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Fate dealing losing hand to Seattle income tax advocates

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Fate seems to be dealing a losing hand to proponents of a state income tax, given events that have unfolded behind the scenes with the lawsuits filed since the Seattle City Council enacted a tax on higher-income residents as a strategy to reach the State Supreme Court with the issue.

Their best hope now to achieve their goal is to be dealt a joker wild card by those on the other side who have sued to overturn the tax on the statutory grounds that the city violated the 1984 state law that specifically prohibits cities and counties from imposing a net income tax. 

The wild card could be handed to tax advocates because some of those suing the city seem tempted to turn it into a political issue that could be the key to unintentionally attracting the state's highest court.

From the outset of a campaign flatly touted by council members and their cheering supporters as an effort to "tax the rich," the goal of tax advocates has been to get the State Supreme Court to review the 84-year-old decision that a net income tax violates the state constitution.

Whether that campaign can move ahead may well be decided on November 27, the date set yesterday by King County Superior Court Judge John R. Ruhl for him to hear the motions by attorneys representing plaintiffs in three lawsuits filed against the city.

Matched by those whose rhetoric is "we need to tax the greedy rich" is the equally heated commentary of those who oppose any tax and particularly taxes on the wealthy, who feel they are already overtaxed. The anger of the latter was evident in the comment made in private by one of the attorneys that their purpose is to "kill the income tax and drive a stake through its heart so it never comes back alive."

As Matt Davis, attorney for Seattle investment advisor Michael Kunath observed: "What was supposed to be a purely legal exercise has devolved into the latest battlefield in the fight between two groups who have no hesitation about forcing their viewpoints on everyone else."

Kunath's suit was the first of the three and thus was the one assigned Judge Ruhl by lottery and it will be Davis' motion for a summary judgement against the city tax that will be heard on November 17 with the motions by attorneys for The Freedom Foundation and the Opportunity for All Coalition to also be heard then.

The first indication of the unanticipated challenges facing the city came when Kunath's suit, filed minutes after Mayor Ed Murray signed the tax into law following City Council passage, noted that the council fouled up in its maneuver to pass a tax that wouldn't be viewed as violating state law.

The council members passed what they intended to be a tax on gross income rather than net income, but they chose the amount on Line 22 on the federal tax form as the basis for each filer's taxable income and that line is described in various IRS documents as a "net" income tax line, which Davis highlighted in his suit.

The other suits included that point in their briefs against the Seattle City Council for its passage of a tax on individuals with income over $250,000 and joint-filing income of more than $500,000, They all indicate they want Judge Ruhl to merely rule that the city violated state law.

But the attorneys, including two retired State Supreme Court justices, have been told by Judge Ruhl that they must be prepared to argue the constitutionality as well as the statutory issue, although he said at the Wednesday meeting with attorneys that he intends to rule first on the statutory question. 

What that would mean is the issue of whether the income tax violates what's known as the "Uniformity Clause," a constitutional requirement that all property be taxed equally, wouldn't come up if he rules against the city.


Thus the only way the issue of the Uniformity Clause would become part of the case is if he were to find the city income tax was legal. 

Then attorneys for the three suits could use the Uniformity Clause as a backup issue and raise it for a discussion that would reach the high court.

The sense of those who want a state income tax is that a dramatically more liberal high court than the 1933 court that ruled that income was property and thus required to be taxed equally would throw out its own rules and reverse that decision, opting to throw out its own rules and eight decades of decisions by the high court supporting the 1933 decision.

The random selection of Ruhl to preside over the superior court deliberations on the case also has to be viewed as less than ideal for the city since he is considered by attorneys in this case as the best judge for them because his qualifications make it less likely he would be influenced by the political rhetoric surrounding this case. He is rated as "exceptionally well qualified" by various organizations, including the King County Bar Association.

Finally, Ruhl's decision to separate the statutory question of whether the city broke state law from the constitutional issue will make it more difficult for Seattle to get before the Supreme Court with the constitutional question.

 "Uniformity" in this case means the city's imposition of no tax on income under $250,000 and 2.25 percent for income above that.

The concern of those who fear that it's risky to turn this into a political issue rather than a statutory one are concerned about statements like that from Matt McIlwain of Madrona Venture Partners that "In defeating the city income tax, we can help maintain a system of opportunity and job creation for innovators and workers."

In addition, the complaint from the Opportunity for All Coalition of which McIlwain is a spokesman goes to great length in its suit to provide anecdotes of people being taxed on selling their homes or their businesses who are not wealthy but merely average Seattle citizens who will be injured by the tax.

Those are all political considerations.

Davis' motion makes clear at the outset that he and Kunath don't view this as a political issue but a simple statutory question. The other suits appear tempted to want to make political statements with their suits.

A long line of decisions in the decades since that 1933 decision that income is property and thus a tax on it must thus meet the constitutional requirement that property has to be taxed equally have cited that decision to reverse ideas like calling an income tax an excise tax or imposing an income tax on real estate transactions. 

And confronting those who hope the court will merely overturn that decision is the rule known as Constitutional avoidance, which says the court must make every effort to avoid interpreting the Constitution if it can deal with the statutes. But in the end, the high court can do whatever it wants.

The concern of those who don't want to tempt a Supreme Court likely to be sensitive to the views of those who want to repair an admittedly regressive tax structure with an income tax know the court will be searching for any argument that opens the door to consider the merits and wisdom of the tax.

Anyone who argues that the tax is unfair, unneeded or unreasonable is handing the Supreme Court exactly what it needs. And should the Supreme Court take up the issue and decide in favor of income-tax advocates, it's a good bet that soon thereafter, a legislature that now needs only a simple majority and no voter support because of Supreme Court action to throw out a decades-old precedent, will enact such a tax.

And history will honor or revile, depending on which segment of the population we are looking at, the organization or individual who made that come about.
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National squash event in Bellevue drew world's best

National squash event in Bellevue drew world's best

Bellevue's role as a growing center for the sport of squash was enhanced last weekend as the quest of the best players in the world for a share of the most lucrative 16-man squash tournament purse ever had the attention of the squash-world, but with unfortunately little local attention or support.

Frenchman Gregory Gaultier, currently World Number 1 in the sport, won the title and accompanying $25,000, defeating Egyptian Ali Farag in a tournament that added to the image of Shabana Khan as one of the sport's emerging star promoters. Her YSK Events put on the tournament.Shabana Khan

With $150,000 in prize money on the table, the PMI Bellevue Squash Classic was appropriately staged as a sort of coming-out party for the Boys & Girls Club Hidden Valley Field House just north of Downtown Bellevue.

When she put on the Men's World Squash Championship in late 2015, first time ever for the event on U.S. soil, Shabana charted new territory for prize money, which totaled $325,000 for the event that was held at Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center. That amount became the threshold going forward with the U.S. Open in Philadelphia next fall boasting a $350,000 purse.

I was struck by the fact that when you watch the speed, agility and athleticism of the top squash ccompetitor and reflect on the comparative talents needed for other racket sports, it's hard not to ask "why is tennis played everywhere and squash isn't?"

I posed that question to Shabana's older brother, Azam, four times a member of the U.S. Open team, and he said: "Tennis courts are everywhere and available to all while squash courts are in clubs and available only to the elite, but we intend to change that and it's one of Shabana's goals."

In fact, statistics on the sport indicate it is growing faster in this country than anywhere in the world, with the U.K. and Egypt following close behind.

For those on hand for the 2015 Men's World Championships, there was a bit of déjà vu since Gaultier defeated an Egyptian in that year's final to win his first World title after losing the in the final match three previous years.

Only a few in the inner circle of those helping Shabana with the event were aware that had it not been for the assist from Robert Greczanik, whom Asam Khan describes as "specializing in restoring injured athletes to full enhanced function," to help overcome an ankle injury that Gaultier feared would keep him out of the finals.

As an aside, Gaultier had turned to Greczanik, who runs Energetic Sports Lab in Bellevue, prior to the 2015 finals to address the fact he simply felt "all beat up with numerous injuries."

Squash players from around the world who were on hand for both events praised the Boys & Girls Club as far more appealing for players and fans, particularly for the interaction between them, than Meydenbauer, which incidentally had rejected her effort to hold this year's event there, telling her to look elsewhere.

And the community supporters of the Hidden Valley club must have been pleased to see its visibility on the global squash stage with thousands subscribing to the television coverage.

Players from 17 nations were on hand, but Shabana made it 18, using what's called a "wild card" for promoters of squash events, to let a young player from Connecticut compete to make sure the U.S. was represented.

Leading the as-yet small group of believers in what Shabana's squash initiatives are intended to mean for the Bellevue community's image and the opportunity she seeks to bring to the city's and region's young people was Dave Cutler. He is not only universally acclaimed as the key technical brain behind the Microsoft Windows NT and all the subsequent windows versions. A decade ago he was recognized as a National Medal of Technology and Innovation laureate, perhaps the most prestigious honor in the country for developers of new technology.

His support, and the fact that dozens, if not hundreds, of Microsofties who cross the street from the company's Redmond campus to play at the Pro Sports Club where Shabana, Asam and Latasha are instructors helped guide Microsoft into the Presenting sponsorship with Pro Sports as the Official sponsor.

Pacific Market International, a Seattle-based brand and product-marketing company with offices in seven cities around the world, has been a strong supporter of both this five-day event and of the 2015 Men's Championship as title sponsor.

