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Stock trader, author back home to seed interest in finance

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Fischer wrote a book called “Maverick Trading.”

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Here’s a good way to grab attention at the start of a high school economics class:

My company makes lots of money,” stock trader and author Darren Fischer told the fidgeting group. “Do you want to learn how to make lots of money?”

The Wenatchee High School teens — a mix of ages, freshmen to seniors — quickly settled down to give their full attention to Fischer, an Eastmont High School grad who now heads the West Coast operations for the Utah-based investment firm Maverick Trading.

On Feb. 6, Fischer guided students in four WHS business and marketing classes through some of the basics of investing — supply and demand, buying and selling, risk and reward — to give them a taste, he said, “of the trader’s life and benefits.” Later in the week, he gave a free seminar for adults on the same topics.

This isn’t a business visit,” Fischer said earlier. “I’m really trying to show folks in my hometown that there’s another way to work, another way to live, that provides a good income and brings money to the community.”

Fischer is co-author of “Maverick Trading: Professional Techniques to Create Generational Wealth,” published in December by McGraw-Hill. The book outlines principles of stock market investing used by Maverick Trading to earn high-than-average returns even in depressed markets, such as the likes of 2008 and 2009.

From its peak in 2007 right through to 2009, the market lost about 50 percent of its value,” Fischer told the students. But how bad is that really?

Here’s five dollars,” said Fischer, slapping a fiver on the table in front of a student.

It’s yours. You earned it.” The student slowly reached for the bill. But before she could touch it, Fischer snatched it away.

Now I’m taking back three dollars,” he said. “That’s how much and how fast the falling market cut into the pension plans, retirement accounts and 401k funds that many of your parents have.”

He paused another two seconds. “If your parents looked worried, that’s why. They had good reason to be worried.”

But by applying the principles in his book, said the trader, an average person using fifth-grade math can create a steady stream of income whether the market goes up, down or doesn’t even budge. “It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme,” he said. “But it’ll give you enough money to live on, retire on and pass on to your kids.”

Those trading rules — knowing the companies, the market’s direction and the risks involved — have earned millions of dollars for the founders of Maverick Trading and the team of about 150 traders who work with them, said Fischer.

He declined to say how much he’s personally earned in two-and-a-half years of working for Maverick, but said the rewards have been “substantial.”

Fischer, 37, recognized he had a head for economics back in the early 1990s when he took his first economics class from Eastmont social studies teacher Dale Lambert. “He introduced me to something that I quickly realized I liked,” Fischer said. “I was hooked.”

After graduating in 1993, Fischer enlisted in the Marines and served for 13 years. Along the way, he earned a political science degree from the University of Washington (in 2000), served in Iraq (2003), and was stationed on posts in Washington, D.C., and the world’s largest Marine Corps base in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Fischer left the Corps in 2006, then tried his hand at raising capital for specialized investment funds with only moderate success. He soon returned to trading stocks and options, which led him to Maverick Trading.

I soon realized there were many people who’d benefit from the company’s trading methods,” said Fischer, “so I asked the owners if we could put together a book that would explain it all, that would encourage people, that would help them navigate the market.”

And that’s why he was in the WHS classroom last month, he said. “To help plant the seed that could grow into a student’s real interest in the market.”


Penney’s shifts business strategy toward the simple

Loyal customer Jeanne Barsa of Ephrata walked into the J.C. Penney store here last month and stopped in her tracks.

Did they make it bigger?” she asked. “Are the lights brighter? Did they rearrange the racks? Something’s definitely different, but I’m not sure what.”

Barsa is one of millions of J.C. Penney customers who discovered last month that something is indeed different at one of America’s most venerable department store chains. The 110-year-old company has shifted business strategies toward the simple — simpler store design, simpler return policy and much, much simpler pricing.

The results? Everyday prices are slashed by 40 percent, annuals sales and promotions reduced from 600 down to about 24 and cluttered store aisles cleared of discount tables and dozens of the screaming “sale” signs.

So that’s it?” mused Barsa. “Not as messy.”

The remake, unveiled here Feb. 1 and at 1,100 J.C. Penney stores across the U.S., is the latest initiative by the Plano, Texas-based company to retain customers that, say executives, are weary of endless sales, jumbled discounts and scores of coupons in newspapers and mailboxes.

We made it all nice and streamlined,” said Todd Wiecking, a 32-year employee of J.C. Penney and manager of the Wenatchee store for the last four years. “If you ask me, it’s a better shopping experience.”

Ron Johnson, J.C. Penney’s new CEO, announced the changes last month in a presentation called “In Praise of Fresh Air.”

