Stories by Libby
About 200 of the new jobs are likely to be in Vancouver
RS Medical plans to double in size to more than 1,000 employees within two to three years, chief executive officer John Konsin said this week. About 200 of those new jobs are likely to land at the firm’s Vancouver headquarters, where half of its 600 employees work, he said. This growth could place RS Medical, also known as International Rehabilitative Sciences Inc., at the forefront of an effort to build the metro area region into the fourth U.S. hot spot for medical device manufacturers, after Boston, Minneapolis and San Francisco.
Popular networking events hope to add outreach to startups
PubTalk networking events have been so successful in Vancouver that Clark County economic development officials are using the momentum to form a nonprofit business accelerator for local entrepreneurs. The drinking and networking will continue, but the nonprofit outfit — which does not yet have a name — will also offer customized service to selected companies that demonstrate the potential to grow quickly and create jobs. Ideal candidates will be well beyond the idea stage and already have some funding and a business plan, said Bonnie Moore, director of business services at the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council and the Columbia River Economic Development Council.
Vancouver Realtor Jerry Rolling is past retirement age and expects he’ll still be working for the next two years. He could probably retire tomorrow, he said, but at a reduced income. He’d rather keep working than lower the standard of living he and his wife enjoy, traveling to see their children and attending community events, he said. “My wife and I are still healthy and enjoying the business, so it hasn’t been too much of an imposition,” Rolling, 67, said. Besides, he said, “I enjoy complaining about still having to work.”
Average residential customer would save 53 cents per month
Southwest Washington natural gas customers can expect to pay a little less to heat their homes and businesses this winter. Portland-based Northwest Natural Gas Co. on Thursday filed an initial request with the Washington Utility and Transportation Commission to lower rates 0.8 percent for residential customers and 1 percent for commercial customers starting Nov. 1. That’s a savings of about 53 cents per month for the average homeowner using 59 therms or $3.01 per month on average for businesses.
Local men’s business aimed at providing before-, after-school activities
Dozens of rubber balls in primary colors bounced in every direction as shrieking kids ran through the Orchards Elementary School gym, trying to evade their camp counselors’ throws. On the sidelines, Coach Eric Anderson watched the mayhem and shook his head in disbelief. “We’re going to play games with kids for a living,” he said. “How cool is that?”
Kim Capeloto to join Riverview Bank
After two years outside the banking industry, Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Kim Capeloto is jumping back in. He has accepted a position as Riverview Community Bank’s new executive vice president in charge of operations and marketing, the chamber announced Thursday.
Electricity bill a small part of bottom line for some companies
Clark County businesses appear to be taking an upcoming electricity rate hike in stride, though it will increase costs by thousands of dollars each month for some. Companies will pay an extra 3 to 4.7 percent for their electricity starting Sept. 1, the result of a recent rate hike by Clark Public Utilities. Higher rates will show up on October bills.
National report finds bright spots in range of county businesses
Vancouver-based ClearAccess is one of the fastest-growing U.S. companies to come from Clark County in years, according to a new ranking by Inc. Magazine. The telecommunications software company was one of two Washington companies to make the top 100 in the 5,000 fastest-growing U.S. companies in 2010, announced Tuesday. And it was among 10 Clark County companies in the top 5,000 — three more than last year. From the metro area, 55 made the list.
Firms say federal energy policy key to long-term stability
Southwest Washington’s emerging clean-technology industry could face long-term setbacks if the U.S. Congress fails to pass a comprehensive energy policy this year, state and local leaders say. Both the House and Senate this session have debated energy bills that seek to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in some form, whether by establishing a carbon cap-and-trade system or a national renewable energy standard. But the proposals have so far failed to move forward.
Executive Center Northwest offers nontraditional options to businesses
Two months ago, Vancouver attorney Enrico Tadeo sold his small office building and moved his 10-year-old private law practice into a virtual office space. That means most days he works from home, doing research, drafting documents and taking phone calls. On the few occasions he meets with a client, however, he takes his laptop and briefcase to Executive Center Northwest. For a flat fee of $99 per month, Tadeo keeps his official address at the center and uses a Wi-Fi enabled conference room several times per month for client meetings. “It has been an adjustment, for sure,” Tadeo said. “But it will be a big money saver for me.”