Richard and Jackie Lange, Woodinville residents, stepped up as a family after Shabana created a national tournament for young squash players called the National Gold Tournament that attracted 175 young people from around the country to compete in groups broken down as under 11, 13, 15, 17 and 19. Shabana notes that 20 college coaches looked on for the older players' matches at the event held earlier this spring, also at the Boys & Girls Club.

The Langes, whose daughter, Kristin, played squash at Penn and was a three-time intercollegiate finalist, put up the money for five years of having the youth competition be "The Lange Showcase," sharing Shabana's vision of making squash available to young people of all ages and means.

Khan is the most famous last name in squash. Distant cousins Hasim and his son Sharif, and cousin Jahangir, dominated world squash for decades. 

Yusuf Khan 10-time all-India champion, emigrated to the U.S. in 1968 to teach tennis at the Seattle Tennis Club, bringing with him his family that then included children Asam and Shabana. Khan soon after arrival in Seattle created the Seattle Athletic Club and made it a focal point for squash in Seattle.

Shabana's younger sister, Latasha, was several time national women's champion before losing the title to Shabana, providing me the opportunity to joke in an earlier column, "best in the family is best in the county."

The looming reality for this unique local event is that Shabana and her supporting family have basically given themselves only a couple of months to decide whether it's worth the struggle (the event basically broke even this year) to attract thus-far absent support from either the City of Bellevue or local businesses.

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40 Years Fuels John Buller's 'Age of Disruption'

40 Years Fuels John Buller's 'Age of Disruption'

John Buller, whose senior executive roles have ranged from higher education to sports to retailing to non-profits to community organizations, has experienced and helped reshape an array of cultures over the years since he arrived in Seattle to play basketball for the University of Washington.

And the immersion in those disparate cultures has led him to publish his second book, "Can You Survive the Age of Disruption," more than two decades and numerous disruptive involvements since his first book. "Survival Guide for Bureaucratic Warriors."

buller johnBuller prefers to describe his latest book as "a resource guide to creating the all-in culture," which he sums up as "all about outcomes that bring interpersonal skills that are collaborative in nature," although in his book he details elements needed to bring about an all-in culture.

"I have always been interested in leadership and culture building," Buller told me. "But I believe we are now experiencing a rate of change that demands a new way to look at how organizations manage the pace of this change."

"We are at a point where there are three generations in the work force at the same time," said Buller. "And within a few years we'll have four generations, and technology has now outpaced our ability to manage the rate of change."

Buller's first cultural "all-in" was college basketball, having been recruited in 1965 to come to UW. He led the freshman team in scoring and was sixth man, starting 10 games, in his sophomore year. But a viral inflamation in the heart lining impacted the rest of his playing career.

He spent two years as a graduate assistant for the Huskies while getting his MBA, then went to work for what was the Bon Marche, later Macy's,

Over the next two years and three promotions, he became divisional merchandise manager and eventually senior advertising and brand development executive. It was at The Bon where, he says, he had his favorite job.

"I was responsible for changing the 4,000 employees from a clerk mentality to a customer service mentality and I also got to do more than 40 two day team building workshops to support this cultural transformation.," Buller recalls. 

The Bon experience led him to write "Survival Guide."

"Changing the culture at The Bon was an effort to focus on service, both to our customers and our internal attitudes toward our fellow employees," Buller explained.  "The book was about my learning the difference between a 'Soldier,' someone who takes orders, and a 'Warrior,' one who has a mission or a cause. I learned how to be a Warrior."

He took the warrior attitude, and the details of building survival skills, to roles as co-chair and director of the organizing committee for the NCAA Final Four in Seattle in 1995, executive director of the UW Alumni Association, CEO of Tully's Coffee and CEO of the Seattle Police Foundation.

His non-profit leadership roles included chairing the board of Seattle Seafair and a dozen years on both the Seattle Center Board and the board of the Washington Athletic Club, where he currently serves as executive director of the 101 Club.

Buller chuckles as he explains his often used process of creating All-In by having the marketing and the accounting teams each put together a business plan for the company.

"As you might guess, there wasn't a lot of similarity between the two plans. So I'd leave the room and say 'I'll be back in 20 minutes. Fix it while I'm gone."

Buller suggests "organizational leaders seeking to create new cultures "are tasked with an almost impossible amount of required intelligences."

"Today's Leadership needs to be proficient in understanding the 'Meyers Briggs Profile' - knowing yourself and understanding others that was the intelligence lesson of the 1980s and early 90s - then, along came 'Emotional Intelligence,' which focused on street smarts vs. book smarts," Buller explained.

 "Over the last 10 years you would have also needed to be competent in understanding the 'Social Media' explosion. Then, it helps if you have 'Ethnic Intelligence,' as well as 'Religious Intelligence', and 'Immigration Intelligence' - and now, the biggest new understanding is 'Generational Intelligence.'"

Discussion of changing culture in the workplace automatically includes focus on millennials, those in their twenties and early thirties. In addition to that generation's obviously adaptability to technology, 

Buller suggests "they have a social consciousness and they don't want to work somewhere that doesn't fit that. They think broad workplace experience, meaning horizontal movement, is better. They are looking for the perfect culture and perfect outcome."

"If you don't believe the statement that if you can't change you're dead, look at what's occurred with the Fortune 500 over four decades," Buller says. "In 1975 the average age of the companies in that index was 68, now the average age is eight." 

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With 'Patriots Day' as backdrop, event honors First Responders

With 'Patriots Day' as backdrop, event honors First Responders

With a backdrop of the movie "Patriots Day," described by its director as "unapologetic in support of law enforcement," a special gathering took place in Seattle last week to honor First Responders, the police and firefighters who are asked to come through in time of crisis. It may have been the first event of its kind and certainly was a first in Seattle.

The event, without advance media hype and with no speeches and no elected officials present to distract from the "thank you" for the honorees, was the idea of Greg Steinhauer, president of American Life, with key support from the Seattle Police Foundation and a few local corporations who put up the money to make the event possible.unnamed 1

The event began at the Cinerama theater, where the movie "Patriots Day," the film about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent manhunt for the terrorist brothers, was playing. It a wound up with a social gathering at the Westin downtown.

The importance of the movie to Seattle and the First Responders gathering is that Robert Merner, now an assistant police chief in Seattle, is a featured figure in the movie, being the basis for the lead character played by producer and actor Mark Wahlberg as a leader in the effort to find the brothers following the bombing.

Peter Berg, director and one of the writers, said of the film that it was "unapologetic in support of law enforcement," which to some observers accounted for the fact that Patriots Day surprisingly failed to be nominated for Best Picture for the recent Academy Awards.

One writer, discussing the Academy Awards nominations, observed that Patriots Day "Was exactly the movie that America needs right now."

That sense certainly came out when the Boston police officers, following the end of the hunt for the terrorist brothers, were on hand for a Red Sox baseball game and the game was stopped by the Red Sox so those in the stands could say "thank you."

Hard to imagine something like that happening in Seattle, where a police pushback is almost a required reaction in some circles of Seattleites and there is still lingering agitation about accusations of excessive force and abuse prior to a 2012 consent decree that followed Justice Department mandated reforms.

The idea for the gathering of police and firefighters to get to know each other came about at a social gathering where Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, Merner, Avalara CEO Scott McFarland and Wells Fargo's Senior Vice President Tim Brown were visiting.

It came up in conversation that Merner's role in the pursuit of the Boston bombers was being played by Wahlberg. Following that conversation, Debbie Peppa, charged by Steinhauer with putting on last week's event. 

She recalled for me what happened next.

"It didn't take long before the idea was hatched that we should do an event to honor first responder and that the movie would be a great platform to do it, so Scott McFarland and Tim Brown quickly said they would support the event and I was tasked to make it happen," Peppa explained.

"Police Chief (Kathleen) O'Toole was supportive of it immediately as well," she added. "It's my understanding that it's the first time that an event like this was held, just an event to honor the officers and firefighters who risk their lives every day in a political climate that isn't really supportive of what they do so we wanted to send a message that people do recognize what they do."

"But it wouldn't have come about if Mark Pinkowski, chairman of the board for the Police Foundation, hadn't been instrumental in supporting the event, even though he was in Wisconsin dealing with the death of his father," Peppa said. 

Mark Sundberg, president of International Parking Management (IPM), who was one of the sponsors of the gathering, said "It was a phenomenal event and it would be awesome if we could do it again next year and have the general public get the chance to be involved."

In fact a number of the firefighters and officers asked if this could become a yearly event to allow the two departments to mingle and build relationships.

Sundberg made a point of praising what has happened in the department under O'Toole's leadership.

O'Toole, who had headed the Boston police department as well as the Irish national police, was tapped just under three years ago by Mayor Ed Murray after a national search to take over what was a beleaguered department operating under the consent decree that required stiff reforms to combat excessive force and biased policing.

"The police chief is the best thing that has happened in Seattle for a long time," Sundberg told me.

As a bit of background on Assistant Chief Robert Merner, who was the catalyst for the event, he joined the Seattle Police Department two years ago this week from Boston, where he was chief of detectives in the Boston Police Department. In that role he oversaw 800 employees as superintendent of the Bureau of Investigative Services.

Merner, who joined the Boston Police Department in 1986, worked under O'Toole when she served as Boston police commissioner from 2004 to 2006.

O'Toole said at the time of his selection she was unaware that he had applied for the Seattle job until he became a finalist. He told her he didn't alert her of his interest because that would have been inappropriate, she said.

