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Business Roundup: Airport study receives state funding

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One of three plays at a new amphitheater at Slidewaters this summer.

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Airport study receives state funding

A Chelan County study on extending city water service to the Chelan Municipal Airport has received a $22,500 grant from the state Community Economic Revitalizaton Board (CERB).

The funding is part of $412,500 in state grants for seven projects statewide.

CERB grants help expand business and create jobs, said a press release from the state Department of Commerce.

Funding for the Chelan airport study — which aims to boost development at the facility — is matched by $7,500 in local money.

Other projects approved for CERB grants include $150,000 to the Port of Othello for construction of an industrial site, $45,000 to the Quileute Tribal Council to develop a broadband plan and $50,000 to the city of Aberdeen for a tourism project.


Amante opens new plumbing service

Longtime local plumber Luis Amante recently opened a new plumbing service for North Central Washington.

SEAL Plumbing LLC officially in January to offer repairs and service calls as well as plumbing for new construction and remodeling projects in residential and commercial buildings.

Amante is a bilingual, licensed and bonded journeyman plumber who brings 10 years of plumbing experience to customers throughout NCW, said a company press release.


AVRA receives top national award

A local human resources group has recently been awarded one of its industry’s top honors for its “highly notable contributions to the HR profession.”

Based in Wenatchee, the Apple Valley Human Resource Association received the Pinnacle Award from the national Society for Human Resource Management. AVHRA was one of 12 human resource associations to win the award in 2014.

We are honored to receive this award from SHRM,” said AVHRA program director Jenny Fasching. “Our board members have dedicated an enormous amount of time and energy towards revitalizing the organization and giving back to its members. We are thrilled for the recognition.”

In 2006, the AVHRA nearly lost its chapter designation due to “board disengagement” and other factors, said Fasching. Since then, members have rallied to improve the chapter, revitalize the board and spotlight the chapter’s efforts in the community.

Winners of the Pinnacle Award also received a $1,000 prize from ADP, Inc., a global payroll service, in November at SHRM’s annual leadership summit in Washington, D.C. SHRM represents 575 affilitated chapters in 160 countries.


Slidewaters: Thrills, chills and chuckles

It’s curtains for Slidewaters. Stage curtains, that is.

The popular Chelan waterpark will join forces with a Vancouver-based theater company this summer to offer a trio of “broad comedy farces” in a new amphitheater next to the park.

Using mostly local actors and performers, the new Theater Under the Stars will rotate three plays most nights from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. Performances will be staged on weekends in May and June, then six evenings a week in July, August and early September. Tickets will cost $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Family discounts will be available.

We felt Lake Chelan has needed a family-friendly evening attraction for many years,” said Slidewaters owner Burke Bordner, who runs Slidewaters with his cousin Robert Bordner. “And since we found a theater company that matched our Slidewaters values and standards, we’re confident this evening entertainment experience will be the perfect complement to what we already offer.”

Slidewaters has contracted with Steve Taylor Productions to operate Theater Under the Stars and stage family-friendly content, said Burke Bordner. Taylor has produced family entertainment full time for 26 years. His original comedy productions have appeared in all 50 states, said a Slidewaters press release.

This summer’s plays will include farcical take-offs on popular cultural trends such as Twilight (vampire epic), Harry Potter (young wizards) and Phantom of the Opera (gothic romance). Titles for the local productions are “twi-light,” “Perry Hotter and the High School Musical” and “The Miserable Phantom of the Op’ry.”

Taylor said his goal for Theater Under the Stars is to offer fun and funny entertainment that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. “Many patrons say our shows have made them laugh “’til their cheeks hurt!” he said.

For more about the shows, visit slide waters.com or theaterunderthestars.org.


Local B&B reopens with addition of winery

One of the Wenatchee Valley’s most notable guest properties has reopened as an inn, wedding venue and winery.

New owners of Warm Springs Inn & Winery, 1611 Love Lane in north Wenatchee, announced last month that after a 2013 remodel and “a year of learning the ropes” that they’ve opened their doors for business.

Ludger and Julie Szmania, former Seattle restaurateurs, said they’re in “active retirement” in running the six-room bed and breakfast, cooking up gourmet meals and hosting weddings.

