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updated 2:54 PM CDT, Jul 28, 2018

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Booth Gardner spurred creation of nation's first comprehensive treatment center for Parkinson's

It was in Booth Gardner's post-political career, after Parkinson's Disease had begun to take its inevitable toll on him, that he teamed with another former Washington governor whose own brother had the disease to help create the nation's first comprehensive treatment center for Parkinson's.

 

Gardner's many contributions, from his leadership as two-term governor to his high-visibility support of the Death with Dignity Initiative, are being recalled in the wake of his death last week that ended his long struggle with Parkinson's.

 

But those who benefitted from the name, horsepower and personal leadership he brought to creation of the Booth Gardner Parkinson's Care Center at Evergreen Hospital may well regard that as perhaps his most important contribution.

 

This column is focused on the signal impact Gardner had in what amounted to an important victory for him in his struggle with the neurological disorder that leads to progressive difficulties with movement and coordination, and eventually cost him his life.

 

Gardner was part of the remarkable intersection of individuals impacted by Parkinson's who came together in 2000 as a fledgling initiative took shape to create a specialized treatment center for Parkinson's Disease in the Seattle area.

 

Craig Howard, whose step-mother had Parkinson's, recalls that as he and Bill Bell, whose mother also had the disease, began working with Evergreen to create a special treatment center for Parkinson's, they learned about Gardner being similarly afflicted.

 

It was Bell, nephew of former Gov. Dan Evans and his wife, Nancy, who had originally envisioned a Parkinson's treatment center after enduring the frustration of the fact "specialists were few and far between and scattered around the country" as he sought help for his mother.

 

"The idea of creating a multi-disciplinary clinic, where patients could be treated in a more holistic way, by a team, led by specialist seemed to resonate with people," said Bell, who approached Howard about joining in the effort.

 

Bell and Howard had already enlisted Evans, whose brother had the disease, and his wife, Nancy, as initial board members of the then-new Northwest Parkinson's Foundation, when Evans suggested to Howard "contact Booth Gardner because he also has Parkinson's"

 

"During the visit, after I tracked him down at his office in the Norton Building, it was obvious that he was being grossly under-treated for his symptoms and he agreed to make an appointment with the only specialist in town at the time," Howard recalls.

 

"Three weeks later, Booth called and asked why nobody knew there were actual neurologists that are fellowship trained in Parkinson's," Howard said. "He was back woodworking, playing with the grandchildren and feeling back in the game."

  

"He commented on the fact that with all the resources available to him, he still hadn't known there were specialists," Howard added. "His concern was for all those diagnosed that didn't have the resources he had and wouldn't learn that

that there's an opportunity to feel better. He asked how he could help. I asked if we could use his name for the new Center. He said, 'That would be great because everyone else just asks for money.'"

Booth at 25th
Booth Gardner being interviewed at Business Journal 25th Anniversary party, with Mike Lowry, another former governor

In addition to lending his name to the new Center, Gardner became the first board chair for the Northwest Parkinson's Foundation and was a constant advocate for specialized care and PD awareness.

 

Gardner and Evans, despite both being former governors, hadn't known each other very well, but soon became fast friends with their shared focus on the Parkinson's care cause.

 

Nancy Evans once joked to me, "If the phone rings at 7:30 a.m., we know it's either one of the kids or Booth."

 

It was because of my wife, Betsy's, Parkinson's that we came to know Gardner and, whenever we met at a Parkinson's event, he always came up and gave Betsy a hug and he and I would visit about how he was feeling.

 

His legendary sense of humor extended even to his disease as, when he was interviewed at the Puget Sound Business Journal's 25th anniversary event, he quipped: "I told my doctor I wanted to live to see 70. So now that I've made that, I called him and said, 'okay, I want to see 80.'"

 

"As founders, each of those board members seeded the organization generously," Howard said. "NWPF and Evergreen pushed the Center into the black in just over 24 months, but most importantly showed other hospitals in the region they needed specialized movement-disorders care."

 

"Puget Sound is now one of the best places to live well with Parkinson's, with at least eight specialized physicians where there were none before," Howard added.

 

"The Booth Gardner Center, as the first in the country focused solely on treatment, proved to be the model for the nation," Howard said. "And this area remains the epicenter of Parkinson's treatment."

 

Summing up Gardner's contribution, Howard described him as "an alchemist of human potential" in energizing people to produce their best. "Booth had a magical effect based on the possibilities."

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Prominent Latino friends target healthy slice of growing U.S. mezcal market

A retired Seattle baseball hero and two successful entrepreneur friends, all of Latino heritage, are embarked on an effort to bring Mexico's most popular mezcal spirit to successful penetration of the U.S., and possibly other parts of the world where the cousin of tequila might find a market.

 

It was five years ago that Mike Sotelo, a Seattle businessman with deep roots in the Latino communities around the state, formed La Plaza International LLC with exclusive U.S. and world rights to El Zacatecano and sought out Gene Juarez and Edgar Martinez as partners.

 

Gene
Gene Juarez

Juarez, who grew up poor in the Yakima Valley but went on to establish the Northwest's best-known chain of hair salons that still bears his name, and Martinez, whose career with the Seattle Mariners likely destines him for baseball's Hall of Fame, quickly decided to come aboard.

 

So did Greg Brown, managing director of the Caprock Group, a wealth management firm, whom Sotelo sought out as a partner who brought both money and financial expertise to the business.

"Mike brought in a money guy, a marketer and a celebrity," says Spencer Kunath, whom Sotelo and Juarez brought aboard as the key executive to oversee the business operations and growth of the company.

 

Mike Sotelo
Mike Sotelo

Juarez and Martinez, who have already had substantial financial success in their professional lives, seem less intent on making a fortune in the mezcal business than they do on raising the fortunes of the 400 or so residents of Huitzila, where El Zacatecano has been made for almost 100 years. The spirit gets its name from Zacatecas, the state in which the town is located.

 

Mezcal is the older but less-known brother of tequila. But sales of the two in the U.S. in recent years suggest Mezcal, which was actually created by the conquistadors whose experimenting with the maguey plant to find a fermented mash resulted in the first mezcal, is overtaking tequila, the national liquor of Mexico.

 

Edgar
Edgar Martinez
Although mezcal's share of the agave spirits market (tequila and mezcal) is only 5 percent, sales of mezcal are growing four times as rapidly as tequila sales and have a compound annual growth rate of 42 percent over the past three years, according to figures from the U.S. International trade Commission.

 

El Zacatecano is fermented from the Highland Weber Blue Agave plants that stretch beyond Huitzila and have been harvested for almost 100 years by the family with which Sotelo and his team have an agreement.

 

The El Zacatecano distillery is the largest employer in
Huitzila , which lies in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains, about 10 miles northeast of Jalisco state but 141 kilometers, or two and a half hours, by rough road and Mexico 23, to Guadalajara.

 

In an interview, the three principals agreed that their objective is to "support the organic and sustainable economic development of Huitzila by focusing on employment growth. We want people to have good quality and regular jobs to support their families," said Juarez.

 

I asked the three if tourism might become a residual benefit for Huitzila in the event they are as successful developing the brand as they hope.

 

"Not with 75 miles of dirt road to get to the town," Sotelo replied.

 

In addition, Kunath noted the name of the product is about to change.

 

"We are migrating our brand over from El Zacatecano to ZAC," he said. "The bottles currently say El Zacatecano but that will be changing next month. It is a slow process. We don't want to do it instantly as we could risk losing loyal customers."

 

Asked to explain the reason for the change, Kunath quipped: "We want our customers who are downing their third shot to still be able to pronounce the name of their mezcal."

 

This isn't the first business venture for Sotelo and Juarez. Sotelo was the founder-organizer of Plaza Bank, with the goal of creating a lender whose focus would be on "enhancing the opportunity for Latino entrepreneurs in the state to find funding."

 

A year after its founding in 2007, the bank, on which Juarez served as a board member, ran into the economic storm that impacted a host of small banks in Washington and across the country.

 

Kunath says the effort to expand current ZAC distribution on the West Coast will soon expand to Texas, Arizona and Nevada, He adds that they are "close to securing distribution in Korea, Japan and the Emirates Group in the Middle East and North Africa. We have tantalizing opportunities in front of us."
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Legislation would get tough on illegal use of disabled parking permits

Proposed legislation that would set the stage for imposing tough new penalties on those who "steal" city parking spots by illegally using parking permits issued to disabled drivers is increasingly likely to be approved by the 2013 Legislature.

 

The bill, HB1946, would create a "work group" composed of representatives of the State Department of Health, local governments and disabled-citizen advocacy groups to produce a strategy designed to curb the "tremendous amount of abuse" of the disabled- parking placards.

 

 

Disabled citizens are entitled to park at not only parking spaces reserved for the handicapped, but also in city-operated paid-parking spaces without charge. Seattle officials estimated, for a column I did on this topic two years ago, that 40 percent of downtown and First Hill parking spaces are occupied by vehicles displaying handicapped-parking placards.

 

Seattle City Councilman Tim Burgess, now a mayoral candidate, told me for that 2011 column that the city's police department and state transportation people "estimate that as many as 50 percent of the placards are being illegally used," representing 20 percent of the parking spots in the downtown area.

 

The measure before the 2013 Legislature made it out of the House Transportation Committee last Friday and now awaits referral to the full House for a vote and, if approved by the representatives, will then go to the State Senate.

 

Toby Olson, executive secretary of the Governor's Committee on Disability Issues and Employment, says the filing of the bill, sponsored by Olympia's two house members, both Democrats, followed nearly a year of meetings with Seattle officials. The goal was to find solutions to reduce the abuse of disability parking placards while strengthening enforcement for violations.

 

Once approved by both houses and signed by the governor, the bill would immediately require handicapped parking placards to prominently display an expiration date. Using an expired permit would result in a $250 fine.

 

The second phase of the bill would establish the work group, whose goal would be to add more far-reaching provisions. That group would begin meeting in August and deliver its final strategic plan to the 2014 Legislature.

 

"There is no shortage of ideas for the work group to consider," says Olson "But there are consequences to some of the ideas. They'll need to come up with ideas that are actually workable and take cognizance of state budget constraints."

 

The bill makes some specific recommendations to the work group and an interesting one is to explore the extent to which medical professionals, who must certify the disability of those seeking a permit card and auto placard, are aiding the abuse.

 

The bill would require that the strategic plan include "oversight measures" to ensure that parking placards and special license plates for the disabled are being properly issued.

 

The strategic plan would provide for a random review by a volunteer panel of medical professionals of placard issuance and possible sanctions against medical professionals for repeated improper issuance of disabled parking placards

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Of course, blaming the disabled-parking abuses mostly on doctors would be unfair in an environment where use of other people's permits or using the placards of those who are now deceased is suspected of being rampant, driven in part probably from the ever-increasing cost of parking.

 

And while the City of Seattle is looking to the legislature to devise ways to address the abuse, which also brings lost revenue for the cities, some tools are already available.

 

One is the use of trained volunteers authorized to issue citations for infractions, which was approved by previous legislation in this state some years ago.

 

In cities elsewhere in the country, trained volunteers are authorized to issue citations for infractions. The Seattle Commission for People With Disabilities, in a report
 on the problem a year ago, suggested the volunteers could record the license plate numbers of cars displaying expired placards, or operated by drivers who didn't appear to be disabled.

 

Some Seattle officials expressed concern that such use of volunteers might lead to confrontations with offending parkers.

 

To which I suggested to one such concerned official that use of volunteers who were large as well as intimidating in appearance would likely take care of the concern.

