Other big business stories of 2011

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Top business stories of 2011

Jobs, housing loom large

Grocery store investments: High-end supermarkets confirmed that Clark County is the place to be, and a budget grocer may also be considering this community. Organic-friendly New Seasons Market opened its first Washington store at Southeast 164th Avenue and McGillivray Boulevard in November, and said it could open a second Clark County store. Chuck’s Produce, also known for local and healthy foods, submitted plans for a second store at Northeast Highway 99 and 117th Street. Meanwhile, preliminary plans for Fourth Plain and Grand boulevards could be for one of Walmart’s new Neighborhood Markets, smaller food-oriented stores, according to real estate insiders, though the big-box chain won’t confirm plans for the site.

Economic development shake-up: Bart Phillips, longtime leader of the nonprofit Columbia River Economic Development Council, left after disagreements with its board; he later was hired to start Innovate Washington’s Vancouver office and to lead that state- and privately funded agency’s clean energy strategy. Meanwhile Lisa Nisenfeld, who had been head of the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council, was appointed to head the CREDC. And Paul Dennis resigned as mayor of Camas to head a new Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association.

nLight dreams big: The east Vancouver designer and manufacturer of specialized lasers accelerated its growth with help from $17.5 million of equity financing from several Silicon Valley, bringing to $110 million the equity financing it has received over 11 years. Funders say an initial public offering looks increasingly likely, though CEO Scott Keeney has declined to attach a time line to a possible IPO.

SEH America commits to growth: SEH America, which employs about 800 people in Vancouver, announced that it will expand its production capacity in Vancouver. Details were slim, but Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement that new manufacturing equipment is being shipped from Japan to allow production of 300 millimeter silicon wafers, used to make microchips for a wide array of commercial and consumer products. SEH was busy for much of the year because its parent company, Shin-Etsu Chemical Ltd., shifted work to Vancouver following Japan’s March earthquake and tsunami.

Rail protests: A union dispute in Longview spilled into Vancouver twice — once with the blessing of Longshoremen and once without their public support. At issue: Longview’s EGT Development grain terminal’s decision to hire members of Oregon-based Operating Engineers Local 701 instead of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. In September, Longshoremen and their supporters filled train tracks in Vancouver to block shipments to EGT. The Occupy Wall Street movement adopted the cause in December, blocking terminals at ports up and down the West Coast without the official support of ILWU. Those protests bypassed the Port of Vancouver, but several Clark County trucking firms said their drivers and bottom lines were hurt when demonstrators blocked portions of the Port of Portland.