Ludger served as executive chef for Seattle’s Four Seasons Olympic Hotel and other luxury properties in Vancouver, B.C., Montreal, Houston and Puerto Rico.

For 24 years, he and Julie ran two Seattle-area restaurants — including the highly-praised Szmania’s — and produced a line of salad dressings before buying the Warm Springs Inn in 2013.

The couple had previously bought a farmhouse and acreage near Cashmere, where they’ve grown wine grapes. Their 29 Red Rows field blend is now available with tastings by appointment.

For more information, call the inn at 662-5683 or visit the website at warmspringsinn.com.

East Wenatchee

Couple cleaning up in the pet poop business

The lives of Lana and Tom Graff have gone to doo-doo. But that’s a good thing.

As owners of Doody B Gone, the bustling pet waste removal company, the Graffs spend five to six hours a day, five days a week or more, scooping the poopings of dogs and cats from yards throughout the Wenatchee Valley.

The couple say they offer “a helping service” for working folks too busy to clean up after their pets, for the elderly and those recovering from injuries and for squeamish pet owners who turn up their noses at their backyard manure supply.

For us, it’s the perfect job,” said Lana. “We’re active all day, working outside in the fresh air, owning our own company, being our own bosses. What’s not to like?”

Um, maybe the pet poop? “No, it doesn’t bother us at all,” shrugged Lana. “A lot of people wouldn’t want to deal with the stuff, but we’ve got it down to a science — buckets, special rakes, easy-to-use shovels, disinfectants. The job goes pretty easy most of the time.”

Of course, there is that one huge backyard with four large German Shepherds who are really big eaters. “We call those ‘good customers,’” laughed Lana. “Sure it’s more challenging than a little yard with one terrier or chihuahua, but now those big dogs are just part of our schedule.”

And then there are the jokes and puns. Lana rolls her eyes. “We’ve heard them all, over and over again in many different combinations,” she said. “I’ll be a happy woman if no one ever again calls me ‘the Poop Lady.’”

Retired from the daycare business, the Graffs launched Doody B Gone three years ago after they were asked by a relative if they’d mind cleaning up after her dogs while she was away on a trip.

We did some research, started to talk to friends and ask around town, and found out other folks also had a need for this service,” said Lana. “It’s a new concept for the valley, but the more we’re on the job, the more it’s starting to catch on.”

Said Lana, “What we’ve found is that customers get used to a clean yard, and they can get quite spoiled — that’s when they want us back every week.”

Doody B Gone now has around 50 regular customers who’ve scheduled clean-ups for once to three times a week. A growing segment of the business is one-time clean-ups, when the Graffs sweep through a “littered” property before, say, a lawn maintenance crew arrives or a real estate agent puts a house on the market.

Our busiest season is spring,” said Lana. “When the snow goes away, it reveals what pets deposited during the winter. That’s when homeowners give us a call.”

Favorite types of yards? “Shady yards, flat yards, trimmed yards,” smiled Lana. “But it really doesn’t matter. We clean ’em all.”

The Graffs figure their pet-waste business could double in size before they’d have to hire additional scoopers. Every week, their brightly-painted Doody B Gone company pickup truck — “by far our best marketing tool,” said Lana — draws lots of attention, serious queries and a few new customers. “We’re committed to working hard to make this a success,” said Lana, reaching into the truck for her rake and bucket.

She gave a big grin. “After all, I’ve found my calling.”


National media slurping up news of Sparkling Ice

Talking Rain CEO Kevin Klock, the Wenatchee whiz-kid who’s attempting to reinvent the beverage industry, is getting some heavy notice by national business media.

Bloomberg, the cable business channel, has twice interviewed Klock — in print and on TV — and each time bubbled with enthusiasm on how his company’s rising sales are a slap in the face to Coke and Pepsi.

Likewise, Forbes magazine, CNBC’s “Mad Money with Jim Cramer,” U.S. Business Executive magazine and the International Business Times have all spotlighted Klock and his success.