 

For sure the representatives of the disabled and the city agree increased enforcement and imposition of harsher penalties are essential, particularly for those caught using a placard issued to someone who has since died.

 

 

The issue of stealing handicapped-parking spots, which is of course what cheaters are doing since they are depriving cities of revenue in addition to depriving handicapped drivers of parking places, deserves the attention it's apparently finally going to get from the Legislature.

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Business use of independent contractors coming under fire in legislative proposal

A legislative proposal that is the outgrowth of state and federal agencies targeting what they perceive as a growing abuse by business of misclassifying workers as independent contractors is stirring the concern of businesses who view the bill as an excessive reaction.

 

In fact, one Seattle-area attorney long involved in independent-contractor legal issues, says an attitude "inhospitable to the independent-contractor business model" has become evident at both the state and federal levels.

 

Employing independent contractors has long been an essential practice in some industries, as with newspapers' use of freelance writers or real estate firms and their independent agents. But the pressures on business during the economic downturn from which some are still just emerging has made the strategy of using independent contractors rather than hiring employees more common, and with that has come some abuse.

 

State and federal agencies, upset by what they view as millions in lost tax revenue, aided by labor leaders' targeting House Bill 1414 as one of their top priorities this legislative session, have tagged misclassification abuses as part of the "underground economy."

 

Calling it part of the "underground economy," which is generally defined as money-making activities, frequently illegal, that aren't reported to the government, is itself viewed by business interests as part of the overreach by proponents. .

 

There are several things about the bill, titled "The Employee Fair Classification Act," that business views as a reach too far by those proponents. The first is that the bill would establish the premise that "an employer-employee relationship is presumed to exist" for anyone who performs service for pay." What follows is a series of exemptions to that blanket assumption.

 

Some besides business may find it a cause for concern that the measure would create a new provision making it a crime to retaliate against those who complain to authorities about a misclassification by the employer, with an assumption of guilt. The measure would make violations of the retaliation provision a gross misdemeanor and, in a Napoleonic-law twist, assume the business is guilty of the crime unless it can prove its innocence.

 

Kris Tefft
Kris Tefft

Kris Tefft, chief legal counsel for the Association of Washington Business, has led the effort to lobby lawmakers and alert businesses about the bill's problems. He says his priority in seeking to raise concerns about the bill "is to convince legislators that this is too much of a regulation step to impose on legitimate businesses."

 

The bill has made it out of one committee and has until Friday to be cleared by the finance committee for an eventual vote in the House, where passage would be likely since this bill is a top labor priority this session and the House is controlled by Democrats. A companion bill filed in the more moderate Senate has languished in committee so business is hoping that means the measure won't clear the Legislature this session.

 

In fact, Tefft's goal is to keep the measure from even reaching a vote in the House.

 

"While it is a top labor priority, it has drawn fire from a broad and deep coalition of various industry groups who are all working on keeping the bill from the House floor," he said. The goal is to "get legislators to go back to the drawing board in terms of addressing identifiable problems with the 'underground economy.'"

 

Nigel
Nigel Aviles

Nigel Avilez, an attorney on Mercer Island who has been involved with the legal issues surrounding independent contractors since before it became a hot issue, suggests government has created "a climate that is intolerant of independent contract misclassifications."

 

Avilez, whose Mercer Law specializes in independent-contractor and worker-classification law, describes the current attitude of both state and federal agencies as "inhospitable to the independent-contractor business model."  

 

The bill, despite its potential major impact on businesses, is only now starting to gain some visibility outside the legislative halls and raising the eyebrows of business owners as they learn of it..

 

None of the opponents of the measure deny that some businesses, particularly many whose fortunes have suffered a serious downturn in the recent financial turmoil, have become scofflaws, basically trying to be creative in worker relations, and thus creating a problem for legitimate businesses.

 

And that, according to Avilez, has created "an inflexibility" on the part of agencies toward working with businesses who have merely made a mistake in classification of independent contractors, rather than being guilty of cheating. "Some agencies feel people are cheating the system so they don't want to cut any slack for any business."

 

Avilez did a public-records request and searched the documents to conclude "there is an apparent coordination between the U.S. Department of Labor and state agencies."

 

"For example, between 2010 and 2012, public records show that the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD) audited close to 140 nail salons, and assessed substantial taxes in many of those," Avilez said. "The quantity of these audits was far and above most other industry audits, clearly suggesting that the nail industry was being targeted by ESD."

 

Five hair salons were found to owe taxes of more than $20,000, not including penalties, with three dozen hit with taxes of $5,000 or more, plus penalties.

 

 

As an indication of the historic role of independent contractors for some industries, Tefft noted that "a lot of industries are coming forward with bills that would exempt them from the provisions of the bill should it become law."

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Sound Publishing, as major owner of newspapers in region, gaining attention

Sound Publishing Inc., as the U.S. subsidiary of what has become the largest-circulation newspaper company in Western Canada, has itself quietly grown into the largest publisher of newspapers in Washington State. But Sound, with headquarters in both Bellevue and Poulsbo, is suddenly attracting attention.

 

Since the first of the year, Sound and its parent Black Press Ltd. have purchased the Seattle area operations of two high-visibility national companies, buying the Seattle Weekly from the Village Voice in January and the daily Everett Herald from the Washington Post Co. a few weeks later. The Herald deal is expected to close next month.

 

Attention those two deals have generated with the general public may be in the form of "who are these people," since Sound is known mostly to readers by the names of its local newspapers scattered across Western Washington, while for major media, the attention may be more like curiosity.

 

At a time when the print media is viewed as a dying industry, Sound and its Victoria, B.C.-based parent have focused on print and grown dramatically, publishing clusters of community weeklies. Each newspaper fulfills the company's mantra of local, local, local. And most are distributed as free newspapers to households and retail outlets in their communities.

 

CEO David Holmes Black began his newspaper-ownership career in 1975 with a small weekly in eastern British Columbia and has grown it to a 170-newspaper empire, founding Sound Publishing in 1987.

 

Sound is an independent operation in that while the final check for purchase of a property comes from the parent, the selection, negotiations and due diligence on an acquisition are carried out by the local executive leadership, which then incorporates the new acquisition into its operations.

 

In addition to his dramatic expansion as a buyer of small newspapers, Black has come to make a practice of occasionally buying newspapers from well-known but financially struggling national print-media players, as with The Weekly and The Herald.

Gloria Fletcher

Gloria Fletcher,

Sound President

 

Now Black has also "acquired" one of the most successful executives of major media companies to be president of Sound Publishing. Gloria Fletcher assumed her post at Sound last April with a resume that included major executive roles at two of the nation's most prominent publishing groups.

 

In addition to the Black Press flag replacing the Village Voice and Washington Post banners in Seattle and Everett, Black has taken over newspapers from McClatchy Newspapers, The Gannett Co. in Honolulu (making Black the major media factor in Hawaii), and Lee Enterprises. And he is personally one of a group of investors in the San Francisco Examiner, once the property of Hearst Corp.

 

When Fletcher assumed her post as president at Sound, whose publications have total circulation in Western Washington of just under 900,000, there was little visibility surrounding her arrival. That would be in keeping with the style of Black, who told a reporter a few years ago that there's no reason for him to be highly visible since his is a private company, and Sound, the Washington State subsidiary.

 

Fletcher, a 1984 honors graduate of the University of Oklahoma, earned her first publisher role at the age of 26 at her hometown daily newspaper in Woodward, OK, part of The American Publishing Co. chain that was acquired in 1999 by Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.(CNHI).

 

CNHI sent Fletcher, then the mother of a 4 year old and a one year old, to be publisher in Enid, OK, as well as to be a vice president overseeing 38 publications in Oklahoma and the central Midwest. She was with CNHI from 1999 through 207, the period when it was acquiring and growing dramatically and Fletcher had a role in acquisitions.

 

When the president of CNHI moved in 2006 to GateHouse, a fast-growing new company that now has almost 100 daily newspapers and 200 weeklies, Fletcher joined GateHouse, moving to Missouri as vice president and overseer of some 80 newspapers across 14 states.

 

Asked during an interview about further acquisitions, Fletcher said "we have a lot of work to do now" and she doesn't anticipate more acqusitions "at this point."

 

Fletcher, her sons now 18 and 15, described her career this way: "While every aspect was somewhat the same, it was always different. And all of it has been a great adventure."

 

Asked about the purchase of the Seattle Weekly as a seemingly unusual one for Sound, Fletcher replied that "it reaches a mass of faithful readers and does it very well. We value what it is for the way it engages its readership."

 

"Our goal is to have people know our publications and be engaged readers," she adds.

 

She describes Sound Publishing as a company that has "quietly grown into a very important communications force in the Puget Sound area." But she adds that the company "isn't growing just to grow, but rather with all the specifics of success in mind."

 

Peter Horvitz, respected former owner and publisher of King County Journal Newspapers who sold his King County daily newspapers, and subsequently the Port Angeles Daily News, to Sound, would agree.

 

"Sound Publishing has been successful in assembling an impressive group of weekly and now daily newspapers in the Puget Sound region," says Horvitz, who fought for years to make a success of his daily newspapers in Bellevue and Kent against major metro competition.

 

"Seattle Weekly and the Everett Herald are great additions to their group of publications," Horvitz added. " David Black is a fearless businessman who sees value where others don't. He's been rewarded by his determination and vision."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To see previous Flynn's Harp columns, click here 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WSU President Floyd also clearly has his eye on online's broad prospects when he said: "With the launch of the WSU Global Campus last fall, we are working to ensure that students are engaged, connected and challenged in a highly personal, digital learning space."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sound Publishing Inc., as the U.S. subsidiary of what has become the largest-circulation newspaper company in Western Canada, has itself quietly grown into the largest publisher of newspapers in Washington State. But Sound, with headquarters in both Bellevue and Poulsbo, is suddenly attracting attention.

 

 

Since the first of the year, Sound and its parent Black Press Ltd. have purchased the Seattle area operations of two high-visibility national companies, buying the Seattle Weekly from the Village Voice in January and the daily Everett Herald from the Washington Post Co. a few weeks later. The Herald deal is expected to close next month.

 

Attention those two deals have generated with the general public may be in the form of "who are these people," since Sound is known mostly to readers by the names of its local newspapers scattered across Western Washington, while for major media, the attention may be more like curiosity.

 

At a time when the print media is viewed as a dying industry, Sound and its Victoria, B.C.-based parent have focused on print and grown dramatically, publishing clusters of community weeklies. Each newspaper fulfills the company's mantra of local, local, local. And most are distributed as free newspapers to households and retail outlets in their communities.

 

CEO David Holmes Black began his newspaper-ownership career in 1975 with a small weekly in eastern British Columbia and has grown it to a 170-newspaper empire, founding Sound Publishing in 1987.

 

Sound is an independent operation in that while the final check for purchase of a property comes from the parent, the selection, negotiations and due diligence on an acquisition are carried out by the local executive leadership, which then incorporates the new acquisition into its operations.

 

In addition to his dramatic expansion as a buyer of small newspapers, Black has come to make a practice of occasionally buying newspapers from well-known but financially struggling national print-media players, as with The Weekly and The Herald.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gloria Fletcher

Gloria Fletcher,

Sound President

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now Black has also "acquired" one of the most successful executives of major media companies to be president of Sound Publishing. Gloria Fletcher assumed her post at Sound last April with a resume that included major executive roles at two of the nation's most prominent publishing groups.

 

In addition to the Black Press flag replacing the Village Voice and Washington Post banners in Seattle and Everett, Black has taken over newspapers from McClatchy Newspapers, The Gannett Co. and Lee Enterprises. And he is personally one of a group of investors in the San Francisco Examiner, once the property of Hearst Corp.

