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For fourth-generation Stanton, stewardship trumps profits at Washington Trust Bank

"When something has been in your family for four generations, stewardship becomes more important than a focus on profits," says Peter F. Stanton, chairman and CEO of Spokane-based Washington Trust Bank, in explaining how his company escaped most of the banking turmoil of the past four years.

 

Peter F. Stanton
Peter F. Stanton

"That doesn't mean we spend our time looking in the rearview mirror," added Stanton, who was named president in 1990 to become the fourth-generation head of the bank that is now the oldest and largest privately owned commercial bank in the Northwest.

 

"We're focused on the future, but securing that future has always led us to have concentration limits on our lending," adds Stanton, whose great grandfather bought the bank, founded in 1902, in 1919.

 

Pete Stanton was 34 when he assumed the role of president, second youngest bank president ever in Spokane, second only to his father, Philip Stanton, who had become president of the bank in 1962 at age 31. As Phil Stanton turned the reins over to his son, he remained as chairman for most of the decade of the '90s.

 

It was that limit on "concentration" that allowed Washington Trust to avoid the disastrous rush into real estate and construction lending that felled a large number of banks, including three of its locally based competitors, although Stanton's bank found itself eating some bad loans.

 

At their worst, Washington Trust's non-performing assets "were in the high 4's," concedes Stanton, almost four times the current level of 1.24 percent. "But at its worst, we were about half of what most of our competitors were."

 

It was the soaring number of non-performing loans from zealous construction and real estate lending that brought competitors to their knees.

 

Sterling Savings Bank, publicly traded and about twice the size of Washington Trust, was faced with staggering totals of soured loans and was forced by the FDIC and state regulators to oust its top two executives, bring in new leadership and raise $300 million. It accomplished that and more and emerged from under the thumb of regulators to begin anew under aggressive and acquisition-minded fresh leadership.

 

American West, about half WTB's size, actually sought bankruptcy protection to avoid a takeover by regulators and re-emerged under the new ownership of SKBHC Holdings, LLC, a bank holding company backed by private equity groups.

 

And Bank of Whitman, although headquartered in Colfax and with assets of only about $580 million, but with a major presence in Spokane, became one of the state's failed banks when it was closed by state regulators in August of 2011. Its deposits and liabilities were assumed by Tacoma-based Columbia Bank.

 

Washington Trust actually took advantage of the turmoil other banks found themselves in when, in February of 2009, it acquired tiny Pinnacle Bank of Beaverton, which had been closed by Oregon bank regulators, to expand the Spokane bank's role in the Portland area.

 

Despite the re-emergence of its pre-crisis competitors under new leadership and financing, Washington Trust has held its own, seeing its net income, loan volume and lending in targeted sectors advance dramatically in the past two years.

 

And Stanton enthuses that "2012 is going to be a great year for us," noting that net income after two quarters was $11.9 million, compared with $16 million for all of 2011, which was up dramatically from the $9.1 million in all of 2010.

 

Yet caution remains the watchword for the bank, which boasts $4 billion in assets and a $3 billion loan portfolio generated from 40 offices and financial centers spread across parts of three states.

 

Stanton points out that "our loan loss reserve, compared to nonperforming loans, is 200 percent, while most banks have a reserve level under 100 percent."

 

"That's another of those things that comes about when you're private." He adds. "You have more interest in a fortress balance sheet than trying to bring everything possible to the bottom line."

 

"My dad was fond of saying that telling a bank it has too much capital is a little like telling a pilot he has too much runway," Joked Stanton.

 

I asked Stanton if Washington Trust was likely to be an acquirer as consolidation occurs, or become an acquisition.

 

"There for certain will be consolidation because of overcapacity," he replied. "And I think we're likely to be on the acquiring side of that for several reasons. One is because we've decided we wouldn't make very good hired help."

 

In fact, an acquisition binge wouldn't be the first time that has happened for Washington Trust, since in the '80s and '90s, its expansion came about largely through acquisition of successful banks in Central Washington and Northern Idaho. Plus Stanton created a private banking and commercial loan presence in Western Washington, where about a third of the bank's business is now done.

 

I asked him if there's a fifth generation waiting in the wings and he replied: "We have a couple of fifth generation kids working at the bank, but in a large complicated business there are no promises."

 

"We have never said that as a family we need to have a family member at the top, he said, adding, "There has been several times when we have had a non-family member running things," including current president and COO Jack Heath. But a Stanton has always been the chairman.

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Two years on, Leiweke remains admirer of Seattle sports teams and their fans

Although it's been more than two years since Tod Leiweke was lured to Tampa to turn around that city's hockey fortunes the way he restored the luster of the Seattle Seahawks, he remains an ardent admirer of the Seattle sports scene and its fans. He also sings the praises of his current community-minded owner, Jeff Vinik, the way he touted the community focus of his Seattle boss, Paul Allen.

 

While now far distant in terms of miles, he remains an up-close booster of the Seahawks, whose fortunes he turned around, and the MLS Seattle Sounders, whose franchise he helped create, during the seven years he set down roots in the Seattle area.

 

Tod Leiweke
Tod Leiweke

"I love the idea of the Sounders playing before more than 60,000 fans," Leiweke enthused about the MLS team's recent contest. "But think about the fact that in the space of five days, the Seattle area turned out 170,000 fans for the Sounders, Seahawks and the (University of Washington) Huskies. That's unbelievable for any region."

 

But Leiweke, a self-described "eternal optimist," declined to involve himself in the controversy over the proposed new sports arena in Seattle's SoDo District south of downtown, other than to praise Seattle-raised investor Chris Hansen who wants to build the facility on land he now owns.

 

I asked him, in a recent telephone conversation, whether Hansen's dream of attracting both NHL and NBA franchises for Seattle to play in his planned but not-yet-approved arena, was realistic.

 

"It could work, yes," he replied. "But for the market to absorb two teams won't be easy."

 

Almost from the day in early 2010 that Boston financier Jeffrey Vinik bought the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning and the sports and entertainment facility since renamed the Tampa Bay Times Forum and moved his family to Tampa, he went Leiweke hunting. He was rebuffed at first in his efforts to have Leiweke forsake Seattle and come to Florida as CEO the team and the entertainment arena.

 

But by the time Leiweke announced in July of 2010 that he had accepted the position as CEO of Vinik's Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment, as well as its subsidiaries the Lightning and what was then the St. Pete Times Forum, he acknowledged that an ownership stake in the parent company had closed the deal.

 

The Lightning needed to rebuild a brand battered by three years without a postseason appearance and two years of mismanagement by the previous owners.

 

Coming to Tampa and the Lightning was a return for Leiweke to his first love, hockey. He had been president of the Minnesota Wild, which he built into a major NHL success, and before that was with the Vancouver Canucks, prior to his hiring to turn around the Seahawks.

 

When Allen had coaxed Leiweke then 50, to Seattle to turn around the fortunes of a once-proud franchise, the team was believed losing money, but in fact, no one knew for sure because until Leiweke arrived to bring business acumen and marketing savvy, there apparently were no budgets. As Leiweke once confided, "when they ran out of funds they just asked Paul for more."

 

When Leiweke arrived in Seattle in 2003, the season-ticket total was 30,000 and his first game as CEO wasn't a sellout. But by the time the Seahawks reached their only Super Bowl two seasons later, every game was a sellout and season-ticket holders now top 60,000.

 

This year was to bring two big visibility opportunities for Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment. But storm clouds threatened both. A major renovation of Tampa Bay Times Forum was carried out to make it ready to host the Republican National Convention, which was threatened with cancellation but in the end was only delayed by Hurricane Isaac.

 

But since the bulk of convention week took place, the facility, ranked the nation's fourth busiest, got good visibility as backdrop for the political gathering.

 

"The arena wasn't ready when the new ownership arrived and so we funded a $50 million renovation of a publicly owned building," Leiweke said. "The building looks almost new now."

 

The other big visibility opportunity was for the Lightning, plans to mark the franchise's 20th anniversary, described by one observer this way: :The 2012-13 season was supposed to be marketing gold, with the celebration of Tampa Bay's 20th to be the thread that tied together an expected on-resurgence."

 

"This has to be frustrating, even for a self-described 'eternal optimist,'" I suggested to Leiweke.

 

"I don't really feel that way," he replied. "If you look up Jeff Vinik, you see a guy who is committed world class and getting a right-sized collective bargaining agreement is part of us getting that done."

"I have always believed that no one follows a pessimist," he added. "Optimistic leadership is the key to leading."

 

"We have all the stuff for the 20th planned," Leiweke said. "If we have to compress it, we will. The best thing we can do for this franchise is put it on a trajectory for the next 20 years."

 

In talking about Vinik's role in community, Leiweke is overboard in his enthusiasm for a unique charitable program the owner put in place for the Lightning. Vinik and his  wife honored a Community Hero at each of the Lightning's 41 regular season games, and awarded a $50,000 check to a non-profit charity of his or her choice, a total of more than $2 million year.  

 

"Even though we're in a work stoppage, he announced he's going to make the same $50,000 donations," Leiweke said. "I've been lucky to work for two pretty good owners."

 

Our first telephone conversation took place just after Leiweke had returned from a 90-minute outing on his paddleboard off Anna Maria Island, where the Leiweke family has a retreat about 60 miles from Tampa.

 

"I love it out there," Leiweke said of his paddleboarding, a sport he fell in love with after moving to Tampa Bay. "But something big was just surfacing and I told myself 'time to get home.'" That's the kind of challenge that doesn't occur when he pursues his other entertainment of "beer-league" hockey. 

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Mike Luis' book offers perspectives on Seattle's global role today, and tomorrow

Michael Luis, then in his early 30s and a vice president with the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, recalls two incidents in the early 1990s that brought home to him that Seattle's star was rising rapidly on the national business stage.

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The first was 20 years ago this month when he walked past the office of legendary Chamber President George Duff and saw a "huge blow-up of a Fortune magazine cover with the headline 'Best Cities for Business.'"

 

Mike Luis
Mike Luis

There was the Seattle skyline behind Boeing CEO Frank Shrontz, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and Minoru Arakawa of Ninetendo of America, all pictured with then-Mayor Norm Rice. "I had glimpsed the holy grail for a public affairs staffer at a chamber of commerce," as Luis characterized it in is just-published Century 21 City.

 

The second incident, which he describes as "the only time in my life I felt like a rock star," was at a 1994 gathering of chambers of commerce staff members in Ft. Worth when "colleagues from around the country knew all about Seattle and more than a few of them asked me if I could find them a job there."

 

It's long past being news that, as the 20th Century wound down and this century began to unfold, Seattle had become a place where entrepreneurial success and innovation had put the region's stamp on the economy of not just the nation, but also the world.

 

But Luis, with his background of long-time involvement in public-policy from government to housing issues, has written a book that puts some interesting perspective on the evolution of the Seattle area's image. He delves into issues like why has Seattle been successful and what questions that haven't been asked might be important as the 21st century goes forward.

 

And in describing Seattle's evolution, he provides a detailed look at the larger question of how metropolitan areas turn themselves into the essential building blocks of the global economy.

 

Luis, a third-generation Seattle resident who resides with his wife and three children in the same Medina home where he and his father both grew up, has been involved for the past 25 years with the issues and leadership efforts that have impacted the growth and development of the Seattle area economy.

 

Elected this year to the Medina city council and now serving as Medina mayor, Luis has also been involved in projects with other cities in this country and Europe and has engaged in economic research involving regions around the world.

 

There's no shortage of books about Seattle since nearly two dozen titles relating to the city can be found on Amazon's site. They range from Bill Speidel's irreverent look at Seattle's founding wealth, Sons of the Profits, to Murray Morgan's Skid Road, Emmett Watsons' Digressions of a Native Son and Walt Crowley's look at Seattle in the '60s,Rites of Passage to works on architecture, hikes and history and trees and parks.