Preston-based Talking Rain originally sold bottled water and did a good job of it. But since 2010, when Klock became CEO, the company’s sales have grown 500, 600, no, make that 700 percent.

How’d he do that? Klock noticed that one of Talking Rain’s underperforming products — Sparkling Ice — actually tasted darned good. Sparkling Ice is a fizzy, flavored, low-cal bottled water that’s a favorite of millennials (who turn up their noses at traditional colas and lemon-lime sodas).

So Klock began marketing the fizzy drink, and the rest is history. As sales grew in 2014 to more than half a billion bucks, the company expanded to include seven national production facilities, nine distribution hubs and 280 employees.

A new product line, Sparkling Ice Lemonade, surpassed Minute Maid Lemonade sales in just six months. Last year, the company signed NBA star Kevin Durant as Sparkling Ice spokesman.

Of course, it’ll be awhile before Sparkling Ice climbs to the top of the beverage heap. After all, regular sodas have a product share of more than 68 percent, diet sodas claim 26 percent and sparkling water has only 5 percent.

But several national beverage companies are taking notice and have introduced their own Sparkling Ice knock-offs — which is high tribute in the competitive beverage industry.

To catch up with Klock, see his latest interview with Bloomberg at http://ow.ly/IXBHP.


Red Lion could roar again with $2 upgrade

Stay overnight at Wenatchee’s Red Lion Hotel and you’ll find guest rooms with hulking tube TVs from the 1990s. New owner Gurbir Sandhu said it’s time for an upgrade.

First order of business is to replace those dinosaurs,” grinned the energetic, 27-year-old Sandhu, now owner and interim general manager of one of the city’s biggest and best-loved hotels. “We’ve got 55-inch flat screens on the way.”

Sandhu recently took the hotel’s reins after his family-backed Edge Hospitality Corp. bought the 149-room, 54-employee facility for $4.1 million. The company is now prepared to invest $1 million in immediate improvements for room decor and exterior upgrades, he said. An additional $1 million could be invested in the hotel’s public areas — lobby, restaurant, lounge, swimming area — further down the road.

Standards on comfort and service keep rising,” said Sandhu. “It’s just good business to make these improvements, particularly when the hospitality industry is so competitive.”

Last month, Spokane-based Red Lion Hotels Corporation (RLHC) announced it had sold the 40-year-old hotel to Edge Hospitality after more than a year on the market. The Wenatchee Red Lion was the last of six hotels to be sold as the 50-property company cuts away underperforming hotels in small cities to focus on more profitable properties in metro areas.

Located at 1225 N. Wenatchee Ave., the local hotel is the second Red Lion bought by Sandhu’s family in the last eight months. In May, Sandhu oversaw the purchase of the Red Lion Columbia Center in Kennewick, where he’s also serving as general manager until a more permanent top exec is hired.

Sandhu’s hands-on involvement in the two properties was a major condition of both sales by former owner RLHC, he said. “They wanted to make sure I was in the hotels and helping make day-to-day decisions, that I was gaining the experience to make these hotels real successes.”

The Wenatchee Red Lion originally opened in 1974 as a Thunderbird motel, one of 22 Thunderbird properties around the Pacific Northwest at the time. The original estimated cost of the Wenatchee hotel, which was built on 3 1/2 acres, was between $2.5 million and $3 million.

The Thunderbird chain was sold to Red Lion in 1984 and then sold again to Doubletree in 1996. All but 19 of the acquired Red Lions were rebranded as Doubletree hotels, with Wenatchee’s property remaining a Red Lion. WestCoast Hospitality bought the Red Lion hotels in 2001 and rebranded itself as Red Lion Hotels Company (RLHC) in 2006.

Sandhu, part of a third-generation immigrant family that settled decades ago in California, moved with his family to Tri-Cities about 12 years ago. About the same time, his family bought their first hotel in Idaho and then a second hotel near Salem, Ore. “I’ve been around hotels and management since I was a teenager,” he said.

He attended the University of Washington as a pre-med and pre-dental student, but found he was better suited to business. He finished up his college career with an MBA from Western Washington University in Bellingham.