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Alaska's Cuba service recalls Russia Far East venture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Baseler reflects on Ste. Michelle 50th anniversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baird enjoying growing fuss over his STOCK Act

Brian Baird spent half of his 12 years in Congress in a frustrated, and futile, effort to gather support for his legislation to make it illegal for lawmakers to engage in the kind of financial transactions that those in the real world know as Insider Trading and for which they can be sent to jail. He and one or two supporters offered it each session but couldn’t even get a committee hearing.

But Baird was able to look on with satisfaction when, a year after he decided to focus on family and not run for re-election, a late-2011 program on CBS' "60 Minutes" brought national attention to his idea and coined the phrase "Honest graft," meaning it was graft but it wasn't illegal. The program exposed how members of Congress and their staff traded stocks based on nonpublic information to which they had exclusive access.

Lawmakers by the dozens scurried like frightened rats to get aboard as supporters amid the public outcry the news program sparked and so in April of 2012, the measure titled the STOCK Act (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) was passed to finally bar members of Congress from doing stock transactions in areas they regulate.

Now Baird is watching with some amusement because, since Republican congressional leaders went out of their way in 2012 to quickly pass legislation extending the law to the president and vice president and those who worked for them, President-elect Donald Trump would be covered by the law. So he and his minions are seeking to exempt him from the law.

Newt Gingrich, explaining why ethics laws shouldn’t apply to Trump, even offered the view: "We've never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don't work…We're going to have to think up a whole new approach." He suggested that Congress change ethics laws so Trump can avoid any conflicts of interest that his global business empire may pose.

And Trump himself has said he is not subject to laws relating to conflict of interest.

Maybe so. But maybe not, since the Republicans who now control both houses of Congress may not wish to take early action on something that would allow critics the opportunity to point to the GOP lawmakers as being the lap dogs of the President. In other words, if they rolled over on command on the issue of ethics, what commands could they object to?

And Walter Shaub, director of the federal Office of Government Ethics (OGE), has issued a memo providing official guidance to Congress on the issue. His letter explained: “The Stock Act bars the President, the Vice President, and all executive branch employees from: using nonpublic information for private profit; engaging in insider trading; or intentionally influencing an employment decision or practice of a private entity solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation.”

But the President names the OGE director so once Trump moves into the Oval Office, it might be a good bet that Shaub will be replaced and that his successor will offer a quite different view.

Baird served six terms from Washington’s Third Congressional District before deciding in 2010 that his young family (he and his wife, Rachel Nugent’s, twin boys were 4 years old at the time), was more important than his battles in Congress. There was talk of his being targeted by the GOP if he had sought re-election, even though in his last four re-elections, none of his opponents could muster even 40 percent of the vote.

He says that while his family was the key reason he decided not to run again in 2010, other reasons included frustration over “the growing extremism and intransigence of many in the Republican party” and the “Democratic leadership showing little if any understanding of the concerns for centrist members from swing districts.”

Baird, who gained a doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Wyoming after graduating from the University of Utah, says of the emerging focus on the STOCK Act and its relevance to Trump:  “I'm just glad people are standing up for the bill now and trying to make sure it has the desired impact.”

But he finds it humorous that the growing attention to the law has brought a number of representatives and Senators who are being quoted about the brewing controversy as Trump’s inauguration nears and describing themselves as author of the law.

“As they say, success has many parents, even if they were nowhere near the conception,” Baird mused in an email to me.

The interviews by CBS reporter Steve Croft with then-House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his unexpected questions making Boehner look like someone hiding from the truth and Pelosi like someone too incompetent to even come across as thinking, should be part of every high school government class. The topic of the lecture in which the You Tube interviews were featured could be titled: “Who elects these people?”

The interviews are now difficult to find on You Tube because you have to subscribe to “60 Minutes.” Too bad.

The controversy over the STOCK Act and the soon-to-be Trump Administration isn’t currently getting a major focus from the media.

But a budding controversy could become a political brouhaha once a new president takes an action that would be illegal under the act.

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Hutch Award merits broader support, including MLB

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The award honoring the memory of the Major League Baseball star and manager for whom the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is named has been presented for more than half century, but it has yet to gain the visibility traction that would put it on the prestige pedestal that it’s supporters think it merits.

To students of baseball lore, the name Fred Hutchinson brings to mind a Seattle kid who became a star pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, went on to manage three big league teams, including guiding the Cincinnati Reds to the 1961 World Series, but succumbed to cancer in 1964 at the age of 45.

But to those afflicted by the disease that claimed his life, his name on the renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, created in 1975 by his brother, Dr. William Hutchinson, to honor his memory, has conveyed hope.

A year after Hutch’s death, three Midwest sports media admirers who saw him in action created an award to honor his memory, and ever since then The Hutch Award has been presented to a Major League Baseball player who exemplified the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson.

For years the award was given out annually in New York, starting with a flourish as the first honorees were New York Yankee legend Mickey Mantle and Dodger pitching great Sandy Koufax. But it was an event far from Seattle and wasn’t a fund raiser until, in 1999, it was brought back to Seattle and was moved to Safeco Field a year later.

But despite the fact the Seattle Mariners are a sponsor and, for the past 16 years, have hosted the annual luncheon where the award is presented at Safeco Field, attracting about 1,000 attendees and raising about a half-million dollars a year for The Hutch, it has not yet achieved the success its supporters think it could and should.

The missing link to bring the award to a visibility level equal to the prestige of The Hutch itself is viewed as active support from Major League Baseball.

And a new push to achieve higher visibility and broader support, including from Major League Baseball, is under way by officials of The Hutch as well as those who have long been involved in this event.

“We hope to take this prestigious award onto a national stage to increase the support and awareness around our world-class science at the Fred Hutch,” said Justin R. Marquart Deputy Director of Development at The Hutch. He was quick to note that local sponsors like the Mariners and Alaska Airlines have provided key support but that what direct involvement from Major League Baseball would mean is national sponsors.

Organized effort to gain visibility for what it is and what it does has not been part of the strategy for The Hutch as an institution until the last year or so, which is part of the explanation for the fact that this event hasn’t received a lot of media visibility, even locally.

Certainly the achievements of The Hutch’s “stars” have gained attention over the years. Those range from the Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine that have gone to Donnall Thomas in 1990, Dr. Lee Hartwell in 2001 and Dr. Linda Buck in 2004, as well as the major awards across the medical industry to individual researchers. Perhaps the most compelling of advances for which The Hutch is known is the life-changing research of Thomas into bone marrow transplantation.

But research into cancer and related diseases has come to require huge amounts of money and the quest to attract those dollars from grants, individuals and events has come to require a visibility strategy and focus matching the research itself at the institutions where research and treatment are carried on.

“It is our goal to eliminate cancer as a cause of human suffering and death through prevention and curative treatments accessible to all patients,” as Marquart put it. And that “accessibility to all” is a major cost driver. Among those is the Hutch School, where patients and family members of those living temporarily in Seattle while being treated at The Hutch have classes, from kindergarten through high school.

The success the award has achieved since returning to Seattle is due to a large extent to the involvement of Jody Lentz, regional sales manager for Mass Mutual, who set up and chaired a committee to oversee planning for the event.

“We had about 25 to 30 people at the event at the hotel the first year and I thought ‘we should make this a fund raiser,’” she recalls.

Her plan included getting a hall of fame player as keynoter each year, and the event has generated attendance of between 1,000 and 1,400 and about $500,000 a year for The Hutch.

Her commitment to the event has stemmed from the fact that both cancer and baseball are part of her life. Husband, Mike, was the highest pick in the baseball draft ever from this state, being the second overall pick as the first choice of the San Diego Padres in 1975.

Her sons Ryan, Richie and Andy were all baseball All-Americans at the University of Washington and Ryan and Richie had careers that included high minor league play and time on the roster of the Major League teams that drafted them.

And she has suffered two cancers, the latest, thyroid, hit her in 2008, as that year’s event was in planning, after she had chaired and overseen the event the previous eight years.

“I just never got involved again,” she told me as we talked about her sense of frustration over the fact “I guess I figured it was time for others to have a chance to guide this event. But I do believe this event could be so much more as a source of funding for The Hutch.”

It was that 2008 event where John Lester, a native of Puyallup and most recently on the mound for the Chicago Cubs in this year’s World Series, was honored after being successfully treated at The Hutch for anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

Lentz is convinced that a lack of local visibility for the event is a reason that major local sponsors have not stepped up in major fashion to add value to the funds raised for The Hutch.

The 2017 event, an 11:30 to 1:30 luncheon, will be January 25 at Safeco with Boston Red Sox star Jim Rice as the Hall of Fame keynote speaker. The honoree for 2017 will be announced in the next few days.

Honorees are chosen by a vote of each Major League team to determine which player on the team meets the criteria and those chosen represent the finalists from which the winner is selected. Jamie Moyer is the only Mariner to be selected.

Last year’s honoree was Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals as the event raised just under $550,000, which The Hutch put toward faculty fellowships.

 

 

 

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Munro offers Rotarians path to political healing

As a deeply divided nation ponders the painful post-election path to healing, former secretary of state Ralph Munro, one of the state's most respected elected officials for two decades, offered the thought that the past outreach to other nations needs to become an outreach within our nation.

 
Ralph Munro
"Here in Seattle, a thriving world-trade community, we have rightly developed sister-cities, sister ports and friendly relations with places like Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai," offered Munro, who in five terms as secretary of state espoused close ties to those places, as well as Russia and even North Korea.

But in comments the day after election to Seattle Rotary, Munro noted. "Those are all well and good, but perhaps it's time we reached out to places like Gary, Indiana, flint , Michigan and Youngstown, Ohio, places where people haven't had decent jobs in the last decade."

