The road ahead: New year, new challenges
Across the Wenatchee Valley, leaders of our region’s major industries agree: Big changes last year will likely mean big challenges in the year to come.
More government regulations, workforce shortages, complicated health care, tightening cost controls, the rising importance of social media and — need we say it? — the nation’s continuing economic uncertainty are industry problems that require thinking, planning and doing by our top business brains.
And maybe even some butt-kicking to get it all done.
Here’s a snapshot of 2013’s challenges — or opportunities, depending on your view — as offered by key figures in nine local business sectors:
Manager, Stan’s Merry Mart
Stan’s and our customers will be affected in two big ways this coming year and, probably, for the next four years.
Health care reform: This will be toward the top of everybody’s list. I don’t know enough about the specifics of this program to give a detailed response, but I’ve heard that it will increase the cost of doing business, especially for smaller businesses responsible for employees who don’t have health insurance.
Excess regulation: Our challenge is trying to second guess what our customers will need to deal with all the EPA and FDA regulations — lots of weird little laws, like orchardists required to have a certain number of mouse traps per square foot or lead-free hoses that have to say they’re lead-free on the label.
Firearm and ammunition sales have also been affected by what has so far amounted to a rumor mill over what new regulations will come to limit what you can buy.
The frequency with which these new regulations have been added has increased dramatically since 2008 and will probably continue to increase for at least another four years.
Stan’s will do its best to help its customers get through these challenging, trying times.
Chief executive director, Building! North Central Washington (formerly the North Central Home Builders Association)
The home building industry has been hit disproportionately severely in this very protracted downturn. In spite of this, our industry remains the state’s third largest employer. This should be good news to everyone, as the financial ripple effect created by the home building industry is very significant — it creates additional income and tax revenues for our state and local economies.
Frankly, from my perspective, our industry’s most pressing business challenges will continue to stem from the damaging effects of excessive regulations dealt primarily by unchecked state agencies onto small builders, developers and the trades. The toll and burden of regulatory compliance is further exacerbated by the unfair playing field created by unregistered contractors who skirt compliance.
There is a direct correlation between the growing burdens of overregulation and what is being referred to as the “underground” economy. Unregistered and unscrupulous contractors, while appealing to consumers and their pocketbooks, present not only a significant challenge to legitimate contractors but very real damage to consumers and the tax rolls.
Education and persistence in addressing these challenges is how we will continue to seek remedy.
Broker, Windermere Real Estate, Leavenworth, and IcicleCreekHomes.com
This has been a record year for our real estate business. Lower prices, low interest rates and increased consumer confidence all brought home buyers into the market in numbers we haven’t seen locally since 2007.
Our first challenge for 2013 is a staffing one. Having lots of customers is fantastic, but we have to make sure that we can continue to give them all great service.
We will have a new employee in 2013 that we didn’t have in 2012. It’s my job to find ways to use all of our team members’ talents and time efficiently so that we can handle as many customers as possible without sacrificing personalized service.
An ongoing challenge that isn’t new for 2013 is educating consumers about the realities of the ever-changing real estate market. A lot of misinformation is being bandied about concerning trends and market forces that isn’t always applicable to a home buyer or home seller in Leavenworth or Lake Wenatchee. We use our blog and social media tools like Facebook to try to dispel the myths and create informed consumers.
President elect, Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce board
Editor’s note: The chamber is taking on tourism promotion for the Wenatchee Valley starting this year. We asked chamber officials about the challenges of this additional task.
For the Chamber, 2013 will be a year of transition as we hire a new executive director and begin providing destination (tourism) marketing services to our community. The challenges will be to minimize any disruptions to our business members and to destination marketing efforts as this transition occurs. We will overcome these challenges by being aware of them, working hard, and working together with the city, the Wenatchee Valley Visitors Bureau, and other stakeholders. We will not be shy about having too many committees and teams set up to assist in this transition. And while we need to be diligent about not affecting our community or our members, we also need to take a long-term view at this. This is much too important to not get right. We have the opportunity to build the right model for the long-term benefit of our community and our members.
On business in general: For our business members the biggest challenge for 2013 is going to be dealing with continued uncertainty within the economy and an increase in costs to operate thanks to health care costs and taxes.
As the Chamber we can help by educating our members about these issues as well as provide them with the resources they might not have available to them without a significant cost. Additionally, we will make sure that our local government agencies are not jumping on the federal government bandwagon of increasing costs to our businesses.
Plant manager, Alcoa Wenatchee Works
Some of the business challenges for Alcoa Wenatchee Works in 2013 are offsetting the (low) aluminum market price and (high) health care costs.