 

But Luis' focus on how Seattle became home to world-leading companies and a magnet for talent from every continent, along with a future spin on what that means, presents an economic look at Seattle's rise and emergence as a global city.

 

Luis, in a visit over lattes at his neighborhood coffee shop, suggested that this region needs to develop some data on why some smart people come here and stay, but also why some opt not to come here.

 

"Although we grow some of our own smart people for the global companies here, the hiring for those companies is global," he notes. "So getting people to want to come here in the future is a key and we are missing any notion of why people stay here."

 

"And we don't know why some who were sought by these global companies decided either not to come here, or not to stay here once they did come, and learning those things could be important to this region's continued competition against other superstar cities," he added. "A successful business will have a strategy to learn by contacting former customers to ask why they left and some similar concern about star talent that we either failed to get, or lost, might well be of value."

 

Luis argues in his book, as he has in policy studies and other discussions, that "in-migration of highly skilled people from elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad constitutes the single most important factor that will determine the future success of the Seattle economy."

 

Luis has allowed himself the luxury of wandering across a wide array of growth, globalization and why-here discussion points. But perhaps his most interesting discussion centered on the economic implications of climate change.

 

In noting that coastal areas, like Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area, "offer a climate-friendly alternative" with lower individual carbon footprint because of mild weather in both summer and winter, Luis sets the stage for some interesting future discussions.

 

"If West Coast metropolitan areas begin absorbing a larger share of the nation's growth, more Americans could lower their household carbon footprint while minimizing the impact on their lifestyles," Luis writes.

 

"I realize I will not win friends by suggesting that Seattle should invite more development and growth, but the truth is the Pacific Coast does offer a climate-friendly alternative" for future growth and development, adds Luis, who for 10 years ran The Housing Partnership, a think tank that explored market-rate housing affordability. "Yet West Coast areas have among the nation's most restrictive policies on housing development."

 

Offering a thought over latte that both of us realized isn't likely to find much traction in national political policies, Luis observed "Nationally, we should be encouraging people to live on the West Coast rather than the Sun Belt. To pat ourselves on the back about all our environmental virtues but, at the same time, restrict growth and push it to the Sun Belt smacks of hypocrisy."

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Washington lieutenant governor post once seen as an easy road into statewide office

The fact that the role of lieutenant governor in Washington was basically envisioned in the state constitution as a part-time position made it historically a job coveted by those who first made a name outside of politics, then sought an easy road into statewide office.

 

William Jennings (Wee) Coyle, a former football star and decorated war hero, started it all in 1920 when he parlayed his name familiarity into a landslide victory in the race for the state's second-highest elective office, hoping to become governor four years later.

 

Coyle was only 32, a handsome former UW star quarterback just back from the World War I battlefields when he strategized to use the lieutenant governor role to position himself to run for governor, a race he ran in 1924, but lost.

 

For most of the next seven decades, the office was held by those who had first risen to prominence beyond the political sphere.

 

That's now merely a part of political history in Washington since current Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat and former state legislator from Shelton, has brought importance to the position beyond the constitutional ones of filling in for the governor and serving as presiding officer of the State Senate.

 

During the four terms since he was elected in 1996, Owen, who is running for re-election this year, has created for the office the role of a goodwill ambassador for the state in international trade and promotion of Washington products overseas. Plus he has led trade missions in parts of the world where the title "lieutenant governor" opens doors.

 

But the history of the position, next in line for the state's top elective office if anything happens to the governor, has provided some interesting political lore.

 

The fact the lieutenant governor is often described as "a heartbeat away from the governor's chair" has seemed to hold little importance for Washington voters, despite the fact that three of the first six lieutenant governors rose to the top state office because of the deaths of the governors.

 

Colorful Victor A. Meyers, a mustachioed maestro who earned a reputation as a big-name band leader, decided to seek the office as a Democrat in 1932. He won and was re-elected four times before being defeated in 1952 by Emmett Anderson, who had gained fame as the "Grand Exalted Ruler" of the Elks.

 

But Anderson made an unsuccessful run for governor in 1956 and John A. Cherberg, a failed football coach at the University of Washington, ran for the job as a Democrat and won, commencing a 32-year stand in the job that made him the longest tenured lieutenant governor ever in the nation.

 

The most interesting effort to boost a non-politician into the job came in 1968 when then-Gov. Dan Evans and his state Republican chairman, C. Montgomery (Gummie) Johnson, hatched a plan to oust Cherberg from the office, which by then he had held for 12 years.

 

They were seeking to boost the fortunes of Art Fletcher, a black city councilman from Pasco who had gathered some national prominence for development of a self-help program in the East Pasco ghetto.

 

Johnson knew that if a candidate like Fletcher, the state's first African-American to be touted for statewide office, was to have a chance, he had to first prove that he could beat a name candidate.

 

So Johnson talked popular and prominent hydroplane driver Bill Muncey into running for the post, once confiding off the record that Muncey had wanted to know what a lieutenant governor did. "Not a lot," Johnson had replied, with some honesty.

 

The political ploy worked to the extent that Fletcher, who a year later would earn a position in the Nixon Administration, won the GOP primary, but failed to dislodge Cherberg in the general election.

 

By the time he retired in 1988, Cherberg had built a reputation for integrity and even-handedness in his role as the State Senate's presiding officer. And with the election of Joel Pritchard, a respected Republican congressman and former legislator, the job took on a legitimacy and importance that Owen has continued to build on during his 16 years in the office.

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Clean-energy angel leader sees greater challenges ahead for cleantech investing

As the California Clean Energy Angel Fund that she launched five years ago winds down, Susan Preston's analysis of the opportunity to create a second "cleantech" fund has guided her to conclude "the bloom is off the rose of clean-energy investing."

 

"We have done a great deal of analysis into raising a second fund, and unfortunately, market timing is quite bad," said Preston, the former Seattle attorney who formed the first-of-its-kind angel fund for seed and start-up stage clean energy companies in August of 2007 and became its general partner. "The public and private markets are down on clean energy and the venture model itself is being questioned."

sue preston
Susan Preston CalCEF 

Byron McCann, co-chairman of the Northwest Energy Angels, agrees with Preston's assessment to the extent that "there isn't the excitement in the market that there was. All the fervor and bluster have faded to the point where we do deals that make sense on their own."

 

But McCann, whose angel group focuses on young "cleantech" companies in the Pacific Northwest, disagrees to the extent that he says he has seen "a robust deal flow, increased membership and angels interested in the clean-tech space."

Byron McCann
Byron McCann
Energy Angels 

In fact, his angel group, formed in 2006, had its best first half this year, by July investing more than $1 million in six companies, with the investments focused on energy efficiency, green-building technology and biomass power

 

Preston and McCann will be together on a panel Friday in Seattle at the Northwest Energy Angels Leadership Breakfast, where the topic of discussion will be Portland author Ron Pernick's new book, "Clean Tech Nation."

 

Pernick indicated his sense that "without a concerted energy policy, pieces of the energy puzzle may be in trouble," but added "states and cities are pushing for" clean-energy initiatives.

 

Pernick, Preston and McCann all agreed, in separate telephone conversations, that the erosion of venture-capital interest in clean-tech investments this year has brought challenges to the angel side of investing in the sector. Statistics indicate that venture funding in the clean-tech sector is off about 30 percent this year.

 

"Venture's turn off means venture funding no longer represents second-round financing for young companies, and IPOs are not likely, so that limits the exits and that limits the interest," Pernick said.

 

"Venture interest is down, but hasn't disappeared," said McCann. "A venture investment usually takes more money than investors anticipated and that's even more of a challenge in clean tech, which takes more money and more time, making it more complicated than what a lot of us are used to."

 

"So it's a challenge for angels, who have to decide what kind of a deal is this? Am I bridging to a venture round or is this an angel deal where we're going to grow the company," McCann said.

 

Preston, in her typically direct fashion, said "a lot of the cleantech companies were walking dead and VC's kept putting money into the walking dead. We all have these walking dead or zombies that we keep piling money into looking for some turnaround and instead the outcome is a turnoff."

 

Early this year, I had Preston keynote a gathering at the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership in Palm Desert and she was bullish about the sector and about the prospects for a new fund.

 

But what she found in the months that followed was the erosion of venture-capital interest and waning interest on the part of major institutional investors.

 

"All the individual investors wanted to do another fund and we had positive feedback from all the limited partners," Preston explained. "But the institutional investors were going to funds focused on later-stage investing and fewer were looking at cleantech."

 

I asked her if there was any cleantech area for which she was still bullish and she said "I see a lot of opportunity in energy efficiency," noting that one company in which her fund invested is Berkeley-based Alphabet Energy, which captures waste heat and turns it into energy.

 

Preston helped form the Seattle women's angel network, Seraph, in the late '90s and was a Kauffman Foundation entrepreneur in residence in Seattle. She was retained by the non-profit California Clean Energy Fund (CalCEF) six years ago to develop the model for a seed-stage clean energy fund.

 

She moved to the Bay Area to manage the $11 million boutique fund, in which the non-profit CalCEF was the key funding source, supported by a group of individual investors.

 

Preston, McCann and Pernick all agreed that the predictability that attracts investors requires a national energy policy.

 

"This country has a choice to make relating to energy and right now clean-energy has been villanized by partisan politics," said Pernick. "All energy industries from oil, coal and nuclear to renewable and clean require government support, both regulatory and financial."

 

McCann scored "the vaguery of energy policies" and Preston suggested that "what would really help is a clean-energy act," noting that "regulation is essential in our industry." But she added, "My hope of federal legislation is very low."

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While Dems have had lock on governor's office, GOP has longer hold on Sec. of State

The GOP lament in Washington State about the fact it's been 32 years since a Republican was elected governor pales somewhat compared to how long Democrats in the state have watched a string of Republicans hold the post of secretary of state.

 

For Rob McKenna, the two-term state attorney general who is the Republican nominee in the governor's race, the long Democratic tenure in the governor's mansion, longest rule in the nation by either party, has provided the opportunity to tell voters "we haven't refreshed this place in a generation." 

 

sam reed
Sam Reed

But in the race for secretary of state, the post from which Sam Reed is retiring after three terms, Democrats will be seeking to reverse their almost half-century absence from the office that oversees state and local elections, corporate and non-profit filings and records and is supervisor of the State Archives.

 

A Republican has held the post since A. Ludlow Kramer, a young Seattle city councilman, ousted incumbent Victor A. Meyers in 1964. So it's been 52 years since Meyer's 1960 victory as the last Democrat elected to the position. The secretary of state is second, behind the lieutenant governor, in the line of succession to the office of governor.

 

It was in 1964 that Dan Evans defeated Democratic incumbent Albert D. Rosellini, who was seeking a third term. The two Seattle Republicans, Evans and Kramer, thus both beat incumbent Democrats despite the fact that Lyndon Johnson carried the state overwhelmingly in the presidential vote, suggesting that Washington voters can sometimes make independent judgements about state and national races.

 

Washington's history with secretaries of state is in marked contrast to the background of the office in Oregon, where it has long been viewed as a stepping stone to the governor's office.

 

In Washington State, it's been the office of attorney general that has been seen as the stepping stone, with the last three, including outgoing Gov. Christine Gregoire and now-GOP candidate McKenna, looking to occupy the governor's mansion.

 

Two of Oregon's best-known and respected political figures made stops at the secretary of state post en route to larger roles. Mark Hatfield was elected to the position in 1956 and two years later won the governor's race while Tom McCall was elected in 1964 and two years later won the first of his two terms as governor. Hatfield went on to the U.S. Senate, where he served for 30 years and was even briefly considered for the vice presidential spot with Richard Nixon in 1968.

 

If the Democrats in Washington think they've been shut out of the secretary of state post for a long time, consider that Barbara Roberts, in 1991, became not only the first woman to hold the position in Oregon but also the first Democrat elected to the post in more than 100 years.