 

Black owns the Akron, OH, Beacon-Journal, bought from McClatchy in 2006. He bought the Little Nickel classified publications from Lee Enterprises that same year, and his company became the major newspaper operator in Hawaii when he bought the two Honolulu dailies, one owned by Gannett Co., in late 2011.

 

When Fletcher assumed her post at Sound, whose publications have total circulation in Western Washington of just under 900,000, there was little visibility surrounding her arrival. That would be in keeping with the style of Black, who told a reporter a few years ago that there's no reason for him to be highly visible since his is a private company, and Sound, the Washington State subsidiary.

 

Fletcher, a 1984 honors graduate of the University of Oklahoma, earned her first publisher role at the age of 26 at her hometown daily newspaper in Woodward, OK, part of The American Publishing Co. chain that was acquired in 1999 by Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.(CNHI).

 

CNHI sent Fletcher, then the mother of a 4 year old and a one year old, to be publisher in Enid, OK, as well as to be a vice president overseeing 38 publications in Oklahoma and the central Midwest. She was with CNHI from 1999 through 207, the period when it was acquiring and growing dramatically and Fletcher had a role in acquisitions.

 

When the president of CNHI moved in 2006 to GateHouse, a fast-growing new company that now has almost 100 daily newspapers and 200 weeklies, Fletcher joined GateHouse, moving to Missouri as vice president and overseer of some 80 newspapers across 14 states.

 

 

 

Asked during an interview about further acquisitions, Fletcher said "we have a lot of work to do now" and she doesn't anticipate more acqusitions "at this point."

 

Fletcher, her sons now 18 and 15, described her career this way: "While every aspect was somewhat the same, it was always different. And all of it has been a great adventure."

 

Asked about the purchase of the Seattle Weekly as a seemingly unusual one for Sound, Fletcher replied that "it reaches a mass of faithful readers and does it very well. We value what it is for the way it engages its readership."

 

"Our goal is to have people know our publications and be engaged readers," she adds.

 

She describes Sound Publishing as a company that has "quietly grown into a very important communications force in the Puget Sound area." But she adds that the company "isn't growing just to grow, but rather with all the specifics of success in mind."

 

Peter Horvitz, respected former owner and publisher of King County Journal Newspapers who sold his King County daily newspapers, and subsequently the Port Angeles Daily News, to Sound, would agree.

 

"Sound Publishing has been successful in assembling an impressive group of weekly and now daily newspapers in the Puget Sound region," says Horvitz, who fought for years to make a success of his daily newspapers in Bellevue and Kent against major metro competition.

 

 

"Seattle Weekly and the Everett Herald are great additions to their group of publications," Horvitz added. " David Black is a fearless businessman who sees value where others don't. He's been rewarded by his determination and vision."

 

 

 

 

  (Editor's Note: I have been a member of the national advisory board of the WSU College of Business for nine years)

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F.X. McRory's, with Neiman painting, may merit role as THE iconic Irish pub

If a Boston bar called "Cheers" hadn't already gained a reputation as THE iconic Irish pub, someone would surely suggest that a Seattle establishment named "F.X. McRory's" deserved that honor.

 

It's officially F.X. McRory's Steak Chop and Oyster House, named after a famous New York Irish bar of decades ago. In fact this McRory's, created in an old warehouse on the then-still-seamy side of Seattle's downtown in 1977 by "proprietor" Mick McHugh and his then-partner and college pal Tim Firnstahl, has tagged itself "America's No. 1 Bar."

 

And with a Guinness World Record designation as the establishment with the most bottles of public spirits, and displaying the eye-catching wall-sized portrait of the bar itself by renowned sports artist LeRoy Neiman, it's a designation that might arguably hold water. Or more likely Irish whiskey.

 

Mick McHugh

Mick McHugh with

LeRoy Neiman painting

  

The gregarious McHugh, who turns 70 in July but still spends almost eight hours a day mixing with customers and staff at McRory's, has owned the place outright since he and Firnstahl divided their six-restaurant chain via the flip of a silver dollar from atop the Space Needle in 1988.

 

Firnstahl called heads and McRory's was one of the three that went with "tails," which is how the coin came up on the ground when the media and others gathered with McHugh and Firnstahl to take a look.

 

McHugh says he honestly had no preference to how the coin would come up. But it's hard for those who know him and McRory's to imagine anyone else owning a place that has his personality and creativity all over it, from the back-bar wall of bottles that was an innovation when McRory's opened to the Neiman painting.

 

McHugh grew up in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood and jokes that throughout his Catholic school upbringing at St. Joseph's grade school, Seattle Prep and Seattle University, he never had to stray more than two miles from the house where he was born.

 

McHugh graduated from Seattle U. in 1965 but two years later, he was convinced to return as alumni director despite the fact that he, Firnstahl, and now-prominent Seattle auctioneer Kip Toner had just opened their first restaurant, the El Nido Inn in Eastgate.

 

McHugh agreed to become SU alumni director if his partners agreed, which they did, and if he could continue at El Nido as the night bartender, which he did.

 

That first restaurant turned out to be a learning experience, or as McHugh puts it: "We got our Cornell University degree in restaurant management without going to Ithaca," though he says they were able to sell it and get out without losing a lot of money.

 

McHugh went to work for Seattle's restaurant dean, Victor Rosellini and by '75, figuring he and Firnstahl were ready to try again, they opened Jake O'Shaughensey's near the Seattle Center. With its dinner-only format and in the neighborhood of the opera house, symphony hall and Key Arena, Jake's was a success, but the decision to do McRory's was a leap for the young restaurateurs.

 

McHugh perceived that the completion of the Kingdome and the awarding of the new Seattle Mariners and Seattle Seahawks franchises by 1976 would energize Pioneer Square, what had been Seattle's Skid Road area. It's a neighborhood to which he now has a five-decade tie, since helping Bill Spiedel create the Seattle Underground tours in 1963 while still a college student.

 

"Realizing the crowds the Seahawks and Mariners would draw to Pioneer Square, I said to Tim, 'We've got to get down there.'"

 

Thus with a $2 million loan from the old Seattle Trust & Savings, backed by an SBA loan guarantee, and $400,000 in seismic retrofitting, McRory's opened in November of 1977.

 

"We had a helluva time at first," he recalls. "It was so big (11,000 square feet) and people just didn't come in at first."

 

But with the location, the setting, the crowd-friendly size of the place and the then-innovative back bar with hundreds of liquor bottles displayed, rather than the array of glassware on the back bar that was then the norm, the crowds began to arrive.

 

And a major boost toward success was the Neiman painting and the media visibility it brought.

 

And McHugh relishes the retelling of the Neiman-painting story. The artist was being featured at a showing of art work nearby and was brought to dinner at McRory's..

 

McHugh recalls Neiman's enthusiasm that evening when he said "I've seen all the great bars and never seen a bar like this! How many bottles do you have?"

 

"I told he we had maybe 800 bottles on the back bar and then asked him 'Why not paint it for us?'"

 

"After some back and forth he finally said it would cost $100,000, two first class plane tickets from New York to Seattle and being put up at the Four Seasons and he'd agree to do the sketch and painting the following St. Patrick's Day," McHugh recalls.

 

"But after doing the bar, he hit an artist's wall about how to do all the bottles," he added.

 

While McHugh goes on in detail with enthusiasm about how the final addition of the bottles came about, the short of it is they arrived at Neiman's apartment in Manhattan with two gold bars worth $25,000 as the down payment on completion of the painting.

 

Neiman still resisted because of his block over how to do the bottles, until his wife suggested a collage of labels that McHugh would soak off the bottles and mail them back to Neiman. That's how the painting finally emerged.

 

McHugh recalls visiting Neiman in Manhattan each year since then, until the year before his 2011 death, and always inquired whether the artist still had the gold bars. He did, even though the price of gold has escalated dramatically since the 1978 transaction that cleared the way for the unique painting at the should-be iconic Irish pub.

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Business associations joust with Insurance Commissioner over member health plans

Because more small businesses get their insurance coverage through business associations in Washington than perhaps any other state, new eligibility standards for such groups because of the Affordable Care Act could cause major coverage disruptions.

 

At issue is the eventual determination by the U.S. Department of Labor next year on which of the so-called Association Health Plans (AHPs) meet federal requirements or must change, possibly dramatically, to be in compliance with ERISA, which protects the interests of participants in employee benefit plans.

 

The issue looms far larger for small businesses in this state than others because Washington law has recognized associations formed for the purpose of providing insurance, and treated them as "large" groups, providing better healthcare packages for member businesses. State law specifically states that small groups purchasing through associations are not small groups and are exempted from the small group community rating laws, which bring higher insurance costs.

 

 

"There will an incredible amount of disruption in the association market if major changes are imposed on these associations," says Chris Free of Rapport Benefits Group in Tacoma, president of the Washington Association of Health Underwriters.

 

The disruption he warns about would be that since AHPs represent a major portion of Washington's health insurance market, dramatic change could affect the vehicle by which thousands of small businesses obtain insurance coverage for their employees.

 

And because, as with many provisions of the national health care law, there's more uncertainty than certainly about the provisions, associations aren't sure what lies ahead. But they're pretty sure their futures won't be enhanced by the involvement of the State Insurance Commissioner.

 

And it's an issue that has only now begun to gain visibility as business associations like chambers of commerce and the Association of Washington Business, in essence the state's chamber of commerce, grapple with a decision by the Office of Insurance Commissioner (OIC) to get involved.

 

And the visibility ramped up a notch this week when a bill was filed in the State Senate that would basically say "leave the association health plans as they are."

 

The legislative bill would declare that "association health care plans meeting certain standards should be continued as a means of providing health care as the Affordable Care Act is implemented," with standards spelled out that would basically keep most associations in place.

Trade organizations, such as the Master Builders Association whose members are all involved in the home building industry in some manner, are not composed of so many and varied business types. In fact, the Master Builders recently gained OIC approval, with some changes in the members they admit.

 

 

Business interests have long sensed that Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is not a fan of the association market, believing it causes harm tothe market as a whole. Thus some legislators may be wishing to send a message that the association plans are largely a positive thing for the insurance market and that OIC shouldn't be meddling by deciding which plans the department thinks are qualified to go forward.

 

Executives of the associations openly sing the praises of the benefits their plans bring to the healthcare costs of small businesses. As with Debra brown, President of Forterra Inc., the benefit services subsidiary of Association of Washington Business (AWB), who notes a recent national survey foundWashington is the second most affordable state in the nation for the very smallest firms, those with fewer than 10 employees.

 

"Washington ranks fifth most affordable in the nation for all small firms," says Brown, who.estimates that about 500,000 employees obtain their insurance coverage through association plans "The plans represent an important and valuable asset to a lot of employees."

 

But the association executives are understandably reluctant to openly attack the OIC involvement in the futures of their plans.

 

But not so others outside association ranks, like Free, or John Conniff, a Tacoma attorney and former deputy Washington state insurance commissioner, who says: "if an organization says 'we think we comply' and they're willing to undergo the ERISA evaluation, why should they have to convince the insurance commissioner?"

 

There is a concern candidly expressed by association representatives that the Office of Insurance Commissioner's (OIC) intent to approve or disapprove plans by July 31 could have a negative impact on final Department of Labor decisions, even though OIC doesn't control final approval. The wish, apparently, is that the insurance commissioner not be

 

involved since the office doesn't have legal authority over the DOL action.

