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Business Roundup | Port mulls industrial district at Rock Island silicon plant

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Rock Island’s old silicon plant, as shown in 2002.

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Port mulls industrial district at Rock Island silicon plant

ROCK ISLAND — A new industrial district could soon encompass the vacant hulk of a former silicon plant here if the Port of Douglas County moves forward with plans for the riverfront site just south of the city.

The proposed 130-acre Industrial Development District (IDD) was introduced to Rock Island residents in a Port commissioner meeting May 16 with more in-depth discussions on the way. 

The area “has many assets that make it desirable for economic development,” said Port Executive Director Lisa Parks. She noted the site’s ready access to Highway 28, BNSF Railway tracks and the Columbia River waterfront. Rock Island’s new $3.2 million wastewater system and a nearby electrical substation, she added, are must-have features for development that are already in place.

As proposed, the long but roughly-rectangular IDD would extend from Highway 28 south to the Columbia River and between two Highway 28 businesses, Standard Pallet to the west and Sutton Salvage to the east. BNSF railroad tracks curve through the center; the old silicon plant dominates the property’s eastern one-third.

Parcels of the property belong to six different owners, including Chelan County PUD, Douglas County PUD, BNSF and three private citizens. For years, the property has been zoned as industrial and commercial, but with little progress toward development the site has been deemed as “marginal lands,” meaning redevelopment likely needs help from the public sector.

The Port is pushing for the IDD, said Parks, because the agency has designated such districts “as a tool to be used to help accomplish development goals — generally (in the county) and specifically in the Rock Island area.”

Parks compared the proposed Rock Island district to the 317-acre North End property, a mostly vacant riverfront area at the east end of the Odabashian Bridge. A master plan for the North End, unveiled last summer, identified needed improvements (roads, electrical, water and sewer) for development and ranked feasibility of possible projects — industrial, residential, educational and tourism-related.

One challenge to develop the proposed Rock Island IDD, said Parks, is the former silicon plant and its designation as a state Department of Ecology “hazardous site.”

The 65-acre site, closed in 2003 and now owned by Vancouver-based Columbia Ventures Corporation, has elevated levels of mercury and lead, according to soil samplings taken by the state. On the state’s Hazardous Sites List, the property is ranked a “5,” which is the lowest risk (on a scale of 1 to 5) based on the amount of contaminants, their toxicity and the probability of contact with people and the environment.

No solutions for redevelopment of the plant site have yet been formally proposed, Parks acknowledged. “The specifics of what would — or could — happen to the old plant would have to further addressed with the property owner and the community,” she said.

The Port is working now, said Parks, toward a grant from Ecology “to help determine if contamination truly exists and, if so, what it is and the extent of it.” The grant would also help pay for a market feasibility study and a process for community involvement in redevelopment plans for the site. Designation of the IDD is not dependent on the grant, she added.

The Port is interested in this project as an economic opportunity not only for Rock Island, but for the larger community,” said Parks. “We’ll be collaborating with the city, county and property owners on this and look forward to the partnerships that will result for economic opportunities.”


Record price? Median home cost hits $279,900

WENATCHEE — Median home prices for May in the Wenatchee market jumped 9 percent to hit $279,900, the highest price for the month in a decade and possibly the highest on record.

Fueled by dramatically shrinking inventory, Wenatchee median home prices soared even higher — to $281,000 — for the three-month average of March through May. Listings for May fell 40 percent from May 2016 and dropped 77 percent from May 2010.

The shortage of new listings has the effect of driving the median and average sales prices higher and higher,” said Adam Williams, broker for Windermere Real Estate NCW and spokesman for the North Central Washington Association of Realtors. “We’re seeing more instances of multiple offers on well-priced properties in every price range. In some cases, the price is driven up 10 percent or more above the original list price.”

Pacific Appraisal Associates released sales numbers June 9 for the Wenatchee market, which includes Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, Malaga, Orondo and Rock Island.

Surprisingly, the number of closed sales ticked upwards 4 percent for the month — to 94 from 92 in May 2016 — even as the year-to-date total for closed sales fell more than 8 percent to 338 from 369 one year ago.

Home prices in the Wenatchee area have been climbing steadily since 2011, when the harshest effects of the national recession took their toll on the local housing market. Median prices for May dropped to $199,000 in 2011, hit $222,000 in 2014 and $257,850 in 2016.