 

Six of the last eight Oregon secretaries of state ran for governor, with Hatfield, McCall and Roberts being elected and three others losing in the general election.

 

I asked Reed why he thought the Washington secretary of state position hadn't also produced gubernatorial aspirants.

 

He admitted that he had been urged to run for governor in 2004 as the GOP sought a candidate to oppose then-Atty. Gen. Christine Gregoire in seeking the position being vacated by Gary Locke, who decided against seeking a third term. State Sen. Dino Rossi eventually was the GOP candidate, losing by a handful of votes.

 

"I thought seriously about it but decided that I enjoyed the responsibilities of secretary of state, so I passed," he said. "It was a matter of thinking, 'why let the ego trip of running for governor interfere with doing what you like to do.'"

 

So he ran and was re-elected twice more to the office he had actually prepped for over a period of decades, working first with Kramer in the late '60s and with Bruce Chapman, who held the office in the late '70s. Then he spent 20 years as Thurston County auditor, a local-level version of the responsibilities handled by the secretary of state at the state level. He was elected to the county post in1980 and re-elected four times.

 

And Ralph Munro, Reed's predecessor who served five terms as secretary of state, said having worked in the governor's office for a number of years under Evans left him with "no desire to be governor."

 

He admitted to me that he had been lobbied to run but that "I never saw the office as a stepping stone. I really enjoyed being secretary of state."

 

Republican candidate Kim Wyman, who followed Reed into the Thurston County auditor's office in 2000, faces former state Sen. Kathleen Drew, a Democrat to see who replaces Reed. Thus no matter which one wins next month, the next secretary of state will be a woman.

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Jose Carreras to celebrate anniversary of leukemia victory and a special birthday

The first meeting between Jose Carreras and the young physician who would have a key role in the life-saving treatment for his rare form of leukemia turned out to be a bonding moment for the opera singer and a fan "blown away" at being his doctor.

 

"I was a fellow at The Hutch (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle), working with Dr. (Donnall) Thomas when they told me a singer from West Side Story, the opera, was coming in for a transplant and since I was from New York, they thought I might know him," recalls Dr. James Bianco.

 

"Since I had been a season ticket holder at the Met, I immediately identified him and was blown away that I was going to have the privilege of being his doc," said Bianco, now CEO of Cell Therapeutics (CTI). "When he met me he observed 'you're not from here, you dress different!' When I told him I saw him at the Met and I loved his performance of Carmen, we hit it off."

 

That first meeting a quarter century ago may well be on the minds of both Bianco and Carreras when the famed creator of "The Three Tenors" will be on hand in Seattle next Tuesday for a special event at Benaroya Hall.

 

The event, billed as "A celebration of life and friendship," will celebrate both the 25th anniversary of Carrera's victory over cancer and the 90th birthday of Dottie Thomas, wife of the Nobel-prize-winning doctor who pioneered the leukemia treatment that saved him.

 

The "private performance" recital for about 500 invitees who will pay $250 each to support a research fellowship benefiting the Jose Carreras Research Institute and The Hutch is being sponsored by Bianco's company, which is focused on development of new cancer-fighting therapies.

 

"When I learned Dottie was turning 90 on September 18th, coupled with the fact that September, 1987, was the month I admitted Jose to the Hutch for his transplant, there was no better tribute to both of these milestones than to bring Jose back to the U.S. for a celebration," Bianco said.

 

Bianco was a young associate at The Hutch who had been recruited by Thomas to come to Seattle from New York City as Thomas assembled a team to assist with his new bone marrow transplantation process that would win him a Nobel Prize in 1990.

 

I asked Bianco, who was the "fellow" in charge of Carreras' medical care, day and night, under an attending physician who provided supervisory oversight, to share some details of Carreras' treatment.

 

He recalled that the singer was assigned to an "an experimental treatment protocol" in which he would have to have his own bone marrow treated to remove leukemia cells because there was no match with the marrow of his siblings.

 

"His leukemia was usually uniformly fatal in adults," Bianco noted. "He would receive the highest amount of total body irradiation and chemo that the center ever utilized."

 

Bianco explained that there was concern over whether Carerras' body would be so damaged by the extreme radiation that his stored bone marrow wouldn't be able to regrow and make normal blood cells. So because of that concern, as well as that the high radiation levels would be potentially fatal to his lungs, liver and GI tract, he was put in an ultra-clean bubble environment.

 

Carreras spent approximately 60 days in that isolation environment from start of transplant until his bone marrow recovered normal blood cell-making ability and was infection free.

 

"That day for Jose was on December 23rd 1987," Bianco said. "I remember because that day I didn't gown up but rather just walked into his isolation room and he freaked out that I wasn't 'clean'"

 

"I opened the barrier to the room and told him he was well enough to go out to his apartment with his family," Bianco recalled. "It was a really memorable and special moment for me and for him. That was a really special Christmas."

 

It was three years later that Carreras went on to world fame when he convinced fellow Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and Italian singer Luciano Pavarotti to perform as "The Three Tenors," with the first event at the Roman Colosseum. The performance resulted in the best-selling classical CD in history, some 16 million copies. Mass concerts by the three continued for more than a decade.

 

After he was discharged to return home from Seattle, Carreras established the Jose Carreras Leukemia Research Foundation and invited Bianco to be a board member.

 

"I have participated on the board ever since," Bianco said. And as part of their continuing friendship, when CTI had its 20th anniversary last year, Carerras did a video tribute to the company's research and efforts to improve cancer treatment.

 

Donnall Thomas is now frail and "not doing well," according to Bianco, who describes his mentor as "inspiring, a pioneer, sweet, honest, compassionate visionary who touched the lives of everyone he trained and treated worldwide."

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Proposed facility in old K2 Vashon Island plant could be national model for towns

Richard Sontgerath is hoping to parlay his years as a developer specializing in older and historic buildings into a sprawling non-profit health and wellness facility on Vashon Island that he thinks could become a national model for smaller communities. But first he needs $40 million. Sontgerath has the background, enthusiasm and the vision to bring about K2COMMONS, which he touts as a multi-faceted community center that would occupy the 160,000-square-foot facility that was once the K2 ski-manufacturing plant. What he needs is "a $1 million baby" to provide the rest of the $2 million necessary to fund the two-year runway he figures will be required to raise the total of $40 million to make the project a reality. The "reality" of Sontgerath's dream would be "a Wellness Center, including many of the activities that increase wellness in a community," in the old facility that the ski manufacturer abandoned five years ago to move its operations off the island. Sontgerath, 62, and his then-partner Truman O'Brien (now a member of the 501C3 board) originally had a purchase-and-sale agreement with the K2 owners when they began putting their K2COMMONS plan together about five years ago as a for-profit entity. But that agreement expired almost four years ago and they've operated in the facility since then without an agreement. Songerath is hopeful he can convince the firm to donate the building and its18-acre site, which K2 has been unable to sell or lease, to what has become a non-profit ownership that will operate in much the manner of a public development authority. Who will want to put money into the project? Sontgerath is convinced that "social investors" will be attracted and suggests "if you look at the list of foundations, as in the PSBJ Book of Lists, there may be only one or two of the top 25 who would not be candidates for a pitch." "K2COMMONS will raise the quality of life for an entire community and the list of foundation descriptions, you see health, wellness, community building, at-risk youth, families, nonprofits, arts and environment over and over," he adds. Two of Sontgerath's board members have put up part of the initial $1 million. At first, the plan drew a mix of support and opposition from residents of Vashon, an island about the size of Manhattan that's reachable only by boat, a 22-minute ferry ride from Seattle. Some of the island's 10,000 residents viewed Sontgerath's dream as a benefit in terms of possible job creation while others feared it would take jobs away from Vashon's business district. But converting the ownership from private to non-profit reduced many of the community concerns, Sontgerath says. Plus K2 had the property rezoned from manufacturing to community business. Sontgerath believes that K2COMMONS can be a national model for community centers in many towns around the country where manufacturing buildings have been left abandoned as jobs and companies disappeared. And because of the considerations about a "model" that could be implemented elsewhere, Sontgerath says the project will utilize state-of-the-art energy and water systems to achieve a 'zero impact' community center. Sontgerath, president of Heritage Group Ltd., a real estate development firm which specializes in older- and historic-property restorations and urban revitalization and affordable housing projects, has the right background for the project. Since 1980, his firm has guided three major Seattle renovation projects in the Pioneer Square area, as well as doing conversion of historic buildings in Omaha, NE, and Des Moines, IA, into affordable housing As Sontgerath leans over the drawings where details of the vision take shape, he points to a possible 20-room boutique hotel (called oHTEL), a k2 museum, a suite of one-person offices, bowling center and café, a winery, business incubator, daycare center staffed by senior volunteers, tennis courts, conference center and a healthcare facility. Opting for the conservative side, he projects that the center would provide "at least 70 good-paying jobs" on the island, for which the loss of K2 and the loss of Seattle's Best Coffee roasting operations, closed after SBC's purchase by Starbucks, have been economic blows in recent years. He figures another 70 jobs would be created over the two years of construction and build-out. Other than the retail businesses in Vashon's town center, the island is home to more than a dozen small family farms, praised in a New York Times article earlier this year as "the kind that in most places were swallowed up by big agribusiness decades ago." The Times article called Vashon "a rural throwback," just fine to the many prominent residents, particularly artists, who make their homes there. But most residents need jobs. Sontgerath says design architect for K2COMMONS will be Bohlin Cywinski Jackson at the direction of Peter Bohlin, 2010 AIA Gold Medalist. He describes it as "a collaboration really of the original Architect, along with Peter Bohlin, and students from the UW School of the Built Environment." The detailed financials that Sontgerath has put together would create a modest enough square-foot cost that he says "we can create a rent-revenue ratio that basically guarantees success for any tenant." Meanwhile, K2COMMONS would provide "between $500,000 to $1,000,000 per year to be reinvested back into the community."
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Growing focus on handicapped-parking abuse in Seattle needs firmer legal steps

Dick Thorsen is dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease and now  wheel-chair bound, though he's still able to drive in his ramp-enabled van. But he's getting increasingly angry at "non-thinking social morons," drivers with no apparent handicaps who hog handicapped-parking spots in downtown Seattle.

 

"A lot of good my handicapped placard does me since nine times out of 10 times, I can't find an unoccupied handicapped-parking spot," says Thorsen. "And when I hang around waiting for someone to leave, I see obviously non-handicapped persons get in their cars and drive away."

 

Thorsen promises to start a campaign, in the time he has remaining, "to marshal volunteer forces to shame these scofflaws. I'm smart enough to mount a statewide enforcement strategy to curtail these selfish actions."

 

There is a growing irritation at what is seen as "as tremendous amount of abuse" of handicapped placards issued by the state and the sense that the increasing cost of parking in downtown Seattle is leading to illegal use of the placards.

 

Thorsen sent me an email last week after running across a column on the Internet that I did in early 2011 that was aimed at highlighting what actions have been taken, and what hasn't been done, to address the placard-abuse problem..

 

I noted in the column that Seattle parking officials observed that "the tremendous amount of abuse of these placards limits access to legitimate placard holders and other parkers." Not to mention lost dollars for the City of Seattle

 

And reaction of those like Thorsen, as well as ordinary citizens who are merely irritated on behalf of the handicapped, has led to efforts on the part of the City of Seattle to consider seeking action by the Legislature. As yet the City Council hasn't been able to reach accord with various stakeholders on what form the suggested legislation should take.

 

But a key step toward agreement on a proposal to the Legislature may come Monday when Seattle City Council representatives meet with the head of the Governor's Commission on Disability Issues and Employment, an entity Seattle officials view as an essential partner in any effort to get tougher legislation.

 

Toby Olson, executive secretary of the commission, says he began meetings with Seattle officials earlier this year on finding solutions to reduce the abuse of disability parking placards and strengthen enforcement for disability parking violations.