Johnson joined the retailer in November after 11 years on the executive board of Apple, during which he oversaw design and construction of more than 300 Apple Stores — trendy shops often praised for their sleek, minimalist decor.

Before that, Johnson worked 15 years for Target, mostly as one of the company’s chief merchandisers.

Retail industry observers have noted that Johnson has now introduced Apple and Target design principles — simplicity and style — to a company often considered stodgy and, as one wrote, “a store for middle America.”

A new logo and “branding” colors were also introduced in the past week. The company’s complete transformation is expected to take four years.

In the last month, local crews have worked many nights, said Wiecking, to “open up the store and create new space.”

Scores of discount tables have been removed or relocated. Hundreds of signs plucked from the sales floor. Display racks lowered so customers can see across the store. And more than 100,000 items re-labeled with lower prices that, said Wiecking, “surprise many customers.”

Over the next year, J.C. Penney will introduce enclosed “shops” within the larger store to feature trends and certain brands, such as Liz Claiborne or Arizona clothing

Many familiar J.C. Penney brands will stay, said Wiecking, and new brands will be introduced slowly in the next two to three years. For instance, Martha Stewart brands arrive in the store in 2013, he said.

But it’s the new pricing strategies that are at the center of the company’s revamping, said Wiecking. Called “Fair and Square Pricing,” the three-part plan calls for low everyday prices on most items, special month-long promotions on selected merchandise and only two clearance sales per month.

The company will also produce a monthly catalog — the first, with a Valentine’s Day theme, came out last month — and run weekly ads in local newspapers.

We learned through surveys that’s what most customers want,” said Wiecking. “They told us, ‘Just lower the prices and don’t be so confusing about it.’ And that’s what we’re doing.”


Video partners split to follow creative paths

Partners in one of the region’s most touted video production companies announced Feb. 7 that they’re headed in new and separate creative directions.

Jamie Howell and Jeff Ostenson of Howell at the Moon Productions will lead independent companies that, they said, allow each to focus on their individual specialties.

We see this as a healthy evolution and enhanced growth of the company — for the clients, for the work and for both of us,” said Howell, who’ll provide writing and creative services under the name Howell at the Moon.

Ostenson has formed a new company, North 40 Productions, that will continue the production of commercial and documentary videos that have earned awards and notoriety for the partnership over the last six years.

I’m excited by the prospects for the company under this new format,” said Ostenson. North 40 will continue with Howell at the Moon’s staff and equipment in the studio space at 103 Palouse St.

Also, the former partners will collaborate on projects when their individual skills are needed by the other, he added.

In 1999, Howell founded Howell at the Moon and ran the company as sole proprietor until 2006, when he teamed with Ostenson to form Howell at the Moon Productions.

The partnership led the company to develop a national client base, exceed annual revenues each year and grow from two to as many as six full-time employees, depending on the project.

Since 2006, the company has garnered a series of awards and broad recognition for its commercial and documentary work. Most recently, their mountain bike documentary “Pedal-Driven” was honored at numerous film festivals, including being named a finalist at the Banff Mountain Film Festival and winning the best cinematography award at a Utah festival.

Commercially, the company’s client list has expanded to include national companies such as Bosch USA and large tourism clients, including Austin, Texas.

The nutcracker character, Woody Goomsba, developed by Howell at the Moon for the City of Leavenworth, became an Internet sensation and earned the video company a coveted Davey Award for advertising and marketing in 2011.

The company was also named 2011 Tech Savvy Business of the Year by the Greater Wenatchee Area Technology Alliance (GWATA).

We both love living and working here in the Wenatchee Valley, and this move allows us to expand our reach even further — doing what we do best, while staying right here where we want to be,” said Howell.

East Wenatchee

Eastside now has a Walgreens, too

The eastside’s new Walgreens opened here Feb. 3 after nearly 18 months of planning and construction.

About 30 employees at the 14,000-square-foot store on Grant Road welcomed customers to the national chain’s second location in the Wenatchee Valley.

The opening followed a rush of round-the-clock stocking of store shelves to ready the newest Walgreens in the company’s 31-store Eastern Washington district.

A more formal opening — including a ribbon cutting — took place the next day. Attending was East Wenatchee Mayor Steve Lacy, the new store’s first manager Andrea Madrid and representatives of property-owner Selkirk Development of Spokane and contractor Blodgett Construction of Malaga.

Selkirk purchased the 2.95-acre site — former location of the Columbia Cinema — in June 2010 after the movie theater’s parent company announced it would sell the property to help finance a new multiplex in Olds Station. Construction of the new Walgreens began about a year later.