May’s median price of $279,900 was the highest since at least 2005 and maybe the highest ever, said Darlene Leenders, business manager for Pacific Appraisal. The company began to track median prices in 2005 after posting average prices in prior years. Leenders said the median price is less prone to swings made by sales of extremely low-priced or high-priced homes.

Listings for May plummeted to 130 houses, reported Pacific Appraisal. The number of houses on the market in May peaked at 570 in 2010 and since then has been falling steadily — 404 in 2012, 244 in 2014 and 217 in 2016.

The number of new listings from year to year is down substantially,” noted Williams, “and is likely due to current homeowners who want to downsize or up-size but are having a hard time finding a suitable replacement property because of the lack of listings. They decide to stay in their current home and not sell after all. We’ve also seen a jump in the number of buyers relocating to this area for retirement or second home purchases.”

Other highlights from the May real estate report:

Average number of days on the market for listings was 87.

Building permits for single family homes were up 15 percent — to 99 from 86 last year — but permits for apartments and duplex-triplex units had fallen to zero for the year so far.

Sales continued strong for homes prices at $400,000 and less. In that category, sales totaled 61 homes with around 18 homes sold in the $250,000 to $300,000 range. Above $400,000, about 10 homes sold for the month.

Based on recent listings, the Wenatchee market in May had a 1.9-month supply of $200,000 houses, a 4.4-month supply of $350,000 houses and a 48-month supply of $650,000 houses. 


You ready for some Wok ‘n’ Roll?

WENATCHEE — When lunchtime arrives, you’re long on hungry, short on time and eager to find something fast and flavorful.

Sounds like you’re ready for some Wok ‘n’ Roll.

Wok ‘n’ Roll Asian Express opened June 1 to a dining crowd eager for a change from Mexican fare, burgers and sub sandwiches. Set up like Panda Express — but using local, fresher ingredients — Wok ‘n’ Roll is located at 212 Fifth St., the former location of Papa Murphy’s in Mission Village.

Our food is fast, affordable and flavorful,” smiled owner Xiu Chen, who goes by Calvin. “And our restaurant is light and clean. We don’t want people thinking that we’re another greasy spoon, Asian style.”

To emphasize its healthy aspects, Wok ‘n’ Roll has what Calvin thinks is the first “open kitchen” of any Asian restaurant in the valley. “You see us slicing, chopping, mixing, cooking,” he said. “No mystery here about what you’re ordering.”

Calvin estimates that 95 percent of Wok ‘n’ Roll’s ingredients are fresh, with just a few specialty items arriving canned or frozen. “You’ll taste the fresh in our vegetables,” he said. “We cook them so they’re still crisp, and that holds in the flavor.”

Wok ‘n’ Roll offers eight to 10 entrees daily, with about half of those traditional favorites (broccoli beef, orange chicken, sesame chicken) and the rest special recipes (pepper angus steak, honey walnut shrimp) rotating about every two weeks. Seasonal vegetables — currently, it’s asparagus — are often found in several dishes. Side dishes include fried rice, chow mein, egg rolls, pot stickers, cheese-stuffed wontons, and other specialties.

Prices range from $6.50 (one entree, one side) to $10.50 (three entrees, one side).

And don’t forget the sushi. Wok ‘n’ Roll has kicked off its sushi offerings with eight specialty rolls, including California (which usually sports avocado) and those featuring spicy tuna, salmon and yellowtail. More variety of sushi dishes will be introduced later, said Calvin.

Calvin, 37, moved with his parents from China to the U.S. in 1995. They helped run restaurants in New York City before moving to Florida to open their own restaurant. About 11 years ago, the family moved to Wenatchee, where they ran China Buffet for a few years before selling the business in 2009.

I grew up in the Asian restaurant business,” said Calvin. “I learned through experience what owners did right and what owners did wrong. I learned from the mistakes of many to make sure my own restaurant is done right.”

Details: Wok ‘n’ Roll Asian Express, 212 Fifth St., Suite No. 1, Wenatchee.Open: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Phone: 470-9688. Web: Facebook (keywords: wok n roll asian express). 


Roy’s Lawn Care on the cutting edge

Roy Mejia, owner of Roy’s Lawn Care & Snow Plowing in Wenatchee, is a grass-mowing mogul who was the featured celebrity on May’s cover of Walker Talk, a glossy trade journal produced by Walker Mowers for lawn maintenance professionals.