 

Seattle officials say they are confident about an agreement that will lead to a bill in the 2013 legislature, but that any proposal must take cognizance of state budget constraints.

.

Disabled citizens are entitled to park at not only parking spots reserved for the handicapped, but also city-operated paid parking spots without charge. City officials estimate that 40 percent of downtown and First Hill parking spaces are occupied by vehicles displaying handicapped-parking placards.

 

"The police department and state transportation people "estimate that as many as 50 percent of the placards are being illegally used," City Councilman Tim Burgess told me for the 2011 column, noting that amounts to 20 percent of the total parking spots in those areas.

 

State law makes it illegal for anyone but the person to whom the state permit and placard are issued to use placard, tabs, or license plates if the disabled person is not in the vehicle. "You can't let your friends or family borrow them for their own use," advises the state website.

 

Over the past year, the Seattle Department of Transportation has been working with stakeholders, including the Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities, on putting together a plan that could be submitted to the 2013 Legislature for action.

 

SDOT and the DisAbilities Commission agree on most steps to address the problem, though the commission disagrees with shortening to four hours the time a vehicle using a handicapped placard can park downtown.

 

Interestingly, one of the issues both the city agency and the commission agree on is that the law needs to be more strict with physicians who issue the placards.

 

The Seattle Police Department says that many physicians distribute parking placards "for reasons that may not comply with state criteria" and a key suggestion is adding the name of the issuing physician on each placard.

 

Another person who ran across my column on the Internet sent me an email some months ago saying he did a test with his own doctor following knee surgery from which he explained he is "now walking without discomfort."

 

"I asked my doctor if I could get one of those permits for disability parking. She smiled wryly and said 'well..hmmmm...I suppose you qualify'. WHAT! I can walk without trouble and it is that easy to get a permit for phantom knee pain that was corrected months ago?"

 

City of Seattle, in fact, is apparently asking the King County Medical Association to admonish members about the integrity role in issuing handicapped permits.

 

Interestingly, ala Dick Thorsen's suggestion of mustering volunteers, the use of volunteers to patrol downtown areas in search of handicapped-parking abusers is already legal as a result of legislation a few years ago. Cities in nearly two dozen other states have already adopted a version of using volunteers to help address the problem.

 

In some places, trained volunteers are authorized to issue citations for infractions. But the commission also suggested the volunteers could record the license plate numbers of cars displaying expired placards, or operated by obviously non-handicapped drivers.

 

The idea of using volunteers and authorizing them to issue citations for illegal use of handicapped placards was discussed last fall, but City Council representatives were advised by the city's legal department that further legislation would first be necessary. 

 

For sure the commission and City Department of Transportation agree increased enforcement and higher penalties are essential to curbing abuse, and imposition of harsher penalties, particularly for those caught using a placard issued to someone who has since died.

 

Noting that Seattle police report that finding placards being used that are registered to a person who is deceased is "one of the top methods of abuse," the commission says unequivocally the cars of such drivers should be impounded.

 

The Seattle City Council obviously has much on its plate, including budget issues and things like the proposed new Sodo arena. But the issue of stealing handicapped-parking spots, which is of course what cheaters are doing, deserves to be looked at long enough to frame a legislative proposal since the legislators will only act if they think it's important enough for Seattle to ask.

 

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Heritage University students are unlikely evangelists for the free enterprise system

They are an unlikely band of evangelists for the free enterprise system, a group of mostly Hispanic college students whose resumes almost inevitably include the phrase "first in (his or her) family to attend college."

 

Yet the students who participate in the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) program at Heritage University in Toppenish, and close the year competing against college teams from across the country, prove themselves not only believers in, but practitioners of, free enterprise.

 

Year after year, the students from Heritage distinguish themselves as among the top student teams at the regional and national SIFE competition, including this year in Kansas City when they finished fourth runner-up in the semi-final round of the national competition among 160 schools who participated.

"To see the transformation of these kids when they get a chance to believe in themselves is amazing," says Leonard Black, who created and has run the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) program at Heritage for almost a dozen years. "They go from shy, insecure and self-conscious to very outgoing and confident."

 

"These are kids from farmworker or immigrant backgrounds," notes Black. "Their dinner-table conversations at home focus on survival skills and paying bills." In fact, 97 percent of Heritage's 1,500 students qualify for some sort of federal or state financial aide, including most of the 55 percent of the students who already have children.

 

They not only believe in the message conveyed in the projects in which SIFE involves them, but they become teachers of free enterprise among entrepreneurial hopefuls in the Hispanic-dominated Yakima Valley.

 

Black spent his career as a corporate executive, finally as Duracell vice president of operations for Asia-Pacific before becoming a volunteer chair of the business program at Heritage.

 

Black recalls that it was Sr. Kathleen Ross, the Holy Names nun from Spokane who helped found Heritage College in 1981 as an independent college and served as president for 30 years until her retirement in 2010, who first suggested he take a look at SIFE. She apparently felt the program fitted in with her focus on providing higher-education opportunity to the area's multicultural population.

 

SIFE is an international non-profit organization that works with leaders in business and higher education to teach students, through outreach projects in which they apply business concepts learned in the classroom, the skills to be socially responsible business leaders.

 

An annual series of regional and national competitions provides a forum for teams to present the results of their projects, and be evaluated by business leaders serving as judges.

 

It was those annual competitions to which Black aimed the attentions of the SIFE students at Heritage, even though he recalls that the first year in the regional competition "we were told that we were the worst team they'd ever seen."

 

Undeterred by that first SIFE experience, the students met with him and said: "Mr. Black, we're coming back next year and we're going to win."

 

"So they went out and rounded up other students and came up with additional projects," Black said. "The following year they were regional first runner-up, but they were still disappointed with that showing. So the third year, they won the regionals and went on to the national competition in Kansas City."

 

Heritage officials point to the team's ability to find a flow of new members as indicating that "while SIFE is an exceptional showcase for our students-and attracts many of the best students-they are by no means unique."

 

Two years after that first national-competition showing, they became the first team from the Seattle region to ever make it into the national semi-final competition, Black said. That meant they would have to be on stage before an audience of more than 3,000, including the 130 business executives who were judges.

 

"They had never spoken into microphones, so they used soda cans to simulate microphones," Black noted. "They finished second in the nation."

 

Now it's routinely assumed that the Heritage kids will be in the forefront at the competition. In 11 years and 18 competitions, the Heritage teams have nine regional championships, seven national semi-final appearances, "final four" three times and recognition in 2011 as one of the nation's 10 top programs. And in May Black was inducted into the SIFE Hall of Fame.

 

As to their real-time involvements, Black said "We work with people in the community to help them realize their dreams" with the students touting the benefits of a free-market economy to the entrepreneur hopefuls..

 

Toppenish has a population of just under 9,000 residents, 82 percent of whom are Hispanic and 32 percent of whom live below the poverty line. It's to that population that the students bring hope, particularly since 51 percent of Heritage students are Hispanic and 85 percent are the first in their families to attend college.

 

The students recently did a survey of 4,000 households in the area and found that 180 residents want to start a business, but lack the resources to do so. So the students are putting together a training program and hope to pursue grants that will permit them to start a mini-loan fund for those entrepreneurial hopefuls.

 

Several years ago they helped Hispanic farmers form a cooperative to sell apples, including writing a business plan so the farmers could qualify for small-business loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They got a $325,000 loan, with training from the students written into the loan application, and the result is the cooperative called Washington Elite Growers.

 

Heritage alum Gary Pierce Jr., a native-American member of the Yakama Nation, turned down several Fortune 500 offers after he graduated in 2006 with a degree in business administration because he felt it was more important to remain in the community where he grew up.

 

Today he heads up marketing for Yakama Nation Land Enterprises (YNLE), a company charged with rebuilding the Yakama Nation landscape. The company purchases lost tribal lands and develops ways to make a profit from them so that more property can eventually be purchased.

 

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State wine industry's signal charitable event reaches 25 with memorable gathering slated

Bob Betz, who as one of the state's most respected winemakers is co-chairing the 25th Auction of Washington Wines, recalls with a smile the first auction. "I bought two bottles for $60, and it was the live auction. And they were bottles of Oregon wine."

 

Much has transpired for both Betz, then already an established executive with Chateau Ste. Michelle winery, and the industry itself since that launch event. What was initially, and for the first 10 years, called the Auction of Northwest Wines because it was held in partnership with the equally young Oregon wine industry, now sees live-auction items bring in an average of $10,000.

 

Betz' co-chair for the 2012 event is Stein Kruse, president and CEO of Holland America Line, whose cruise ships take Washington wines to ports of call around the world. So as Betz has perhaps the longest-term perspective on the industry he became a part of in 1976 when he joined Chateau Ste. Michelle as director of marketing, it might well be said of Kruse that his company gives Washington wines their most far-flung exposure.

 
 

Sherri Swingle, Auction of Washington Wines' executive director, says that first auction   raised $20,000 and had 47 wineries participating. By last year, the auction raised $1.55 million, swelling the total the event has raised over the years to $26 million, with uncompensated care at Seattle Children's Hospital being the key beneficiary.

 

The auction organization came into existence in 1987, the same year as the Washington Wine Commission, the state agency created by the legislature to provide a voice for both wineries and grape growers in the state. The first wine auction was held the following year.

 

In a sense, the accomplishments of both the industry organization and the auction will be highlighted and honored at the August celebration when the three days of what is billed as the state's most prestigious charity wine event, for which Swingle is now finalizing details, unfold.

 

Swingle says more than 1,700 attendees are expected to be on hand for the auction gala on August 18 with about 500 at 10 winemaker dinners around the region the previous evening and about 1,000 at the picnic and barrel auction of limited-release wines on August 15.

 

But the role and contributions of what is now Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates will be especially highlighted at what has traditionally been an annual award to a vintner and a grower each year. This year the awards are being combined, at the insistence of CEO Ted Baseler, who originally had been intended for an individual honor.

 

Baseler made it clear that the honor could not single him out, but needed to honor the Chateau Ste. Michelle team, both past and present.

 

Nevertheless, Baseler's role in not just the success of Chateau Ste. Michelle, but also the industry that he has made equal in importance to the success of his own company, are bound to be noted as the company he has presided over since 2001 is honored.

 

Baseler's involvement with the industry stretches back almost as far as Betz'. He joined Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1982 but had already spent several years as an account executive for the advertising agency that handled the winery's account.

 

Today the business, acclaimed twice in the past year as "Winery of the Year," has international relationships and is among the largest and fastest-growing wine companies in the country.

 

Betz spent 28 years with Chateau Ste. Michelle in a variety of positions in communications, sales and operations, eventually as vice president for winemaking research, remaining as Baseler's right-hand man until 2003, even though he and his wife, Cathy, had opened their own winery in 1997.

 

Betz, his wife and daughters had built the Betz Family Winery over 15 years, until its sale last year, into one of the state's most successful and respected wineries. He prefers to call it a partnership with the new owners, rather than a sale, since he remains as winemaker and he and his wife will remain as part of the management team while finally having "the one thing that has eluded us - time."

 

Event co-chair Kruse says he has "a small wine collection" but added "we buy wine in large quantities for our ships around the world and feature Washington wines in the Pinnacle Grill on 15 of our ships."

 

"The growth of the industry in this state, both in the quality and value of the wines, has been amazing to watch," he said.

 

That growth Kruse refers to was pointed up in the results of an economic impact study from the Washington Wine Commission this spring, which was described as "the most comprehensive such report ever produced," that showed dramatic growth in the value of the industry since 2007 despite the woes of the economy.

 

The report indicated the value of the industry to the state has leaped from $3 billion five years ago to $8.6 billion now and that the value nationally has gone from $4.7 billion to $14.9 billion.