"Those are places that have been totally left behind in our quest for cheaper manufacturing and world trade," he added. "What can we do to help them find their place in this new economy."

"There is no question that if our country is going to prosper and grow, we must build friendships and relationships across the aisle, across the bridge, across the lake, across the mountains and across the county," Munro offered. "Isolating ourselves in a cacoon of similar beliefs will only make matters worse."

As an aside, I have to interject that Munro obviously agrees with my belief that communities that are entirely red or entirely blue do indeed represent ideological cacoons where "true believers" despise discourse.

Munro, a moderate Republican who said he "did not vote for either of the leading candidates,"
told the Rotarians: "As the old saying goes, to the victor go the spoils. But I am not sure what spoils will be left when we still have a deeply divided country and two major political parties that are each split down the middle in philosophy and belief."

But he added: "in 72 days we will inaugurate the ultimate unconventional candidate. We pray for his success."

Munro, in closing his comments to the Rotarians, posed the question: "So what can we do as Rotarians as we move into the next era of American politics? We need to serve as the forum for civil discourse in every community across the land...we must remain totally nonpartisan but our microphones should be open to public debate on the issues se face as a nation."

A commitment to the same future step needs to be made by every organization that hopes healing replaces discord in the political process.

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Scott Jarvis recalls Great Recession ups, downs

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 Few people had a more important role than Scott Jarvis in overseeing how Washington’s financial institutions weathered the twists and turns of the disruptions the Great Recession brought to the economy and the financial industry.

As director of the state Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) from 2005 until his retirement this week, it was the role of Jarvis and his team to closely monitor the financial health of the state’s banks and thrifts during that economic crisis. And on 20 or more occasions, they had to pull the plug when critically inadequate capital or severe loan losses threatened continued solvency.

Jarvis, appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire to the DFI director role in 2005 and reappointed in 2013 by Gov. Jay Inslee, reflected on that crisis during an interview that amounted to a revisiting of the bumpy ride on which the financial downturn took financial institutions in this state, and the role his agency had in each of the “bumps.”

But the most high-visibility failure, the seizure of Washington Mutual in September of 2008 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the sale of the assets of what was by then one of the nation’s largest banks to J.P. Morgan Chase, was without consultation with the state regulators.

And the closure that was perhaps the most painful for Jarvis and his staff, that of Frontier Financial Corp. in April of 2010, was unavoidable after the feds turned down what both the bank board and state regulators viewed as a satisfactory buyout plan.

“If I had to name a ‘down’ moment, it was the circumstances associated with the closing of Frontier Bank,” Jarvis said. “Willing and adequate capital was available for infusion but the Fed was unwilling to sanction the transaction.”

A key bright spot for the regulators was the successful emergence of Sterling Savings Bank from under threat of closure. The once high-flying Spokane-based institution had been placed under a cease and desist order in early October of 2009 and its chairman-founder and the CEO ousted.

Agreements Sterling secured to raise $730 million in new capital under new CEO Greg Seibly and a reconstituted board allowed both DFI and the FDIC to terminate the order and allow Sterling to proceed back on the road to healthy operation and growth, and eventual acquisition by Umpqua Bank.

In fact, Jarvis said of Sterling’s re-emergence: “Sterling’s success is proof that a cease and desist order is not a death-knell for Washington’s banks, but rather a call to action. When a financial institution’s leaders take aggressive, well-planned, corrective action, success can be found at the end in safe and sound business practices – and in strong community and employee support.”

The financial crisis had actually paved the way for Oregon-based Umpqua to move into Washington since the Bank of Clark County, closed by DFI in January of 2009 as the first closure in this state, reopened under Umpqua ownership. And a year later, when DFI took action against Seattle-based Evergreen Bank and Rainier Pacific Savings Bank, they wound under the Umpqua banner.

And Jarvis may well have had Umpqua, among others, in mind when he said: No matter how dark the financial or investment environment might seem at any given moment, there are always individuals and organizations who see opportunities for success that benefit our economy and move us forward.”  

Of the circumstances that forced DFI to close the 18 banks and at least two thrifts that the department had to act on, Jarvis observed: “as a pituitary giant will tell you, sometimes there is a problem with too much growth.”

Jarvis, a New York native who graduated from Allegheny College and got his law degree from University of Puget Sound (now Seattle University), first joined DFI in 1997 after serving as an insurance regulator for the state Insurance Commissioner and General Counsel to the State Treasurer.  

In discussing the relations between state financial regulators and their big-brother counterparts at the federal level, Jarvis admitted that “overall, state regulators are concerned with the feds pre-empting powers of state regulators,” evidencing an unsaid sense that in some areas, the local regulators have a better sense of market needs.

A key area where that is important, he feels, is in failure of the feds to understand the need to right-size regulations for small institutions, where “the risk and exposure are dramatically different for small banks.”

“I think the number of small commercial banks will shrink further and small towns need these kinds of institutions,” Jarvis said.

Of the WAMU takeover by the Fed, Jarvis’ banking chief, Rick Riccobono, has been outspoken in his view that the Fed’s action and its sale of assets to J.P. Morgan Chase for what many viewed as a bargain-basement price didn’t need to have happened. Jarvis has routinely scolded Riccobono for making those statements to various groups, but intriguingly, hasn’t said he disagreed with the comments.

Under his leadership, DFI became a nationally-recognized leader in state financial regulation, which helped move the state from 17th in the nation to 10th on Washington's Corporation for Enterprise Development Scorecard Ranking in "Financial Assets & Income.” In 2012-13 he chaired the legislative committee for the Conference of State Bank Supervisors.

An area where Jarvis was obviously pleased to see the states step in when a void was being left at the federal level was in creation of local legislation to make it easier for start-up entrepreneurs to raise capital from local investors, basically a state version of the JOBS Act passed by Congress in April of 2012.

It was clear after Congress passed the legislation and told the Securities & Exchange Commission to enact rules to put the law into effect, that the SEC’s then chair, Mary Shapiro, didn’t think easing investor protections to enhance entrepreneurial opportunities was a good idea, so she foot dragged for several years.

Eventually a number of states, including Washington, decided they could do it better locally anyway, so they enacted JOBS Act-like crowd-funding legislation, strongly supported by Jarvis and his agency. He told me once that his role was to balance protection for investors with opportunity for entrepreneurial startups and that the balance wasn’t that difficult a challenge.

He was careful how the process of putting the crowd-funding into effect was carried out, with hearings, testimony and staff evalutions, though there have only been four companies that have filed to raise money under the state legislation.

In thanking Jarvis for his years of contribution, the governor named Gloria Papiez, who had served as Jarvis’ deputy for more than a decade, to replace him.

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CTI's Bianco: Controversial and complex CEO

Dr. James (Jim) Bianco, M.D., was an up-from-poverty son of Italian immigrants, just out of medical school in New York, when he was recruited by E. Donnall Thomas to come to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to join its pioneering bone marrow transplantation team. The work of the team would bring Thomas a Nobel Prize for Medicine and launch some team members, including Bianco, on careers pursuing cures for cancer. Bianco has resigned suddenly from the company he founded in 1991 to find a cure for blood-related cancers. During more than a quarter century as chairman and CEO of what is now CTI Biopharma, he became one of the area's most intriguing CEOs, a complex and controversial leader praised by those who experienced his moral and philanthropic support and criticized by others who focused on his high-spending ways. Bianco has just turned 60 and whether he or his board decided it was time for him to leave isn't certain, and really doesn't matter except as fodder for cocktail conversation for those who knew of him, or knew him. Among the latter there's a conviction, summed up by one mutual friend: "He'll be doing something interesting within a year and his interests are so broad, it won't necessarily be in medicine." Bianco's challenges in seeking to find new cancer-fighting innovations and his confrontations with regulators over those drug-focused efforts were well documented over time by local media and wrapped up in a Seattle Times article following his sudden departure on October 2. The headline over The Times' story, "CEO Bianco retires after 25 years running profitless CTI Biopharma," was, for those aware of the long adversarial relationship that existed between him and the media, an amusing final putdown. But the person behind the controversies is always more intriguing to me. So it has been with Bianco, with whom I visited frequently over the years, usually while planning for columns exploring various aspects of Bianco and his involvements, including but beyond his company's business performance. Bianco, who received his B.S. in biology and physics from New York University and his M.D. from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, was high visibility in his business and also highly visible in fund-raising efforts for his special causes, though not in a way to designed to attract personal credit. Those personal causes included 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, the cancer-support organization whose continued existence was largely due to Bianco's personal support. In addition he was long closely involved in the annual Celebrity Waiter event during the years that the Leukemia Society was the beneficiary of the most successful event of its kind in the country. He was long involved with Gilda's Club, named for the late comedian Gilda Radner, and when I once asked him about that involvement, he explained "Gilda's 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." Bianco's struggles with media coverage, usually over some aspect of the fact that CTI raised and went through about $1.8 billion without turning a profit in its quest for a successful cancer drug undoubtedly played a role in the wild ride investors went on. The stock price peaked in the mid $80s but spent most of the past decade bouncing between a few dollars a share and a few dimes. 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 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 recalled 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." Bianco had a love of the arts from a young age, an involvement that actually brought him into life-saving contact with his most famous patient and ultimately one of his closest friends. As I wrote in a column a few years ago, 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 working with Doctor 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," recalled 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. "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 almost 30 years ago was likely on the minds of both Bianco and Carreras when the famed creator of "The Three Tenors" came to Seattle for a special event at Benaroya Hall. The event, billed as "A celebration of life and friendship," was to 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. The "private performance" recital for about 500 invitees who paid $250 each to support a research fellowship benefiting the Jose Carreras Research Institute and The Hutch, was sponsored by Bianco's company. "When I learned Dottie was turning 90, 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.
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Forman's quarter-century focus on rural development

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Stanton and Mikal Thomsen were in their late 20s when they teamed up at McCaw Cellular to become part of the birthing of a fledgling communications technology whose growth globally they helped guide through several major companies over the next 20 years, becoming iconic figures in the wireless industry.

