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Business Roundup: What will you pick today? Success

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What will you pick today? Success

The Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce reported a strong first half for the first six months of the year. Membership through June is up 17 percent over last year, the visitors center is open seven days a week and the Chamber’s wine tasting room has expanded its hours.

In her August report, the Chamber’s marketing and communications director Jerri Barkley also noted a few highlights of the local economy during 2014’s first six months:

Sleep: Hotel stays in the Wenatchee Valley totaled $57.8 million.

Play: Sports tourism remained healthy with spending for 99 events hitting $5.3 million with 18,192 hotel stays. Top event: Winter Special Olympics. Top sports: youth baseball, regional swimming tournaments, softball tournaments, cycling and running events.

Gather: Through January, more than 14,800 people attended 38 major conventions in Wenatchee. Those folks were greeted at each convention by Chamber of Commerce ambassadors.

Tout: Outside publicity totaled 35 free print or electronic articles, which produced 13.4 million media impressions and online views.


Yucatan poc-chuc arrives in Little Bavaria

Forget the schnitzels and beer. Leavenworth’s newest restaurant features Yucatan specialties conchinita pibil, poc-chuc Yucateco and over 200 flavors of tequila, many of them fruit infusions made right on the premises.

Carlos 1800 Mexican Grill and Tequila Bar opened July 16 on Front Street, the Bavarian village’s main tourist thoroughfare.

We saw an opportunity to expand to the busiest tourist town in the region,” said owner Carlos Perez, who also owns Carlos 1800 restaurants in Wenatchee and Winthrop. “Our experience in (western-themed) Winthrop helped ready us for the move to Leavenworth.”

The company’s third location features the same southern-Mexico and Caribbean flavors, fresh ingredients and homemade sauces of the other two outlets, said Perez. “No lard, very few processed foods. We like to serve dishes that are fresh and healthy.”

Located in the Bavarian Ritz Hotel building, the restaurant space has been remodeled to seat 139 diners in two dining rooms, a full bar and on the deck overlooking the Wenatchee River. “There’s an upscale feel to this new place,” said Perez. “The open-air dining has been very popular with west-side visitors.”

And all those different kinds of tequila? “Well,” said Perez, “we offer up lots of different kinds of margaritas and other drinks that use tequila. We infuse tequila with fruit — it takes about two weeks of infusion to get the right flavors — but it’s worth the effort.”

Perez said the new, 25-employee restaurant also has “the same lively energy, the same family fun” of his other two locations. “Our concept has always been to make dining here a fun occasion,” he said.

Details: 633 Front St., Leavenworth. Phone: 888-0265. Web: carlos1800.com and on Facebook. Open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.


Hay! Scarecrow workshop coming up

Hoping to scare up some ideas for the perfect scarecrow?

A Cashmere business will sponsor a scarecrow-building workshop this month to help merchants and residents prepare for Scare-Crazy in Cashmere, a Chamber of Commerce event that runs through October.

Overall Kitchen & Bath Design will host the workshop from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 13 in the parking lot of Weeds Cafe, 201 Cottage Ave.

At the workshop, Overall staff will be sharing design ideas and demonstrating an easy construction process. Scarecrow kits will also be available for purchase at minimal cost.

Registration forms for Scare-Crazy are available at Weeds Cafe, Cashmere Valley Bank and at the Cashmere Chamber office. Last year, more than 120 scarecrows were on display throughout town.

For more info, call 782-7404.


Condotta receives award

Rep. Cary Condotta was presented Aug. 14 with a 2014 Municipal Champion Award by the Association of Washington Cities.

The East Wenatchee lawmaker received the award from Mike McCarty, AWC’s CEO, during a City Council meeting that begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 135 E. Johnson Ave.

Condotta earned the AWC award for sponsoring legislation that would allow cities to share in revenues from the sale of recreational marijuana. Five Municipal Champion Awards, launched this year, will be presented in 2014.

Whether you agree with (Initiative 502) or not, it passed,” said Condotta. “Now we must make sure we have the most functional, efficient and safe system in place as possible. Part of that is making sure local governments have the tools to succeed.”

He added, “A big piece of that is funding” on the municipal level to pay for I-502 implementation.


New website touts Highway 97 travel destinations

A new tourism partnership among U.S. and Canadian communities along Highway 97 launched Aug. 11 with a website touting travel destinations from Wenatchee to Kamloops, B.C.

The marketing effort, called Discover Route 97, links North Central Washington with British Columbia’s Thompson Okanagan region along the Highway 97 corridor.