 

 

"We can't not say anything," says Carol Sureau, the OIC's deputy commissioner in charge of legal affairs. "We have to get the system ready for 2014 and we have been meeting with carriers and some associations trying to see whether they can qualify as 'an employer' under ERISA."

 

"While this determination belongs to DOL, we know that all our associations will not be able to obtain that agency's determination until after January 1, 1914, and we must move forward as the filings must be approved or disapproved by July 31," Sureau said.

 

Bill Baldwin, one of the more respected insurance executives in the state and now a principal with The Partners Group in Bellevue who is on operating committee of the Washington Health Benefits Exchange, suggests that "few" of the association plans meet the requirement of being ERISA compliant. "It's hard for an association to get approval because they represent so many kinds of businesses."

 

But he adds that "associations is all that has saved the healthcare market in this state," emphasizing the comment was his personal view and not his view as a member of the exchange board. "They should change the law to accept association plans."

 

 

AWB President Don Brunell admits that while there is still work to be done on affordability "we believe that without association plans, health care costs for employers in Washington state would be significantly higher. It's important that association plans continue to operate as they do today, or significant disruption and destabilization will occur."

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Cable & Howse was major factor in growth of key industries in the Pacific Northwest

Whether it was fate or serendipity that brought Elwood (Woody) Howse and Tom Cable into business together after a decade of crossing paths, the fact is that the firm they finally created became a major factor in the creation and growth of the technology, biotech and medical-device industries in the Pacific Northwest.

 

It was actually at the urging of their wives that Cable and Howse decided, in 1977, to leave the Seattle securities firm Foster & Marshall and launch Cable & Howse Ventures. But it took two years and almost 200 calls on potential investors before they raised the $9 million to fund the first limited partnership to launch the firm.

 

Tom Cable
Tom Cable

The business quickly grew into the largest venture capital firm in the Northwest, eventually raising more than $160 million for five Cable & Howse funds that helped finance more than 100 companies, about two dozen of which they took public. More than half of those 100 were outside the Northwest.

 

Now they've been selected as 2013 laureates of the Puget Sound Business Hall of Fame. They, along with retired Alaska Air chairman and CEO Bill Ayer and Gary Oakland, who built Boeing Employees Credit Union into the nation's fourth largest, will be honored as this year's crop of laureates March 21 at the annual banquet put on by Junior Achievement and Puget Sound Business Journal.

 

Woody
Woody Howse

Cable and Howse first met and became friends at U.S. Navy nuclear submarine school at New London, CN, following which they parted to serve stints as officers aboard nuclear subs. Next they each wound up in graduate school at Stanford, where Howse got his undergraduate degree, although Cable had been gone a year when Howse arrived.

 

Finally, they took different routes to get from the Bay Area, where they both had jobs in the investment industry, to Seattle to join Foster & Marshall.

 

Cable & Howse was a different breed than VC firms of today in that the five partners in the firm acted as a private investment banking firm, working with early stage companies to help them find funding and then immersing themselves in the start-up companies.

 

Howse recalls that "in those days, no one knew how to put together a thorough business plan and business models, so we worked closely with the managements to get the plans pulled together to staff the companies, and to build selling presentations for investors."

 

"A large proportion of our companies were absolutely seed startups when we invested," Howse added. "Today virtually no local VC funds do seed investing. Individual angel investors, family and friends are the provider of that class of capital now."

 

Along the way, they also helped shape the software industry that was starting to emerge in the Northwest in the early '80s, putting up the money to allow the presidents of some small software companies to start the Washington Software Alliance, which became the industry's dominant trade organization.

 

I asked each of them what they viewed as their best investment, as well as their most interesting and most satisfying. Both agreed that Immunex Corp. was the answer to all three but Cable added that the company, one of the Northwest's earliest and most successful biotech companies, was also perhaps the most frustrating.

 

 

 

The frustration was that by then Cable & Howse, guided by a long-languishing share price as Immunex was impacted by a general investor turnoff on biotech through the middle 1990s, distributed all of its Immunex stock before the picture improvd dramatically.

 

The Immunex involvement was one of a number of investments Cable & Howse made in the medical arena where, as Howse put it, "we always felt the products were aimed at the betterment of mankind, which always made us feel like we were doing something of value."

 

Both, in what some might suggest are their "retirement" years, remain closely involved with medical-related companies. Cable's last board position is with Omeros, a Seattle-based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company.

 

"I think Omeros will emerge, over the next few years, as the dominant biotech company in the Northwest," Cable offered.

 

Howse is still a member of four corporate boards, two of which he describes as "rank startups: Stella Therapeutics, focused on a technology targeting an orphan disease that is the worst of the brain tumors, and BeneSol, focused on an interesting technology concerning Vitamin D."

 

Both Cable and Howse also were in agreement when I asked them if they recalled their worst investment.

 

In what Howse refers to as "the low point of naivete for us as investors" and Cable recalls only as an investment "with no logical reason," they bought Inside Sports from Newsweek Magazine. Since the advertising staff at Inside Sports had sought a share of ownership, which they didn't get, all the ad people quit.

 

"We stopped funding after two months of having to print the magazine with no ad revenues coming in," says Howse. "We originally thought of it as a road to success but instead it was a black hole."

 

In 1996, after they proved unable to convince institutional investors of the viability of the Northwest as a place where sufficient new investment opportunities would emerge, Cable & Howse liquidated the partners with an IPO for Applied Microsystem and its distribution.

 

It's been 17 years since Cable & Howse closed its doors, but to this day the mark that Woody Howse and Tom Cable made on start-ups in the technology, biotech and medical-device industries remain as visible impacts on the region's economy.

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WSU's long-time role in distance learning paves way to top ranking for online MBA

To those who have watched the leading role Washington State University has played in distance education for nearly a quarter century, word that WSU's online MBA programs have been ranked No. 1 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report will seem like appropriate recognition.

 

But the honor isn't viewed by College of Business Dean Eric Spangenberg, or WSU President Elson Floyd, as the culmination of a chase for rankings. Rather, as Floyd put it, "Our goals are to increase access, improve quality and push the envelope of educational innovation. We have and will continue to experiment with the most promising approaches to digital instruction for connecting students to WSU."

Eric
Dean Eric Spangenberg

  

Indeed the success of Spangenberg and his team in being chosen as at the forefront of online MBA programs nationally is far beyond the early distance learning WSU established when a microwave-tower relay system brought higher ed to new branch campuses in Vancouver and the Tri-Cities.

 

But the early '90s commitment to distance learning that had WSU staff sometimes out in snow storms straightening up

 

the towers so the offerings of faculty on the Pullman mother campus could reach students at the new campuses was no less vital than the initiatives evident today.

 

In the view of Sam Smith, who as WSU president at the time oversaw launch of the branch campuses and was the key college president involved in development in the late '90s of Western Governors University (WGU), the WSU honor is a key indicator of this state's leadership in on-line education.

 

Smith was instrumental in getting legislative approval two years ago for the launch of WGU-Washington to provide online baccalaureate degrees. And he suggests:"Watch our state's two-year colleges because they are on the forefront of one of the next real stages of this evolution."

 

"It has long been predicted that America' system of higher education must evolve new and more creative models of institutions to meet the needs of our students and our country," Smith said. "The state of Washington, with WSU's leadership, is doing just that and if you combine it with the online, competency based WGU-Washington, we are truly leading this evolution.".

 

Janis Machala, long involved in coaching entrepreneurs and now guiding online programs at Bellevue College, picks up on Smith's comments by noting she "fell in love with the role of the community colleges" because of their ability "to be more flexible and entrepreneurial in meeting employer needs and because of the focus on employable job skills versus theoretical education."

 

While there's more than a little challenge to bringing those getting their degrees and MBAs online into the normal university experience, the social media evolution is enhancing the opportunity to do that, says Cheryl Oliver, director of graduate business programs at WSU.

 

Oliver, whom Spangenberg credits with being the person largely responsible for putting the WSU MBA programs in place, says "We don't want to just be pushing information out. These online students are WSU students, Cougars, and it's important for us to find ways to engage them so they have the same circle of experiences as other students, trying to make sure we are using best practices to keep them engaged."

 

"I think one of the biggest challenges we have had in entering the online arena is a public misunderstanding," Oliver noted. "People tend to believe that going online means boxing up a brick and mortar program and trying to replicate a traditional classroom online. While we do offer the same core material (course topics, etc...) online education is a class unto itself."

 

Spangenberg, who praises Floyd for being "instrumental in encouraging us to pursue excellence in this learning space" and for "allowing us to pursue our own destiny" in this online development, views online offerings as a global opportunity.

 

"Online programs are the most effective and efficient mechanism by which we can positively influence communities around the globe," he says."While the education of many communities is prohibitively expensive on both sides of the equation for face-to-face programs, they are readily and economically reachable through online access."

  

 

 

Smith, the emeritus president of WSU, carries a lifetime conviction about the importance of higher education's broad accessibility.

 

As a youngster, Smith was a crop picker in the fields of the Salinas Valley until an academic scholarship to University of California-Berkeley proved to be his ticket to higher education, a career in academia and eventually to a college presidency. He maintains a strong belief that "our higher education system must evolve and once again be accessible to the average person," an accessibility he calls "the key to our country's future."

  

 

 

 

 

  (Editor's Note: I have been a member of the national advisory board of the WSU College of Business for nine years)
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Business Alliance hopes to get Inslee to adopt strategic-planning process

The Washington Business Alliance is hopeful it can help Jay Inslee, sworn in this week as Washington's 22nd governor, put in place a strategic-planning process for state government similar to what successful businesses employ. Perhaps aiding their cause is that neighboring Oregon is well down the road on that kind of approach to governing.

 

The attentions of a new governor are inevitably sought by an array of pressure groups and for a Democratic governor, those pressure groups are less likely to represent business interests.

 

But the Business Alliance, created by successful entrepreneurs David Giuliani and Howard Behar to bring "a reasoned, collaborative approach to public policy that transcends partisan politics," seems optimistic that Inslee will respond positively to the idea of strategic planning for Washington State.

 

WaBA gained visibility and respect during the recent gubernatorial campaign with its even-handed approach to the two candidates, including several "debates" that were more like interviews with Inslee and GOP candidate Rob McKenna. The organization takes no political positions and does no endorsements, since politics isn't what it's about.

 

Now WaBA wants Inslee to look no further for a good strategic-planning model than south across the Columbia River at what fellow Democratic chief executive John Kitzhaber has embraced, including creating the business-sounding role of chief operating officer.

 

While the WaBA's effort is to transcend partisanship, there's likely little doubt that it should be easier to convince Inslee to emulate a respected governor from his own party then if, for example, the model were New Jersey's Chris Christie. New Jersey was, in fact, one of four states where WaBA, in a 50-state assessment of where best practices were occurring, found efforts under way to institutionalize strategic planning.

 

The four were New Jersey, Indiana and Colorado, where Republican governors were in place, and Oregon, where Kitzhaber is a year into his second stint as state chief executive.

 

Strategic planning is the process by which an organization defines its strategy and makes decisions and allocates resources based on pursuing the preferred outcomes of that strategy, ideally over a long term.

 

It's a process that often eludes government because decisions at the local, state and national levels are usually driven by the most high-visibility needs and allocation of resources by the most influential special-interest groups.

 

Norm
Norm Levy

.WaBA board member Norm Levy, who has guided corporate strategy for major Washington companies for nearly 30 years, said what the 50-state assessment turned up was that coordinated business involvement had helped establish best practices in several states.

 

Levy, who had been head of strategic planning for the former Seafirst Bank and who got involved with WaBA because both Behar and Giuliani were clients, said "the states where long-term goals with specific outcomes were being put in place had collaboration of all key stakeholders."

