mormon church, is a two-time cancer survivor who founded an institute with the goal of curing the disease and dispenses his substantial wealth to an array of causes, in addition to having taken the Giving Pledge, the promise taken by the world’s richest people to give away more than half of their wealth.

Huntsman’s philanthropic giving now exceeds $1.2 billion but he suggests he has a long way to go since his stated intent is to give all his wealth away.

Huntsman is wont to sum up his view of the non-giving wealthy thusly: "The people I particularly dislike are those who say 'I'm going to leave it in my will.' What they're really saying is 'If I could live forever, I wouldn't give any of it away.'

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© 2016 Mike Flynn

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