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Acceptance from traditional medicine grows for discoveries made in 'the other medicine

The personal quest for information on how best to deal with cancer inevitably leads to discovery of "the other medicine."

 

And in reaching out over a period of months for information to help me make the best decision on how to deal with a fortunately slow-growing cancer, I learned that some who practice traditional medicine have only a vague awareness of what's emerging in that other medicine.

 

The growing acceptance of nature's role in helping combat serious illness isn't surprising to those aware that an estimated 70 percent of new drugs originate from natural sources.

 

Two of nature's cancer fighters in particular got my attention in my search. One, mushrooms, are being seen in a new light. The other, something called artemisinin (to which I've introduced some of my healthcare providers) is just coming into the light, though known in China for decades, some suggest centuries.

 

First about artemisinin, a product of the ancient Chinese herb, Artemisia. It's only in the last half-dozen years that artemisinin has quickly become the worldwide treatment of choice for malaria. That's apparently because it becomes highly toxic in the presence of iron, which malaria parasites contain in abundance from the human red-blood cells they consume.

 

Because cancer cells consume lots of iron, that's led to testing and research, including at the University of Washington, focusing on artemisinin for treatment of cancer.

 

The scientific explanation about the "significant anticancer effects" artemisinin is suspected to have is that it contains peroxide and research suggests that when peroxide comes in contact with cells having high iron concentrations, it becomes toxic to those cells. Fortunately, normal cells don't contain a lot of iron.

 

I was introduced to artemisinin when a naturopathic doctor at Bastyr recommended it to me and I proceeded to research it to learn what I was getting into. The research proved to be fascinating.

 

I proceeded to tell each of several doctors I was working with, from primary care to surgeon, about artemisinin and each either went to their laptop to look it up or took notes. It was obvious that they were not letting their egos get in the way of being open to new information, even if from a patient, although one oncologist I told about artemisinin confided that he has prescribed it for one of his breast-cancer patients.

 

Much more will be heard of artemisinin and I found that the word is already spreading when I called the Bastyr dispensary to get a refill and was told "we just learned from the manufacturer that there won't be any more until the end of June." They did, however, get a special re-order for me.

 

Now to mushrooms, which gained fame and somewhat widespread use in certain circles as the late Dr. Timothy Leary promoted to the hippie counterculture the psychedelic experience of the Psilocybin mushrooms he'd discovered in Asia, thus providing many with entry into the psychedelic world.

 

The memory of those days of "magic mushrooms" lingers strongly enough for some who remember the era that when I mentioned to a friend that I was looking into mushrooms, she asked with a wink: "what kind of mushrooms are we talking about?"

 

Now their cancer-fighting potential, as well as a growing awareness about other benefits, is emerging into the mainstream such that the most respected cancer hospitals are testing them and entrepreneurs are looking to build new businesses around their appeal.

 

At City of Hope, the leading-edge cancer-care hospital in Duarte, east of Los Angeles, researchers are speeding findings about mushrooms' cancer-fighting properties from the lab to clinical trials. After showing that mushroom extract slows breast cancer growth in mice, the team will soon begin human clinical studies involving breast and prostate cancers.

 

Dr. Michael Friedman, City of Hope CEO whom I met with during my cancer-treatment explorations, says "Our data suggest that white button mushrooms may delay progression of biochemically recurrent prostate cancer in some men. Further studies to clarify the mechanism of action and benefit are warranted."

 

And a study funded by the National Institutes of Health's Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine recently concluded that turkey tail mushrooms improve the immune systems of breast cancer patients. The study was conducted jointly by the University of Washington, the respected naturopathic Bastyr University in the Seattle and the University of Minnesota.

Medicinal mushrooms'

Mushrooms as part of emerging health
consciousness lure Seattle entrepreneurs
 
  

Convinced that "medicinal mushrooms" will attract an ever-growing audience of health-conscious consumers, a fledgling Seattle company that launched a mushroom-based animal-products company a year ago is planning to expand the business to products for people.

 

Ryan Lentz, who was baseball star at University of Washington and professional ball player for four years before an injury ended his career, a year ago co-founded Noah's Nutritionals, first focused on horses then adding a mushroom product for dogs, as literally a "friends and family" company.

 

The friends and family who have now joined in co-founding a mushroom-product direct marketing company called myCELIA, are Pennie Pickering and Richard Roberts, husband and wife co-founders of marketing-and-communications firm Palazzo Creative, and Mark Wolf. Pickering is Lentz' aunt and Wolf, who will head international business development for the new company, was his former real-estate development partner.

 

As they head for a launch of myCELIA in the first quarter of next year, Pickering, who is the vice president of marketing, explained that the two animal products that are conventionally marketed will be rolled into a parent C-Corp., MPower, along with the people-focused subsidiary.

 

They have tapped as "chief scientist and medical spokesperson" Dr. Marvin Hausman, a Sherwood, OR-physician who is billed as a world expert in medicinal mushroom research and who holds a number of mushroom-related patents" in partnership with Penn State University.

 

The direct marketing of mushroom-supplements isn't yet a crowded field, but there are two heavyweight competitors, both Asia based, that have carved out substantial reputations as multi-level marketing companies focused on mushroom-based products.

 

One is the Malaysian-based Gano Excel, a $500 million business that sells one of their mushroom extracts in coffee and Pickering says she and Lentz believe that having a unique mushroom-based coffee will be an important product for myCELIA.

 

The founders view the tie to Hausman, who created mushroom supplements to help keep the horses owned by his equestrian-champion wife healthy, as a marketing leg up. His supplement apparently gained widespread visibility in the equine community when it was used by a group of veterinarians struggling to control an equine herpes outbreak in Florida.

 

His mushroom supplements gained additional attention when horse-trainer Carl Nafzger put his prize horse "Street Sense" and 35 other horses on the mushroom supplement and "Street Sense" wound up winning the 2007 Kentucky Derby.

 

Lentz, introduced to Hausman through a friend, says he soon began using the mushroom formula himself for his own injuries after seeing the effect in had on the diseased mouth of his dog, and that led him to form MPower.

 

All of those details, as well as the initial success of the animal-mushroom products that already have an agreement with a German distributor for $100,000 a year of product, will be part of the company's message to potential investors as they seek to launch their direct-rmarketing company, which Pickering refers to as "social sales." .

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Recent success for often-maligned CTI and its CEO stir global interest

Cell Therapeutics Inc., the Seattle biotech firm that has alternately raised and dashed investor hopes over the past 20 years, has scored a triple play in recent weeks, gaining European approval for a new drug, buying a phase-three cancer drug at deep discount and finding a major new investor.

 

The spate of recent news, while drawing little attention from Seattle area media, has left influential national bloggers and websites musing over why CTI's developments haven't attracted more investor interest and movement in its stock price. The stock has stayed under $1 for some weeks and is down 40 percent from a year ago.

 

Attention for CTI has peaked following late May word that the company's cancer drug Pixantrone, with the brand name Pixuvri, has received conditional marketing approval from the European Commission, following February approval from the European Medicines Agency.

 

 
 

National websites have enthused about CTI's recent successes, with the influential market blog "Seeking Alpha" a few days ago offering the intriguing headline, both promising and pointed: "Cell Therapeutics' Pixantrone - Is Hope Coming For Patients And Patient Shareholders?"

 

And the respected "24/7 Wall St. Wire" asked, in a column noting the recent successes, "Can a European Approval of Pixantrone Save Cell Therapeutics?"

 

The Pixantrone approval will allow CTI to produce revenue from the drug in a market about equal in size to the U.S. market, and will also mean that it can accumulate additional data toward FDA approval from the use of Pixantrone in patients with a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

 

Just this week, CTI announced that it has completed the acquisition, first announced in April, of Pacritinib, a Phase III-ready drug that's part of a new class of targeting agents, known as JAK inhibitors, for treating myelofibrosis, a type of leukemia that affects bone marrow.

 

The Pacritinib purchase price of $15 million in cash and another $15 million in convertible stock was described by one national blogger as "a near steal" because, despite four competitors, CTI will be going after a piece of what the company views as a $7 billion market in the U.S. alone.

 

Finally, CTI announced a $40 million investment from New York-based Socius Capital, which analysts suggest paid about 10 percent above the CTI stock price for its passive-investment stake of just under 10 percent. That reflected, according to an analyst, "a high level of confidence" in the commercialization of Pixuvri and clinical development of Pacritinib.

 

But it's the Pixantrone success, enhancing the Pacritinib acquisition and spurring the cash infusion, that is most intriguing, particularly, since there are several sub-plots that come into play with the European announcement. Those include the politics surrounding FDA's handling of the pipeline for new potentially life-saving drugs, as well as the emerging controversy over high-priced drugs that offer only a few months of life expectancy for patients.

 

Then there's the on-going dynamic tension between CTI CEO  Dr.James Bianco and Seattle-area media, which have frequently targeted the company and Bianco for the $1.74 billion he's raised and spent without much benefit to shareholders and the wide swings in the stock price over the years, as high as $72 and as low as 88-cents. Bianco's defenders brush aside media criticisms, contending that the only reason CTI is still alive after 20 years is because of Bianco's creativity and leadership.

 

As one Bianco supporter put it, "let's just say the media and Jim Bianco don't like each other very much," the tension possibly due in part to the fact Bianco enjoys the perks that go with the CEO role and is a competitive kind of guy who doesn't shrink from a fight.

 

The latter isn't surprising given his Bronx upbringing as a second-generation Italian kid in a household shared by up to 20 relatives at a time in an environment where

"you were okay as long as you didn't leave the few square blocks of our neighborhood."

 

Then he smiled as he remembered that his bus to high school made its closest stop 10 blocks from his home. "Every day I sprinted to the bus because if you couldn't get there faster than anyone else, you were a statistic."

 

He admits he didn't do very well academically in high school, but by the time he found himself at NYU, he recalls that a major disappointment was the lone "B" he received among his "A's."

 

Medical school, internship and residency in New York led to Seattle and an opportunity at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute, and eventually to the founding of CTI.

 

In addition to being high visibility in his business, he's also highly visible in fund-raising efforts for his special causes, including the Hope Heart Institute, where he and his wife, Sue, won the Wings of Hope award in 2002 and where he's helped revamp the key fund-raising event, and Gilda's Club, for whom he is planning the first capital campaign.

 

He's been involved with Gilda's Club for a dozen years, explaining that it "provides that other kind of Medicine, the kind you can't get in hospitals or clinics but that place where family, kids, friends etc have support. It's a great cause, but because they don't do research they're not sexy so funding in these times is tough. That's why I stay involved. It's in our (CTI's) DNA."

 

The manner in which the European Medicine agency's approach brought conditional approval for Pixontrone while the FDA dallied, eventually causing CTI to withdraw its application, represents another log on the fire of controversy that swirls around getting new drugs through the FDA to patients.

 

In Europe, 25 member states and five independent experts represent the review panel for an application and two-third of the 32 must give their okay. Critics of the FDA process of an office with a single final decision maker in each therapeutic category, from oncology to cardiovascular and rheumatologic, etc. call the European approach a more balanced review.

 

The critics contend that people are losing their lives while the FDA is holding things up and urge that Congress and the administration press for conditional approval as a more certain part of the FDA review process. For obvious political reasons, Bianco declines to join those criticisms, particularly since a new application to the FDA for Pixontrone is planned in a few months.

 

And since Pixontrone will cost, once the pricing is worked out with each of the European countries, somewhere between $33,000 and $38,000 to extend the lives of the target patients by less than a year, it will come to be part of the growing debate over end-of-life costs vs. benefit.

 

But over the longer term, it will be interesting to see how the developments of the past few weeks play out for Bianco and CTI, and to what extent the prediction of one of the national bloggers proves accurate: "It has been a long road for investors of CTIC, but it now looks as though the future is bright."

