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Business roundup | Taco Time cooking up second location

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The interior of Wenatchee’s new Taco Time will incorporate elements of the company’s prototype design, similar to this Taco Time in Issaquah.

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Taco Time cooking up second location

WENATCHEE — Does the Wenatchee Valley really need another Mexican restaurant?

Robby Tonkin, whose family-run Taco Time Northwest owns 44 Taco Time restaurants in Washington, answered last month with an enthusiastic: “Yes — if that restaurant brings something unique to the market.”

In April, Tonkin will open his company’s 45th Taco Time, in Wenatchee at 1512 N. Wenatchee Ave., the former location of Skippers Seafood ‘n’ Chowder, which closed a couple of years ago.

Tonkin is careful to point out that this is a second Taco Time for the Wenatchee Valley. His family also owns the one in East Wenatchee, and it’ll remain in business to serve its hundreds of loyal customers.

We’ve seen that the Wenatchee area is a strong and growing market,” said Tonkin. “And we had an opportunity to locate in this really great location — lots of visibility, lots of traffic. It all came together for us.”

The 3,339-square-foot restaurant will have capacity to seat 97 customers, including interior booths and tables and an outside, covered dining area. The remodel of the Skipper’s building will include elements of Taco Time’s new prototype restaurant, including lots of natural light, a vibrant color scheme and a fireplace with easy chairs.

Tonkin said that when it comes to Taco Time — which design-wise lies between a fast-food outlet and a family-style restaurant — here’s what’s unique: On-site hand-chopping of fresh ingredients (lettuce, tomatoes, onions), small-batch prep of key foods (beans, rice, salsas) and that family-style design augmented with a drive-through window. In addition, many ingredients are locally grown or produced, such as black beans from Central Bean in Quincy, potatoes from fields in Grant County and cheese from Seattle-based Darigold.

Of course, Tonkin also emphasized menu items served exclusively at Taco Time: Mexi-fries (seasoned tater tots), Crisp Chicken Burritos (chicken, green chilies, onions, cream cheese rolled in a tortilla and deep fried) and the company’s special-recipe hot sauce.

Tonkin is a fourth-generation Taco Time owner. His great-grandfather, Frank Tonkin Sr., opened the first Taco Time in 1962 in White Center. Last year, the Renton-based company served its 400 millionth customer.


Home sales peak in 2015

WENATCHEE — In dollars, 2015 was a record-breaking year for home sales in the Wenatchee market.

The dollar volume for sales shattered all records as rising home prices pushed the year’s total up 25 percent over 2014 to nearly $290.5 million — past the pre-recession peak of $254 million in 2007.

Strong sales, good prices — a great year for real estate,” said Jerry Paine, a broker with Windermere Real Estate in Wenatchee. “We’ve got our fingers crossed that the market stays this healthy in the coming year.”

The number of homes sold last year also jumped 25 percent to hit 1,042, just under the record of 1,100 homes sold in 2005, according to the most recent market totals released Jan. 14 by Pacific Appraisal Associates, a Wenatchee appraisal and consulting firm. Similar unit sales — 1,037 homes — occurred in 2006, but the median price then was $214,000 when total sales reached $237 million.

In 2015, a 10 percent jump in median home prices to $249,900 also brought sellers to a market that for months had seen a dearth of listings, said Paine. “The market finally reached a point where homeowners could make the move (to sell their homes) and not lose money,” he said. “This was a turning point that gave a boost to our scarce inventory.”

The average home price rose 8 percent over 2014 to $278,785.

Toss in interest rates still hovering at around 4 percent and an increase in new construction for single-family homes in the market, said Paine, “and you’ve got the makings of a healthy market.”

Across the board, the Wenatchee market in 2015 saw a year-over-year rise in building permits: single-family homes climbed to 249 from 238 the year before, duplexes to 22 from 14, apartment units to 81 from five and manufactured homes to 16 from 14.

Trouble is,” said Paine, “my crystal ball is fuzzy in predicting what the market will be in 2016.” Time will tell, he said, how high prices will rise, if interest rates increase and how many homes will be available to sell.

Also, the effect to the housing market of mothballing Alcoa’s Wenatchee Works and layoffs of over 400 workers remains unclear, said Paine.

Nobody wants to see community members lose their jobs and have to move, he said. “But more homes (for sale) are a good thing, if you look at it purely from a market standpoint. There are buyers out there ready to do just that — buy.”

Other tidbits from the real estate report:

The dollar volume of homes listed in 2015 rose 31 percent to $431.2 million, while the number of homes listed rose 27 percent to 1,432.

