Stories by Courtney
Work all day, and whaddaya get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Tweak the 1940s tune about a coal miner’s life, and you’ve got a song that sounds familiar to today’s college students. Three out of five graduates of Washington universities take out loans to pay for school, borrowing an average of $19,780, according to the Project on Student Debt.
Running in place — or running twice as fast? First quarter was a mixed bag, as hopeful signs blended with lingering sluggishness
The 146-year-old fictional dilemma rings depressingly true in Southwest Washington today. “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place,” the Red Queen famously said in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” “If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
By all means, ladies, do what it takes to get ahead — but are you sure you really want to do away with persistent wage gaps? According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, “full-time working women in Washington are paid $12,784 less than their male counterparts, and the gap costs Washington families a total of more than $11 billion annually.” The advocacy group implies that the Paycheck Fairness Act would fix this gap. I don’t buy it.
Radio station AM 1550 broadcasts a conservative talk message that is sure to polarize listeners and send some scuttling to the other end of the dial. But there’s a subtext we all should tune in to: Clark County is an economic force to be reckoned with, and it’s time we recognize that fact. The station, which had been broadcasting old-time crooners, on April 4 switched formats to become “AM 1550, Vancouver’s Talk Station.”
Fearless improvisers, frustrated young tech workers and local do-gooders — all are fodder for Kathy Condon’s imagination, and for her blog. Condon, a former Columbian columnist, shares career-oriented lessons drawn from observations of Clark County life at Communication Pro, which we’re now hosting and featuring on The Columbian’s website at http://columbian.com/weblogs/communication-pro.
If you’re going to be hurt on the job, Washington is the place to do it. A strained back or twisted shoulder could land you a lifetime pension through the state’s workers’ compensation program, as thousands have already learned. Hurt workers are up to eight times more likely to receive permanent disability status here than in the rest of the country, according to a state-commissioned study. That’s driving workers’ comp premiums up, and driving many employers up the wall.
It’s heart-wrenching to watch the loss of life and the upending of communities that a massive disaster can bring. Japan’s recent 9.0 earthquake, and its subsequent tsunami and nuclear crisis, have all hit especially close to home in the Pacific Northwest. We share business and cultural ties with Japan. More ominously, we are also bound by the seismically active Ring of Fire. Japan’s earthquake is a reminder that giant temblors have happened here, and they likely will again — possibly tomorrow, possibly not for centuries.
Earmarks bring millions of dollars into Clark County, pay local wages, fund research and development of defense projects and support crucial local infrastructure. As I wrote last week, they deserve more credit than they get. But are they fair? Are they good way to pass a budget? The way they’ve been handled, it’s easy to see why they’ve gotten such a bad name.
They’re “pork” when they go somewhere else, vital when the money’s coming here, suspect to advocates of open government, and forbidden — at least temporarily — from Capitol Hill. Earmarks. With D.C. politicians deep into budget-cutting talks, I thought this would be a good moment to look at earmarks in Clark County.
With big piggy banks to back their lobbying, unions are powerful players in Olympia and Washington, D.C. But as manufacturing has become an ever-smaller part of our economy, I’ve assumed that unions’ influence in ordinary people’s lives has diminished. It turns out that I was wrong, at least in Washington state.
Court wrests control of system from developer of Woodland-area homes
A decade after his battle for water rights nearly landed him in the Washington Supreme Court, developer Dan Class is again tussling over H20 at a Woodland-area subdivision. He has temporarily lost control of the water system there, though Class will be able to challenge a Cowlitz County Superior Court decision that put the Kelso-based Beacon Hill Water and Sewer District in charge. He’ll have a chance to state his case at a Feb. 28 hearing.
The program that protects Washington workers if they’re hurt on the job is insolvent. Its promised payouts and other expenses add up to more than the sum of all of its assets, according to an audit of the state’s workers’ compensation program. In November, voters defeated an initiative to allow private businesses to compete with the state program. I’m not interested in revisiting that battle. This is the system we have, and the voters have made it clear that it’s staying this way.
More than a decade after he left the presidency, some of Bill Clinton’s more famous quotes still have resonance today. “It’s the economy, stupid,” for example. Clinton used that quip in his successful 1992 campaign against George H.W. Bush to highlight a fundamental truth of American politics. When our economy’s a mess, foreign policy and all other issues take second fiddle.