The goal of the site is to make visitors aware of the amazing destinations along Highway 97,” said a joint statement by the partnership’s lead organizations, the North Central Washington Economic Development District and Thompson Okanogan Tourism Association in B.C.

The website provides “direct links to key organizations, places, and tourism resources in the area, and promotes travel on this important Canada-United States corridor,” said a press release.

In B.C., the website’s kickoff coincided with the launch of a new shuttle bus service for the southern Okanagan Valley. The shuttle runs four times a day between Osoyoos and Kelowna.

See the website at route97.net.

East Wenatchee

Kids find more fun at eastside mall

When it comes to attracting the youth market, Wenatchee Valley Mall doesn’t kid around. Wait a minute … they ARE kiddin’ around.

The mall kicked off its new Kids Club on Aug. 16 with a live appearance by Radio Disney and characters Princess Sophia and Jake and the Neverland Pirates.

The mall plans to hold Kids Club every third Saturday of the month and feature a mix of activities — from arts and crafts to L-Bow the Clown to fun winter exercise classes, such as kids-level Zumba. And it’s all free.

The club is designed for kids age 3 to 11. They can register at wenatcheevalleymall.com or in person at the mall’s customer service counter. Then they’ll get email alerts about upcoming activities and a Kids Club passport book which, when stamped, could earn prizes and gifts.

Royal City

Mint farm sues Dow over herbicide

A mint farm claiming $2 million in crop damages has sued Dow AgroSciences for what farm owners say are false claims by Dow about an herbicide it manufactures.

The Royal Mint Company of Grant County claims that Stinger, a weed-control herbicide also known as Clopyralid, significantly reduced oil yields in its mint crop despite assertions by the chemical company to the contrary.

The mint farm, located in Royal City, filed the lawsuit in July in U.S. District Court.

The suit claims that Dow’s statements printed on packaging says the herbicide could cause some temporary discoloration to mint but would not reduce oil yields. Royal Mint claims those statements are misleading and false.

Mint Industry News Network, an online newsletter, reported last month that Dow recently settled a lawsuit with the city of Spokane concerning Stinger. The city claimed it suffered $4 million in damages from the herbicide and joined a class action suit against Dow, the newsletter said.


Roadside sales: Art in the parking lot

Ready to part with that Picasso? Ready to dally with Dali buyers? Then here’s an early warning to gather up your art — stuff you’ve made, stuff you’ve collected, stuff that’s gathering dust — and get ready for one of the coolest art events around.

Wenatchee’s Two Rivers Gallery, 102 N. Columbia St., will host its annual Tailgate Art Sale from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 4 in the nearby parking lot of the Wenatchee Convention Center. It costs just $10 to participate, plus 10 percent of sales. No need to register — just show up that morning with your art and claim a space. Note: only 40 spaces are available.

Believe it or not, prints by both Picasso and Matisse sold at last year’s sale. So buyers will find quality art and likely a few surprise

For more info, call Two Rivers Gallery at 888-9504.


Comment now — shhhh! — anonymously

Want to complain anonymously about your boss? Give the cops an anonymous tip? Provide a bit of, ahem, constructive criticism to a favorite restaurant and keep your name out of it?

Wenatchee resident Gary Kamen has what you need. The home-based web and software developer has created a company, a service and a website called Corpell Anonymous Box that allows not only anonymous comments to be posted (on the topic of your choice), but also back-and-forth conversations without any names attached.

Best of all, the “online feedback collection and communication tool” is free to users while its in beta form — probably for the next six to 12 months.

There are other websites that provide this service,” said Kamen, “but I’ve reduced the barriers for users down to entering an email address and asking a question. It’s pretty simple.”

In a recent test of the service, a response box was set up in about 10 seconds.

Kamen and his family moved to Wenatchee about a year ago when his wife got a job at Confluence Health. Being a stay-at-home dad gave him the time and opportunity to use his software skills to develop Anonymous Box. Three months ago, he got the business to a point where he was ready to go public.

The developer said he’s taken steps to ensure users’ anonymity by routing queries and responses through secure connections that encrypt contact info. For good measure, server log files are dumped within 24 hours. Think: clean slate.

I’ve tried my best to present a service that makes users feel comfortable,” said Kamen. “I think this is it.”

Details: Learn more about Corpell Anonymous Box at corpell.com, visit their Facebook page or email Kamen at gary@corpell.com.


