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?

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.

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.

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?

Job-generating projects offer hope as county struggles to recover

By Courtney Sherwood October 17, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

Disabled still able to contribute

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

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.

Vancouver woman’s Facebook photos lead to ‘Catfish’ documentary

By Courtney Sherwood October 8, 2010 8:25 a.m.

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.

County is a giving place

By Courtney Sherwood October 3, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

Couple’s home a shining examle

By Courtney Sherwood September 30, 2010 6 a.m.

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.”

Local BlueCross group drops kids’ options

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

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.”

How have forecasters fared?

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

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.

Missing a chance to aid trade

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

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.

E-readers endanger bookstores

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

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.

County home sales continue to lag

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

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.

Consultant offers keys to downtown revitalization

By Courtney Sherwood September 9, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

Working in today’s world

By Courtney Sherwood September 6, 2010 6 a.m.

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.

Fair for men and women?

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

Trying to get a handle on how women are doing in the work force today can be confusing. Women are graduating college in higher numbers than men. In the Portland-Vancouver area, women in their 20s make more money than their male peers. And women did much better than men at holding on to their jobs through the recession — 8 percent of women are unemployed, compared with 9.8 percent of men.

Battling office bullies

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

The anguish strained his voice as he described the past five years. He used to love this job. Then the new boss came along. Each incident, on its own, would have been bearable — his office rearranged when he stepped out, the strange looks, rude comments, weird notes.

Startups struggle in our area

By Courtney Sherwood August 22, 2010 6 a.m.

This recession has been great for entrepreneurs in most of the country, but not so good for folks starting new businesses in Clark County or the rest of the state. According to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, a leading indicator of new-business creation, Americans created 558,000 new businesses each month in 2009 — an increase of 12.7 percent in just two years.

Clark County jobless rate climbs to 13.3%

By Courtney Sherwood August 17, 2010 11:19 a.m.

Clark County's unemployment rate climbed to 13.3 percent in July as the county shed 1,800 jobs, according to a Tuesday report by the Washington Employment Security Department.

Web use at work puts job on line

By Courtney Sherwood August 8, 2010 6 a.m.

For years our online lives have been encroaching on our jobs. Increasingly, the workplace is pushing back, intruding on the lives we live on the Web. The country’s biggest corporations have for years had guidelines about how staff should act online, said Joseph Vance, attorney at Miller Nash in Vancouver. Now small and mid-sized Clark County employers are getting in on the act.

Digging into who we are

By Courtney Sherwood August 1, 2010 6 a.m.

What is Clark County’s economy all about? What does the business community look like here today? What’s it going to look like in the future? For all the data we have about employment, unemployment and the labor market, these questions are surprisingly difficult to answer. Yet we must have answers before we can address an even bigger question: What is the best, most effective way to nurture business and job growth in Clark County?

City bid plan could backfire

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

On the surface it sounds like such a good idea. Why wouldn’t the city of Vancouver embrace a new policy to give an edge to Vancouver-based businesses competing for government contracts? But some of the county’s largest contractors are worried about the ripple effects of an obscure ordinance revision that comes before Vancouver City Council on Monday.

Jobless safety net unravels

By Courtney Sherwood July 11, 2010 6 a.m.

Fernel Del Valle was one of the first, but he’s far from the last. He’s one of 855 Clark County residents who have used up all the unemployment benefits available to them. Unless the U.S. Senate acts, another 6,000 local people will, one at a time, find their unemployment benefits running out soon.

Cleanups not limited to Gulf

By Courtney Sherwood July 4, 2010 6 a.m.

As oil gushes into the Gulf of Mexico — and BP promises to pay all legitimate claims for the damage it has caused — this is a good moment to look at business pollution in Clark County. Companies have left local port districts to spend at least $111 million cleaning up pollution, and taxpayers are footing most of that bill.

County may rise with yuan

By Courtney Sherwood June 27, 2010 6 a.m.

China’s exchange rate may seem distant and abstract from Clark County. But news out of China this week could directly affect thousands of local jobs. Indirectly, it affects almost every American. More than 7,900 Clark County jobs and $3.1 billion in the local economy are directly tied to imports, exports and international trade. We don’t have data on how much of this trade is directly tied to China, but we do know that China is Washington’s biggest trading partner.

The Reflector purchased by Centralia publisher

By Courtney Sherwood June 21, 2010 3:26 p.m.

Parent of Centralia's The Chronicle buys Battle Ground publishing company

Lending a bad hand

By Courtney Sherwood April 5, 2009 6 a.m.

Much of Clark County’s foreclosure crisis can be traced to a small number of loosely regulated, nonbank lenders

HP cutting 150 to 200 jobs

By Courtney Sherwood January 26, 2009 11:36 a.m.

Hewlett-Packard Co. is in the process of laying off at least 150 Vancouver workers, and possibly more than 200, as it scraps its local Edgeline printer team and shrinks other engineering groups.

FDIC seizes Bank of Clark County

By Courtney Sherwood January 16, 2009 8:54 p.m.

The Bank of Clark County became the first locally based bank to fail in recent memory, following a ruling by state regulators on Friday that the Vancouver financial institution did not have adequate cash to stay in business. Its two branches will open Tuesday under the control of Umpqua Bank, which has assumed all of its roughly $209 million in insured deposits.