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Washington News Council weighs future in changing new-media era

The nation's last fully operating news council is engaged in some soul searching about its future, including whether it has one, at a time when the proliferation of social and other forms of non-traditional media may make some sort of media "watchdog" more important than ever.

 

"We're in the middle of a process with a core group that I call my 'strategic transition possee' to look at our vision, mission and whether we're sustainable," says John Hamer, co-founder and executive director of the Washington News Council (WNC), which he helped create in 1998.

 
 

Meanwhile, as the Washington News Council (WNC) goes about its introspection, it's scheduled to hold a full-blown hearing in a few days on a complaint against the oft-offending but never-repentant major Seattle television station, KIRO.

 

That scheduled hearing points up the long-term importance of an organization like the News Council as a forum for public engagement with the media. But it also indicates the key challenge that has largely been beyond WNC's ability to overcome during most of its 14 years of existence.

 

The importance of such an organization is stated compelling by Ken Hatch, a founding board member and the influential former president of KIRO in the days when it was a TV-AM-FM titan owned by Bonneville Broadcasting.

 

"This mix of journalism and mass media compulsions, basically at the whim of anyone with an uncontrolled point of view, will not create a better world without some sort of 'point-counter point' forum like WNC," Hatch said.

 

The challenge has been the reluctance of the media to help any organization, including WNC, keep an eye on its performance, a reluctance put in perspective by Blaire Thompson, whose Washington Dairy Products Commission was among the entities that have come to WNC with complaints.

 

"The media readily arrogate to themselves the freedom, indeed, the right, to hold everyone in our society accountable to their scrutiny," said Thompson. "Unfortunately, what many media are reluctant to do is to allow themselves to be held accountable for their actions. The disinclination of most media to be held accountable can express itself in hostility to anyone who tries, and this has includes the Washington News Council."

 

Part of the challenge to "sustainable" is that WNC, which has operated on a relative financial shoestring and been run by a chief executive who has stayed committed more for love than money, saw its primary funding source come to an end last year.

 

That key funding for the past three years has been a $100,000 matching grant from the Gates Foundation, guided by Bill Gates Senior who has been a strong supporter of WNC and its role.

 

The end of the Gates challenge is part of the reason Hamer has guided the News Council to assess what he characterizes as "a crucial transition year."

 

The News Council's annual Gridiron Dinner, a roast of prominent political or business figures, has become the key fund-raising event for the organization. And this year's November roast of retiring Gov. Christine Gregoire and departing Congressman Norm Dicks has Hamer and WNC supporters enthused about the fund-raising such a special roast, attracting both Democrats and Republicans, may represent.

 

The WNC forum for public engagement with media has included a formal hearing in the event no accord was reached between a media entity and the aggrieved person or organization.

 

While the accused media have mostly always responded to the complaint in some manner, they frequently have boycotted the formal hearing when one has been held.

 

That was the case a few years ago when King County Sheriff Sue Rahr complained to the News Council about the unfairness of a Seattle P-I series. After a hearing in which WNC found for Rahr, with the P-I declining to be present, the Seattle Times did devote a full page to the hearing and its outcome damning the P-I.

 

But in most instances, the accused media knows that regardless of the outcome of a WNC hearing, other media will provide little public visibility on those proceedings. That removes much of the concern about being found "guilty."

 

So it is with CBS-affiliate KIRO TV, which has thumbed its nose in two previous complaints against it for reports by the same reporter, Chris Halsey, who is described by himself and the station, but by few who see his work, as an "investigative" reporter.

 

Without going into details of the complaints, all of which brought major outpouring of support for those wronged by KIRO, including Secretary of State Sam Reed, the fact is, as Hamer puts it, "KIRO has never given us even the courtesy of a response by phone, email or letter."

 

The latest complaint is from teachers and parents at Leschi School about a piece, more accurately a job, Halsey did for KIRO on the school's custodian.

 

Hatch, the former KIRO chief, said of one of the KIRO stories that drew a complaint: "It was a hurtful and stupid example of a bad performance by a reporter who carries the mantle of public trust. The reporter failed and so did the news director who must have been asleep at the wheel."

 

WNC was patterned after the respected Minnesota News Council, whose operation was supported by basically all newspapers and prominent broadcast outlets in the state. That included financial support from the Minneapolis Star and Tribune.

 

During WNC's early days, it became the key to growth of the concept nationally, getting a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to sponsor a nationwide contest to start two more news councils. California, which has since closed its doors, and New England, which still exists but has metamorphosed out of a watchdog role, were launched by WNC.

 

The Minnesota News Council recently closed its doors, due to change in leadership and the financial travails of the state's largest daily newspaper, leaving the Washington News Council as the last in this country whose scope extends all the way to full-fledged hearings.

 

 

That's why WNC's discussions about its future are important. Again, quoting Hatch: "We are seeing media and journalism destroying some of the quality parts of our free speech process. Lies and slander must be challenged by good minds and good people for this country to truly have a freedom of speech fostered by people of integrity."

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'Do today' mantra guided decision to compete after cancer surgery

It was my new mantra of "do today what yesterday you might have put off until tomorrow" that guided my decision to compete in the 2011 Huntsman World Senior Games last October, four months after colon-cancer surgery.

 

The goal wasn't merely to prove that a 71-year-old guy can come back from major surgery and resume normal activity, even if the activity seems like a stretch to the sedentary of any age. It was also to acknowlege successful recovery from cancer while various friends are battling the Big-C, or have lost their battles.

 

There's a prescribed two-month "no strenuous exercise" recovery period following the kind of major surgery that was required for me last week of May last year.

 

I walked as much as possible during the weeks following surgery, but chafed at the fact my regular workouts on the treadmill and track, particularly the sprint portions, were on hold until the last week of July.

 

Just before the exercise-restraint period ended, I visited with my primary-care physician, Patrizia Showell, at Seattle's Polyclinic and asked: "So are you okay with my now working my tail off so I can run the 100 meters in the senior games first week of October?"

 

I could see the lady I refer to as my "super doc" mentally calculating the calendar before replying: "Go for it."

 

Putting on my workout shoes for the first time in two months brought an adrenalin rush but I knew I was going to have to be uncharacteristically cautious with my leg muscles, particularly the hamstrings that had always caused me trouble. The worst thing I could imagine at that point was that I would press too hard and pull or strain a hamstring and that would be the end of the goal.

 

The 2011 Huntsman World Senior Games had a special appeal to me because it was the 25th anniversary of the two-week event created by Jon Huntsman Sr., in 1986. What could make the competitive comeback more special than it being for a special milestone for the games themselves?

 

Jon Huntsman Sr.'s vision was that an event called the World Senior Games, even if held in a remote corner of Southwest Utah, would eventually draw thousands of what others might dismiss as "the elderly" for the chance to play and compete with their peers.

 

So it is that 25 years after their founding, the 2011 games attracted about 6,000 seniors who, over the two-week period, competed in everything from track and field to badminton, pickelball, lawn bowling, volleyball, square dancing and even bridge. Some of the competitors were in their 90s.

 

I've been drawn to the games because of the "world" name since I first heard of them in 2003 and made up my mind to compete in the 100 and 200 meters in my age group once I learned that you didn't have to be a "world class" athlete. That means some competitors really were world class while others like me, who weren't, could still compete, and that's always been the magic draw.

 

In that 2003 competition, I managed to finish sixth in both the 100 and 200 out of fields of 24 in each event. But the reality was that those at the front of the pack in both events were, in fact, world class and thus it was satisfying just to be in the same race in which I could see them in the distance.

 

Huntsman, 73, founded and was longtime CEO, now executive chairman, of what has become the publicly traded (as of 2005) $9 billion world's largest chemicals company with 12,000 employees. He and his wife, Karen, still open each year's Senior Games, where the participants now number in the thousands each October.

 

Huntsman, father of the former Utah governor, China ambassador and briefly a Republican presidential hopeful, Jon Huntsman Jr., evidenced his ultimate commitment to community following prostate cancer surgery 15 years ago.

 

He set out to establish a world-class cancer research and treatment center, a dream he's pleased to say is now realized with the Huntsman Cancer Institute and Hospital in Salt Lake City.

 

The Huntsman family continues to serve as principal benefactors and fundraisers for the Huntsman Cancer Institute with what he describes as "the ultimate goal" of eradicating the most challenging forms of cancer.

 

And it's on that final note about the Huntsmans' commitment to community and overcoming as great a challenge as cancer that I sense a common thread in their commitments and the commitments of those who travel to St. George each year to participate and compete.

 

The producer of a recent movie on the senior games said: "What drew us to the senior games was the positivity. These people have an unparalleled zeal for life. When you're 90 and 100 years old and have endured life's challenges and still have such a positive attitude, it's beyond impressive. We felt it was worth a film."

 

In a sense the producer summed up in his way what's become my view: Life is a race to be appreciated for the joy of participation and whether world class -- or a bit slower --making in to the finish line ahead of cancer, or any other physical or mental obstacle, is really the sweetest race to win.

 

So in recent days a year-later clean bill of health on last year's cancer sets the stage for my few-days-hence prostate cancer surgery, as Jon Huntsman Sr. underwent those years ago. Then I can begin to tick off the "no strenuous exercise" weeks, which my surgeon tells me will be a shorter wait this time, before I can begin getting back into condition for the 2012 games.

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Story book debut for U of Idaho tech transfer's Anderson and her potato pitch

When Gaylene Anderson decided on an entrepreneurial coming-out party from her tech-transfer role at the University of Idaho, she chose the biggest business-plan competition stage in the country and picked the quintessential symbol of Idaho to tout her fledgling company.

 

The result was a storybook debut in which she wowed the audience and the judges and is now gaining national attention for herself and Solanux Inc., whose academia-developed process turns the potato into a health food.

 

 
 

The next chapter in Anderson's emergence from the relative obscurity of her university technology transfer role of the last 10 years to a once-in-a-lifetime experience as triple honoree at the Rice University Business Plan Competition will be inclusion in a special section in Fortune magazine's May issue.

 

In the space of three days last month, she won the Rice competition's 60-second elevator pitch, was honored by a national women's entrepreneur organization, and her team took fifth in the competition.

 

"The 42 finalists from among 1,600 business-plan applicants included schools like MIT, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Purdue...and Idaho," she said with a smile. "When we said we were from Idaho, people kind of chuckled. I think they thought of us as cute, but not likely to be competitive, but the opinions changed after our first presentation."

 

By the time the competition ended two days later, the Idaho team had won $25,000, which included $1,000 for Anderson's winning 60-second pitch, $4,000 for the team's fifth-place finish and $20,000 for the Courageous Women Entrepreneur Award.

 

That award came from a national women's investment group called nCourage, which Anderson says has now offered to help raise the rest of the money for the Solanux start-up.

 

In addition, she has been advised by the Texas Angel network that they want her to present to one of their groups in July

 

Most of the initial funding of about $1.5 million has come from J.R. Simplot, the Boise-based potato-products giant. And while the goal of the initial fund-raising effort has been $2.5 million, she confides that the target is now likely to double.

 

"We'll likely be looking now to raise $5 million because Simplot wants to expand the pilot testing phase and we want to produce a potato chip with this process, go after our own product," she said.

 

Her first visibility following the Rice event was in early April on CNN Money's website, where the 60-second elevator pitches by Anderson and others were featured (and which you can see on YouTube, as she talks holding up the potato, which she says she "carried everywhere" in Houston).

 

It hadn't been Anderson's intent to steal the show, but rather to use the competition to take a key step toward attracting investor attention for Solanux, which uses enzymes and chemicals to turn dehydrated potatoes into a healthy food product rather than starch.

 

"Enzymes and chemicals are used to stabilize the cell walls around potato starch, which slows digesting of the starch and increases the fiber in potatoes," Anderson said in explaining the process. "The process is used when raw potatoes are being converted to dehydrated potato flakes, granules or flour and the dried ingredients have increased health benefits, like lowering glycemic response, aiding with weight reduction and acting like a natural probiotic."

