Marketplace: We harvest big bucks from vice

By Courtney Sherwood July 17, 2011 6 a.m.

Forget alternative energy or high-tech health care. Clark County’s developing a niche with no help from the economic development experts: vice. Just look at the evidence. Booze, gambling and drugs are all growing sectors in our economy, bringing in millions of dollars and likely employing hundreds of local people. The booze is the least controversial. As reporter Sue Vorenberg writes in today’s Life section, Vancouver’s got a burgeoning beer scene, with a handful of established microbrew pubs and tasting rooms already here and more on the way. Clark County also has a small but growing wine scene, with Three Brothers Winery, East Fork Cellars and Gouger Cellars Winery all earning awards in recent years. Beyond locally made drinks, Clark County liquor sales are up 35 percent to $38.2 million over the past decade, when adjusted for inflation, according to the state Liquor Control Board.

Local execs see modest pay gain

By Courtney Sherwood July 10, 2011 6 a.m.

Executive pay is climbing again at Clark County’s four publicly traded companies. Corporate presidents, finance chiefs and other company leaders saw their compensation climb by 4.1 percent, on average, in 2010, according to a Columbian review of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings. These business leaders earned an average of $361,302 in salaries, bonuses and other compensation, including stock options and perks.

Comcast regulators struggle

By Courtney Sherwood July 3, 2011 6 a.m.

It’s probably not a good sign that Clark County’s chief cable regulator is just as confused about Comcast’s rates as the rest of us. “It is difficult trying to find the rates on the website — I can’t find them,” said Jim Demmon, director of the City/County Cable Office. “We do get a rate sheet here each year, but for new customers you see one rate, for existing it’s another, by the time you add in different factors it’s very frustrating. And we can’t require them to make it available to the public.”

Raw-milk dairy finds a thirsty market

By Courtney Sherwood June 27, 2011 6 a.m.

Within a week of winning a state license to sell raw milk, a small family farm in Yacolt inked deals to distribute the product through at least five stores across Clark County. Spanish Sonrise Dairy will sell its unpasteurized, nonhomogenized cow’s milk at Chucks Produce in Vancouver, Four C Produce in Battle Ground, the Amboy Market, the Yacolt Trading Post and Taqueria Market in Orchards, said Tina Rodriguez, who runs the business that she and her husband, Jose Rodriguez, own together.

Keyboard noise has tapped out

By Courtney Sherwood June 26, 2011 6 a.m.

Driving her boss to the edge of sanity could turn out to be the best thing MaryAnne Randall has ever done. The 43-year-old Volkswagen saleswoman takes great care to project a professional image — hair, makeup, lipstick, clothes. And, yes, acrylic fingernails that clatter loudly against most computer keyboards.

Who will lead our leaders?

By Courtney Sherwood June 19, 2011 6 a.m.

Should we panic, or should we celebrate? Clark County is in the midst of a major leadership shake-up. Washington State University Vancouver, the Columbia River Economic Development Council, Identity Clark County, the Port of Vancouver and the city of Camas will all get new leaders within a single 12-month period.

Dining Out: Namaste offers a taste of India

By Courtney Sherwood June 17, 2011 6 a.m.

Why: If you’ve got a big appetite but want to get beyond the salad fixings, pizzas and macaroni that are hallmarks of traditional American buffets, Namaste Indian Cuisine offers a reasonably priced alternative. The all-you-can-eat buffet dishes up more than a dozen brightly colored choices, including chicken and lamb, red, yellow and green lentil dishes, and soft-serve mango ice cream for dessert. Atmosphere: Located at Northeast 117th Avenue and Fourth Plain, Namaste’s interior matches its surroundings. It’s clean and tidy, but the 1970s-style wood paneling is hardly high class. A few paintings and a TV broadcasting Hindi language movies (with English subtitles) remind visitors of the restaurant’s cultural ties, but the space feels like an Americana-style diner that hasn’t quite been brought up to date.

Marketplace: Time for Nautilus to shape up

By Courtney Sherwood June 5, 2011 6 a.m.

The folks who have run Nautilus for the past few years might as well have declared “mission accomplished” when they explained their decision to abandon the Vancouver company to reporter Aaron Corvin in Friday’s paper. “A remarkable transformation,” CEO Edward Bramson touted, as he headed for the door. Despite the self-congratulations, the fitness company is a long way from fit.

New ways to be social together

By Courtney Sherwood May 22, 2011 6 a.m.