Engineering firm growing fast

SCJ Alliance, the consulting outfit that engineered the recent street improvements in downtown Wenatchee, has been named as one of the nation’s fastest growing architectural and engineering firms.

The company was named this year to the annual ZweigWhite Hot Firm list for the fourth time (also in 2010, 2011 and 2012). ZweigWhite has compiled the list every year since 2000 and includes firms from the U.S. and Canada.

SCJ was 94th on the 100-firm list, which in total showed a median growth rate of 72 percent — up significantly from 44 percent in 2013. Every year, getting named to the list gets harder, said SCJ President Perry Shea. “The goal post is getting higher all the time.”

ZweigWhite is an Arkansas-based consulting firm that provides services to architectural and engineering firms.

SCJ is based in Lacey and has offices in Wenatchee, Seattle, Vancouver, Boise, Idaho, and Westminster, Colo.


Officials order up mail with an Oriental flavor?

The building that once housed the Royal Palace Restaurant is the U.S. Postal Service’s top choice for the new location of the Wenatchee post office, the agency announced Aug. 8.

The vacant building at 1060 Maple St. topped four other locations — including a former car dealership, an art center and two strip mall spaces — in contention for the new post office site.

Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson said the agency is now in negotiations with the owner of the Royal Palace building to work out a lease. Successful negotiations would trigger a remodel of the building, but no timeline for moving into the new space has been set.

The building was chosen after on-site visits to the five locations and reviews of floor-space, parking areas, traffic access and each building’s adaptability to postal operations.

Relocation of Wenatchee post office, now in the Federal Building at 301 Yakima St., has been under discussion for two years as one response to the Postal Service’s ongoing financial woes. The agency currently faces nearly $100 billion in debt and unfunded workers benefits and has looked to cut costs wherever it can.

Now we’re in a downsizing mode,” said Russ Rainey, Postal Service real estate specialist in Denver. “And this is part of the process.”

In 2012, postal officials said rent for space in the Federal Building, owned by the federal General Accounting Office, was hovering at around $500,000 per year, and that cheaper options would be sought.

Ideally, Yakima Street’s postal operations would move and be split in two, said officials. Mail sorting, bagging and trucking would relocate to the postal service’s Wenatchee Distribution Center in Olds Station, and a new postal retail storefront would be leased in an existing building.

At the new storefront, customers could buy stamps and mail letters, receive and ship packages and receive mail in rented postal boxes.

City officials and members of the community have until Sept. 4 to submit written comments on the choice of location. Mail comments to: Facilities Vice President, c/o Russ Rainey, USPS Facilities Office, 7500 E. 53rd Place, Room 1108, Denver, CO 80266-9918.


As Wanapum Dam drawdown continues, tourism jobs low

The shrunken reservoir behind a damaged Wanapum Dam could be one reason tourism jobs are drying up in Grant County.

In June, Grant County lost 260 jobs in tourism and another 100 in retail as recreation on the Wanapum Dam reservoir slowed to a trickle, said the state Employment Security Department. The reservoir’s shoreline was closed in March following the discovery of a fracture in one of the dam’s spillways and drawdown of the reservoir on the dam’s upstream side.

The closed shoreline means most water activities — boating, fishing, swimming — in river communities such as Crescent Bar, Vantage, Sunland Estates and others have been severely curtailed.

In July, managers with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife extended the shoreline closures to Oct. 31 to ensure public safety. The Grant County PUD has also closed 38 miles of shoreline between Rock Island and Wanapum dams, including boat launches and marinas at several locations. Wanapum State Park near Vantage is also closed.

It’s no doubt that the drawdown has, in part, adversely affected Grant County’s leisure and hospitality businesses,” said state Regional Labor Economist Don Meseck.

In year-over-year comparisons, unemployment in Grant County dropped 1.8 percentage points in June to hit 5.7 percent — an improvement based mostly on growth of business services that provide temporary labor jobs (20.9 percent rise) and the processing of fruits and vegetables (3.1 percent increase).

But tourism jobs dropped 9.2 percent and retail jobs by 3 percent.

East Wenatchee

When will Marshalls open?

Construction of the interior of the new Marshalls at Wenatchee Valley Mall in East Wenatchee is underway and moving towards opening on … well, no one is saying yet.

But mall execs confirmed last month that the new 23,400-square-foot store, the 15th Marshalls in the state, would not be open in time for the annual back-to-school flurry — usually August and September.

More likely, say other sources, the store will open its doors in the first week of October.