Would you go to a doctor who didn’t have a medical license? Even if he or she had gotten straight A’s in med school, I’d be nervous about trusting my health to a person who didn’t have the state’s stamp of approval. Yet across Clark County, people whose work could affect your health or your pocketbook are operating without the licenses. In some cases, the state is fighting to shut them down. In others, officials just look the other way.
Some of the top teen musicians from across the Pacific Northwest have converged on Vancouver to literally toot their own horns. They’ll also play a few other instruments and show off their vocal stylings while they’re here, vying to be named best of the bunch at the Clark College Jazz Festival. More than 60 vocal and instrumental high school jazz ensembles are competing at the annual event, which started Jan. 27 and continues through Jan. 29 at the college’s Gaiser Hall.
Many challenges remain, but 2010 ended on an encouraging note for private sector
Take two steps forward and one step back. You may be frustrated by your slow pace, but at least you’re moving forward. Business headlines in the fourth quarter of 2010 suggest that’s just what’s happening in Clark County: slow and steady progress despite occasional setbacks. But to thousands of local job seekers, the headlines seem at odds with economic reality.
Companies, consumers must work together, speaker says
Americans are frightened — often angry — and are trying harder than ever to figure out where they stand after more than two years of economic uncertainty, public radio journalist Tess Vigeland told more than 530 people who attended The Columbian’s 2011 Economic Forecast Breakfast on Friday. “I do not have a crystal ball — they’ve become far too expensive,” joked Vigeland, host of American Public Media’s Marketplace Money program. Even without detailed insight into the future, however, she felt confident in her prediction that the county’s and nation’s high unemployment rates are unlikely to show much improvement in 2011.
Homeless as a child, Jacquie Brown will vie for Miss America crown
As a homeless child, Jacquie Brown worried more about where she’d rest her head at night than how to do her hair. As a 16-year-old seeking legal emancipation from her mother, she aimed to impress the judge with her good grades and budgeting skills, not her singing voice or fashion choices. But when she’s introduced to American TV viewers on Saturday night, her hair, her voice and her poise in an evening gown will all be center stage. So, she hopes, will her personal story.
Vancouver native Jacquie Brown heads to Vegas in hope of the crown
The first Clark County resident to vie for the Miss America crown in two decades will be scored by the pageant’s judges beginning Tuesday. Since Thursday, Vancouver native Jacquie Brown has been walking runways and posing for photos in Las Vegas, which hosts the annual scholarship contest. But pageant events so far have been for show. The judging starts Tuesday and continues through Saturday, when Brown will represent the state as Miss Washington for the televised finale.
Commuters to Portland know a thing or two about traffic jams. But folks who regularly cross the Interstate 5 Bridge into the big city may have noticed some particularly nasty snarls over the past month or so. Accidents, road work, weather and the time the sun rises and sets all affect the load on our roads. But I can’t help but wonder if something else may have worsened the commute.
2010 ends with many important questions still to be answered
New years are often times for new beginnings, not “to be continueds.” But 2011 looks more like the second film in a convoluted trilogy than a tale of fresh starts for Clark County businesses and the economy. Last year ended with a tangle of unresolved plot twists from companies that have hinted at change but not yet made firm decisions. Will Ken Fisher choose Camas when he moves Fisher Investment’s home base out of California — or will he pick Texas or Florida instead? What are SEH America’s plans for the 174-acre campus it bought from Hewlett-Packard in 2009?
With high unemployment in county, 2010 brought little positive change from previous year
In last year’s roundup of top business and economic stories, we wrote that, “For many Clark County businesses, the new year can’t come soon enough.” Twelve months have passed, and we could probably say the exact same thing about 2010 — although many businesses would rather skip ahead a few more years. The Columbian’s top 2010 business stories tell of economic problems that have lasted far longer than most of us expected, with high unemployment, an insistently stagnant housing market, and no obvious signs of a turnaround.
By now, boys and girls should know whether they merited a stocking full of goodies or a lump of coal this Christmas. But the professional Santas of Southwest Washington knew long before Dec. 25 that they’d have a good holiday this year. Although high unemployment and continuing economic problems have reportedly hurt the Santa business in parts of the U.S., there was plenty to be jolly about across Clark County and the greater Portland metro area, said Rob Figley, co-chairman of Santa’s Pack. Santa’s Pack is a Portland-Vancouver club for professional Mrs. Clauses, elves and — of course — white bearded men in red velvet suits.
Nobody knows when economic recovery will reach Clark County, but we can expect it to take longer because of the state’s huge budget hole. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s plan to plug that two-year, $4.7 billion hole with wide-ranging spending cuts would cut pay for the 4,500 state workers who live in Clark County by $9 million — leaving them less able to spend at local businesses. It could cut some of their jobs altogether.