Now just into their 60s, both have parlayed their business success into owning and guiding professional baseball teams, what they might well agree is a passion that rivals their business focus.

A business focus remains, however, as they continue to manage their Bellevue-based wireless venture and investment firm, Trilogy Equity Partners, formed by a collection of long-time wireless partners after the sale of their Western Wireless to Alltel Corp. in 2005.

Thomsen once told me that the opportunity six years ago to create the ownership team that bought the Tacoma Rainiers was like his “dream come true.” He would be owning his hometown team that he had grown up rooting for from the time his dad took him to his first game at age three. That was the year that the then-Tacoma Giants returned after a 55-year absence.

Stanton, who will soon assume the role of CEO of the Seattle Mariners after the ownership group he leads completes its purchase of the team from Nintendo of America, also recalls attending the games of his hometown team with his father. That was in 1969 when, as a teenager he became a fan of the Seattle Pilots in their first and only year of existence and recalls crying when they left town for Milwaukee.

Thomsen would undoubtedly echo Stanton’s “I am first and foremost a baseball fan” comment  that he made to the media gathering at Safeco Field when he was introduced as the leader of a 17 member local group that would become 90 percent owner of the team and he become the CEO, once Major League Baseball owners bless the deal.

Thomsen and his wife, Lynn, and Stanton and his wife, Terry Gillespie, are all alums of McCaw Cellular in the ‘80s and are now on the team of co-owners of the Tacoma Rainiers, though the oversight of the franchise, including attending many games and spending about 10 hours a week in the office during the season, falls to Thomsen.

The owners are fortunate that the baseball team acquisition included Aaron Artman as club president, a former Microsoft executive who oversaw the $30 million renovation of Cheney Stadium and remained with the new owners in the role of president.

Stanton’s and Thomsen’s baseball involvement extends across the state and all the way down to the West Coast League, an amateur collegiate summer league, where they are among owners of both the Walla Sweets and the Yakima Valley Pippins.

But it was when Thomsen had the opportunity to put together the purchase of the Tacoma Rainiers in 2011 that he turned to Stanton and his wife, an avid baseball fan herself, to become part of the ownership group.

Thomsen has immersed himself in his hometown baseball team and has enthusiastically committed to its increasing success, despite being the smallest market in far-flung Pacific Coast League and being the closest Triple-A team to a major league city.

In fact, the Seattle Mariners and the Rainiers are not only geographically close, which Thomsen admits may sometimes cost the Rainiers attendance of fans heading for Seattle, but close in that the Rainiers are the Mariners’ triple-A farm team.

As Thomsen puts it: “Most of the Rainiers fans are Mariners fans who enjoy keeping up with both teams and hearing about the players they saw in Tacoma performing with the major league club. I think the nearness of the M’s cuts both ways.”

In addition, the relationship is good for the Rainiers’ bottomline since the Tacoma roster is determined by and players’ salaries paid by the Mariners.

A lot of the changes brought about since Thomson’s group bought the team relate to community things, but he is pleased about what has happened in the stands and on the field.

At this point, atop PCL pack, the Rainiers seem headed for their first playoff appearance since Thomsen’s group bought the team, though Thomsen cautions that “it’s a long way from certain. We are only three games up on Fresno.” Plus the team appear on the way to another franchise attendance record, though beating the 352,000 attendance mark of last season is well behind the nearly 680,000 of the Sacramento River Cats.

In addition, Thomsen notes that the decision by the ownership group three years ago to build a new set of stands in left field “has been a stunning success,” adding that he celebrated his 60th birthday there in early May this year “with a couple hundred friends.”

He says the change of the team’s logo two years ago to “the now somewhat iconic ‘R’” has helped drive merchandise sales “through the roof.”

In terms of community involvement, he says the Rainiers “teamed this past off season with Tacoma Parks, the Cheney Foundation and Mary Bridge Hospital to add a playground behind the right field berm that includes a whiffle ball stadium,

“It is packed for most games and open as a public park when games are not going on in the stadium,” he adds.

“The community views this as a partnership and we go out of our way to be great partners,” Thomsen says with obvious pride.

 

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Alaska Airlines begins wooing process for Virgin America fans

Alaska Airlines’ goal of winning friends and influencing people in the Bay Area, whose hometown airline is about to be absorbed by the Seattle-based carrier, began in earnest Tuesday night in San Francisco as Alaska executives and board members hosted a gathering for local leaders.

Some 250 business, political and community leaders were on hand at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco for an event whose theme was “Flying Better Together.” The goal of the gathering of Bay Area who’s who was for them to meet and begin to get to know the leadership of the airline that is buying Virgin America, the Richard Branson-founded carrier that began service as San Francisco’s hometown low-cost airline nine years ago this month.

During that nearly a decade of service, Virgin built what many in the Bay Area have described as “almost a cult following,”with many regular flyers enthusing that they “love Virgin.”

Aware of that challenge, Alaska CEO Brad Tilden and his executive team have sought to express sensitivity to the cultural issues and the initial backlash from Virgin fans. That awareness was pointed up a few weeks ago when Tilden told the Wings Club, a group of aviation professionals in New York, that he was thinking of running the Alaska and Virgin as separate airlines within Alaska Air Group.

Such an outcome may or may not still be a possibility, but when I asked Joseph Sprague, Alaska senior vice president, after the Tuesday event, about Virgin continuing to function as a third carrier, he said: “ Initially it will be a third airline but by 2018 it will be merged into Alaska.”

But Alaska leadership is playing up a cultural fit they see existing between Alaska and Virgin, rather than addressing the different styles.

Sprague said “a lot of the integration pre-planning work has revealed an encouraging number of similarities from which we can build.” 

He noted that Tilden, in his comments to the group Tuesday, pointed out three such similarities: “both have an obsessive focus on the customer, we both want companies that are employee-driven and we both have a strong leaning towards innovation around the customer experience.”

Alaska’s San Francisco community gathering came exactly s week after shareholders of Virgin America approved the acquisition by Alaska Air Group, with Virgin’s chairman announcing the voting results at a brief shareholders meeting on July 26.

That Virgin shareholder approval was the next-to-last major hurdle for the takeover, with the remaining step being U.S. Justice Department approval. Closing by October is expected for the $4 billion deal ($2.6 billion in cash and the rest in assumed debt and other costs) that Alaska had to put together to beat out Jet Blue.

It’s quite possible that the shadow of Delta Airlines’ seeming predator pursuit of Alaska that left key Alaska supporters concerned Delta was seeking to force a takeover played a role in Alaska’s decision to acquire Virgin America for a very large premium.

But in addition to likely ending concern about Delta coveting a takeover, Alaska also gets Virgin’s lucrative California routes as well as keeping Jet Blue, the losing suitor in the Virgin bidding contest, from acquiring the routes.

In fact, it’s perhaps amusing to consider the community response if Delta, after a hostile takeover of Alaska, held a reach-out event with the theme “get to know us.” They’d have faced a ferociously hostile audience in Seattle.

But obviously Alaska, which has been successfully serving the Bay Area from three airport for years, isn’t perceived as a bad guy, more just a carrier that locals don’t know a lot about other than it has an excellent record in all the areas airlines get rated.

In fact, as Phyllis Campbell, Alaska board member and Pacific Northwest chairman of JP Morgan Chase, put it after the event: ‘I think it is emblematic of Alaska Airlines to reach out to the community in a spirit of collaboration and collegiality. Having dinners like this send the message that we want to be the best airline going forward for the Region and also the best citizen in terms of community partnership.”

In fact, the event was apparently successful enough from Alaska’s perspective that Sprague said “we will likely do additional events, both of our own and sponsoring others.”

Still there are Virgin supporters whose love affair with the airline was partly due to the fact it was the Bay Area’s hometown airline. And the takeover will mean not just the end of Virgin’s “hometown” ties, but also that California will no longer have an airline based in a state that has served as home to a variety of important carriers over the years.

As Mary Huss, publisher of Puget Sound Business Times, summed up when I asked her about it: “I think people were very proud that Virgin chose to locate and start up here when it did.”

But while Jet Blue lost the bidding to Alaska, it is seeking to woo Virgin fans away before Alaska can convert them by looking for ways to exploit what it senses as uncertainty of flyers about the transition. It has been touting giveaway deals to potential frequent users of Jet Blue’s longhaul service from New York to San Francisco and Los Angeles, including its tongue-in-cheek wooing of Jet Blue “virgins,” those who haven’t previously tried Jet Blue.

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Stephen Vella: turns around airlines, creates flying mansions

Stephen Vella, a congenial Brit who spent his career building airlines before turning his attention to creating flying mansions for the global elite, is the man whose Kestrel Aviation Management oversaw creation of the first VIP interior on a 787-8 Dreamliner.

The first VVIP outfitted BBJ, as its officially referred to, has gotten global visibility for those who partnered with Vella’s company, which had turnkey responsibility for the project from purchase of the plane to planning and design of the special interior to meet the requirements of the Asian client who will operate the aircraft. The partners included Greenpoint Technologies of Kirkland and Pierrejean Design Studio of Paris.