 

"The accountability that is necessary to carry out a strategic plan has to be at the top level," Levy said. "And that leads to a position like Oregon's COO because someone has to be responsible for oversight of all the agencies in state government and the critical issue is that all those need to be aligned across silos."

 

The framework for strategic planning in Oregon is called the Oregon Business Plan, conceived a decade ago as a forum for collaboration on improving Oregon's economy and championed by Oregon's two U.S. senators in the absence of support from Gov. Ted Kulongoski, the Democrat who replaced Kitzhaber in 2003.

 

Early on, the plan was unable to garner the support of Oregon's various business organizations. But that gradually came about as influential business leaders embraced it and it has endured, becoming an effective tool for cooperation and collaboration.

 

And Kitzhaber, re-elected in 2011 after sitting out for either years after his constitutionally limited two terms ended in 2003, has fully embraced the concept and its strategic-planning underpinning.

 

In fact, in his State of the State speech this week, Kitzhaber invoked the Oregon Business Plan and its goals of, by 2020, raising per-capita income, creating 25,000 new jobs per year and significantly reducing the poverty rate.

 

Kitzhaber is proposing an ambitious state strategic plan called the 10-Year Plan for Oregon, which will include his proposal for a 10-year budget to support identified goals.

 

Washington Business Alliance, some of whose members have been at work with Inslee's transition team, express confidence that the new governor may adopt the Oregon Business Plan approach to governing.

 

New Jersey's Christie, as one of the models for success that turned up in the Business Alliance's 50-state examination, began strategic planning by applying it to commercial land development, after the state had discovered it had been planning for large industrial complexes in which businesses had no interest.

 

The initiative was successful, and strategic planning spread to other functions. Christie then brought to bear the interesting hammer of requiring strategic planning within each branch of state, regional and local governments in order to obtain funding.

 

 

Ironically, the Business Alliance may face a larger challenge in getting all of the varied business organizations in the state on board with creating a Washington version of the Oregon Business Plan than winning over the new Democratic governor.
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'Basque entrepreneur' Aspiri is more pleased by jobs created than fortune made

In the course of launching or growing a dozen companies over a half century, first as an entrepreneur then as an investor in entrepreneurs, Ray Aspiri expresses more pleasure at the jobs he's helped create than at the business success he's achieved.

 

And he's brought an unusual business philosophy, gained from his Basque roots, of avoiding what he refers to as the "perverse incentive" of excessive CEO pay.

 

Born John Ramon Azpiri in Boise, he wears his Basque heritage like a badge of honor. And he is particularly proud of being referred to as "the Basque entrepreneur from Seattle" when he is called upon to speak on entrepreneurism and his philosophy of leadership here, and several times in Europe.

 

Ray Aspiri
Ray Aspiri 

While Aspiri has largely avoiding the limelight in his business involvements, though those seeking his backing and the business partners he accumulated knew where to find him, he agreed to an interview following the recent sale of one of the companies he built and guided.

 

Houston-based Oil States International is acquiring Kent-based Tempress Technologies, which Aspiri and four partners had founded 15 years ago and where he was chairman and former CEO. Oil States, a publicly traded, diversified oilfield services company, paid $52.5 million for Tempress, which has an array of specialized drilling products for the oil and gas industries.

 

Aspiri's entrepreneurial career began when, at age 24 in 1961, as a Boeing employee who had dropped out of Seattle University, he co-founding Credco, which provided data credit reports for the mortgage lending and banking industries.

 

Over the next decade, with his initial partners, he launched and guided Color Control, a company that did photo-lithography for major retailers and mail-order catalogue companies, and Precision Automotive, an engine-rebuild firm in the aviation industry.

 

Aspiri was still top executive at Credco and Color Control when he got involved financially in the medical-instrument business that would occupy much of his focus in the coming years.

 

He recalls that Bill Gates Sr. called him in 1967 to tout him on an opportunity to invest in Redmond-based Physio, then on its way to being a world leader in heart defibrillators. He remembers that investor involvement as "one with which I made a lot of money, but I got 1,000 times more value" out of the leadership skills he learned from watching Physio's iconic CEO Hunter Simpson.

 

Credco, Color Control and Precision Automotive were all sold in 1978 and Aspiri spent the following two years reviewing 400 companies to determine where he wanted to next focus his attention. That turned out to be twin ventures: the predecessor of Tempress Technologies and his second investment in the medical-instruments industry that has been a high-visibility part of Seattle's technology successes.

 

In 1980 he became a major investor and board member at Quinton Medical, the Woodinville company where founder and leader Wayne Quinton was guiding what became the largest U.S. provider of cardiac stress testing systems and cardiac rehabilitation equipment.

 

Aspiri has been an investor in and has served since 1995 on the board of publicly traded Omeros, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering, developing and commercializing products for inflammation, "coagulopathies" and disorders of the central nervous system.

 

I asked Aspiri if, scattered among his array of investor involvements, were any that had failed and he quickly ticked off several.

 

Interestingly, one of his less successful investments was in a business that nevertheless turned out successful.

 

He and three partners funded the launch of Flexcar, a concept he says his wife, Edith, "Loved," which helped guide his decision to invest.

 

"We probably got about 12 cents on the dollar back from the investment, but we helped establish a concept that has taken off" he said of the idea that eventually became part of Zipcar, which was just purchased by Avis for about $500 million.

 

Aspiri wanted to focus, during our interview, on the importance of encouraging entrepreneurism and on his compensation philosophy, which he calls the "Mondragon concept of employee ownership," gleaned from one of Spain's most successful companies based in that country's Basque region.

 

At Mondragon, a federation of worker cooperatives that is Spain's seventh largest company with 84,000 employees in 256 companies and named after the town where it was founded, the CEO can't make more than six times the salary of the average employee, Aspiri explained.

 

"I'm a real advocate of that concept, which largely eliminates the perverse incentives that contribute to many of the problems of governance found in organizations with more traditional management structures," he said. "In all my years, I haven't exceeded that ratio."

 

Aspiri's investments extend to his community involvement where he was one of three business leaders who helped found the Catholic Fund to sponsor scholarships for private Catholic education in Western Washington, raising more than $25 million for scholarships from 1986 to 2002. His partners in that initiative were Seattle attorney Joh Hempelman and Jack McMillan, then Nordstrom president.

 

A $3 million contribution from the fund in 2002 launched what is now the Fulcrum Foundation, which annually raises funds for Catholic schools from K-12 through university for the Seattle archdiocese.

 

As to what lies ahead, Aspiri says he intends "to make selective investments in the future that can improve the quality of life for people," and and also plans to work with both University of Washington's Foster School of Business and Seattle U's School of Entrepreneurship.  

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New leadership could bring key changes to entrepreneur icon Kauffman Foundation

As a new year brings new leadership at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the long-rumored internal struggle over whether the focus of the nation's largest and most influential resource for entrepreneurs should be far flung or local may soon play out.

 

Thomas A. McDonnell, longtime Kauffman Foundation board member and chair since 2006, assumed the role of president and CEO as of January 1, filling the position left vacant since exactly a year ago when Carl Schramm was forced out. McDonnell hasn't indicated yet whether or not he will guide a change of focus.

 

But given the pre-eminent role the Kansas City-based foundation has played in fostering entrepreneurism, the issue of whether Kauffman's focus should be more local than broad-based could have implications for angel-investor groups and entrepreneurs in every region of the country.

 

However, there are some longtime entrepreneur supporters and investors who suggest that the emergence of other foundationsinvesting in entrepreneurial activity and of serial entrepreneurs now actively impacting entrepreneurship mean Kauffman could refocus without negative impact.

 

Despite the substantial amount of time since the departure of Schramm, the architect of Kauffman's dramatically expanded presence in entrepreneurial activity, there's been little national visibility or blogger discussions about the struggle over Kauffman direction or of the real story of Schramm's departure. Nor has there been a lot of discussion about what might lie ahead for the $1.8 billion foundation.

 

During his 10 years as president, Schramm turned the foundation's focus dramatically toward national focus, then a global presence, becoming the largest and most influential resource available to foster technology innovation through entrepreneurial startups.

 

Schramm was asked to leave, though the official announcement was that he had decided to resign to return to academia. Both his departure, and the sudden availability of McDonnell for the top role, may yet provide fodder for discussion.

 

McDonnell's sudden decision in September to retire at 2012 year-end as CEO of publicly traded DST Systems, and the fact that the company's board virtually that same day put a new CEO in place, could provide a new batch of rumors surrounding Kauffman leadership.

 

One Kauffman change that's certain to occur is its involvement with venture-capital and private-equity investing, given its own dramatic report last spring that spelled out the sad experience the foundation has had in its 20 years of such investments. The in-depth report, titled "We have met the enemy...and he is us," amounted to an analytical revisitation what it describes as its "large (almost $250 million) and (largely) underperforming VC portfolio" and a promise to make dramatic changes in such investing.

 

Because of the clout Kauffman has with academia, the angel-investment community and others with financial roles in start-up companies and entrepreneurism, there's a perhaps not illogical reluctance on the part of many in the industry to speak out about the Foundation's apparent internal struggle.

 

But the fact Schramm's departure was the outgrowth of the conflict over Kauffman direction is pointed up by a couple of comments in e-mails to me for this piece.

 

As a friend close to Schramm said in an e-mail, "it was always a fight between Carl's vision of becoming a global leader in entrepreneurship and being a mainstay in Kansas City."

 

Added an angel-investment leader who declined to have his name tied to the comment: "I can tell you that the divergence on direction is based on the interpretation of the donor's (Mr. Kauffman's) intent. After all, it was his money. Far be it for us to determine what is the best use of his money."

 

"I do believe Carl went too far afield and walked away from the original donor intent, including spending vast sums of money outside the U.S.," said retired Kansas City business leader Ritchie Slaughter said in a telephone interview.

 

Slaughter had worked for Kauffman, the owner of the Kansas City Royals major league baseball team who created the foundation in the mid-1960s, before his death in 1993. Slaughter left the board in 2003, a year after Schramm's arrival.

 

"He was very willing to have people come here (to Kansas City) from around the world but did not want to spend money outside the United States," Slaughter said. "It is Mr. Kauffman's money and needs be spent the way he wanted."

 

"The new guy is likely to have community pressure to give more focus to and have more board members from Kansas City, but he's been chairman of the board for six years so I'd be surprised if he's backing away from national involvement," Slaughter said. "Kauffman specifically wanted a national footprint in entrepreneurship and a local footprint in youth development."

 

Among those who suggest a Kauffman refocus would likely not be detrimental to entrepreneurial activity at this point is San Diego angel-investor Michael Elconin, a long-time leader in the five-county Southern California Tech Coast Angels.

 

"Kaufmann was instrumental, to say the least, in the formation and growth of the Angel Capital Association (ACA), enabling the dissemination of best practices, and promoting efforts to bridge the gap between university research and startups," said Elconin, past chair of the San Diego TCA chapter. "I would say that in all three of these areas, the institutions and momentum Kaufmann created will, to Kaufmann's credit, allow them to continue without further Kaufmann support."

 

Janis Machala, one of the founders of the Seattle women's angel-investor group Seraph Capital and now dean of continuing education at Bellevue College north campus, agreed.

 

"Kauffman has done so much and was working in entrepreneurship when no one was focusing on that area," she said.

 

"Now there are many foundations investing in entrepreneurship and many successful serial entrepreneurs now actively impacting the fabric of entrepreneurship and all this activity and money means that Kauffman can refocus to their roots and not lose all that was done," Machala added.