Vancouver firm’s wave-energy buoys featured on tour
U.S. Rep. Brian Baird visited Oregon Iron Works in Vancouver on Friday to talk about green job creation and his proposed wave-energy legislation. The Clackamas, Ore.-based company, which operates a fabrication plant on the Columbia River-front in Vancouver, is finishing construction on the first of 10 prototype wave-energy buoys it’s building for New Jersey-based Ocean Power Technologies. When completed, the 130-foot-long structures will be installed in the Pacific Ocean about three miles off the coast of Reedsport, Ore.
Portland-Vancouver area venture capital investors are optimistic that the coming months will bring more deals to the region. As more early-stage companies secure financing, they will, in turn, boost hiring.
Land purchase could allow expansion, create 1,000 local jobs
The city of Vancouver has committed $1.1 million that will ultimately help chipmaker SEH America Inc. expand its existing campus. The money, from a loan to be repaid by city utility customers, will buy 4 acres in the Oakbrook neighborhood and develop wetlands so that SEH’s expansion can proceed. City officials are now seeking an additional $5 million to complete the project before new state water quality requirements kick in for the company two years from now.
Staff seeks input of business community
The Port of Vancouver says it’s open to the idea of starting a small-business incubator in a portion of its empty industrial space. Talk of an incubator project has circulated among public and private organizations in recent months as a potential tool for job creation in Clark County. But so far, the location of such a project has been undetermined.
If an idea is burning, Vancouver man acts
Douglas Greene, the founder of Skytech Inc. in Vancouver, spent most of his 40-year career building and running businesses in the fireplace industry before he hit on his big idea. At a time when most fireplaces still burned wood, Greene developed a remote control that helped propel natural gas fireplaces into the mainstream.
When small-business owner Susana Serna wanted to expand her medical clinic into a larger office this year, she didn’t even try to land a bank loan. She knew she wouldn’t qualify. Instead, Serna combed the Internet for alternative financing and found MercyCorps Northwest, the domestic affiliate of the Portland-based international disaster relief organization. It runs a small-business loan program for residents of Oregon and Washington who don’t qualify for traditional loans.
Puj, a Vancouver startup company that designs and sells baby products, is hunting for an office. So far, the founders have worked wherever they could find Internet access — mostly in their basement and at restaurants and cafes. But they’re ready for a dedicated office to run the operation, said Jason Richardson, the company’s global sales manager, who recently moved his family from Utah to Vancouver.
With income tax, wealthy could have less motive, means to invest in state
Local business leaders and tax advisers say a statewide initiative that would charge income tax on high-wage earners to fund health care and education would likely lower entrepreneurship and business competitiveness in Clark County. Yet the majority of Washington businesses stand to benefit from the initiative, with lower business and property taxes.
There wasn’t a light-bulb moment of clarity for Hockinson inventor Dale Tollefson. Four years ago, after thieves stole a bicycle and a cooler from his family’s campsite as they slept, Tollefson decided to devise a simple box to lock all of the gear to an RV without using heavy, awkward chains. The ToyLok is a retractable steel cable that pulls out of a box, can be looped through lawn chairs, grills, coolers and other items and then locks back into the box. A tug on the cable reels it back in for storage.
Amount is $6M less than first proposal
Riverview Bancorp Inc. is another step closer in its effort to raise $23 million by issuing new common stock. The Vancouver-based holding company of Riverview Community Bank has updated its original plan with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Yacht orders bring back jobs to Vancouver ship builder
The Port of Vancouver on Thursday unloaded a $2 million yacht-hull mold that was shipped from China en route to Christensen Shipyards. The Vancouver yacht builder will use the 150-foot mold to build three $16 million, 120-foot luxury yachts for Seattle-based Ocean Alexander Yachts.