For me, part of Wenatchee’s attraction is that it reminds me a little bit of Bellingham,” said Sandhu. The thriving downtown, the interest in outdoor recreation, the big-city amenities in a small-city environment and … “It has a Gold’s Gym,” he said. “We have one in Kennewick, too, and I’ve found that’s where I do some of my best thinking.”

Immediate improvements at the hotel will include major upgrades to guests rooms, including the new flat-screen TVs, bedding, curtains, furniture and air-conditioning units. The cafe and bar will also be spruced-up, with continuation of the breakfast buffet for guests and expanded service — open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner — in the months to come. The ballrooms are in pretty good shape, he said. “But more efficient, more versatile lighting will be installed.”

On the outside, passers-by will see new paint and replacement of the Red Lion sign on Wenatchee Avenue. Not so noticeable — “but high priority,” he said — are repairs to the roof and guest room balconies.

Sandhu said he’s hoping this first stage of improvements will be finished by early summer, the hotel’s busiest time of year.

The hotel will also begin to upgrade guest services, said the new owner, “to improve our connection with the people who stay here.” Top priority: the hotel will step away from Red Lion’s central reservation service to begin taking guest reservation on-site in Wenatchee. Hotel employees can then give first-hand info to guests about room amenities, room availability, weather and tips on what’s happening around town.

For me, the bottom line as general manager is to make sure our team is functioning at its highest level,” said Sandhu. “We’ll be providing the right training and tools to do that, but we’ll also be encouraging staff to deliver a smiling welcome and friendly attitude.”

He added, “It’s all part of being the best hotel we can be for Wenatchee. That’s what I’m striving for.”


Holaday spirit sparks muffler shop’s move to Columbia Street

Chad Holaday, owner with wife Amanda of Holaday’s Custom Muffler & Fabrication, has installed so many exhaust systems in the last seven years that he can fit, bend and weld a new Honda Accord muffler pipe with hardly a second thought.

Welding mask in place, he talked excitedly (and a bit muffled) last month about his business’ new location at 400 S. Columbia St., Wenatchee. The new pipe snugged perfectly into place, and the welding sparks flew.

We’ve been aiming for years to own our own building and have our operation set up just the way we’ve always dreamed,” he said above the welding machine’s crackle. “We’ve worked hard to get to this point, and we’re happy with how it turned out.”

The new 2,550-square-foot shop is about one-third larger than the old space and sports four work bays — three more than before — along with high-tech lighting and a long list of new equipment and tools.

The business’ new office, designed by Amanda Holaday, sports earth tones and rustic tile floors “to help our customers feel more comfortable,” said Chad. “That’s not something that was top of my priority list,” he laughed. “But Amanda knew it’d be a good thing to do, and she was right. She’s always right about this kind of thing.”

For Chad, relocating his business to the new building was a sort of homecoming. He got his start there a decade ago fixing mufflers for Jerry and June Wentz, owners of The Muffler Shop, which then filled the building. “They taught me just about everything I know,” he said. “Jerry’s like a second father to me.”

Ahead of their five-year business plan, the Holadays bought The Muffler Shop’s building in 2012 but told the Wentzes they could stay as long as they liked. Last October, the Wentzes decided it was time make a move and relocated their business to 221 Park St. in South Wenatchee.

Now, Chad offers installation of custom exhaust systems for just about any kind of vehicle and machine — cars, pickups, RVs, tractors, orchard sprayers, fire trucks, construction equipment, you name it. He’s also a metal fabricator of “just about anything you can sketch out,” he said. Sample items include handrails, braces and truck racks.

The business also specializes in installation of after-market vehicle accessories, such as running boards, nerf bars and tonno covers.

The new space gives us more room for better productivity,” said Chad. “It’s better for the customer and, for us, a dream come true.”

Details: Holaday’s Custom Muffler & Fabrication, 400 S. Columbia St., Wenatchee. Phone: 888-0128.


Local diving business helps save Caribbean reefs

What’s the connection between our semi-arid shrub-steppe terrain and the warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean?

Believe it or not, it’s coral. More specifically, coral restoration.

Van Ford, owner of the Orca Scuba Center in Wenatchee, has become one of the first business sponsors of a major coral restoration effort in Bonaire, an island in the southern Caribbean near the coast of Venezuela.