 

Susan Preston, also a founder of the Seraph angel group who then became a Kauffman Entrepreneur-in-Residence and most recently has guided California's CalCEF Clean Energy Angel Fund, isn't quite as certain.

 

"We will feel an impact on programs if the Foundation focuses solely on Kansas City," Preston said. "But I have faith and belief that new leadership will recognize Kauffman's instrumental role in advancing entrepreneurship on a national basis, where the programs created and grants made in a number of areas, including for women eptrepreneurs, have helped change the landscape for the good."

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Holiday Greeting 2012

This offering of holiday art as once generated by wire-service teletype machines has become my annual way of sharing Christmas and holiday greetings to those who have been kind enough over the past almost five years to allow this weekly Flynn's Harp column into their e-mail 'bag'.

(this column will be taking a holiday next Wednesday, resuming on January 2)

 

-0-

 

Holiday teletype art: gift from communications era past

 
In the years-ago time, the wire service teletype machines clacked away in newspaper and broadcast newsrooms bringing the news of the region and the world.
 
But in the quiet of the Christmas holiday in the offices of AP and United Press International, the teletype paper coming from the printers would be graced with holiday art.
 
For those of us who at an early stage in our careers had a turn with the lonely Christmas Eve or overnight vigil in the UPI bureaus around the country, as older writers got to spend time with their families, the holiday art created and transmitted by teletype operators is one of the special memories of working for that now-dead company. The x's, o's, etc. appeared a line at a time on the teletype paper until images of Christmas trees, Santa Claus, holly wreaths, etc., took shape.
 

The art stirred memories for those among the recipients of this weekly missive who once worked in newspaper or broadcast news rooms and recalled watching those creations emerge onto the rolls of teletype paper.

 

It also served as a reminder of earlier days for those in other industries who once used teletype machines for transmission of information, including one who recalled the occasional flawed keystrokes that occurred when creation of the art followed holiday parties.

 

Since each year brings new names to the list of those receiving Flynn's Harp, there are some who haven't previously seen the art. For that reason, and because fond memories are served by repetition, here is a the annual reminder of this Christmas art.

    

Happy Holidays!

 

  

 

                                                +
1                                               "X"                                       
                                              "XXX"
                                            "XXXXX"
                                          "GOD JUL"
                                       "BUON ANNO"
                                        "FELIZ NATAL"
                                      "JOYEUX   NOEL"
                                   "VESELE   VANOCE"
                                  "MELE   KALIKIMAKA"
                                "NODLAG  SONA  DHUIT"
                             "BLWYDDYN  NEWYDD  DDA"
                                """""""BOAS FESTAS"""""""
                                       "FELIZ NAVIDAD"
                                  "MERRY CHRISTMAS"
                                " KALA CHRISTOUGENA"
                                 "VROLIJK  KERSTFEEST"
                   "FROHLICHE WEIHNACHTEN"
                              "BUON  NATALE-GODT NYTAR"
                              "HUAN YING SHENG TAN CHIEH"
                           "WESOLYCH SWIAT-SRETAN BOZIC"
                         "MOADIM LESIMHA-LINKSMU KALEDU"
                        "HAUSKAA JOULUA-AID SAID MOUBARK"
              """""""'N  PRETTIG  KERSTMIS"""""""
                              "ONNZLLISTA UUTTA VUOTTA"
                           "Z ROZHDESTYOM  KHRYSTOVYM"
                          "NADOLIG LLAWEN-GOTT NYTTSAR"
                         "FELIC NADAL-GOJAN KRISTNASKON"
                        "S  NOVYM  GODOM-FELIZ ANO NUEVO"
                        "GLEDILEG JOL-NOELINIZ KUTLU OLSUM"
                     "EEN GELUKKIG NIEUWJAAR-SRETAN BOSIC"
                    "KRIHSTLINDJA GEZUAR-KALA CHRISTOUGENA"
                     SELAMAT HARI NATAL - LAHNINGU NAJU METU"
                    """""""SARBATORI FERICITE-BUON  ANNO"""""""
                          "ZORIONEKO GABON-HRISTOS SE RODI"
                      "BOLDOG KARACSONNY-VESELE  VIANOCE "
                     "MERRY CHRISTMAS  AND  HAPPY NEW YEAR"
                      ROOMSAID JOULU PUHI -KUNG HO SHENG TEN"
                      FELICES PASUAS -  EIN GLUCKICHES NEUJAHR"
                  PRIECIGUS ZIEMAN SVETKUS  SARBATORI VESLLE"
              BONNE  ANNEBLWYDDYN  NEWYDD DDADRFELIZ  NATAL"
                          """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""
                                                    XXXXX
                                                    XXXXX
                                                    XXXXX
                                            XXXXXXXXXXXXX


 

 

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Scott Jarvis merits retention in role as state's chief regulator of financial firms

As Governor-elect Jay Inslee puts his administration's leadership team in place over the coming weeks, the state's community bankers hope to persuade him to retain the man who oversaw the state's regulation of financial institutions during their unprecedented turmoil.

 

If Inslee asks outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire about Scott Jarvis, whom she appointed director of the State Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) at the outset of her tenure in March of 1985, she'd undoubtedly give an unqualified endorsement.

 

Scott Jarvis
Scott Jarvis 

Brad Tower, president and executive director of the Community Bankers of Washington (CBW) will be suggesting to his members that they urge Jarvis' reappointment. The state-chartered community banks around the state may represent the most economically important sector of industries that fall under Jarvis' oversight.

 

Part of what Inslee must weigh is the fact that Jarvis, during an almost unprecedentedly challenging time for banks, credit unions and other financial companies, created a firm but caring state regulatory environment. What he created was important not just to the industry he oversaw but also to the economy of the state.

 

The state's banks and savings and loans were awash in profits when Gregoire plucked James (Scott) Jarvis from the office of the state insurance commissioner, where he was Deputy Commissioner for Consumer Protection, to head the agency that oversees all financial-transaction businesses.

 

It wasn't long into his tenure that Jarvis, an attorney, came to realize that what he recalls as "extremely high concentrations of lending in land acquisition and real estate development was going to be a problem for community banks if the economy took a turn for the worse."

 

But he was frustrated by the fact that, as he puts it, "there were no tools in the regulator's tool box to impose enforceable concentration limits nor to compel a profitable and healthy institution to reduce its exposure to a line of lending."

 

Thus as Jarvis came to know personally many of the bankers who ran institutions he regulated, "I knew who among them was struggling and whose banks, absent infusions of hard-to-come-by capital or an acquisition, would not survive."

 

"To watch these decent individuals keep a stiff upper lip and act as if all was well when they were among their peers and competitors was difficult," he said, in a comment bespeaking a regulator with a human side. "And it became all the more difficult as time for failure drew near." In the end, 17 state-chartered banks failed.

 

"I believe that over the last seven years, the environment he has created and people he has surrounded himself with has been one of the greatest assets for community banking in our state, and actually nationally," said CBW executive Tower in a telephone interview.

 

"While he has been a tough regulator, he's been fair and supportive and has been willing to push back on federal regulators when they were failing to be sensitive to local conditions," noted Tower, whose CBW is viewed as the pre-eminent voice of the state's 60 independent community banks. "Scott has been directly involved in slowing the knee-jerk reaction of the feds to close first and ask questions later."

 

That ability to work with federal regulators stems in part, likely, from Jarvis' role as legislative committee chair for the national organization of state regulators, where one of his duties is to coordinate the legislative positions of the organization at the federal level.

 

Pat Fahey, one of the state's most respected bank CEOs, recalls that as he sought to turn around failing Frontier Bank, "Scott was very supportive, even meeting with the governor to see how she might get involved, in seeking to convince the feds to accept a deal we had put together to save the bank."

 

In the end, fed ineptitude caused investors who sought to put together a deal with Fahey that would have saved Frontier Bank and its parent Frontier Financial Corp. to back away and the bank was shuttered and its assets sold to California's Union Bank.

 

Fahey is now at the helm of First Sound Bank as chairman, president and CEO seeking to turn it around. 

 

Patrick Patrick, like Fahey, a turnaround banker now involved in bringing back Seattle Bank, where he is CEO, says Jarvis "was the man the state needed in a very difficult time for Washington. He represented the interests of the regulatory system as well as the communities whose banks he oversaw."

 

Patrick credits Jarvis with "making certain, where possible, that people who had given back to their communities had a chance to continue to do so with their banks."

 

It's interesting, as well as telling, that Jarvis views his role as DFI director to be fostering policies that not only provide a healthy and predictable regulatory environment, but also promote economic vitality. It's clear he understands that what his agency website describes as "a fair and dynamic lending environment that results from viable state-chartered banks and credit unions" is important to capital formation for small business.

 

Jarvis' agency, in addition to regulating state chartered banks and credit unions, also regulates a variety of non-bank financial services providers, including mortgage lenders and payday lenders, as well as our state's securities industry.

 

Tellingly, CBW's Tower notes that "The FDIC has ramped up hiring and paid outrageous amounts to get good people. Scott can't pay market rates for his people so the only way he can keep good people is to create a good working, even a mentorship, environment."

 

Looking down the road for the industry he's come to understand as well as anyone, Jarvis thinks that as the economy improves "we can expect to see entrepreneurs looking to the state bank charter as the vehicle to create and grow new local community banks."

 

But he adds that for now, "and perhaps a bit beyond, consolidation remains the more likely path as the economic environment strives to sort itself out and attractive returns on investment remain challenging."

 

"Though not in the numbers seen in the past, well capitalized proposals, with strong management and sound business plans, will have a place in the Washington community banking environment in the years ahead and should receive federal approval," Jarvis said.

 

In addition, Jarvis notes, "a number of Washington institutions have recently switched from a federal to a state charter and several more are giving serious consideration to doing so."

 

"I would like to think that our efforts to be perceived as a fair, competent and knowledgeable regulator and our performance during these almost unprecedented times has something to do with that," he added.

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Spokane's 'North Pole' flight for poor kids attracting attention from other cities

The annual Fantasy Flight to the "North Pole" that Alaska Airlines makes possible each year for 60 disadvantaged Spokane-area kids and their personal elves is now attracting the attention of other cities who might like to create similar events, possibly in partnership with Alaska.

 

The children, selected from programs for homeless and underprivileged kids in the Spokane and Coeur d'Alene areas, board Alaska Airlines "flight 1225," designated "Santa One," Saturday at Spokane International Airport.

 

This is the fifth year Alaska has operated the flight in Spokane for Northwest North Pole Adventures (NNPA), a 501c3 created and overseen by Steve Paul, president, CEO and executive director. He's a software executive who spends much of the year preparing for, agonizing over funding for,and carrying off the event, where at trip time he's better known as "Bernie" the Head Elf.

 

Steve's headshot
Steve Paul, event creator as 
head elf "Bernie" 

Alaska made the flight unique when it took over from United Airlines after that airline was unable to make a jetliner available in December of 2008. Though a number of airlines around the country, actually around the world, have been engaged in such Christmas Season flights since even before Alaska got involved, it was Alaska employees who asked: "why can't we take the kids up in the air?"

 

Thus it was that Alaska was the first to actually fly away, taking the kids to "the North Pole."

Brad Tilden
 Brad Tilden, Alaska Air CEO 

United now has North Pole adventures, for children with serious illnesses, that take to the air from both Los Angeles and San Francisco for flights around California that land back at the airport from which they departed. Other airlines doing "flights" that mostly involve taxiing around the airport with window shades down are Continental, American and Southwest.