 

"These products will benefit diabetics, people that have allergies to corn or wheat starch products (Solanux products will be gluten free), and people that simply want more healthy (and more variety) potato products," she added.

 

When the product was brought to Anderson's attention in the university's tech-transfer office, she put a team together that named the product ("Solanum is Latin for potato, but I figured if we substituted an 'x' for the 'm,' it would sound techie," she explained in an interview) and has been guiding its progress.

 

The process was perfected by U of I food scientist Kerry Huber, who is part of the Solanux team, as is Jacob Pierson, a third-year law student with a master's in bioinformatics, whom she credits with much of the success at the Rice competition.

 

Anderson will be staying with the company in a key-executive capacity as future progress develops under the watchful eyes of Simplot executives. Going along with Anderson will be her husband, currently the U of I swim coach, and their teen-age sons.

 

It was the swimming focus of her family (her 15 and 17-year-old sons are competitive swimmers) that actually guided Anderson's first entrepreneurial venture, a learn-to-swim video called Waterproof Kids, a CD available at Wal-Mart and through Amazon. Asked if they provide her an income, she said "A little, but not enough to quit my day job."

 

Anderson admits that Solanux is the first tech-transfer product that ever tempted her to leave academia for the private sector. But she says when she saw U of I president N. Dwayne Nellis at an event two weekends ago and advised him of her decision to leave, he convinced her to instead take a two-year entrepreneurial leave.

 

In what may be the makings of a marketing pitch for products that are eventually created from the Solanux process, Anderson enthuses: "This may be our best hope for eating French fries without self-hate."

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End of state's liquor role will bring major competition for Wine World

When David LeClaire conceived and launched Wine World Warehouse in late 2010, his vision was to be the "big dog on the block" of wine stores in the Northwest. But 16 months later, he's hoping to map a strategy to keep his wine superstore successful in the face of the pending arrival of the 900-pounds gorillas of the business.

 
 

The "gorillas" are the two $1 billion players for whom Washington State held no interest because the state controlled the business of selling liquor, which is a key source of revenue for the multi-state operations of Total Wine & More, and BevMo!

 

That lack of interest by the biggest players was part of the impetus when LeClaire decided a couple of years ago to pursue his longtime goal of a wine superstore in Seattle and gathered a team of investors.

 

But the competitive world changed, of course, with overwhelming voter approval last November of Initiative 1183, which puts the state out of the liquor business on June 1. Grocery stores and others with over 10,000 square feet of space will begin legally selling spirits for the first time since the start of Prohibition.

 

The websites of  both Concord, CA-based Total Wine and Connecticut-based BevMo! now tout that Washington residents will soon be able to take advantage of their discount prices of hundreds of brands of wine, beer and spirits.

 

LeClaire's Wine World is no small player, boasting more than 500 wines from Northwest wineries and over 6000 wines from all over the world in its 23,000 square feet of space in a location adjacent to and highly visible from I-5 just north of downtown.

 

And because of its size, it will be one of the few facilities other than grocery stores that will be permitted to sell liquor, as LeClaire intends to do come June 1. The facility will be devoting the back end of the store to a selection of premium and local spirits.

 

But Wine World's size is David vs. Total Wine's Goliath, with each of its stores carrying about 8,000 different types of wine, 3,000 types of spirits and 2,500 different beers. BevMo! Is slightly smaller but similar in its array of offerings.

 

LeClaire had spent more than a decade doing wine-related events around the county and building relationships in the industry with his Wine Events & Promotions company, as well as creating the two largest wine clubs in the Northwest, Seattle Uncorked and Portland Uncorked.

 

But LeClaire seems optimistic that his long-term relationships, as well as new-found ones generated by the type of events he's created, as well as the fact the giants have been suburban-based operations, will put him in a position to continue to have a successful niche.

 

"People in the suburbs are very chain friendly," LeClaire said, "But there's a lot of pushback from the inner cities, where no one really wants a Walmart. Neither has really ever cracked the inner city." In fact, residents of Santa Barbara, CA, put up such a fuss against a plan by Total Wine to locate there that the company cancelled that plan.

 

"We know that both have already signed three leases each with both being in South Center with other locations set for Silverdale, Tacoma, Bellevue and Spokane," LeClaire said.

 

"The challenge these big guys represent is that they will have large campaigns and they'll grind down the competition on price," he added. "We're not going to be able to compete on price. We'll have to continue to do events that make it fun to come to our store," noting that their wine club now has about 3,000 members.

 

"We get a lot of trade groups from around the country and the world," LeClaire said. "We had a collection of wineries from Argentina and have 30 winemakers from Italy next month."

 

He said the visiting wine groups use Wine World as a venue to display their wares for restaurants and other customers.

 

So how has business gone since the December, 2010, opening? "We had a huge surge at first but then things slowed a bit and we underperformed the first year vs. our plan," he said. "But then things started kicking in in October and people came in, and many told their friends about us."

 

So innovative events that attract wine lovers will become increasingly important for LeClaire and his business as the competition begins to heat up. And what kind of innovative new events are in the works?

 

"We have a dog food tasting event next month," he explained. "So while the owners are tasting wine, their dogs will be tasting various doggie offerings."

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Legislature ensures that charter schools will be governor's-race issue

The Washington Legislature ensured that the controversy over charter schools will become a focus in the state's gubernatorial campaign by specifically rejecting charters as part of any education-reform efforts in a bill that creates a handful of what will be called "collaborative schools."

 

The manner in which the legislation was conceived and approved, at the request of Gov. Christine Gregoire after she specifically warned that she would veto any bill authorizing charter schools, has "controversy" written all over it.

 

Passed in the midst of an extended session aimed at resolving the state's budget crisis, the bill is titled "collaborative schools for innovation and success pilot program." It calls for a five-year program involving six elementary schools, each of which will be operated by pairing to-be-determined school districts with colleges of education in the state.

 

The bill basically does two things that, for sure, won't make proponents of dramatic change in the state's education system very happy. It requires, basically, that all parts of the current schools infrastructure -- administrators, teachers unions and what's called "the professional education standards board" - must sign off on any innovative programs conceived for the handful of schools permitted to participate. And it ensures that no wholesale changes would be possible until the five years of testing for those few schools provided for in the bill have been fulfilled and evaluated.

 

One of those left unhappy is Rep. Eric Pettigrew, the respected African-American Democrat whose House district includes some of Seattle's at-risk neighborhoods and who had co-sponsored a bill to permit charter schools in Washington State.

 

"This bill isn't even close," Pettigrew told me in a telephone interview. "We have been doing things the same way for too long and accepting a certain failure rate and I don't think that's acceptable."

 

"Charter schools provide the flexibility to be nimble in seeking education changes," he added. "Probably the most frustrating thing about the entire experience is that discussion of what's best for the kids never seems to really conclude before it trails off into organizations that will need to be involved."

 

The comment frames the reason for controversy over charter schools in this state, one of the last nine in which charters are prohibited. Whether what's best for the kids is the unquestioned number one issue inevitably collides with many teachers and teacher advocates who will insist that even if kids' needs are the priority, what's good for teachers is also an issue. The stronger the teachers union in a state, the more that conflict comes into play.

 

The Seattle Times, in a January editorial on the bill proposed by Pettigrew and Sen. Steve Litzow, a Republican from Mercer Island, said: "Political courage is often lacking in Olympia, making Pettigrew's willingness to buck the Democratic Party's usual fidelity to the Washington Education Association all the more striking."

 

"Expect contentious debate," The Times editorial continued. "In particular, the teachers union sees charter schools as a threat. Yes, Washington state voters rejected charter-school proposals three times. But we know a lot more about these innovative public schools since the last failed measure in 2004."

 

Indicating that his "courage" isn't likely to wane in the coming months as likely Democratic gubernatorial standard-bearer Jay Inslee picks up the education ball his party has crafted for him and runs with it, Pettigrew said "if the unions or even my fellow Democrats want to come after me, fine."

 

Atty. Gen. Rob McKenna, the presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee who has promised to make education reform and funding a focal point of his campaign, says of the collaborative-schools idea "There is no evidence that they will actually work. Moreover, it will take years before we know if they do."

 

"I support trying new approaches to improve education for our children right now," he added. "And a smarter approach would be to adopt models that have a proven track record of success, like high-performing public charter schools that are working in 41 other states." 

 

McKenna says both collaborative schools and charter schools should be "tools in the toolkit" for those seeking a new education model.

 

Inslee, in a wide-ranging blueprint for education reform to create "An innovative, accountable education system: building a better future for every child and a stronger economy for Washington," called for change in most aspects of the economy that might impact education funding.

 

Thus his plan for educational reform and adequate funding calls for "reinvigorating the economy..." "Reverse the trend of healthcare inflation eating into education spending..." "Sunset corporate tax loopholes that have outlived their purpose..." and "Expand a system of quality improvement to all government agencies..."

 

Inslee says his "vision for an education system by 2020" includes that "achievement and opportunity gaps among students are eliminated."

 

An ongoing challenge for Inslee and Democrats in rejecting the idea of even having charter schools on the education-reform table is that some prominent, long-time Democrat supporters appear reluctant to get aboard.

           

Perhaps most challenging for them is Nick Hanauer, the venture capitalist and avowed "lifelong Democrat and committed progressive," who views Republican positions on social issues and taxation as "misguided," but says "McKenna is on the right track and we are not" on school reform.

 

"We may be headed in the right direction, but we aren't in the right lane," Hanauer told the head of the state teachers' union in a February e-mail exchange. "It is not classroom teachers who are afraid of change and innovation, it is their union." 

 

While charter schools are anathema to teachers' unions, they have gathered supporters from among some of those who toil in the classrooms, including Erin Gustafson, who grew up on Mercer Island but began her teaching career in one of California's poverty pockets.

 

"My path to supporting charters began 16 years ago when I taught fifth grade at a high-poverty school in Vallejo," Gustason told me. "I became disillusioned with the poor teaching, union rules that protected that, and the restrictions of operating in a large system."

 

Gustafson, now married and the mother of children 9 and 7 and a substitute teacher, became involved in a new teacher-created education-reform non-profit called Teachers United, born a year ago with the goal of "giving teachers a voice in policy debates."

 

 She is now policy director for the group, which advocated last session for charter schools as one of the choices that need to be available in Washington State. She was among teachers from the organization who testified before the legislature's education committees on behalf of charter schools.

 

"After doing a lot of research and visiting several public charter schools in California, I have come to believe that successful public charters are an effective way of closing the achievement gap," she said. "We took teachers who were interested to visit high-performance charters across the country and, for those teachers, seeing was believing so they decided to advocate for charters."

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Ellis reflects on the dramatic events that saved Mariner franchise 20 years ago

John Ellis, who was a reluctant CEO looking forward to retirement when he was called on 20 years ago to help find local owners to save the Seattle Mariners' franchise, admits that he wasn't even a baseball fan when he undertook the almost-lost cause of saving baseball for Seattle      

              __________________  

 

        Then-Gov. Mike Lowry recalls  

        legislative solution to fund what

               became Safeco Field 

                         (See sidebar below)  

               ___________________ 

 

 

"I didn't know much about baseball and wasn't really a baseball guy," Ellis admits, reflecting back on the events of late '91, early 1992. And he didn't really understand how deeply

 
 

embroiled he would become when he undertook the role that Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, and subsequently other business leaders, urged on him, a role in which he soon found how challenging saving the franchise would be.

 

 "I'm not sure if, to this day, anyone really knows how close we were to losing this franchise," says Ellis, who eventually served as chief executive officer of the Seattle Mariners and remains, 13 years after retirement, the team's primary representative to major league baseball.