The specially outfitted Dreamliner is back in Moses Lake, where the work to install the unique interior was done, as it awaits final signoff by the FAA and final closing of the sale to an undisclosed owner.

“Undisclosed owner” is the usual description of individuals, countries or companies who decide they wish to own a castle in the sky and contract with Vella and Kestrel to manage the purchase, design and delivery of the aircraft. Nohl Martin, Vella’s vice president for business development and communications, says outfitting the special interiors can cost as much as the airplane itself with the finished product, once the widebody is aloft, sometimes described by buyers as airborne oases of peace.

But these are oases that are reserved for the elite, both in stature and resources, and the fact they seek out Vella has made him a valued relationship for Boeing, but also for Airbus, since the contract for design and implementation of one of these widebody interiors begins with the purchase of the plane itself.

I had an opportunity recently to interview Vella while he his partner Martin, a longtime friend of mine, were on a visit to Kirkland, where she has family.

The Dreamliner, representing the first conversion of a composite and nearly all-electric aircraft to incorporate a high-end cabin and thus requiring virtually the entire focus of the Kestrel team for the past two years, is the 11th widebody conversion that Vella’s team has managed from purchase through entry into service. The company has also done 10 narrowbody VVIP cabin conversions.

But as communications vice president Martin points out: “Sadly it is a sector that rarely allows us to publicize our work -- until this 787 project.”

Visibility was not a problem for Vella when he was turning around airlines, particularly the nearly 15 years he spent helping turn Qatar Airways from a struggling, five-plane regional airline into one of the handful of the world’s Five Star airlines.

When Akbar Al Baker, Qatar’s group chief executive, was tapped by the Qatar government in  1997 to take over the failing airline, he contracted with Vella, who functioned for the next 15 years as basically the airline’s COO, doing the long-term planning, fleet management, overseeing brand development as well as mergers and acquisitions.

By early this decade, Qatar Airways was operating 150 planes with another 200 on order, producing billions of dollars in sales for Boeing, but also for Airbus since the fleet, Vella estimates, is about half from each manufacturer.

Vella, 62, is a native of Gibraltar, the British Overseas Territory at the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula, and he explains that, despite being a citizen of the United Kingdom, Spanish is his first language.

His upbringing in Gibraltar and his fluency in Spanish, along with a healthy dose of self confidence, allowed him to build his reputation in the airline-turnaround business early.

He recalls that he was still in college when he took time off to visit with an official the prime minister back in Gibraltar and convinced him to grant Vella a Masters scholarship in return for assisting the City architect in redesigning the airport terminal.

After graduation, he approached executives of British Caledonia and pitched that the fact he was bilingual would allow him to launch the airline’s Latin America routes.

He recalled with a chuckle that the pitch allowed him to land a job at a time when there were no jobs to be had and while he worked for peanuts, he was able to see the world.

By his early 30s he had become general manager of British Caledonia’s fleet management division, but at that point left to start his aviation consulting firm and early on helped Richard Branson acquire his first 747.

Vella has turned around eight airlines, including Qatar and the Spanish airline Air Nostrum, a Iberia affiliate, which is now the largest regional carrier in Europe, and started several airplane leasing companies, including one for Rupert Murdoch.

I asked Vella to give me a sense of what he thinks the future holds for the industry and he offered a couple of predictions. One, Asia is a fertile field for new airlines to come into existence. And he suggests that in this county we’ll see consolidation bring the industry down to four large airlines. He declined to name those he thinks will compose the final field of four.

 

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Oregon ballot measure would dramatically boost business taxes

Just as the races for state and national offices in the November General Election may demonstrate that anger can trump reason, voters in Oregon will be faced with deciding a ballot measure that will test whether anger at big business over things like soaring executive compensation exceeds logic.

At issue is IP28 (Initiative Petition), which targets Oregon's biggest corporations — roughly 1,000 by the state's estimates, or about 4 percent of businesses. Those with $25 million in Oregon sales would pay a minimum $30,000 tax, plus 2.5 percent on anything above that threshold.

In essence, it would be a tax on gross receipts, like Washington’s business & occupation tax, generating an estimated $6 billion in new revenue. Except in Oregon it would be in addition to the tax on personal and corporate income and would boost corporate tax collections more than five-fold.

As my friend Don Brunell put it in his latest column, which alerted me to the fact the measure had been cleared for the November ballot by collecting the required 130,000 signatures, “Washington’s next economic development plan may be written by Oregon voters next November.”

His point was that “Oregon voters need to remember that Washington and California have heavy concentrations of large businesses and stand to benefit from passage of IP28 and that while all parts of Washington would gain, the corridor between Vancouver and Longview could be the biggest winner.”

Brunell, retired president of Association of Washington Business, in his more than a quarter century at the helm of the state’s largest business association saw all the off-the-wall ideas for taxing business. But it’s as a longtime observer that he shakes his head at this proposal, noting the tax scheme “would transform Oregon from one of the nation’s lowest business-tax-burden states to one of the nation’s highest.”

Organizations that purchase products and services from those major businesses would undoubtedly see their costs increase and thus would need to increase their price for items resold to Oregon consumers. In response to this, businesses purchasing goods in Oregon may opt to leave the state or relocate some or all of their facilities to avoid the increased cost of doing business in that state.

IP28 is sponsored by Better Oregon, a labor union coalition led by the Oregon Education Association, and targets “big business”.  Proponents claim it would tap a tiny portion of Oregon businesses while bringing a huge revenue boost to cash-strapped public education, health care and senior services.

The non-partisan Legislative Revenue Office, in evaluating similar proposals to IP28, has forecast job losses should a gross receipt tax pass.

Former Washington Gov. Mike Lowry, who despite being perhaps Washington’s most liberal governor carried an understanding of the importance of nurturing big businesses as the creators of better-paying jobs, offered his classic belly laugh when I called him for his thoughts on the initiative.

“We always looked to Oregon for progressive ideas but this would represent the total opposite,” Lowry said. “The gross-receipts tax is about the worst tax there is.”

Amusingly, Lowry understood how to use the tax as a whip. In his first year in office he sought to have the Democrat-controlled legislature extend Washington’s sales tax to service businesses like law and accounting firms, which used their lobbying clout to beat back the effort.

But they paid a price by having the lawmakers impose the highest b&o tax rate on services, a payback in the form of a 2.5 percent rate, which though now reduced to 1.5 percent remains the state’s highest rate, reserved for service businesses and professional gambling.

Most gross receipts tax rates around the country are relatively low when compared with the Oregon proposal’s 2.5 percent rate. In Washington, it ranges from 0.138 percent to the aforementioned 1.5 percent. Thus if the measure were to pass, the tax burden of operating in Oregon would increase dramatically when compared with other states.

Proponents argue that “IP28 would modestly raise the effective tax rate of large corporations and use the added revenue to fund Oregon's crippled public school system, provide services to seniors, and extend health care coverage to 18,000-plus children.”

Problem is if it comes to be marketed to voters as “the big-business tax,” the result could be that anger overrides common sense for voters, among whom would be many that would face loss of their jobs if the analysis of business reaction proves true.

The ballot proposal comes as raising taxes on wealthy individuals and large corporations is at the forefront of a national debate — especially among Democratic progressives, including much of Oregon's electorate— about how to close the gap of economic disparities between rich and poor in the post-Great Recession era.

And if there is a doubt that anger at big business underlies the measure, and leaves concern about the logic voters will bring when they mark their ballots, supporters point to the current difference between growth in corporate profits vs. growth in family income in Oregon. They say it’s time big business takes on its fair share of the tax burden to help pay for education and social services.

Business people in Southwest Washington are not only looking to gain business if the measure is approved, they are having some amusement thinking about it.

When I talked with longtime Vancouver businessman Michael Worthy about it, he chuckled and offered that the two-state effort to agree on financing a new I-5 bridge across the Columbia could be solved by letting firms that would want to move operations out of Oregon might want to pay for improved transportation they’d need.

And when I asked Brunell why he thinks intelligent voters would go for a tax that would likely impact them, and perhaps their jobs, he replied: “I suspect, knowing Oregon a little better by living down here in Vancouver, there is a reason for the bumper sticker: ‘Keep Portland Weird.’” 

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Seattle investor friends focus on 'The Holy Grail of Energy' train project

The six-year-long commitment by two successful Seattle-area businessmen to sustain the alternative-energy breakthrough technology that one of them describes as "the holy grail of energy" is close to paying off. The story of their commitment to develop the technology owned by their company named Advanced Rail Energy Storage LLC (ARES) is as intriguing as that of the business itself.

ARES' launch project is a rock-laden train of special electric cars that would run up and down a long hill in the Nevada desert near Pahrump, 60 miles west of Las Vegas, to demonstrate on-demand delivery of electricity. The $55 million, 50 megawatt project is gathering interest from utilities across the county as it moves into final funding phase, fulfilling the vision of investor friends Art Harrigan, a respected attorney, and Spike Anderson, successful businessman who describes himself as a serial investor.

The two have partnered since 2010 to provide the majority of the funding for planning and preparation for ARES and its ARES Nevada project's launch, which is planned for spring of 2017 with completion expected by spring or early summer of 2018.