Marshalls and sister company T.J. Maxx stock clothing and home decor items that sell at reduced prices. The company website says prices are kept low by “taking advantage of department stores’ overbuying, cancelling orders and designers overproducing.” Discounts can hit 60 percent on some items.


Despite fires, Gamble Sands opens on schedule

One bright spot amid the heartache and burned hillsides of the Pateros-Brewster area was last month’s opening of Gamble Sands, the Scottish-style links located about six miles southeast of Brewster.

The 18-hole course, which cost from $2 to $3 million, opened to the public as planned on Aug. 2. Tee time can be reserved at gamblesands.com.

Apparently, the eastern edge of the Carlton Complex Fire, which raged through the area, came within a few miles of Gamble Sands but left it unscathed. The course is about six miles east of Brewster and south of the junction of highways 97 and 17.

Set amid soaring sand dunes, Gamble Sands is the project of the Gebbers family, who own Brewster-based Gebbers Farms, one of the world’s largest fruit growers. The project’s been discussed for a decade, but only took root a couple of year’s ago under the eye of course designer David McLay Kidd, who also designed the renowned Bandon Dunes course on the Oregon coast.

Our hearts go out to our community that has been impacted by the recent fire,” said Tory Wulf, project manager. “We’re thankful to be opening our doors and share something positive in light of the recent damage to the area.”


Cold Train iced as BNSF juggles higher rail volumes

Cold Train Express suspended its Quincy-to-Chicago service on Thursday after executives said increased congestion across BNSF Railway’s northern routes slowed Cold Train delivery times and cut business up to 70 percent.

Quincy’s refrigerated rail service has been squeezed to one train a day by increased rail traffic caused by a surge in North Dakota’s oil and coal trains, said company officials. Delays and schedule changes have doubled the Cold Train’s delivery times to six days and greatly increased fuel and equipment costs, they said.

The company said customers have canceled most shipments of fresh fruit and produce, which accounts for 70 percent of Cold Train’s business.

Cold Train, a key link in delivering North Central Washington fruit and produce to east coast markets, said BNSF has given priority to high-income oil-and-coal customers, a situation that’s “resulted in millions of dollars in operating losses and millions of dollars in capital investment losses, both of which are simply unsustainable” for the 4-year-old Cold Train company.

BNSF Railway disagreed. “We are not providing favored service for oil over other commodities,” railway spokesman Gus Melonas said Friday. “We were disappointed to hear they (Cold Train) were suspending their operation, as we had been working with Cold Train for the past few months to provide them with options that would allow them to continue to operate this service.”

Melonas said increased volumes across the railroad’s northern lines have required schedule changes that have affected some customers. But rail service in Washington and along the company’s Northern Corridor is improving, he said, as the company adds new locomotives, improves track conditions and hires new employees. The railway could hire up to 600 new employees in Washington this year, he said.

Port of Quincy Commissioner Patric Connelly said port officials will be stepping back to reassess Cold Train’s suspension of service. Cold Train uses the port’s Intermodal Terminal as its western distribution hub.

The intermodal concept has been proven to be a real success,” said Connelly. “We’ll be looking for another operator who can make this work.”

Rail Logistics, parent company of Cold Train, announced in March that the refrigerated rail company would be sold to a Michigan railroad company. But that sale never went through. “They may have seen some of the problems ahead,” said Connelly.

Cold Train said Thursday that scheduling issues with BNSF began last autumn as congestion along the Northern Corridor began affecting the railway’s on-time percentages. The railroad’s on-time rates dropped from an average of over 90 percent to less than 5 percent between November and April, said Cold Train execs.

The shipping company said BNSF announced on April 24 that intermodal service from Washington, which includes the Quincy refrigerated trains, would be cut to one train a day and that service would be slowed.

Cold Train’s suspension of service will “will leave many Washington State shippers in the precarious situation of having to scramble to find other transportation options to cargo eastbound, such as long-haul trucks,” said Cold Train officials. That could leave growers and producers “at a competitive disadvantage and create supply chain problems,” they said.

In 2010, Cold Train announced it would begin operations at the Port of Quincy’s Intermodal Terminal. That year, Cold Train shipped about 100 containers per month and shipments kept expanding. By 2013, the company was shipping nearly 700 containers per month and expected to hit 1,000 per month by year’s end.

By late 2013, Cold Train had a fleet of 400 refrigerated containers and was providing service six days a week to 24 states in the Midwest, East Coast and southeastern U.S.