The Columbian exists to give you the information you need to make informed decisions about your life in this community. But sometimes the businesses we cover would rather not let the word out. Take Hewlett-Packard. When HP arrived in Clark County in 1979, it talked openly about its plans for an east Vancouver electronics plant. And for decades the company designated local employees to keep the public informed about its plans.
Paying for health insurance is the most pressing frustration at many Clark County businesses, beating out taxes and government regulation. And it’s little wonder. Though Washington rate data are not available, in Oregon — where several of Clark County’s largest insurers are headquartered — small businesses will face average rate increases of 13 percent the next time they renew their policies.
When I sat down to write a Thanksgiving column this week, I found myself staring at the keyboard struggling to give thanks. We have a lot to be grateful for in Clark County, but in this space I write about business and the economy. This is a community that faces climbing unemployment, dropping home values, a high foreclosure rate. Perhaps you can see my dilemma?
Travelers moved quickly and calmly through Portland International Airport on Wednesday, despite stricter security protocol that had led some to worry about delays on one of the busiest travel days of the year. Portland does not yet have the full-body scanners that have been at the center of an Internet boycott — those are due to arrive in 2011 — but Transportation Security Administration employees at the airport are being more thorough with the pat-downs that passengers receive if they trigger the metal detector or are randomly selected for extra screening.
Statewide poll will be focus of Vancouver event
Nearly six in 10 leaders at Southwest Washington manufacturers believe that the state’s business environment is on the wrong track, according to a statewide survey aimed at better understanding the sector. But local manufacturers’ worries about the cost of health care trump even concerns about federal policies and regulations, the survey found.
State labor economist predicts it could top 14% this winter
Clark County’s unemployment rate inched back up to 13 percent in October, as the already decimated construction industry shed still more jobs and many private sector industries cut back. Arts, entertainment and recreation also cut heavily. After adding 800 jobs in September, the sector cut 700 in October. The county’s jobless rate had declined to a revised 12.3 percent in September, but before that it had hovered near 13 percent since April.
It’s a tough time to look for work no matter what your background. But veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to face extra challenges. They are 20 percent more likely to be unemployed than non-veterans, nationwide. Considering the risks these men and women take, and the sacrifices they make, we should all be troubled by that fact.
County event lands Tess Vigeland of ‘Marketplace Money’
Tess Vigeland, host of the nationally syndicated “Marketplace Money” radio show, will be the keynote speaker at The Columbian’s 2010 Clark County Economic Forecast Breakfast in January. In a break from past years, the Jan. 21 event at the Hilton Vancouver Washington will feature a number of new faces who will join three panel discussions.
In Clark County, low earners may feel increased pressure
The state is preparing to tell 238,000 unemployed Washington residents that their jobless benefits may run out sooner than expected, spurring concerns in Clark County about the rising burden on a stretched social safety net. Beginning Nov. 27, a federal program that has allowed people to collect unemployment insurance payments for up to 99 weeks will begin to wind down, though Washington’s jobless will still be able to receive benefits for 46 weeks.
Two years ago, with Lehman Brothers in bankruptcy, stocks in free fall and local home prices dropping, Professor U.N. Umesh surveyed the economic landscape and saw a stampeding herd of wildebeests. “The wildebeests can’t see into the distance and instead take their cues from those around them,” Umesh, who teaches marketing and entrepreneurship classes at Washington State University Vancouver, said in October 2008.
Most in attendance, including 365 veterans, optimistic about prospects
Nearly 500 job seekers flocked to Clark College’s Gaiser Hall on Thursday to seek work through a veterans-focused job fair. Despite Clark County’s 12.1 percent unemployment rate, many of the 365 veterans and 132 non-veterans in attendance said they were optimistic about their prospects.
Most of us can name Clark County’s official leaders — mayors, company presidents, ministers, nonprofit directors. But if you really want to get something done, how often are these the folks you seek out? According to best-selling book “The Tipping Point,” the most effective agents of change may not have positions of authority at all. Instead, these “connectors” are people who can turn to their social networks to bring the right people together and make things happen. They see opportunities that the rest of us overlook, and they know who to talk to when they have a big idea.
From hay rides to haunted houses, Halloween events abound
From kid-friendly hay rides to PG-13 haunted houses, Halloween offers tricks and treats for all ages. But not every thrill is right for every costumed ghoul. Trick-or-treating is excitement enough for many younger kids, while teens and adults may be looking for a scare. Here’s a guide to some age-appropriate Halloween alternatives.