About two month’s supply of homes — 226 total — were on the market in December.

Sales remained strongest for homes priced at $350,000 and lower, although properties priced $700,000 and more were still selling at about two per month.

In December, rental vacancies for apartments fell to 2 percent from 3 percent in 2014 and for duplexes to 1 percent from 2 percent. Rental vacancies for condos actually rose to 4 percent in December, up from 2 percent last year.

The Wenatchee housing market includes Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, Malaga, Orondo and Rock Island.


Mathison joins board of Federal Reserve in Seattle

WENATCHEE — The top exec for Stemilt Growers has been appointed as a board member of the Seattle branch of the Federal Reserve.

West Mathison, president and CEO of the Wenatchee-based fruit company, will join board directors who help lead some of the Northwest’s top companies, including Boeing (aviation), Avista Corp. (power plants), Wizards of the Coast (publishing) and other financial and investment firms.

Mr. Mathison was appointed to provide insights on his respective business sector and offer observations on the economy,” said Steven Fisher of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Mathison is a fifth-generation fruit grower for Stemilt, one of the world’s largest non-citrus fruit operations. The company is the nation’s leading shipper of sweet cherries and a major supplier of organic fruit.

Mathison also serves on the boards of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, Washington Apple Commission and the Keep It in the Valley Foundation, a local group that provides scholarships for Wenatchee Valley College students.

As part of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco — with branches in Seattle, Los Angeles, Salt Lake and Portland, Oregon — provides wholesale banking services to financial institutions in nine western states.


Valley a semifinalist in best communities contest

WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee Valley is one step closer to grabbing the $3 million top prize in America’s Best Communities contest.

The valley was named Jan. 13 as one of 15 semifinalists in the nationwide contest to choose the community with the best plan towards future innovation and revitalization. In April, the 15 will be winnowed down to eight, each receiving $100,000 to put their revitalization plans into motion.

This a tremendous accomplishment for our community,” said Alan Walker, coordinator of the local project team and executive director of United Way for Chelan and Douglas Counties. “We have the right project. We have the right folks working on it. I have no doubt we’ll make it to that $3 million prize.”

Other Northwest communities making the cut as semifinalists were: Arlington-Darrington; Tualatin, Oregon; and Valley County, Idaho.

Execs for Frontier Communications, a primary sponsor of the ABC contest, announced semifinalist winners at a breakfast gathering Wednesday at Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee. Around 60 local civic and business leaders attended.

Steve Sandman, local manager for Frontier, and Mike Towne, regional vice president for the company, kept the gathering in suspense until a call from Frontier’s corporate headquarters gave the go-ahead to unveil a placard that, in the end, designated the Wenatchee Valley a semifinalist. The crowd broke into applause.

All through this process, I’ve been impressed by the commitment our local team has made to developing this project and seeing it through,” Sandman said before the announcement. “The contest was a catalyst to start the conversation. It’s our local folks who have the vision and energy to get it done.”

Walker said the next steps toward winning the big prize will be to hire a project coordinator to help fine-tune and polish the local team’s revitalization plan. The team will present the plan to a panel of economists and community planners at the ABC Summit on April 26-27 in Durham, North Carolina.

The contest is sponsored by Frontier Communications, DISH Network, The Weather Channel and CoBank, a nationwide agricultural credit bank.

More than 350 communities entered the nationwide contest in April, with 50 chosen — including the Wenatchee Valley — as quarter finalists in September. Those communities each received $50,000 to develop a community revitalization plan that, in the Wenatchee area, was labeled “Our Valley … What’s Next?”

A local five-member team spent two months gathering comments and ideas about what residents thought was “important for our future, which directions we should head,” said Walker.

Suggestions included boosting outdoor recreation, keeping the environment clean and securing the region’s small-town feel and narrowing our area’s cultural divide. At local brainstorming sessions, residents also suggested building new and better schools, pushing to reduce poverty and merging the municipal governments of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee.

After presentations to local civic and business groups, including two public meetings and a survey of 1,300 residents, the final revitalization plan was compiled and submitted to the ABC competition in November.

With $10 million in total prize money, the ABC contest runs for more than two years. Final winners will be announced in early 2017 with the first-place winner taking home $3 million in prize money, second place $2 million and third place $1 million.

Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz was elated. “To have started with 300-plus communities — it says something about where we live” to have advanced as a semifinalist, he said.


Quincy ranked in nation’s top data center sites

QUINCY — No surprise here: Quincy is a good place to build a data center.