The pharmacy at the new Walgreens is operated by Mike Holliday and Al Glass, longtime owners of Eastmont Pharmacy. They closed the old pharmacy operations Feb. 2 and reopened at the Walgreen’s location the next day.

The store is located near the corner of Grant Road and Eastmont Avenue.


Port building moves from backpacks to egg cartons

The first equipment’s arrived last month and wiring improvements were underway to ready a 38,000-square-foot space here for a Chinese manufacturer of egg and food cartons

Fibro Inc., the name of the new Wenatchee division of Hong Kong-based Dandong Kaite Group Ltd., began full installation of machinery Feb. 18 and expected to begin production by late spring, according to Raylene Dowell, property and facilities manager for the Port of Chelan County.

We been pushing here for foreign investment,” she said. “Well, here it is.”

Fibro has signed a five-year lease with the Port to manufacture biodegradable molded paper pulp cartons at a sprawling industrial building near the Confluence Technology Center in Olds Station.

Beginning in May, the multi-national company will begin making monthly lease payments of $18,666.

The company has experienced slight delays in their set-up schedule, said Dowell, due to the slow pace of obtaining work visas for some of the company’s key personnel. “That’s why the schedules have a little play in them, to allow for these contingencies.”

Otherwise, about 30 employees are expected to be hired initially, said Dowell, with plans to gradually increase to 50.

Fibro’s parent company, the Kaite Group, is a leading pulp and molded fiber packaging company with several production plants around the world. Their products are sold throughout the United States, Japan, Australia, South Korea and Southeast Asia.

The Wenatchee plant has been designed to duplicate a Kaite Group facility recently opened in Malaysia that makes cartons from recycled paper and orchard wood debris.

Buyers for the company’s Wenatchee products have not yet been announced, said Dowell. But Port officials said in October that Fibro was negotiating with Wilcox Farms, one of the Northwest’s largest organic egg producers.

The site for the plant — the Port’s Building No. 5 — was previously occupied by JanSport outdoor gear. Accupak and Loomis Golf were also previous tenants.

In recent months, the building housed offices of M&M Productions and practice space for the Apple Valley Roller Derby teams. Both of those tenants have relocated to new spaces.


Farmers Market chief is cream of the crop

Frequent visitors to the Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market last year couldn’t help but notice that something was different at the 32-year-old bazaar.

Take note: None of that happened by accident.

Market Manager Jennifer Wiecking and others have worked hard for two years to iron out differences among vendors, customers and civic leaders, attract more hands-on activities and fine-tune the music and food offerings to turn the market into one of the state’s best.

And the efforts paid off. Last month, Wiecking was named Manager of the Year by the Washington State Farmers Market Association at its annual conference at Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort near Leavenworth.

Wiecking, 45, topped managers from more than 110 markets statewide — some small, some huge — in what was, for her, a surprise announcement. “Someone told me I had been nominated,” said Wiecking. “I thought, “Wow, that’s really great,’ but otherwise didn’t give it much thought.”

On top of that, Wiecking said she was carpooling that day and running late. So she missed the announcement and presentation. Co-honchos from the market accepted the award in her absence.

It’s definitely an honor to be chosen,” said Wiecking. “And I love the exposure it gives to our market and community and the farmers that provide us with so much good stuff.”

The honor follows efforts by the market staff, said Wiecking, “to focus more on what the customer wants, to listen for what they’re asking for, and make sure they’re seeing new booths and activities almost every week.”

Last year, that meant more food processors of meat, cheese and other farm-raised products were on-site, said the manager. “It’s something people had been asking for these last few years.”:

And, generally, the market hosted more vendors than ever in 2011. An average of about 65 or more set up shop on a weekly basis, with more — maybe more than 70 — expected to participate this year.

More vendors and better sales also pushed gross receipts up about 31 percent to hit $343,000, said the manager. The market also showed huge growth — now ranked 15th in the state — for income from vouchers issued by the state’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program.

With all this growth, isn’t the market site at the corner of North Columbia and Palouse streets getting a little crowded?

Yes,” laughed Wiecking. “We’re bursting at the seams. It’s the first year we’ve had a waiting list of vendors eager to join us.”

She added, “But we’re striving for balance in what we offer. We’re carefully choosing who sets up shop to give the customer the best shopping experience.”


Canadian company is going for the gold

The first step toward mining millions of dollars in gold from foothills south of the city could begin this month, the president of a Canadian exploration company said Jan. 31.

Lorne Brown of Lovitt Resources Ltd. said crews could begin by late February or early March to drill holes — some a half-mile deep — to extract ore samples from a site about four miles south of Wenatchee.