The aluminum market price keeps our plant focused on driving down production costs. In 2013 we will continue to improve how efficiently we use our electrical power and wage and benefits dollars. Our plan is to maintain a proactive approach to improving our production processes with the goal to produce metal with lower power and labor costs per ton.
Health care costs continue to escalate as a percentage of our total compensation dollars. For 2013, we are trying an upstream approach to slow this trend by focusing on the wellness of our employees through our Alcoa Wellness program. Our Wenatchee Works Wellness Committee helps our employees and their families understand their health risks, learn healthy behaviors, and have access to the tools they need to support a healthy lifestyle.
Program manager, GWATA (Greater Wenatchee Area Technology Alliance)
GWATA’s biggest challenges in 2013 will be to find new sources of funding to allow us to continue to improve and expand our programs. As a volunteer, board-driven, nonprofit technology alliance with one paid staffer, we strive to work as efficiently as possible with the resources we have available. We would like to continue to grow our organization and provide more value to entrepreneurs and businesses in North Central Washington.
Our board met for two strategic planning sessions this winter, and we identified three key initiatives for the first quarter of 2013 that will allow us to better develop new funding sources. Those are: board optimization, marketing, and increased revenue.
Board optimization includes the composition of our board, as well as ensuring that our board members are engaged and our meetings structured for maximum efficiency.
Marketing includes developing a marketing plan, more consistent branding and targeting our key users.
Both of those initiatives will feed into the third which is to increase our revenue beyond our current economic development agreements and membership dues.
President, Stemilt Growers, Inc.
Stemilt has enjoyed the blessings of the tree fruit industry during the past year and looks forward to another good year in 2013.
Each year we focus on different challenges in order to sustain success. In 2013, we see one of the biggest challenges as obtaining an adequate work force. Stemilt has a great team of people who work hard each and every day to get our fruit to market, but we need to continue to plan for harvest crews to meet the needs of orchards in 2013. It’s important that we make sure that our workforce is in place at the right locations and at the right time.
We also must continue to make investments in systems that increase productivity and keep our harvest management at its peak. The timing and management of our harvest will continue to be one of our biggest and most important challenges.
Superintendent of the North Central Educational Service District
It’s an exciting time in education as teachers, students and community stakeholders retool and respond to the dramatic changes in scientific innovation, curriculum, learning standards and systems of accountability, along with the advent of charter schools.
At the same time, continued uncertainty in the state’s economic picture with yet another anticipated deficit, as well as federal reductions in programs such as Impact Aid, lead to a feeling of insecurity in the future of educational funding.
Another challenge has been brought about by the McCleary decision, a court ruling which emphasizes the need to “amply” fund our public schools.
North Central ESD will rise to the challenges of 2013 through our continued focus on finding every way possible to provide cost-saving and innovative solutions for our school districts as they cope with the anticipated reduction in funding and ever-increasing accountability.
Peter Rutherford, MD
CEO and board chairman, Wenatchee Valley Medical Center
A few of the challenges we face this year:
• The legal structure of the affiliation between Wenatchee Valley Medical Center and Central Washington Hospital is established and operational planning is under way. The real work now begins and we have to implement the planning, and make sure it is done right.
• We must continue to be financially sound as we bring two organizations together in a changing health care environment, where reimbursement models for services are unclear and changes are occurring with payers at the state, federal and commercial levels.
• We must continue to focus on improving patient care, which includes:
— Developing standard work processes for how care is provided across the organization and throughout our regional clinics
— Helping patients manage their chronic health conditions, using self management, education and close follow-up
— Working with others to improve the health of our communities
— Delivering a culture of safety and value where value is defined as the outcomes of care and access to care divided by the cost of care.
• Continue the development of a regional approach to health care, by partnering with other health care organizations to provide as much local care as possible, provided it is safe, effective and efficient.
Top business (re)solutions for top business leaders in 2013
• Better time management. Focus on the 20 percent that matters and delegate (or ignore) the other 80 percent.
• Strive for efficiency. Work on tasks that generate profits, not the busy-work that can easily fill a day.
• Learn a new skill. Begin at the very bottom and work to better yourself in one simple endeavor. The beginner’s mind is an open mind ready for insights.
• Maintain a light social media presence. Ditch those frequent tweets and Facebook postings about lunch and baggy pantyhose. Post sparingly, and give your posts richer content that friends and customers will appreciate.
• Step away from the screen. Leave the laptop at the office. Keep your smartphone in your pocket. Ask a business acquaintance to lunch for face-to-face conversation. Attend more community events. Take time for yourself.