Local lenders see trend growing further in coming months
More Clark County small businesses are getting federally backed loans this year than a year ago. And banks and credit unions say they hope to lend even more to small businesses in the coming months. Lenders have so far issued 87 U.S. Small Business Administration loans worth $18 million to Clark County businesses in 2010, compared with 63 loans worth $12 million in the first six months of 2009.
Firm asks them to wait for payments until work ramps up on $118M in contracts
Christensen Shipyards is having a hard time paying its bills on time due to a short-term cash flow “dilemma,” according to a letter sent by the company to its vendors last week. The Vancouver-based yacht builder has laid off more than 400 of its 500 workers since August 2008 as demand fell dramatically for its multi-million-dollar luxury lines.
Growing firm’s niche is tracking who’s who in IT departments
DiscoverOrg is a young, fast-growing technology startup that’s stayed mostly unknown in Vancouver since it moved from Columbus, Ohio, last year. It won’t be hidden for much longer. The three-year-old company, which maintains a custom database of organizational charts from the information technology departments of Fortune 5000 companies, grew 330 percent last year. It’s on pace for similar growth this year with a 2010 revenue forecast of $2.5 million to $4 million, said co-founder Henry Schuck.
A group of business leaders in Clark County’s startup community want to revive plans for a small-business incubator to help nurture growing companies in Vancouver. But a lack of public funding or cheap space available for the project means it will likely need much more private support to move beyond the idea stage, supporters say.
Branch at Camas facility will focus on accessories for smart phones
CAMAS — Logitech International plans to open a new smart-phone accessory division at its new Camas offices, the company announced Thursday. The Swiss electronics company, with U.S. headquarters in Fremont, Calif., moved its audio division three weeks ago from Columbia Tech Center in Vancouver to a vacant 40,000-square-foot space at the Camas Meadows Corporate Center.
Irvin Ritola fits the classic profile of an inventor. The journeyman machinist and owner of Pro Safety Inc. is a perpetual tinkerer who hand-builds most of his safety-oriented products in his home shop on 5.5 acres between Amboy and Yacolt. Now with a new patent on file, he thinks he’s hit on an idea that could propel his company into mass manufacturing, and earn a bundle of cash to boot.
His predecessor named interim leader
Jack Van Oosterhout, president and chief executive officer of Camas-based Sharp Laboratories of America, has died after a 10-year battle with cancer. Van Oosterhout, 64, had overseen Sharp Labs, a research-and-development subsidiary of giant consumer electronics company Sharp Corp., for the past four years after a promotion from vice president of the Labs’ digital imaging department.
Downtown restaurants lose out to box meals
Only a handful of diners wearing red party credentials could be spotted in downtown restaurants at the noon hour Friday, the opening day of Vancouver’s largest-ever convention. About 1,600 Republican delegates, and 2,000 visitors overall, are forecast to descend on Vancouver this weekend for the state GOP convention. They will hear from candidates and vote on the party’s platform heading into the November elections.
Camas company ramps up production of its pressure washers
At the Karcher North America plant in Camas on Tuesday, three heavy-duty hot water pressure washers sat on the factory floor waiting to be shipped to Louisiana, where they’ll be used to aid cleanup of the massive Gulf Coast oil spill. The machines, a specialty product of Karcher’s Landa brand, are part of an initial batch of 30 machines the company built here last week in anticipation of higher demand from its distributors near the Gulf of Mexico. Karcher, whose machines were also used to blast oil from the rocky Alaskan shore after the Exxon Valdez disaster, expects to send some 200 pressure washers to its Louisiana warehouses in the next few weeks, said Bob Christian, vice president of sales and marketing for the Landa brand in Camas.