What do you want from us? It sounds flip, but it’s a question every editor at every newspaper ought to grapple with. What do you, our readers, want from us, the folks who bring you print and online news every day?
Reaching the end of a recession is like falling to the bottom of a hole. Even when you’re not falling anymore, you’re still stuck in a hole. Economists now believe that the national recession officially ended more than a year ago, in June 2009. In Clark County we’ve got a lot of digging ahead of us before we’re back on the surface.
When I first came to work at The Columbian, I encountered something I’d never seen before. People with disabilities were working in critical roles, helping us get the paper out every day. It’s one of the things I liked about this place right away, not out of altruism but because I realized that I could one day have a disability myself. Three in 10 Americans will become disabled over their lifetimes. We’re more likely to become disabled than to die before we reach retirement age.
Filming for the documentary “Catfish” was nearly complete before Vancouver resident Aimee Gonzales even knew she had a starring role. Now it has generated buzz at the Sundance Film Festival, reached Portland movie screens and landed Gonzales an interview on “20/20” that airs tonight. Gonzales is embracing the publicity and the attention it’s bringing her business, Bella Divine Photography. But the story at the heart of “Catfish” continues to trouble her.
At The Columbian we often hold feet to the fire. That’s an important role. If we don’t talk about Clark County’s flaws, we can never fix them. But today I’d like to focus on a strength of this community, not its weaknesses. Clark County may wish it had more business success stories to tout, but we should all be proud of leaders who have accomplished something and then given back.
Part of Saturday’s National Solar Tour, it's the only one in Clark County with platinum certification for energy efficiency
When Dennis and Janice Harvey decided to move to a single-level house, they started looking for something eco-friendly — with solar panels, good insulation and an efficient use of resources. “We couldn’t find it,” Dennis Harvey said. “So we decided to build.”
Regence BlueCross BlueShield will sell no new individual health insurance policies to people under age 19 beginning Friday, spurring Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler to condemn the nonprofit. “I’m appalled,” Kreidler said Tuesday in a statement. “So far, no other health carrier in Washington state has signaled its intent to leave this market.”
It may not take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but if you want to know which way it’s going to blow tomorrow you should consult a meteorologist. Likewise, it doesn’t take any kind of expert to know Clark County’s economy is in the dumps. A new study suggests that if you want to know when things will get better, however, consulting experts won’t get you very far. Even the Federal Reserve’s best models do a poor job at forecasting economic growth, the nonpartisan Brookings Institution reported Tuesday.
Five in every 100 Washington businesses are based in Clark County. Six of every 100 state residents live here. So why is only one Clark County business represented on a major Asian trade mission of 104 people — a mission led by Gov. Chris Gregoire? After all, some 7,900 Clark County jobs and $3.1 billion in the local economy are directly tied to imports, exports and international trade. Yet a list of the people traveling to China and Vietnam with the governor includes as many people from companies headquartered in Georgia and Ohio as from Clark County. Portland, with two delegates, has twice our representation.
Clark County’s big-chain bookstores are at risk. And the odd thing is, it’s because our most avid readers are reading even more than they used to. Most of us read every day, but we don’t necessarily buy a lot of books. Then there are the super readers — folks who may go through a book or more a week. Some spend hours at the library and never spend a penny on the words they devour. But others prefer to buy their books. They read so much that even though they’re a small number of people, they have a big influence on bookstores.
Slowest August in 20 years is dreary news for sellers
Clark County home sales remained flat in August, bolstering worries that strong sales early this year were artificially inflated by now-expired tax credits. Buyers closed on only 375 new or existing houses, making this the slowest August in the 20 years that The Columbian has been tracking data. The second-slowest August on record was last year, when 496 homes sold, according to the benchmarks home sales report.
Flower pots and sidewalk seating help make downtown Vancouver an inviting place, said consultant Michele Reeves, but the area has a long way to go before it achieves her lofty goals. From 3:30 to 5 p.m. today, Reeves will lead a tour through downtown as she delivers her final recommendations after six months of study. The walk will start at the Spanky’s building, 812 Main St., and end with questions and conversation at Tommy O’s Pacific Rim Bistro, 801 Washington St.
Going to work isn’t what it used to be. Employers — facing dwindling revenues and tight profit margins — have been cutting costs across the board. There’s less money for travel, supplies and training. As thousands in Clark County have learned first hand, there’s also less money for health insurance and salaries.