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Business Roundup: Alcoa names new plant manager

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Alcoa names new plant manager

A former U.S. Navy pilot and aluminum production coordinator has been named as new plant manager for Alcoa’s Wenatchee Works.

Mark Huber, who joined Alcoa in 2011, was announced as manager May 22.

He succeeds Don Walton, who retired as plant manager after 30 years at Wenatchee Works.

After a 10-year career as Navy officer and F-18 pilot, Huber was a strategy analyst for Alcoa’s U.S. operations and was promoted in 2013 as a manager of global operations for the company’s primary products. Most recently, he served as a production and improvement manager for Alcoa’s refinery in Port Lavaca, Texas, near San Antonio.

Huber has a bachelor’s degree in quantitative economics from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and an MBA from the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia.

He’ll be joined in Wenatchee by his wife, Annie, and their five children.

I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity to join the impressive team at Wenatchee,” said Huber. “My family and I are looking forward to joining the community in the beautiful Wenatchee Valley.”


Wenatchee’s Sandison named as state Ag director

A Wenatchee resident who for years has guided state water projects in the Columbia Basin has been named as the new director of the state Department of Agriculture.

Derek Sandison, 62, will replace Methow Valley resident Bud Hover, who announced his resignation as Agriculture director in March. Sandison started his new job June 15 at an annual salary of $126,000.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced on May 21 the appointment of Sandison, who since 2008 has led the Department of Ecology’s Office of Columbia River in overseeing water supply development projects that serve farmers and ranchers in the Columbia Basin. He has also played key roles in water supply projects for the Yakima River Basin and Odessa aquifer.

Derek has a successful record of leading incredibly complex and large-scale projects,” said Inslee. “He brings a commitment to innovation, transparency and collaboration that is exactly what we need to maintain and grow Washington’s world-class agriculture industry.”

John Stuhlmiller, chief executive officer for the Washington Farm Bureau, gave a thumbs-up to Sandison’s appointment. Stuhlmiller said he’s worked for years with Sandison on water projects and policy for the Office of Columbia River and gives high marks to the appointee for his administrative abilities.

He’s worked with environmentalists, business people, farmers, ranchers and politicians — people who don’t always agree with each other — and still gotten the work done,” said Stuhlmiller. “Derek has never exhibited stereotypical bureaucratic tendencies — he’s always working harder than anyone to get good results” from a project.

In 2013, Sandison established a separate office in Wenatchee to lead Ecology’s Office of Columbia River, which has its headquarters and most staff in Yakima. The Wenatchee office was opened to help oversee grants of nearly $46 million to study or build water storage.

Sandison has also served as regional director for Ecology’s seven-county Central Region. Prior to working at Ecology, he co-founded a consulting firm and worked in water supply and waste programs at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

He’s a native of Port Angeles and a graduate of Central Washington University in Ellensburg.

As new director of Agriculture, Sandison will oversee an agency with a budget of about $158 million and a staff of 750 that can grow by an additional 200 employees during busy harvest seasons.

East Wenatchee

Honda drives into the future

When Apple Valley Honda built their new facility in East Wenatchee, they studied the parent company’s requirements for new buildings and then tossed ‘em out the window.

Well, not exactly. But Manager Tod McLaughlin said those company specs were just the starting point for a project that doubled the recommended building size, tripled the number of comforts for customers and quadrupled the whiz-bang, high-tech amenities that make the place an energy-saving behemoth.

Our owners could see that growth was in our future,” said McLaughlin. “So they decided that now was the time to plan for that growth. This is the building we should have built 10 years ago to meet our growing customer base.”

After nearly a year of planning and construction, Apple Valley Honda opened April 20 in its new 35,000-square-foot building (on five acres) at the corner of Highline Drive and Third Street SE in East Wenatchee.

Owned by Sims Import Inc. of Bellingham, the local dealership’s move from its longtime home in north Wenatchee adds another top car brand to the eastside’s “auto row,” already bustling with the Town Auto Group’s Ford, Toyota and Nissan dealerships.

This location offers more space, more convenience and more of what I like to call ‘retail energy’,” said McLaughlin, noting that Costco and Coastal Farm & Ranch are just down the block. “You can feel the buzz here,” he said, “and it feels good.”

Thirteen-year Honda sales veteran Ramon Gutierrez took 20 minutes last week to give a quick tour of the new Honda building. Here are a few highlights:

Floor-to-ceiling windows flood the showroom (double the size of the old one) with natural light that’s supplemented by a computer-controlled lighting system. “We only have a handful of light switches in the whole building,” said Gutierrez. “And these new lights mean it’ll be 20 years before we have to change a bulb.”

Likewise, heating and air-conditioning are computer-controlled to mix outside air with interior circulating air to balance temperatures and minimize energy drain.