Orca Scuba donated $500 in January to seed and plant a “coral tree” on one of the island’s reefs, a favorite diving spot for scuba fans from around the world. Wenatchee Area Divers, a group of local enthusiasts, also contributed funds for a second coral tree.

We take so much from the ocean,” said Ford. “I can’t help feel that now it’s time to give something back.”

The donation covers construction of fiberglass “trees” that resemble old-style TV antennas and attachment to its arms of coral polyps, which will grow into active coral formations. After 18 to 24 months of cultivation, the new coral will be transplanted to shallow-water populations of elkhorn and staghorn coral reefs off the Bonaire coast.

Since the 1980s, said Ford, Bonaire’s reefs have been damaged by disease, overfishing and deteriorating water quality that have left the formations scarred and “bleached” — their colorings dimmed as the coral became unhealthy.

Established in 2012, the nonprofit Coral Restoration Foundation of Bonaire is now cultivating more than 6,000 coral fragments for possible transplanting. More than 1,000 coral segments have be established on the reefs in the last three years.

In January, Ford led a group of Wenatchee Valley divers to Bonaire to view CRF’s coral tree operation and, at the same time, celebrate Orca Scuba’s 15th straight year of diving in Bonaire waters. In 2016, local divers will travel there to witness the transplanting ceremony on a damaged reef.

Orca Scuba has been in business since 1985 and owned by Ford since 1998. Since then, he and staff have taught hundreds of local residents how to dive in both classroom and underwater environments, including the Columbia River, Lake Chelan and Puget Sound.

Every year, Ford offers students and experienced divers the opportunity to travel to a world-class diving spot. Bonaire is on the list annually, but every two years Ford adds a second trip to another diving paradise — Microsnesia, Indonesia or some other exotic locale.

The reefs are amazing, loaded with life,” said Ford. Restoration is “a great project that we’re proud to be part of,” said Ford.


Local RadioShack to close as part of national bankruptcy

RadioShack employee Danny Tafolla got his job here just 10 months ago. Now he’s on the hunt for another.

I’m thinking Home Depot, because they’re hiring right now,” said Tafolla. “But my co-workers have all kinds of plans — Abby’s Pizza, mall jobs, or maybe just take a break, take it easy, and hang out for a little while.”

The 23-year-old sales clerk is one of five employees that will lose their jobs at the Wenatchee RadioShack, set to close by March 31 as part of its parent company’s restructuring after declaring bankruptcy last month.

Plans call for closure of 1,784 underperforming RadioShack stores nationwide — including the Wenatchee store at 212 Fifth St. in Mission Village — and the sale of up to 2,400 stores to an investment firm that’s also the company’s largest shareholder.

The actions affect only company-owned stores; the chain’s 1,000 dealer franchise stores are not part of the bankruptcy.

Across the state, RadioShack will shutter 25 stores, including one in Kennewick, three in Spokane and 20 more scattered through Puget Sound and along the Interstate 5 corridor. An additional 16 stores in Oregon will also be closed.

The RadioShack at Wenatchee Valley Mall in East Wenatchee was not on the closure list.

The decades-old Wenatchee store originally opened at the Valley North Mall, now Valley North Center, and moved to Mission Village in 2001. The 2,635-square-foot store is packed with RadioShack’s standard product lines of the latest digital gadgets, cell phones and do-it-yourself electronic parts and components.

Under its bankruptcy protection plan, parent company RadioShack Corp., based in Fort Worth, Texas, will sell from 1,700 to 2,400 of its current 4,100 stores to investor Standard General. In turn, Standard General has struck a deal with the wireless company Sprint to sell phones, plans and accessories in as many as 1,750 of the purchased stores.

It’s expected that Sprint, the nation’s third-largest wireless company, will occupy about one-third of each store’s floor space in an effort to quickly increase its visibility across the country.

RadioShack has 21,000 employees, $1.2 billion in assets and $1.39 billion in debts. It opened 95 years ago as a mail-order radio company and grew into a huge electronics retailer that developed and sold some of the first home computers.