Now they are in the final fund-raising push for the last $15 million of equity and $15 million of debt necessary to cap the $25 million already committed and begin construction on a six-mile long track with 7.5 percent grade on 43 leased acres of BLM land

ARES Nevada will be the prototype for future projects elsewhere in the country. The Nevada project is smaller (able to fully discharge for a period of 15 minutes at 50 megawatts) than future projects are likely to be, though William Peitzke, the company's director of technology development, notes it will be "the largest energy regulation management project ever in the West."

As word of the planned Nevada project has spread, a number of utilities have reached out to the leaders of ARES, who invited about 30 representatives of utilities and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to a March 1 demonstration of a functioning scale model.

The gathering at the quarter-scale, proof-of-concept project in Tehachapi, in the mountains east of Bakersfield, CA. prompted EPRI representatives to announce to the assembled utilities people that they would develop an EPRI demonstration project and seek funding from member companies.

Since then, the ARES project has attracted media attention from the likes of Forbes and Fortune and, in recent days, from a newspaper in Finland.

Part of the interest generated in ARES, which is a company headquartered in Santa Barbara with its initial project incorporated as ARES Nevada, is due partly to the quality of the management team Anderson and Harrigan have attracted. The CEO is James Kelly, who for almost four decades was a key executive at Southern California Edison, and the executive vice president is Steve Sullivan, who worked with Kelly at Southern Cal Edison and guided many of his projects there.

But given that the two principal funders of ARES have not sought to put themselves in the limelight on this project, despite the fact they were largely responsible for generating the $15 million necessary to reach this point and attract this management team, ARES has not gotten the extended visibility it might need for the closing rush to funding.

But that will likely change as media, both nationally and locally in Washington State, begin to focus on the principal investors because their past successes in business amount, in the minds of many potential investors, to an imprimatur of likely success of their projects.

I've written recently about Harrigan, who is chairman of the ARES board, relating to his legal involvement setting the stage for Seattle's two major league sports teams to be saved and brought under local ownership. But he was also closely involved with Craig McCaw's Eagle River, formed after the sale of McCaw Cellular to AT&T. And he provided the legal guidance that gave birth to Nextel Partners, one of the nation/s largest cellular companies in the late 1990s, was involved in setting up Nextel's IPO and served on its board.

Anderson, whose career in sales and marketing included building one of the most successful reps firms on the West Coast then co-owning and eventually merging his firm, by then Anderson-Daymon, and building Costco's largest supplier of goods and services. Recently he founded, is funding and acting aa CEO for Clean Global Energy, a Bakersfield-based firm developing a process its website describes as "redefining oil separation in a better, cleaner way."

Part of the emerging visibility for Harrigan and Anderson was a letter Anderson recently sent to prospective investors explaining the project in detail and soliciting investors for the final $15 million of equity needed to get ARES Nevada project underway.

Anderson explained, in the extensive narrative on the project to the audience of more-than-qualified investors, that he would take the investing lead in the project with $10 million of the amount needed to complete it.

"We believe we can raise $15 million in debt, and will offer the remaining balance on the exact terms of my personal investment," Anderson explained, adding that "we believe that we can achieve close to a 25 per cent return on equity with ARES Nevada over the next few years "

"By running a train up and down a hill, ARES can help utilities add and subtract power from their grid on demand," Anderson explained in his letter. "A 19th century solution for a 21st century problem, assisted by that abundant natural resource called gravity."

And inevitably, the image of a train loaded with boulders running up a hill has spurred the metaphor of Sisyphus, the king from Greek mythology who was punished by the gods by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action for eternity.

Of course the Sisyphus image is flawed because the boulder being forced back downhill highlighted Sisyphus's forever failure whereas the trains loaded with boulders imbedded in sand rolling down the hill will exemplify the success of the ARES project.

Anderson explained that Shuttle trains, referred to as modules that are each made up of two electric locomotives and multiple weighted cars, will go up or down the track to either take electricity off the grid on the ascent or supply electricity to the grid by descending.

An example of the fact the Nevada project is on the small side of possible ARES projects, Harrigan and Anderson note that ARES can scale up to 3,000 megawatt, which would be a project as big as some hydroelectric projects. And Anderson noted that "the scope of the Nevada permit also allows for construction of a much larger system for an energy storage facility as well, essentially expanding the 50 MW system to add a 300 MW storage."

Said Anderson is his letter to prospective investors: The real problem we are addressing is providing an answer to the question of how do we generate more power since we can't build more dams, states are not permitting for fossil-fuel power generation and nuclear is enormously expensive."

Kelly suggests that a large part of the likely ARES appeal to investors and potential utility customers is that "ARES can be deployed at around half the cost of other available storage technologies and produces no emissions, burns no fuel, requires no water, does not use environmentally troubling materials. And it sits lightly on the land."

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Stuart Anderson, cowboy-country icon, dies at 93

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Stuart Anderson, with his 2,400-acre cattle ranch abutting the freeway in Central Washington and his signature mustache and cowboy hat, was the icon of cowboy country as he built what was regarded, in the 1980s, as the nation's most successful chain of affordable steakhouses. (It was actually dinner house chains but probably doesn't matter.)

Anderson, 93, passed away peacefully Monday at his Rancho Mirage home., surrounded by his family, including his beloved wife Helen, who was his partner for more than 40 years. He had been a diabetic for years but it was lung cancer that caused his death, though he had quit smoking in 1980.

Stuart Anderson founded his Black Angus/Cattle Company Restaurants chain in Seattle in the 1960s and from its corporate headquarters there he grew it into a chain of 122 restaurants spread across 19 states, with more than 10,000 employees and $230 million in annual revenue.

I felt compelled to come and talk to Stuart about his knowing he was in the final stages of life and that he was reconciled to that fact because he had led such a special life. It was filled with family, success, travel and, as Helen said, "lots of love." He had agreed to have me come down on Saturday to his home and work on his obituary together but that was not to be.

That became clear with the email Monday from Helen: "My wonderful, sweet, best friend Stuart has gone to that Mansion in the sky. He will be missed more than words can tell. He was larger than life and loved by so many. He was so pleased with the 93 wonderful years he had but said he was ready to go. Thanks for all the prayers and good wishes."

I first met Stuart four years ago when Betsy and I were vacationing in the desert. I had contracted with the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership to arrange a wine-and-cheese gathering of Northwest snowbirds to learn some business facts about their second home. The local Palm Springs Desert Sun publicized the event and as people visited, someone pointed out to me "there's Stuart Anderson," to which I responded: "I don't think so. I thought he was long gone."

So I went over to introduce myself to Stuart and Helen and learned that the guy with a weathered face and wearing a cowboy hat was much alive and provided an enjoyable get-to-know visit.

A couple of days later, I learned that he was actually going back into the restaurant business, reopening one of his first Black Angus restaurants, located in Rancho Mirage, (that had been forced to close and go out of business during the downturn) This is not really true. Someone came along to buy our lease which we gladly sold because of the downturn of the economy at that time. We were not forced to close.

So I produced a column about Helen and Stuart re-opening and running the restaurant, both of them visiting with customers and making the rounds each day for a number of months before it became clear that the challenge was too much for a man then nearly 90 who had been out of the business too long so gladly sold the lease.

I visited again four months ago with the Andersons at their Rancho Mirage condo, and found Stuart, who was speaking softly and slowly but retained the firm gaze he usually offered from beneath his cowboy hat. He wanted to talk about the book and the challenge of selling copies, compared to his first book. It is the story of how he built the restaurant empire that became a best-recognized national company. The book actually has a longer official title: "Corporate Cowboy. Stuart Anderson: How a maverick entrepreneur built Black Angus, America's #1 restaurant chain of the 1980s."

He first tried his hand as an author when in 1997 he produced "Here's the Beef! My Story of Beef," a book he described to me as "fun and informative," but most importantly to him, thousands of copies were sold in the Black Angus restaurants. The book was meant to be an answer to the highly popular Wendy's commercial of the time in which an elderly lady asks: "Where's the Beef?"

At that point it had been a decade since he had retired after five consecutive years of his restaurants being named the top steakhouse chain in the nation by USA Today in a poll by industry publication Restaurants & Institutions. He admitted candidly, in an interview we did a few years ago, that he decided to retire because the new owners took the fun out of his job.

At the time of his first book, he was still well-remembered, in Washington State in particular. He was often seen as a spokesperson for a series of television commercials he did in the Seattle area for a senior housing organization.

After retiring, he and Helen enjoyed their (You mentioned this in the 1st paragraph: 2,400 acre) ranch sprawled along Interstate 90 west of Ellensburg. He had bought the ranch in 1966 with the intent of raising the Black Angus cattle that would be served at his restaurants. But it turned out to be too great a challenge, for various reasons, so he continued to raise the cattle while buying his beef elsewhere, until he sold the ranch to Taiwanese interests, though to many travelers going past, it remains the Stuart Anderson ranch.

A private family gathering is being planned in Seattle but the celebration of life will be held in Rancho Mirage in November, which would have been his 94th birthday.

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Entrepreneur of the Year event has become community entrepreneurship celebration

In the quarter century since national accounting firm Ernst & Young (now rebranded as EY) brought its Entrepreneur of the Year event to Seattle and the Northwest, the annual black tie gala has represented a community celebration of entrepreneurship. And with that has come a growing awareness of the importance of recognition for those struggling to build businesses and create jobs.

That increased awareness of the role visibility plays has brought with it an array of events, created by firms, organizations and media entities who want to own a piece of visibility value of their own for creating visibility for and thus developing relationships with young companies and the entrepreneurs who guide them.

Indeed all of those other recognition events have brought value to the startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem by allowing individual firms to attract the attention of potential investors and potential new talent.