On stage, gurus held forth on Twitter and news, Twitter during emergencies, Twitter as a business tool. It was the 140 Character Conference Northwest. A chance to talk, tweet and learn about Twitter, right here in Vancouver.

Clark Public Utilities on sidelines of wind power battle

By Courtney Sherwood May 19, 2011 6 a.m.

Clark Public Utilities has dodged a battle between wind and water power producers that’s unfolding in the Northwest this week. But with renewable energy rules going into effect next year, it’s not yet clear whether the local electric utility may ultimately be drawn into the dispute.

Two fewer to cook up a recovery

By Courtney Sherwood May 8, 2011 6 a.m.

I sometimes wonder if Clark County has too many cooks trying to fix its economic broth. Now two master chefs are about to leave the kitchen. Those departures — Bart Phillips is resigning from the Columbia River Economic Development Council and Ginger Metcalf will retire from Identity Clark County — will create immediate challenges for the organizations that they head.

Local librarian has good read on range of books

By Courtney Sherwood May 1, 2011 6 a.m.

Jan Johnston loves books, and starting this week she hopes to share that love with Columbian readers. For years, library staffers have shared a list of a few new adult and children’s acquisitions on The Columbian’s book page every Sunday. Johnston will continue to provide that list, but she’s also going one step further by offering insight into a different book each week — many that are new, but also some older books that readers may have overlooked.

Think beyond college

By Courtney Sherwood May 1, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

Clark County First quarter economic report

By Courtney Sherwood April 24, 2011 6 a.m.

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!”

Pros and cons of the wage gap

By Courtney Sherwood April 17, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

Recognize county’s clout

By Courtney Sherwood April 10, 2011 6 a.m.

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.”

Getting the message across

By Courtney Sherwood April 3, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

How healthy is Washington’s workers’ comp system?

By Courtney Sherwood March 27, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

Quake offers a somber reminder

By Courtney Sherwood March 20, 2011 6 a.m.

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 all about advocating

By Courtney Sherwood March 13, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

Earmarks not always wasteful

By Courtney Sherwood March 6, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

Corporate breaks or a good wage?

By Courtney Sherwood February 20, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

New water fight plagues subdivision

By Courtney Sherwood February 18, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

Workers’ comp in need of aid

By Courtney Sherwood February 13, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

Giving economy perspective

By Courtney Sherwood February 6, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

Enforce fairly or scrap rules

By Courtney Sherwood January 30, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

High school ensembles from around NW compete at Clark College Jazz Festival

By Courtney Sherwood January 28, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

Clark County fourth quarter economic report

By Courtney Sherwood January 23, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

Vigeland: Impasse blocks employment growth

By Courtney Sherwood January 21, 2011 5:55 p.m.

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.

Vancouver woman faced challenging path to pageant

By Courtney Sherwood January 14, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

From Vancouver to Miss America title?

By Courtney Sherwood January 10, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

How ship traffic affects I-5

By Courtney Sherwood January 9, 2011 6 a.m.

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.

What’s in Clark County’s future for businesses?

By Courtney Sherwood January 2, 2011 6 a.m.

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?

Looking in Santa’s stocking

By Courtney Sherwood December 26, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

Economy stays sour

By Courtney Sherwood December 26, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

State cuts will hurt folks here

By Courtney Sherwood December 19, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

Corporate openness beneficial

By Courtney Sherwood December 12, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

No fix for businesses’ top worry?

By Courtney Sherwood December 5, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

We do have blessings to count

By Courtney Sherwood November 28, 2010 6 a.m.

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?

Passengers move swiftly at PDX despite stricter security

By Courtney Sherwood November 25, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

Survey shows manufacturers’ concerns

By Courtney Sherwood November 24, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

County jobless rate hit 13 percent in October

By Courtney Sherwood November 18, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

Job search challenges veterans

By Courtney Sherwood November 14, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

Forecast breakfast to feature radio host

By Courtney Sherwood November 12, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

Extended jobless benefits may expire

By Courtney Sherwood November 10, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

A wild take on the economy

By Courtney Sherwood November 7, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

Nearly 500 turn out for job fair

By Courtney Sherwood November 5, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

Let’s get connected

By Courtney Sherwood October 31, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

Frights for young and old

By Courtney Sherwood October 29, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

Improving business coverage

By Courtney Sherwood October 24, 2010 6 a.m.

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?