City councilor says such startups can play vital role in county job growth
Many public initiatives that aim to create jobs and grow new businesses center on cash-hungry, fast-moving startups, while nonprofits often get overlooked as a source of innovation and entrepreneurship, says Vancouver City Councilman Jack Burkman. Elected to his second term last November, Burkman has shifted his focus to nonprofit volunteer work, business consulting and personal coaching in an effort to create jobs and grow Clark County’s economy. He is vice chairman of the Clark College board of trustees, served for seven years on the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District board and also gives pro bono advice to the Urban Entrepreneurs Network, a new organization for women-owned and minority-owned small businesses.
CREDC leads effort to build pot of money to boost new local firms
A general lack of funding is stifling business growth and innovation in Southwest Washington, community economic development officials and business owners say. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, commercial bank loans are still scarce and venture capital investment is even more elusive for startup companies seeking rapid expansion. And so the Columbia River Economic Development Council is leading an effort to build a $5 million community equity fund that would pump $500,000 to $1 million at a time into a handful of local early-stage companies.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., visited the Vancouver WorkSource offices Thursday to address unemployment issues in Clark County.
Project was to tie into now-defunct LNG terminal
PORTLAND — Northwest Natural Gas Co. will forge ahead with plans to build a portion of its Palomar pipeline through Eastern Oregon, despite failed plans to connect it to a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal at the Columbia River. The announcement, made Thursday by Chief Executive Officer Gregg Kantor at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Portland, comes despite opposition from environmental advocates, including some shareholders, who fear the pipeline’s construction will damage crucial habitats and displace landowners along its path.
Petition effort seeks to allow stores in Washington that now sell beer, wine to also sell stronger alcohol
Costco Wholesale Corp. next week will start petitioning its Washington customers to place an initiative on the ballot in November that would end state-controlled liquor sales. All Costco stores in the state, including the one in Vancouver, will hang banners and set up tables to help collect signatures for Initiative 1100. The effort, led by Modernize Washington, would allow businesses that currently sell beer and wine to also sell liquor, and it would eliminate price controls and allow volume discounts.
For practical reasons, as well as to maintain sanity, entrepreneurs seek each other out for advice, partnerships and support. But connecting with government employees, elected officials, and other public figures who are in a unique place to help local businesses can be just as important, advises Brad Given, director of operations at Renewable Energy Composite Solutions in Vancouver. The Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC) and Democratic state Rep. Jim Jacks were instrumental in helping Christensen Shipyards find public funding to launch a wind energy division, Given said.
For most professionals, the lunch hour signals a break from the day. But for Bill Dudley, lunch is time to gain valuable business insights that benefit his clients. Dudley, a business lawyer with Landerholm, Memovich, Lansverk & Whitesides in Vancouver, can be spotted at various eateries around town every day with a different business person. Accountants, bankers, business advisers, reporters, real estate and insurance agents, educators, government officials and business owners are all on the short list for a lunch invitation from Dudley.
Christensen Shipyards offshoot fires up blade production line
Renewable Energy Composite Solutions this week fired up its first production line making small wind turbine blades in Vancouver. That milestone came nearly a year after the company, a spinoff of Christensen Shipyards, landed a $1 million federal stimulus grant to retool its yacht-building business to make components for the wind and wave energy industries. Attracted by a host of incentives, Christensen launched the new venture in an effort to diversify a luxury product line hit hard in the recession. The company has since discovered that entering a booming new market doesn’t guarantee work, despite a proven track record in manufacturing. Its first two contracts, to build vertical wind turbines for Skyron Systems Inc. and a wave energy test buoy for SAIC, are still its only two contracts.
Builder of unique motorcycle looks for investors
After more than three years in business, Ryno Motors has nearly finished its third and final design for a one-wheel motorcycle that’s worthy of RoboCop. It’s a sleek and sporty machine that, most importantly, stays upright and drives with ease. Now the Vancouver start-up faces a new, more daunting challenge: funding.
More than half of Washington banks turned a profit in the quarter ending March 31 compared with just 16 percent of state financial institutions in the previous quarter, according to data released Thursday by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The number of state banks that were unprofitable declined to 40 percent in the first quarter of 2010 from 65 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009.