But the EY event has remained the most prestigious gathering for entrepreneurs, as this year's select group of honorees preparing for the June 17 event at the Sheraton Hotel are coming to learn. Among other things, Northwest winner get to move forward to compete for recognition at the EoY national and world events later in the year with winning entrepreneurs from the 145 cities and 60 countries in which the EoY event is held.

As Dan Smith, managing partner of the Seattle EY office, put it:"We've recognized many remarkable leaders who have disrupted industries, created new product categories, and successfully brought new innovation and technology to traditional industries."

In fact three winners in the local event have gone on to win at the national level. They are David Giuliani, who as founder and CEO of Optiva, won in the manufacturing category in 1997; Zillow Group CEO Spencer Rascoff, who won in the "services" category in 2013, and Zulily CEO Darrell Cavens, who won in the "emerging" category in 2014.

Smith notes that this year's finalists include 21 entrepreneurs from the life sciences, retail and technology industries, adding "we've definitely seen a lot of growth in these sectors compared to 30 years ago when the program started."

This annual Entrepreneur of the Year event has held a special attraction for me because of personal involvement, both before and since the event came to Seattle five years after Ernst & Young launched it in 1986 in Milwaukee.

Part of my regard for the event is having close connection to entrepreneurial honorees for this special recognition. The first was Kathryn Kelly, the president of a young Seattle firm ­­­called Environmental Toxicology, who was among those honored as finalists at the second event in Seattle in 1992.

Then came Pete Chase, CEO of Spokane-based Purcell Systems, who won in the communications category in 2006 and became a judge in the following three years, before guiding the sale or his company and launching a new company, Columbia International Finance, for whom I am doing some consulting.

And Leen Kawas, Ph.D., president and CEO of the promising young life science company M3 Biotechnology Inc., is a 30-year-old Jordanian woman who is among this year's honorees and whom I tout as changing the face of life sciences in this state. I have had the satisfaction of being an investor and providing introductions and visibility since she arrived at the helm of the fast-growing company in January of 2014.

The impact of the honor on the entrepreneurs nominated was evidenced by Kelly's reaction back then when I expressed my regret, having nominated her, for the fact she had been one of three finalists but had not won in her category.

"You have to be kidding! Just being here (including the video vignettes of each finalist shown before the envelope is opened and the winner disclosed) was the satisfaction of a lifetime," she said.

There is also a bit of amusement for me when I think of the Entrepreneur of the Year event in that as publisher of the Business Journal I was involved in two entrepreneur of the year events before Ernst & Young brought its event to Seattle.

That came about because Woody Howse, then a partner in the venture capital firm Cable & Howse Ventures, approached me about partnering in an event we named Entrepreneur of the Year, which we promoted and held in the mid-'80s to honor a single entrepreneur each year. It would be hard to top either of our honorees.

The first was W. Hunter Simpson, who had taken over defibrillator-manufacturer Physio-Control 20 years earlier and guided it into a global-leadership role in its industry. The next year we honored Microsoft founder and CEO Bill Gates, whose company was just then gathering momentum, having gone public a year earlier.

Cable & Howse, then the area's premier vemture capital, had a vested interest in creating visibility for entrepreneurs, as did the Business Journal. We were among many organizations then casting about to determine how best to serve those individuals who held the keys to our future.

In fact, some edginess on the part of the Ernst & Young Seattle leadership would have been appropriate at our having pre-empted Simpson and Gates as the two most impressive names in the local entrepreneur community at the time.

PSBJ and Cable & Howse partnered for several years thereafter with another accounting firm to stage a High Tech Entrepreneur of the Year event, before Ernst & Young Managing Partner Karl Guelich called me to let me know our party was over because the real thing was coming to Seattle.

Guelich had allowed us to go ahead without comment with a Seattle event using the E&Y copyrighted name, partly out of friendship and partly because he likely figured, as it turned out accurately, that our event might even lay visibility groundwork for the arrival of the official awards event of that name.

For perhaps a decade, the Business Journal was part of a process that represented a win for the firm, for the newspaper, and for the entrepreneurs as well. Ermst & Young always scheduled its event for a Thursday evening and provided all the advance detail needed for PSBJ to produce a special supplement with stories on the event and all the honorees, passed out to all attendees as a keepsake as they left the event and then it was inserted in the PSBJ copies that arrived in subscribers' mail the following day.

Since then some of the biggest names among regional entrepreneurs have been in the winners' limelight at the Northwest EoY. They included Mark Britton of Avvo, Jim Weber of Brooks Sports, Inc., Dara Khosrowshahi of Expedia, Inc., Gertrude and Timothy P. Boyle of Columbia Sportswear Company, Jeffrey P. Bezos of Amazon.com, Inc. and Howard Schultz of Starbucks Coffee Company.

So perhaps I'm prejudiced, but it seems clear that EY Managing partner Smith is accurate in suggesting that "the award has acquired a great deal of prestige, and is recognized around the world as an emblem of entrepreneurial success."

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Art Harrigan played legal role that helped save Seattle Mariners, Seahawks

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The community thank you last week to former Sen. Slade Gorton for his instrumental role in saving major league baseball in Seattle was an appropriate reminder of his signal accomplishment for the community. But without detracting from Gorton's role, it may also be appropriate at some point to recognize the Seattle attorney whose legal victory set the stage for the search for a local owner.

That would seem particularly appropriate since the Seattle attorney, Arthur Harrigan Jr., had key legal roles in saving two of the Seattle professional sports franchises

Art Harrigan not only succeeded in forcing Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan to give business and community leaders four months to find a local buyer, but five years later he paved the way for a local sale of the Seattle Seahawks by preventing owner Ken Behring from moving the team to Los Angeles.

The legal confrontations with the owners of two of Seattle's professional sports teams came about because Harrigan's law firm, Calfo Harrigan Leyh & Eakes, long represented King County on an array of issues. And both owners came into conflict with the county because they sought to abandon the county-owned Kingdome and their leases there.

The venue for resolving the future of the Seattle Mariners franchise was what amounted to an arbitration hearing before Arthur Andersen, the national accounting firm agreed to by both sides to decide some key issues relating to the lease.

Since it wasn't a court process, which would have gotten large visibility for the battle between attorneys, Harrigan's maneuvering over the meaning of wording in Smulyan's contract regarding an attendance clause that was key to the final outcome was little noted, thus little remembered.

Harrigan's argued interpretation of the lease-requirement wording was accepted by the Andersen firm, so Smulyan was required to give an opportunity for a local buyer to be sought.

Of perhaps equal importance, Harrigan successfully argued that there should be a local value lower than the open-market value. The accounting firm agreed and set a "stay-in-Seattle" valuation at $100 million, rather than the national open-market value of $135 million that it had determined.

That created the opportunity for Gorton and others leading the effort to keep the team in Seattle to find a local buyer for $100 million, rather than $135 million, within four months.

No one knows if, at $135 million, Ninetendo's owner would have opted to pick up the cost of saving the Mariners for Seattle.

With respect to the effort to block the Seahawks' move, King County hired Harrigan's firm to keep Behring from fulfilling his widely publicized intent in the winter of 1996 to leave Seattle and move the team to Los Angeles.

Behring made the argument, after some tiles had fallen from the Kingdome roof, that he had concerns about seismic security of the facility as he announced that he was moving the team to Los Angeles.

Harrigan recalled the February meeting at the Woodmark Hotel at Carillon point at which he, King County Executive Gary Locke, Gary Locke, his assistant, and chief civil deputy Dick Holmquist with Behring's attorney, Ron Olson (who he noted was also Warren Buffet's attorney).

"Olson read from a yellow pad, explaining that the team, fearing earthquakes might impact the Kingdome, had to be moved to the comparative safety of Southern California and the Rose Bowl," Harrigan said. "Holmqust and I were trying not to laugh."

"We were poised to file a temporary restraining order the moment the trucks began rolling up to the team's offices in Kirkland," Harrigan said.

"So when Behring and Olson left the room, I made the call and the restraining order was filed," he added. "Had that not happened, we would have had to go to California and ask a California judge to send them back."

Behring had quickly, after the restraining order, filed suit in Kittitas County, so as part of the legal process, Harrigan also had to get the state Supreme Court to toss out that suit.

A few weeks later he and Behring attorneys met with NFL owners who were considering whether to allow the team to move, in the event Behring could escape the Kingdome lease, and made their presentations.

"I had brought Jon Magnusson and two other renowned structural engineers with West Coast seismic design expertise who explained that the idea that Southern California was safer than the Kingdome in case of earthquake was ludicrous," Harrigan said.

The legal maneuvering all came to an end when it was announced that Paul Allen had purchased the Seahawks.

While Harrigan, 72, is ranked as Seattle's top commercial trial lawyer by Chambers & Partners, which ranks the world's best lawyers and law firms, his legal activities have ranged well beyond the courtroom.

He worked with Craig McCaw in his early Eagle River Investments days, helped create the wireless company Nextel, which became a $7 billion public company, is a member of the boards of several public companies. His is chair, and was a principal fund raiser, for an interesting new company that will generate energy by storing electricity on trains.

Harrigan, a Harvard graduate with his law degree from Columbia, served as Senior Counsel to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, worked on an investigation of CIA intelligence activities related to Vietnam.

Most intriguingly, and perhaps as important as his later pro sports involvements in Seattle, he headed the committee's investigation of IRS intelligence operations, discovering that the agency was giving individuals' tax returns, under the claim of national security, to other intelligence agencies who were then misusing the information in sting operations.

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