 

It's a tale that deserves to be retold at a time when, rather than preparing a celebratory anniversary event for the Mariners to applaud what was achieved two decades ago, community leaders and baseball fans seem intent on railing against the Mariners for a variety of  perceived shortcomings.

 

It was in the midst of last week's outcry over the Mariners' push back on the idea of a new arena that they legitimately pointed out could bring a couple hundred more traffic-generating events a year to the Sodo neighborhood that I visited with Ellis over lunch. It was a visit scheduled several weeks ago so the controversy itself wasn't the topic of conversation, other than a brief, frustrated reference to it by Ellis.

 

I wanted his reflections on those tense days in late 1991, early '92, when an unlikely alliance of a dramatically wealthy Japanese businessman, a group of wealthy young local tech executives and a couple of senior community leaders was cobbled together to keep major league baseball in Seattle.

 

Ellis, as CEO of Bellevue-based Puget Sound Power & Light Co., had agreed to serve as an advisory board member to Mariner owner George Argyros, then to succeeding owner Jeff Smulyan, both commitments made as a community leader rather than baseball devotee. Thus he was logical member of a special advisory group Seattle's mayor turned to when it became clear Smulyan intended to sell the team.

 

"Norm's idea was for us to go out and find someone to buy the team, which at that point was appraised at $100 million," Ellis recalled. "After poking around for awhile looking for a possible buyer, we finally told the mayor we couldn't find anyone crazy enough to put up $100 million to buy a baseball team."

 

At that point, Ellis figured he could go ahead with his plan to retire as CEO of the  region's largest investor-owned utility, get on his boat and set out on a leisurely cruise to Alaska, as he had long planned to do.

 

But over that late December of '91, Sen. Slade Gorton's own efforts on behalf of saving the Mariners uncovered, to his astonishment, in a visit with Nintendo of America President Minoru Arakawa, an interest by his father in law, Haricho Yamauchi, purported then to be the third richest man in Japan, to buy the Mariners.

 

Ellis was quickly sucked into a furious effort to figure out how to get major league baseball, whose antipathy to any foreign ownership but Japanese ownership most of all, to even consider Yamauchi's offer while averting a sale to someone else that would render meaningless any Seattle effort.

 

After an aborted effort by "a totally naïve local group, led by the most naïve guy of all (referring to himself)" to meet with commissioner of baseball, Ellis found himself summoned to a what he describes as "a secret meeting," a "cloak-and-dagger"-like, assumed-name visit in St. Petersburg, FL, with unnamed major league owners.

 

Ellis arrived at the designated hotel and checked in for a meeting that never occurred with a small group of owners whose identity he never learned. But what did occur told him how close Seattle was to having the team leave before the efforts to save the franchise could even gain traction.

 

"I looked at the hotel shop across from the front desk and saw they were selling Tampa Bay Mariners shirts and hats," he said. "That experience and a couple of others that followed made it clear that the deal to move the team to Tampa Bay was already in the works.

 

"the simple fact is that if we hadn't put this together when we did, beating Smulyan's contractual deadline to get out of his Kingdome lease, the team would have been gone," Ellis said.

 

So as the Seattle-ownership deal began to gain traction, both the group of owners who had been brought together to join Yamauchi and Arakawa, and later, major league baseball executives as their opposition eased, insisted that Ellis be a part of the leadership of the team.

 

"At the June meeting of the owners, after all their conditions for our ownership group had finally been met, they told me they had two remaining conditions," Ellis recalls. "First they said they wanted me to serve as the team's rep to major league baseball, the person each team has who is empowered to act without anyone else's approval.

 

"The other condition floored me," he said with a smile. "They said they expected the owners' rep to have a significant financial interest in the team. I replied 'can you tell me what you mean by significant?' and they all broke out laughing because they had gotten to know me and knew the extent to which I could be involved. My financial role ended up being not very substantial."

 

But his involvement as CEO, between then and his retirement at the age of 71 at the end of the '99 season, was extensive and, as he recalls, every time he thought he'd be able to hand over the reins and head out on that boat trip to Alaska, a new challenge emerged.

 

First task was finding a new manager who would represent a statement. So after convincing Chuck Armstrong to come aboard as president and retaining Woody Woodward as general manager, he asked the two of them who should be the new manager "The guy atop both their lists was Lou Pinella."

 

The events that unfolded between then and his retirement included the Kingdome roof collapsing, the players strike, the memorable end-of-season race to the league championship series in 1995, the struggle to get voter approval for a new stadium, legislative alternative when the vote failed.

 

Although he retired in 1999, the stage had been set with the players and team executives who would two years later set the American League record for victories in a season at 116.

 

Since 2000 he has been the franchise's chairman emeritus, but has remained on the executive committee of major league baseball and has continued to be the Mariners' representative to MLB and on the ownership committee.

 

He remains a one-of-a-kind in major league baseball: as the team's retired top executive who never had more than a tiny piece of ownership but who is still viewed by the other teams' owners as the most important voice of Seattle baseball.

 
             -----------------------------------------


Mike Lowry recalls '95 legislative pact that

cemented franchise with stadium funding 

 

While John Ellis gets legitimate credit for his role in saving the Seattle Mariner franchise in 1992, of equal importance was Gov. Mike Lowry's role three years later when he brought the franchise back from the edge by getting the Legislature to agree on a new-stadium funding package.


A 1995 ballot measure to impose a sales-tax increase to fund construction of a new stadium was pushed from hopeless to near passage by the miraculous late-season dramatics of the Mariners that included a memorable victory over the New York Yankees before a championship-series loss to Cleveland.
 

 

"After that sales-tax ballot issue failed by the razor-thin margin of about one-tenth of a percent, I remember Ellis calling a news conference to say the team would be put up for sale because it was losing a lot of money in the Kingdome," Lowry told me Tuesday in an e-mail exchange.

 

Lowry recalled that he was approached by his longtime friends, public-relations executive Bob Gogerty and Boeing's chief of governmental affairs, Bud Coffey, as well as the mayor and county executive, asking him to call a special legislative session to find a stadium-funding solution.

 

"I frankly wanted to do that," Lowry said, "because they had run a great campaign in their narrow sales-tax ballot loss. It was a media campaign that featured tremendous commercials that had young kids who were playing baseball morphing into the actual Mariner players, like Ken Griffey with a tag line that I think went like 'Heroes need a place to grow and become real.'"

 

Lowry says he called Ellis to ask if the owners could hold off on seeking to sell the team until he had a chance to see if he could get the lawmakers to agree to a brief special session limited to the Mariners' issue.

 

"I frankly got a positive reaction from the legislative leaders," Lowry noted. "I guess they didn't want to lose the Mariners either."

 

Thus in something that could probably have only happened in the political environment of yesterday, Lowry was able to work out a deal with key Democrats and Republicans from both houses on what he remembers as "a totally new funding package that was importantly different from the sale-tax measure."

 

"It was composed of taxes that were mostly on the users and beneficiaries of the new stadium, like admission taxes and sports bar taxes," he said. "As I recall, the only new tax in the package that was a stretch to say it was a beneficiary of the stadium was on rental cars."

 

In recalling his feelings in undertaking the legislative initiative, Lowry said "I simply did not want Seattle and the state to have the image of losing that major sports franchise. That struck me as Rust Belt."

 

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Supporters of crowd funding for startups must await SEC rule-making process

Now that the so-called crowd-funding measure has whipped through Congress with a speed and level of bipartisan support unheard of in recent years, the effort to make it fulfill its promise of creating new companies and jobs begins. And that may prove more challenging than its passage.

 

Before any entrepreneur with a can't-fail idea rushes to the Internet in hope of attracting a crowd of investors, the Securities and Exchange Commission must first set the rules on how provisions of the law will be permitted to play out. The agency has 180 days to fulfill those duties.

 

The legislation, called the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS) will dramatically expand the way new companies can raise money and the reduce the oversight for smaller companies doing initial public offerings.

  

After quick congressional approval last week, President Obama, who admits he first learned about the proposal in early March, will be signing the bill Thursday.  

 

Supporters view it as a major breakthrough for funding entrepreneurial startups and thus eventually creating jobs. Critics are convinced it is a funding disaster in the making. Both will have to wait to see what the SEC comes up with.

 
 

That process that will draw its own critics as it unfolds and the fact it's now in the SEC's hands will likely create some apprehension for friends and opponents alike.

 

More than a few cynics have suggested that the bill's acronym, JOBS,  is a key reason few in Congress dared oppose it despite a lot of whispered reservations.

 

What the bill seeks to achieve is the opportunity for people (crowds) to organize via internet websites to fund companies. Using the internet to raise money is a process that's long been utilized for charitable and entertainment purposes.

 

 The crowd funding approach would open the way for people to invest as little as $500 and up to $10,000 in startups, eliminating the long-time steep financial requirement for investors, other than what's known as "friends and family" investors.

 

The kind of hype that has marked the rapid progress of this legislation through Congress is nowhere better displayed than on the website of Crowdfunding Offerings, which pitches its ability to provide an investment platform for "the crowd."

 

So here's the firm's pitch:

"Crowdfunding investing will allow start-ups and existing businesses to raise funds for their companies directly from the public who will invest small amounts of money in return for shares in the company. Americans will finally have the opportunity to invest in ways that have historically been reserved only for the wealthy. Together, America's entrepreneurs and investors will launch the next great ideas of our time!"

 

When I write occasionally about angel-investing issues, I turn to friends from Montana to California who are leaders among angel investors, with an occasional venture capitalist thrown in. Their collective insights inevitably create a better understanding of the issues, but disagreements among them frequently abound. And so it was with the crowd-funding measure.

 

The most vocal and opinionated among my angel friends on this issue is Bill Payne, who summers in the Flathead Valley of Montana and winters in the Las Vegas area. Payne, who gets to a conviction about his views because of the respect he receives from angel investors across the West and beyond, describes the bill as "a train wreck waiting to happen."

 

"Lots of investors will get scammed," Payne suggests. "Just give it a couple of years and Congress will be asking the SEC how they ever let this happen!".

 

Mike Elconin, San Diego-based leader of the major Southern California angel-investor organization Tech Coast Angels, sums up a concern that even some proponents share.

 

"The danger is that this new law will engender an expansion of boiler rooms in which slick sales people convince unsophisticated investors to put money into companies at highly inflated valuations," says Elconin. "Whether you think this is a problem for government to prevent, or a matter of buyer beware, depends on your political philosophy."

 

Dan Rosen, a respected Seattle attorney-investor and a policy director for the Angel Capital Association (ACA), is among those who supported the legislation and helped author an ACA internet post to help inform angels on the bill

 

Rosen, at the invitation of the White House, will be on hand at the bill signing Thursday. 

 

Liz Marchi, who presides over the Kalispell-based Frontier Angel Network, frames why many supporters have looked beyond those concerns at what many perceive as the underlying importance of the legislation.

 

"While there will inevitably be some hiccups in the execution of crowd-funding, I think it's a major breakthrough for early stage seed capital," she said.  "Congress has certainly allowed some risk with this bill, but it drives private capital down the food chain where it is desperately needed to seed innovation."

 

Tom Simpson, former venture-capital leader who now heads the Spokane Angel Alliance, sees the new law as "not perfect, but a step in the right direction."

 

"But I agree with Payne that the more investors a new company has, the more the likelihood for problems," he added.

 

Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who conceived the measure, offers perhaps the most compelling argument in favor of it.

 

He explained that the long-time practice of people funding their new businesses by mortgaging their homes is basically no longer possible. So a new source of start-up capital was necessary, particularly in the face of the disappearing hope of bank financing.

 

My own sense is that the typical congressional supporters of the bill went through the following conversation with themselves:

 

"Job creation is so politically important today that if it costs investors a few thousand dollars each down the road, it's worth it. Somebody has to pick up the tab for creating jobs and we certainly can't. Poor people buy lottery tickets all the time taking risk far greater than investing in a start-up company. So let's get on with it."

 

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