A new report Monday lists the ag-and-tech town as one of the most attractive locations in the nation to build and operate a data center. The city already has eight, with a least two undergoing major expansions.

Conducted by global real estate firm CBRE, the report says Quincy’s cheap electricity — the study ranks it as the lowest-cost power market in the U.S.— along with low-cost land, low risk of natural disasters and a skilled workforce has made the area a top choice for data centers, including those already build by tech giants Microsoft, Dell, Intuit, Yahoo, Sabey, Vantage and others.

In Quincy, (some) electric power is supplied by two hydroelectric dams that produce renewable power at a highly competitive rate,” states the report. “Increasingly, data center clients are evaluating the power source along with the cost of power. Thus, the low cost of power and its renewable source make Quincy an attractive market for users…”

Grant County PUD says about 60 to 65 percent of the power it supplies actually comes from hydroelectric dams.

CBRE’s report said building and operating a typical 5-megawatt data center in the U.S. costs around $270 million over a 10-year period. But locating a data center in Quincy could result in savings of up to $141 million over the same time period.

Data center markets with the highest costs are Silicon Valley, San Antonio, Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis, said CBRE. The cost to build and operate a data center in those markets typically ranges from $276 million to just over $368 million.

Additionally, the report says that one-user data centers — such as those for Microsoft and Yahoo — are drawn to rural locations such as Quincy for their efficient, quick-process permitting and zoning and local and state tax incentives.

Tax incentives and cost of power can drive site selection as much as (fiber) networks and (low) geographic risks,” said Dan Peterson, a data center expert with real estate services firm Colliers International. “Look at Quincy, Washington, and Des Moines, Iowa. Both were put on the map this way.”

In estimating power costs as a share of total project costs, CBRE ranked Quincy at the top of the list with 6.5 percent, Chicago with 7.1 percent and Des Moines with 8.9 percent. Among the nation’s 30 top markets for data center construction, the average power costs as a share of project costs was 13.2 percent.


WVC holds career workshops for veterans

WENATCHEE — A series of workshops for veterans on careers and finances is underway at Wenatchee Valley College.

The free workshops are sponsored by the WVC Veteran Knights, a service club in support of WVC students who are veterans, and the Vet Corps Navigator, a resource for veterans on college campuses.

All the workshops will be held at 1 p.m. in Room 2105 of Wenatchi Hall on the WVC campus. Dates and topics are:

Feb. 16 — VA Home Loans, presented by Traci Dry of Guild Mortgage, Wenatchee.

Feb. 23 — Career Transition, presented by Wendy Dalpez of The Entrepreneur’s Source, a business coaching firm.

March 1 — Resume Writing, presented by Jarrod Wright and Eileen Boylston of WorkSource.

March 8 — Interviewing Techniques, presented by Jarrod Wright and Eileen Boylston of WorkSource.

March 15 — Post Traumatic Stress, presented by Sue Dickinson of Veterans Counseling.

Reserve a spot in any of the workshops by contacting Vet Corps Navigator Connie Hill by email at c.hill@washingtonvetcorps.net.


Aut-to Mocha to open soon near WVC

WENATCHEE — College and caffeine go together, right? So why didn’t someone think of this before?

Aut-to Mocha, the homegrown coffee company famous for its bevy of baristas (the Mocha Girls), will open a brand new coffee shop right across the street from Wenatchee Valley College.

This is a little bit different for us,” said Kristeena Spence, co-owner of Aut-to Mocha with Haylee Kalahar. “But we’re excited to become part of campus life.”

An exact opening date hasn’t been set yet, said Spence, but construction of the walk-in-only coffee shop is progressing nicely under the careful eye of building owner John Simon. It should be open sometime in early spring at 1355 Fifth St.

And yes, you read that right … walk-in only. This will be the sixth location for Aut-to Mocha and the first with no drive-thru window. You ultra-mobile Mocha fans take note, however. There’ll be loads of bike parking on outside racks, and a Link Transit bus stop isn’t far from the front door.

The building’s size doesn’t allow for a drive-thru,” said Spence, “but we think a lot of our customers will walk over directly from campus or from around the neighborhood. It’ll be a good spot for students to hang out. A good spot to meet friends. We’ll have indoor seating for about 15 to 20 customers.”

In addition to espresso creations and smoothies, the 1,000-square-foot java joint will also feature sandwiches and pastries fresh daily from Glaze. That’s the popular doughnut shop and bakery in East Wenatchee that serves some of the most hefty — and tasty — sandwiches in the Wenatchee Valley. Hopefully, the new Aut-to Mocha will carry the Southwest Chicken Mango (marinated chicken, Monterey jack cheese, red peppers, salsa, mango, lime mayo on foccacia). Just sayin’.