We’re confident that what we call the Wenatchee Gold Belt contains billions of dollars in gold,” said Brown. “It’s one of the best places in North America, maybe in the world, to look for gold.”

Announcement of the drilling follows Chelan County’s issuance of a permit to allow exploratory drilling through 2012 by the Vancouver, B.C.-based company. The one-year permit essentially restricts work on the property to the drilling of core samples.

The announcement also came as gold prices held steady in early February at $1,734.40 per ounce, a relatively high market price that Brown said has triggered gold exploration around the world.

Up to 50 drill holes, each measuring about 3-inches in diameter, could be sunk on the Matthews Property, a parcel above Squilchuck Road for which Lovitt owns mineral rights. The parcel is southeast of two former mining operations, the Lovitt and Cannon gold mines, which the company said jointly produced 1.6 million ounces of gold in 40 years of operations that ended in 1992.

The new holes, drilled with diamond-tipped bits, will supplement 46 holes made in the 1990s by two companies on the Matthews Property. Over 60 percent of those holes showed significant gold deposits, said Brown, but mining never took place.

Drilling new holes will provide better samples to assay ore samples and also allow more detailed, 3-D computer mapping of the Matthews Property and the adjacent Lovitt Mine, said the company president. The mine, now sealed, has seven miles of tunnels on nine different levels criss-crossing underground.

According to a Jan. 10 press release, Lovitt has secured financing for 4,000 meters of drilling in a first phase of exploration that would begin when roads clear of snow and mud, most likely by early March. A drill rig with an eight-man crew has been secured, said Brown, and is available as soon as weather allows.

Depending on first-phase results, additional drilling rigs could be readied within two months to begin a second phase, Brown added.

The drilling operation would run 24-hours a day in a remote location “that nobody would see or hear,” he said. “It’s benign from an environmetal point of view. Smaller and less intrusive on the landscape than (drilling) some water wells.”

A full-scale mining operation could be “a $100 million project, he said. “As big and busy as a major airport, covering 2 acres, employing hundreds of people and boosting the local economy like never before.”

But that would come only if drill holes found ore rich enough to mine at today’s prices, he admitted. “Then we’d likely sell our interests to a larger company with the resources to extract the gold.”

Brown added, “If we’re successful, the impact on the Wenatchee Valley would be huge. Just huge.”


Chamber to honor Blackburn, Wildfang

The city’s largest grocery store, along with a longtime advocate of public education, will receive the local Chamber of Commerce’s top honors this month at the group’s annual banquet.

Martin’s Market Place, owned by Phil Blackburn, has been named 2011 Business of the Year. Bob Wildfang, assistant superintendent of the Cashmere School District for 25 years, took honors as 2011 Citizen of the Year.

Blackburn and Wildfang will be honored at the Cashmere Chamber of Commerce’s annual Recognition Dinner and Auction. The dinner will begin at 5:30 p.m. March 9 at the The Conservatory events center, 400 Apple Annie Ave.

Grocery owner Blackburn bought the store from the Martin family in 2007. Since then, he has led several community fundraising campaigns, including those for the Cashmere parade float, Cashmere Food Bank and efforts to purchase a new piano for the local middle school.

Blackburn, who served as 2011 Chamber president, also provides an annual scholarship to a graduating senior who pursues a career in music.

Bob Wildfang served for more than two decades as the local school district’s assistant superintendent. He later became active as a volunteer in the schools and community.

Nominated by teachers and administrators at Cashmere High School, Wildfang is co-founder of the Cashmere Schools Foundation, which has provided tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships to local students.

He’s also helped fund the FFA/4-H Youth Support Fund and spearheaded the community float committee for several years.

We’re looking forward to another wonderful celebration that honors two of the most giving people in our community,” said auction chairwoman Jan Meredith-Evans, co-owner of Cashmere Cottage Yarn.


Stemilt joins campaign for healthy eating

Stemilt Growers, one of the world’s largest non-citrus fruit companies, has been recognized in a national health campaign to promote higher consumption of fruits and vegetables.

The Wenatchee-based fruit company was named as a “role model” in the “Fruits & Veggies: More Matters” campaign by the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Stemilt announced last month.

Each year, the recognition notes the support of non-retail companies for PBH’s health campaign, which focuses on getting kids and adults to eat more servings of fruits and vegetables. It’s the third year in a row that Stemilt has earned the honor.

Stemilt will support the campaign throughout the year by placing the “Fruits & Veggies: More Matters” logo on packaging, bins, bags and signs. Company employees may also serve on PBH committees.

The fruit company will be recognized along with other “role models” during a luncheon at PBH’s annual meeting March 30 in Monterey, Calif.