Several lenders lost at least $3.5 million in scheme, IRS says
Five former employees of a Vancouver mortgage company were arraigned Wednesday on federal charges in an alleged federal mortgage fraud scheme that resulted in at least $3.5 million in losses to lenders.
Former Bank of Clark County executive David Kennelly on Friday was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 4 months in prison for hiding loan appraisals from Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. examiners in the months before the bank’s failure. The sentence from U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Bryan also included 3 years of probation and a $5,000 fine for the Vancouver resident.
Three Vancouver companies will be among a delegation of nine manufacturers and contractors representing the Portland-metro region May 23-26 at Windpower 2010, one of the largest wind energy trade shows in the world. Executives from Renewable Energy Composite Solutions, Columbia Machine Inc. and JH Kelly will travel to Dallas, Texas, to pitch Southwest Washington as a hub for wind energy component manufacturing and repair as well as to garner contracts for their businesses.
Grant/loan will help make Camas plant more energy efficient
Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday awarded Clark Public Utilities more than $400,000 toward a $1.2 million energy efficiency upgrade at WaferTech in Camas. The award includes a $120,000 grant and a $282,000 loan funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Combined with other funding sources, it will help WaferTech buy and install a cooling tower that uses low outside air temperatures instead of energy-sucking electrical chillers to cool water used in manufacturing semiconductors.
Steel workers picketed outside Vancouver Iron and Steel Inc. Monday morning as their union entered its third day on strike. Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics & Allied Workers International Union Local 139 on Friday rejected a new four-year contract that would have given workers a 2.5 percent pay increase next year but cut many benefits, including paid vacations, for entry-level workers.
Amboy entrepreneur will pursue project abandoned by county
Amboy entrepreneur Bill Kravas is pursuing Clark County’s dropped plans to build a 20-megawatt to 25-megawatt biomass power plant at the Chelatchie Prairie industrial park. Kravas announced last week that his new company, Chelatchie Green Energy, has hired Vancouver consulting firm LD Jellison to study the project’s feasibility after Clark County commissioners decided to abandon the project last year due to budget concerns.
Smart staffing decisions and custom products lead to potential for growth
When most companies in the semiconductor industry laid off workers and closed facilities, Linear Technology did something controversial among company insiders. Even as its quarterly sales plummeted by 24 percent from $310 million in September 2008 to $236 million one year later, the Milpitas, Calif.-based chipmaker decided to keep nearly all of its employees and instead cut their hours. “We debated whether we were being reckless,” said Lothar Maier, chief executive officer of Linear Technology, which operates a factory in Camas. “We obviously have obligations to the shareholders.”
When Uriah Lyford returned to Vancouver in 2009 after seven years of missionary work, including three years running a Bible college in Cambodia, he figured his job prospects were slim. With only a GED certificate and no college education, the Vancouver native decided to forgo the job search and start his own business fixing cracked iPhones. “(Being) fluent in Cambodian doesn’t exactly help on a résumé,” Lyford said. “So unless I wanted to work for an overseas NGO (non-governmental organization), I was out of luck. I could either go work for minimum wage or start my own business.”
First Independent Bank today announced that Chief Operating Officer Jeanne Firstenburg is taking over as president, with plans to shore up the bank’s asset quality and double or triple the size of the $900 million bank in coming years. Firstenburg, 62, succeeds her husband, Bill Firstenburg, who will retain his role as chief executive officer, chairman of the board and president of the bank’s holding company, First Independent Investment Group. With the change, he is handing over involvement in the daily operations of the bank, which is Clark County’s second largest in market share, and will instead focus on his duties at the family-owned holding company.
Electronics, health care, building up, but unemployment stays high
Few gains have been made in Clark County’s economy since the recovery officially took hold late last year. After a fairly flat first quarter, several factors need to change before real progress can occur. Clark County’s economy made modest gains in a few sectors, including health care and electronics manufacturing — the latter of which benefited from a 56 percent rise in global semiconductor sales. Home sales and home construction also both enjoyed large gains in the first quarter of 2010, compared with the same quarter of 2009.