 

Elsewhere in the world, kids are carried aloft by British Airways in Scotland and Aerolineas Argentinas, which conducts fantasy flights between Buenos Aires' two main airports.

 

Recognition for the Spokane event got broader last year thanks to coverage by Seattle's KCPQ-TV, which actually also did a program on it for CNN as well as its own regular news coverage. That greater visibility is providing both relief and opportunity for Paul.

 

"This is the first that I am not panicking about funding as the event nears," he said in an interview. He's attracted a number of local sponsors at various levels and has a cash-and-in-kind budget this year of just under $200,000.

kids in plane
Kids awaiting takeoff for 'North Pole'

The key in-kind, of course, is Alaska's participation, a role that has been low key from the outset in 2008.

 

"Alaska has never pressed for any visibility," Paul noted. "They are just happy to be great philanthropists for this project, though many of Alaska's employees consider this a high point of their year." As many as 30 Alaska and Horizon Air employees will participate this year, though more sought to volunteer.

 

"Alaska wants to do things for the right reasons and visibility is typically not high on the list of right reasons," says Alaska's new chairman and CEO, Brad Tilden. "But it's not that we need to be secretive about something we're very proud of supporting the event and many others who are involved, including many of our employees."

 

And as a new CEO, he brings his own sense of expanding upon this event by being open to seeing something similar develop in other Alaska cities.

 

"We'd be happy to help in other cities," Tilden told me in an email exchange. "I think Steve and his team put in an unbelievable amount of work to bring this event alive, and we'd have to make sure we have a group in another city that is onboard with all of this."

 

"But again, I'm very open to the idea," he added.

 

"Seattle would like to have a similar Fantasy Flight for kids but the challenge is how to scale it," Paul notes. "They'd need a facility, sponsors and community support behind the idea."

 

"We could easily do a Seattle one, bringing kids from there to Spokane to have the same experience our kids do, then fly back home.," he adds.

 

"A lot of people have said we should take this on the road," Paul notes. "I could do that if I could get people to define their non-profit or if our organization were to expand. But this is not some casual party. A lot of planning and time is involved."

 

Among the Alaska-served cities where such Fantasy Flights don't yet occur, in addition to Seattle and Portland, are San Diego, Orange County and the Palm Springs area.

 

The Spokane flight has priority status with the FAA once it's loaded and ready to fly and "Santa One" comes up on the screen. Then the flight's own personal air traffic controller takes over, Paul said. "It becomes just like Air Force One in that respect."

 

"When we send out invitations to the kids, we have them give us a wish list of what they want for Christmas," Paul explained to me in an interview for a column on him I did a year ago.  

 

"We take those lists and buy each of them a toy from that list. So as each child tells Santa what he or she wants, Santa can reach into his bag and pull that present out for them. The looks on their faces as he hands it to them is priceless."

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Columbia Hospitality views Salish products as part of corporate brand enhancement

Most of the two dozen properties Seattle's Columbia Hospitality manages across five Western states are destinations well-recognized by hotel and resort guests, but less recognized is the brand of the fast-growing hospitality management and consulting company itself.

Now founder and CEO John Oppenheimer hopes a new retail-products unit that will market food items served at the iconic Salish Lodge will help bring broader exposure not just for the hotels and resorts themselves but also for the Columbia Hospitality brand.

 

John Oppenheimer
John Oppenheimer

A number of food products served at the nearly century-old hotel perched on the bluff above Snoqualmie Falls east of Seattle went on sale last week at a holiday-season kiosk at downtown Seattle's Pacific Place. Columbia Hospitality manages Salish under a 20-year agreement with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, which bought the hotel five years ago for $42 million and 50 acres across the road for another $20 million.

 

"We're the first of our kind as a boutique hotel creating a product arm," said Sasha Nosecchi, whom Oppenheimer brought aboard in July with the title of Retail Innovations Director. The title indicates the extent of creative freedom he has given the former Starbucks and Chateau Ste. Michelle executive.

 

Oppemheimer says the products from Salish, which Columbia Hospitality manages under a 20-year agreement with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, which bought the hotel five years ago, range from biscuit powder to pancake mix, to the on-site-produced honey, to candles and tea.

 

"The products are all well known by those who have been guests at the lodge," says Nosecchi, who adds that another product is a honey ale produced for Salish in partnership with a local brewery.

 

"Everyone who has been there has a story about Salish," he adds. "Everyone has a memory of this place, and that's what the products are meant to take advantage of."

 

"Honey on biscuits, drizzled from on high, has been a tradition so we decided to begin making our own honey, with bees on site, with our own beekeeper," Oppenheimer says.

 

And the way Columbia Hospitality's other properties may be promoted to buyers of Salish food products is through special deals tied to the Salish items, like perhaps a special rate at Friday Harbor House in the San Juan Islands with the purchase.

 

"We think we can create great exposure for the hotels and resorts,"Oppenheimer said. "My hope is that someday people will say they want to stay at a Columbia Hospitality-managed property."

 

In fact, the company's strategy for building its brand includes a brochure in every guest room at Columbia Hospitality's various properties that list the collective properties. And the company has a newsletter that goes out regularly to its mailing list.

 

"Guests tell us they are beginning to visit the properties simply because they are Columbia Hospitality managed, which equates to luxury, incredible service, and distinct destinations," says Oppenheimer. "So yes, we are building a brand."

 

A more readily recognizable brand for the company would be only the latest innovation for the fast-growing hospitality management and consulting company that Oppenheimer founded in 1995 after his consulting company was hired by the Port of Seattle to manage its new Bell Harbor Conference Center.

 

The port had hired Oppenheimer's Columbia Resource Group (CRG), which had done events around the world, to provide consulting services on selecting a management firm for the new facility. But when the original management firm fell short of port expectations, Oppenheimer decided to bid on the management role itself.

 

How he eventually got the management contract for Bell Harbor with no experience managing such a facility was an example of Oppenheimer's bold business approach.

 

"Our bid was based on the premise that while we had no experience operating a conference center, no one understood the customer like we did and we said 'we'll make this the most customer friendly place that exists on the planet.'"

 

Columbia Hospitality was created out of CRG to operate Bell Harbor, which was able to pay its way from year one without the subsidy the port had assumed it would have to provide for a time.

 

A growing number of hotels and resorts, and other conference centers soon came Columbia Hospitality's way, including now two in Montana resort areas, one in Sonoma, CA., and the bulk in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. In addition, the company has a half dozen of what it calls "limited service hotels" that Columbia Hospitality operates, but not under its brand.

 

Oppenheimer explains those hotels come and go because our clients are principally banks who assume the hotel and retain us to manage it until it is sold.

 

Oppenheimer admits that at one point, when Salish Lodge was available, he thought about putting together an ownership group to buy it. But when it became clear the Muckleshoots intended to buy it outright, he opted instead for the long-term management agreement.

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Tiny charity has large impact on lives of kids, families in small Yakima Valley town

When Joan Wallace reflects on her decision on a Thanksgiving nine years ago to create a grassroots charity to address the needs of the mostly poverty-level Hispanic families in a small Yakima Valley community, she says "it seemed like pie in the sky."

 

In fact, the manner in which the organization Wallace created, Friends of Granger, has done its annual fund raising through a single e-mail she sends each Thanksgiving week to friends and family might seem to some like an annual revisiting of that description.

 

"How else than that description to explain the expectation that a small group of caring individuals could adopt an entire village and make a difference in the lives of needy children - not just for today, but for their future," mused Wallace, principal and retired president of Bellevue-based Wallace Properties.

 

But the on-going impact Friends of Granger has on the community, which U.S. Census figures indicate is 85 percent Hispanic or Latino, suggests that the charity Wallace launched with her sister in law, Janet Wheaton, on Thanksgiving Day of 2003 has indeed made a difference.

 

Wheaton was then principal at Granger high school but is now federal programs director of the Granger School District, where she told me she now has "the privilege of serving all the families of our school district and community."

 

More than 300 people receive Wallace's e-mail each year, an outreach that represents the only source of fund-raising for the non-profit's tiny $50,000 annual budget, a fund-raising effort that Wallace concedes usually raises closer to $35,000.

 

But because the little 501c3 that was incorporated in early 2004 has no overhead, with all the clerical support and services donated, all the money goes to the families, touching as many as 150 families in the Granger community.

 

"A lot of kids are part of large families, so they come to school in hand-me-downs, jackets with the zippers not working, and no gloves," notes Wallace, now president of the 501c3 while Wheaton is treasurer. "If the teacher decides a kid is in need of a new coat, they're sent to the office and the secretary takes them down to the stock room where they get to pick out a new coat."

 

"There are 60 to 80 kids a year who wind up needing coats, so we have to buy them in all sizes, which we do at the end of a season and have them in stock for the next year," she adds.

 

The incentive during the conversation that first year between Wallace and Wheaton was a concern that without some assistance, children in dozens of families (social workers later identified the number as 160 families) would be going hungry without the two subsidized meals they had each day.

 

The $100 grocery gift cards that were purchased from Fiesta Foods, the local Hispanic grocery, which chipped in by providing holiday meal baskets at wholesale cost, were sent anonymously to the families of the poorest children.

 

But Because Wallace has difficulty thinking small, what was born that Christmas season as a food gift soon grew into programs throughout the year to not just feed and clothe but to enrich those poorest kids.

 

Thus came discounted purchase of book bags from Costco, a month long summer day camp, and Ready! For Kindergarten, focusing on early learning and parenting skills. Then the annual purchase of coats and mittens, which Wheaton oversees.

 

The ask each year is composed fresh from the heart rather than recycled and this year's details what the donated dollars achieve, noting that Wheaton has identified "150 families that will need our help this year. Our objective is to allocate $125.00 per family."

 

Though one year she closed with a quote from Mother Theresa ("We cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love"), the ask is generally a soft one, like this year's: "If you could see your way clear to support Friends of Granger with a gift this year it would be wonderful."

 

The Fund is reachable at:

Friends of Granger

C/o Joan Wallace, PO Box 4184, Bellevue, WA. 98009

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Patient advocates represent a growing trend in healthcare system evolution

As dramatic changes in the healthcare system unfold, an emerging piece of those changes is the growing role being played by advocates who become in-person navigators of the system for patients and their families.

 

It's a healthcare innovation that won't mean the eventual end of one-on-one doctor-patient interactions, but proponents of the advocate role suggest it will lead to far larger percentage of physician visits in which a patient is accompanied by his or her "team."

 

Scott Forslund, director of strategic communications for Premera Blue Cross of Washington, suggests that "One benefit of a patient advocate model is that it may provide a fiduciary responsibility by allowing for focus on only the one patient that the advocate is serving."

 

Forslund adds that "The escalating cost of care and the complexity and fragmentation of the healthcare delivery system are hugely driving the need for better coordination of care and greater economic engagement by consumers and advocacy on their behalf."

 

It's that "advocacy on their behalf" that is driving the new trend on behalf of patients. And it is attracting a growing number of entrepreneurs who are parlaying their years of experience in the healthcare industry into new companies that they hope will grow as the field becomes more broadly known.

 

Three of those businesses, created by entrepreneurs who have picked different pieces of the advocacy picture, are in the Seattle area. One is a health advocacy company, another is focused on home healthcare and the third is seeking to create a personal heathcare guide for patients and their advocates.

 

Robin Shapiro
Robin Shapiro,
Allied Health Advocates 

Allied Health Advocates (AHA) is a health advocacy company focused on providing in-person assistance to patients and their families who are navigating the health care system, "whether facing a new diagnosis, an immediate health care issue or managing a chronic and complicated medical condition."