A greatly expanded service department sports 16 repair bays that have ditched any greasy monkey-wrench decor for an all-white, super-bright, super-clean operation. “No question, this is a whole new look,” said Gutierrez.

An express lube and oil-change area is on the way. The chute-like bays will allow customers to remain in their cars to speed the work.

Customers will find three waiting rooms — one with TV and magazines, one designated a “quiet room” (no kids) with fireplace and comfy chairs for reading and private listening to music and one for folks waiting to sign those final papers. Keurig coffee makers — with bins of flavored coffees — and bowls of fresh apples (the dealership’s namesake, right?) stand at ready.


Wenatchee shines on national job growth list

Looking for a job? Then you’re in the right place.

The Wenatchee Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) — better known as Chelan and Douglas counties — rose 25 spots on this year’s list of Best Small Cities for Job Growth to hit No. 37 on a roster of 421 small metro areas around the country.

The job growth statistics were released June 12 by NewGeography.com, a site for urban issues and economic development. Numbers were crunched from recent findings of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The “small city” category ranked MSAs with under 150,000 non-farm jobs, with the Wenatchee MSA having around 41,000 jobs. By comparison, the “large city” category had a minimum of 450,000 nonfarm jobs.

The list offered no reasons for job growth in any of the MSAs.

But over the last 18 months, state Regional Labor Economist Don Meseck in Yakima has pointed to several factors for improvement in Wenatchee-area employment — large fruit harvests, revitalized home construction, strong tourism and retail activity and expanding services that include health care and education.

According to NewGeography, Wenatchee scored 72.6 on an index of 100 based on several trends, including the current employment growth rate, the average employment growth rate from post-recession years 2009 to 2014 and long-term growth momentum from 2003 to 2014.

Only Midland, Texas, had a perfect score of 100 to place No. 1 on the list. Bend-Redmond, Ore., placed No. 12 (87.7 points), Bellingham was No. 34 (74.1) and Kennewick-Richland was No. 74 (60.7).

The goal, said a NewGeography press release, “is to capture a snapshot of the present and prospective employment outlook in each MSA. These revisions allow the reader to have a better sense of the employment climate in each area.”

East Wenatchee

A new Slice of cake and … Zombies

All the best weddings have beautiful cakes. But only couples who buy from Slice Couture Cake Design have the option of a side order of Zombies.

Longtime cake designer Becky Morrison, owner of Slice, has enlisted the talents of two other top cake makers in the region to offer elegant tiered wedding cakes — you gotta see ‘em to believe ‘em — along with dozens of varieties of pastries, cookies, fancy marshmallows and, yes, Zombies. (More about those later.)

Morrison operated Becky’s Wedding Cakes out of her home for 30 years before opening Slice on April 1 at 530 Valley Mall Parkway in East Wenatchee (former location of Flora Designs by Tumbleweed). Joining her were Bea James, who ran Busy Bea’s Cakes in Cashmere for 10 years, and Amber Adamson, who for three years operated Top-Tier Cakes for All Occasions in Wenatchee. The shop also has six additional employees.

That’s a lot of cake-making fire power, admitted Morrison. “But to grow we needed the best skills and creativity, along with much more space,” she said. “And it’s working great.”

Morrison designs most of the wedding cakes. Adamson focuses on all-occasion and sculpted cakes. And James makes most of the shop’s pastries — cupcakes, puff pastries, cookies (regular and fancy), chocolate-covered pretzels, fruit turnovers, you name it.

On busy weekends — one Saturday last month the trio made seven wedding cakes — all three designers pitch in ideas and know-how to get cakes, pastries and Zombies ready for customers.

OK, here’s the story behind Zombies, which are yummy bread balls stuffed with meats and cheeses (eggs, too, at breakfast time). From 1994 to 2002, Morrison was baker for Wenatchee High School, where she created Zombies once a week or so. Students loved them, gobbled them right up every time she made them.

Now Zombies are back — risen from the dead — and former students (and new customers, too) are discovering that the cafeteria treat they loved way-back-when is available again (at $3 each). Every day, said Morrison, “we sell hundreds of them.”

Slice also has good coffee — “the drip kind,” said Morrison, “nothing frou-frou” — and hot teas, cider and cold beverages. Inside seating means you can eat your Zombie or giant chocolate-covered marshmallow right on the spot.

By the way, best to get your cake orders in early if you’ve got a wedding coming up. Slice designers and creations have already been featured in three cake magazines, so the designers’ fame — along with their pastry dough — is on the rise. Already about 40 percent of their customers are from the Puget Sound area, and a growing number are coming from Omak, Moses Lake, Ellensburg and other cities.

Our best advertising is word of mouth,” said Morrison.

Details: Slice Couture Cake Design, 530 Valley Mall Parkway, East Wenatchee. Phone: 884-1235. Web: slicecakery.com and Facebook (keywords: slice couture). Open: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.