By the way, Spence and Kalahar celebrated their second anniversary as owners of Aut-to Mocha on Oct. 9. Both are former Mocha Girls who brewed up the idea of buying the company.


WSU extension specialist takes research into the field

WENATCHEE — Two months into her new job, Tianna DuPont still hadn’t quite moved into her office. Some bookshelves remained bare, and unpacked boxes stood stacked in a corner.

But don’t count on DuPont to settle in soon. She doesn’t really view her position as the region’s new Washington State University Extension Specialist as a desk job.

I see Extension’s mission as getting research-based information out to farmers and growers,” said DuPont. “So I need to be out in the field, talking with farmers, learning what’s happening and what’s needed in their operations. It’s got to be a two-way street with information going both ways.”

DuPont stepped into the Chelan-Douglas County Extension job in November, more than a year after the partial retirement of 40-year Extension agent Tim Smith. He remains on the job part-time to finish up research he’s conducted in orchards across North Central Washington.

To educate herself on NCW’s ag industry, DuPont launched a needs-assessment survey that would immediately bring her into personal contact with area growers, the challenges they face and how Extension might be able to help them.

I’m already seeing good projects we can come up with,” she said. “I’m already seeing some ways our new research can be put to use.”

Although far from finished with the survey, DuPont said some growers’ issues have come to the forefront. Labor availability and worker housing. Increasing regulations for food safety. Transition to organic from traditional orchard methods. Updating orchards with new varieties. Business succession to new generations of orchard owners.

And, as always, farmers have questions about new ways to battle pests and diseases, said DuPont. For instance, the Little Cherry Virus remains a tough-to-conquer condition. It infects cherries and inhibits growth of the fruit, and can attack scattered branches on the same tree while leaving others untouched. The virus has little effect on a tree’s leaves or trunk, so sometimes it’s tough to spot in the early season.

DuPont is originally from Issaquah, attended Whitman College in Walla Walla and earned a graduate degree at the University of California-Davis in integrative pest management (thesis: “Sustainable management of soils : insights from soil food web analyses of nematode assemblages”).

Since then, DuPont has served as a Peace Corps volunteer and worked as a soil biologist on farms in Oregon, New York and Pennsylvania. Before arriving in Wenatchee, she worked for seven years as a horticulture educator for Pennsylvania State Extension. In the last few years, she’s also co-authored nearly a dozen scientific papers on soil health and biodiversity in grasslands and cover crops.

Although based at the WSU Tree Fruit Research Center in Wenatchee, DuPont’s field work ranges across NCW and, she said, could extend to fruit- and crop-growing areas throughout eastern Washington.

DuPont’s current big project is to coordinate WSU Extension’s upcoming Fruit Days — five separate, day-long meetings on horticulture in the region. The meetings in Chelan, Wenatchee and Okanogan, offer growers “educational and networking opportunities during the winter months,” she said. “It’s a good way for growers and farmers to keep in touch and learn about new research.”

Also, said DuPont, WSU continues to expand its online outreach through websites, Facebook and, increasingly, social media.

So is it hard to follow in the footsteps of Tim Smith, who was the face of hort science and education in this region for over four decades?

In many ways, Tim’s made it easy for me to step in,” said DuPont. “He created a great relationship with the region’s growers, farmers and researchers. He showed how Extension could help farmers improve productivity and profitability.”

She added, “The relationships Tim formed over the years are helping me now. Everyone’s been incredibly warm and welcoming. For me, it’s a good start to this new job.”


Revenue hosting tax workshops

EAST WENATCHEE — New and existing small-business owners can learn about what taxes to pay and how to do it through a new series of state Department of Revenue workshops, including one in the Wenatchee Valley.

In-person workshops are scheduled for East Wenatchee, Kennewick, Spokane and a handful of cities on the west side of the Cascades. A video version of the workshop is available any time on Revenue’s website at http://ow.ly/WC0bW.

The East Wenatchee workshop will be held from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Douglas County Fire District 2 station, 377 Eastmont Ave. To register, call 425-984-6400 or visit http://ow.ly/WBZSJ.

Workshop participants will learn about state excise taxes, reporting classifications, deductions, tax incentives, sales tax collection and record-keeping requirements. Attendees also receive a workbook and reference guide to Revenue’s rules and regulations.

For a complete workshop schedule, go to dor.wa.gov/workshops. Direction other questions to Rick Stedman at (360) 705-6624 or email him at rickst@dor.wa.gov.