 

Robin Shapiro, president and COO of AHA, which she co-founded in 2008 with partner Beth Droppert, says the advocate industry is forming around the idea that patients want to get more engaged in the healthcare experience, but lack the background to be really involved.

 

"Patients don't understand the pressures on doctors, so we act as navigators and as a sounding board, bringing good communications to the process so doctors can be more efficient with patients," Shapiro says.

 

She admits it's a field too new for a lot of doctors "to even know about the role we play." But she adds that "the doctors we have worked with have been very supportive, cooperative and at times grateful that we work with the patient and the health care team."

 

Virginia Kenyon
Virginia Kenyon
Kenyon HomeCare 

Virginia Kenyon, whose Seattle-based Kenyon HomeCare Consulting provides consulting services for a variety of home health hospice and home care agencies, views the advocate role as "critical in this day and age of complex medications and procedures and the options now available to all of us."

 

At this point the advocate role is not covered by insurance or Medicare.   

  

But Kenyon, who started her business in 1999, suggests that if insurance companies could see that the advocate role would reduce costs and improve health and care, they might be willing to pay for it.

 

"Right now they probably would view it as costing them more because the advocates would push for coverage that companies currently will deny," Kenyon added.

 

Kenyon recalls that early in her career as a nurse, in the 1970s, "nurses used to be required to advocate for their patients, which sometimes was very difficult because it could out you at odds with the physician."

  

She notes that a settlement in a recent federal suit against Medicare for its requirement that home healthcare agencies had to close cases of patients who weren't showing progress will also serve to reduce healthcare costs.


 "Keeping people at home and keeping them stable, even if they are no longer making progress or improvement, will keep people at home and stable rather than being in the hospital," she said. 

 

Trini Evans
Trini Evans
StrataLife Solutions 

StrataLife Solutions LLC was founded two years ago by Trini Evans, who brings a 25- year healthcare background in nursing and home healthcare roles to her effort to launch her publication-focused business.

 

The Health Advocate Guide, the launch product for her business, is designed to be a personal medical communication system that is taken by the patient or a "team" member to each physician visit. The three-ring binder (which also has a patient's information on line), contains forms and legal documents, such as healthcare directive and durable power of attorney for healthcare, as well as pages to guide the collection and retention of doctor-visit records.

 

One of the pages in the guide advises patients on "gathering your team," suggesting that one team member would accompany the patient to doctor visits, thus serving as advocate to take notes, ask questions and ensure accuracy in dealings between patient and medical professional.

 

"It's designed to give a patient the ability to be a participant in their care, rather than an observer of it," she says.

 

Some involved in the healthcare industry suggest there is a latent pressure building for advocates who will help patients navigate the array of procedures for various diseases and conditions, balancing benefits with costs, and actually slowing, or bringing down, healthcare cost

 

Thus part of the effort to get control of the escalating costs of healthcare might find advocates, for example, helping a patient with a particular cancer weigh the relative benefits of an array of similar procedures to address the cancer that, in Seattle, can range in cost from $800 to $57,000, depending on where the procedure is done.

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SEC's struggle with rules for start-up fundraising troubles some angel investors

The federal JOBS Act aimed at opening the door for entrepreneurs to reach out to crowds of potential investors on the internet appears, ironically, to be hung up at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on the issue of tighter restrictions on entrepreneurs who seek more sophisticated investors.

 

In fact, angel-investor leaders are concerned that the SEC's deliberations may produce rules that make it harder for entrepreneurs to raise money from those wealthier individuals, referred to as "accredited" investors. 

 

Liz Marchi
Liz Marchi

The reason is that Congress decided that entrepreneurs would have to validate investor accreditation, rather than being able to take the word of investors that they were "accredited," as has been the case until now. But the lawmakers left it to the SEC to figure out how to impose rules for such "validation."

 

"I don't think anyone in Congress was thinking about the actual impact the change would have on accredited-investor rules," said Liz Marchi, whose Frontier Angel Fund, Montana's first angel fund, has become one of the nation's most successful angel-investor groups. "That's why I think you see basically nothing being done at the SEC."

 

The legislation, officially the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, was passed by Congress in April and was designed to be a job creator by making it easier for entrepreneurs to raise capital and thus launch companies and create jobs. The first part of the bill would ease raising start-up capital through "crowdfunding" on the Internet and the second part to eliminate the prohibition against advertising and soliciting traditional "accredited" investors.

 

The SEC was given until yearend to determine the rules that would govern operation of crowd-funding efforts. But the portion dealing with accredited investors called for the SEC to figure out by July 4 how to implement rules to eliminate the prohibition against general solicitation and advertising in securities offerings.

 

The regulatory body missed that deadline but SEC chairman Mary Shapiro told Congress the agency would have the rules in place by end of summer. That target has now become year end, and the betting is that it'll be sometime in the new year before the rules are put forth.

 

The Angel Capital Association and angel investors like Seattle's Dan Rosen, who are closely involved in following the SEC deliberations and seeking to influence them, are hoping to get final SEC rules simple enough that entrepreneurs "don't have to jump through enormous hoops to prove investor accreditation."

 

The phrase angel leaders are using to indicate what's needed for those entrepreneurs seeking accredited investors is "safe harbor," meaning a safeguard for entrepreneurs that they have actually done some due diligence on the investors.

 

Rosen, a leader of Seattle's Alliance of Angels, says "we've been working with the SEC to come up with a compromise that will ensure there is a safe harbor. But if they come out with a rule that is not acceptable, we will go back to Congress and seek changes there."

 

What's causing much of the teeth-gnashing for entrepreneurs and those like ACA and Rosen looking out for their interests is the apparent difficulty the SEC is having figuring out just what are the "reasonable steps," that will be required of entrepreneurs.

 

The irony of, in essence, tightening the screws on entrepreneurs seeking funds from qualified investors is that those entrepreneurs, rather than the ones seeking limited amounts of money from crowds of small investors, are the ones most likely to be job creators.

 

Bill Payne, viewed by many as the dean of angel investors and a member of Marchi's Kalispell-based Frontier Angels, is critical of how Congress packaged the JOBS Act.

 

"The legislation does not appear to have been well thought-out and seems to be our Congress simply finding something upon which they could agree," said Payne, who was Entrepreneur in Residence at the Kauffman Foundation and was named angel investor of the year in both the U.S. and New Zealand.

 

In fact, the JOBS Act brought the best example of bipartisan support evidenced by Congress in the past four years.

 

"Congress was motivated on this legislation because the lawmakers finally figured out that entrepreneurs are at the heart of this country's future and there were few tools by which Congress could feel like it was playing a role in the country's economic future," said Marchi.

 

Marchi's angel fund has been proving recently that angel investing can be profitable for the angels as well as important for jobs and the economy.

 

Two of the fund's investments, Coeur d'Alene-based Pacinian, a maker of wafer-thin keyboards, and Bozeman-based LigoCyte Pharmateuticals Inc., were acquired by major companies in the past few months. Frontier had substantial stakes in both and thus got substantial rewards.

 

Pacinian, which represented 10 percent of Frontier's total fund, was sold to Silicon Valley tech firm Synaptics this summer for an initial $15 million plus a substantial additional amount in the future based on various factors.

 

And a substantial bridge-round investment Frontier made about four years ago in LigoCyte Pharmateuticals Inc. paid off big last month with the announcement that Japan's Takeda Pharmaceuticals' wholly-owned U. S. subsidiary was buying the Montana vaccine maker. The agreement provided for an upfront payment of $60 million and "future contingent considerations" for LigoCyte, whose lead product, a vaccine to prevent norovirus gastroenteritis, is in clinical development.

 

Marchi declined to discuss specifics of Frontier's multiples from the two sales. But she noted that the two exits will have returned the original investment capital to her members, "and perhaps even some profit. So every one of our other 10 investments can produce profits."

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Recalling a home's 40 years of memories

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For four decades, it was the place where three children grew to adulthood and where their laughter and tears, and those of eight grandchildren, echoed from walls and windows that were always decorated by Betsy (mom and grandma) for the appropriate holidays.

But the big old four-bedroom colonial in Seattle's desirable Mount Baker neighborhood had become too large for a now-aging couple, so the time to find a retirement apartment had arrived.

The attraction of moving into inviting new downtown-view quarters at Horizon House, one of Seattle's more sought-after facilities for retirees (and those not yet retired), eased the challenges of the move, particularly since familiar faces from Seattle's business community appeared around each corner.

But with the unfolding challenge of rapidly, and not easily, downsizing to take 40 years of accumulated items from 2,500 square feet plus basement into a place half that size, the memories surrounding the rooms, and many of the items, hung in the air.

In one bedroom, there was the bitter-sweet memory of the arrival of the daughter, born a year after our arrival back in Seattle from the Los Angeles area, who too briefly slept in her crib there.

Sarah Elizabeth, born four days before Christmas in 1973, gave a special meaning to that holiday season. Her brother and sister would sit on the couch and push as close as possible, looking on with smiling fascination while mom held or fed the baby.

Two months to the day later, we found Sarah dead in her crib, a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In an effort to bring meaning from her death, Betsy and I became involved in the state SIDS organization, first taking support in our pain, then eventually giving back by supporting other SIDS parents who needed help coming to grips with their loss. We learned you take, give back, then move on, once the realization comes that painful memory is replaced by loving memory.

The pain of Sarah's loss found a counterpoint two years later with the excitement of the arrival of Eileen, who bore the burden of being the "subsequent child," a description hung by psychologists on children born following the death of a sibling.

I made a point of being the one to check the sleeping Eileen each night as she lay in the same crib, though different bedroom, so that if she too had died, I'd be the one to discover it this time. As she passed the "at-risk" first year, the fatherly fears passed. But she retained, as the years passed, a special place in the family.

An enduring image for me was of the nightly routine we had when the children were young, of my singing them songs after they had been tucked into bed. I can still hear: "One more song please, daddy!" and Betsy admonishing: "You're being taken advantage of."

Those songs of childhood became part of our family culture, particularly when Michael grew into a young man and learned to play the guitar. As he would be sitting in the living room, in the final years before he married and began raising his own family, he'd be playing and singing to himself and dad would walk in and say: "play me a song, Michael."

Inevitably, it would be one of those songs I sang to Meagan, Eileen and him.

But sometimes it was Dan Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band," which Michael had learned to sing and play. And since it was one of his father's favorite songs, we'd sing it together. And again.

Then there was the room where Meagan and her Brownie troop gathered for their Monday afternoon activities under the guidance of her father, who turned out to have been the first male Brownie leader in the state.

That came about because when Meagan and a couple of friends found there were no Brownie groups they could join, her father said "let's see if this equal opportunity thing flows both ways. Is a man acceptable to lead a troop of girls?"

When I volunteered, the Brownie moms, to Betsy's amusement, called my bluff, welcomed me to the Brownie leaders' team, gave me the largest group of girls. But the moms were constantly supportive and available for questions from the rookie leader who was frequently panicked about creating projects and keeping a dozen second-grade girls focused. And Michael became a member of the group, possibly the first male Brownie in the state.

The empty spot by the front French doors after movers had cleared the area made it harder to picture the Christmas tree that occupied the spot each holiday season, to be surrounded by excited children, or grandchildren and their parents. And the absence of the sofa and chairs made it difficult to recall the candy-filled plastic Easter eggs that were inevitably hidden in and around them.

As we returned in recent days to check out the now-empty house, with its unfamiliar echoes as we moved through each room, an important reality for us, and for all those making large life changes, became clear. The memories don't remain behind in the place where they were made. Rather they travel with us, an essential part of the experiences we gather and carry through the years. Memories to be recalled and savored. Forever young.

 

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