The three-page spread — entitled “Mowing is Part of What I Am” — detailed the 28-year-old Mejia’s thriving business. In business for 10 years, he has six employees, 80 lawn-care accounts and (of course) five Walker riding mowers, the biggest with a 52-inch deck.

During Wenatchee’s eight-month mowing season, Mejia’s crews provide each customer about 33 cuts (per lawn) along with a host of other services — aerating, de-thatching, fertilizing, pruning and overall clean-ups. In winter, snow plowing replaces mowing.

The article points out that Mejia’s crews strive for professionalism — strong work ethic, punctuality, communication skills and, said one customer, “not to mention the fact that he does a great job.”


workout strategy that Worx

WENATCHEE — Gold’s Gym has a new prescription for fitness: Worx.

The Wenatchee Valley’s 20-year-old Gold’s Gym franchise changed its name June 20 to Worx — a mashup of “workout prescription” — and aimed its programs at helping customers commit long-term to the exercise habit.

The shift in name and philosophy came as the fitness industry begins to reassess its strategies towards “encouraging people to sustain a lifelong exercise program,” said Blair McHaney, owner of Gold’s gyms in Wenatchee and East Wenatchee and a consultant for fitness companies across North America.

Many gym operators are still hard-focused on getting short-term results,” said McHaney. “But for the last few years, our company and other innovative operators have been moving away from those short-term goals to inspire members to exercise frequently and effectively.”

He emphasized, “Not just losing a few pounds to get in that wedding dress. Not just increasing fitness for an upcoming fun run. But actually make working out an integral part of a person’s life.”

The local health club’s franchise agreement with Gold’s Gym’s nationwide company officially ended June 1, and the local gyms had three weeks to make the change-over. Worx signs, banners and employee uniforms made started popping up in early June. 

The change came soon after the 75-employee company — with more than $1 million in annual payroll — surpassed 5,000 members. Last year, the local franchise marked its highest number of new members in the company’s history.

McHaney said he’s loved the Gold’s Gym brand for two decades, but his company’s shift in workout strategies over the last few years has proven that “we don’t feel our current course (for the business) matches where Gold’s Gym is going.”

In a Facebook post explaining the change, McHaney also noted that “the money we spend on franchise fees and national advertising could be better spent right here in our valley.”

The decision to drop the Gold’s Gym name wasn’t an easy one, McHaney added. For years he served on the board of franchisee association — serving three years as president — and his local gyms were some of the nationwide company’s top award winners.

It was a tough decision,” he said. “It was always one of my dreams to become a Gold’s Gym. The first time we applied, we didn’t qualify. I was crushed, but also energized to make it happen.”

McHaney got his start with health clubs in 1983 when he opened The Training Station in Wenatchee. More than a dozen years later, he obtained a Gold’s Gym franchise and built a modern, expanded facility on Worthen Street, across from where Pybus Public Market is today. In 2008, he opened a second Gold’s in an extensively-renovated school gymnasium in East Wenatchee.

As a consultant for more than 500 health clubs in North America, McHaney said he sees the “bright spots — what makes an operation shine above the rest” and over the last few years has been integrating some of those strategies into his local gyms.

One major addition was the launch of the Gold’s Gym Challenge, a 12-week body transformation contest for members, that was adopted by many Gold’s Gym franchises across the U.S. After 18 years of presenting the Challenge, McHaney replaced the contest three years ago with the Community Trim Down, a program aimed at lifelong fitness and open to any resident, not just members.

The Trim Down better represents the direction we’re headed,” he said.

Over the last five years, said McHaney, his health clubs have been “weaving new strategies for lifelong exercise into what we offer members. We’ve been experimenting. Some of the strategies we keep, some we toss.”

He added, “Make enough small, positive changes over a couple of years, and pretty soon you have a different kind of business. That’s where we are today.”


Chamber sports a new sports guy

Pat Norlin, new coordinator for sports tourism and outdoor recreation for the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce, summed up his position most succinctly: “I have big shoes to fill.”

Norlin took over in June from retiring Matt Kearny, who in May ended his 40-year career in sports news and marketing. The last five years of that four-decade career was as the Chamber’s sports tourism coordinator.

The job consists of acting as a conduit between planners who stage big and small sporting events — from softball tourneys to the Special Olympics Winter Games — and local sports venues, hotels, banquet halls, promoters and all the other outfits that help make these events a success.

It’s a big job. Earlier this year, Kearny estimated that sports tourism’s economic impact on the Wenatchee Valley economy in 2016 was around $8.3 million.

Norlin, 31, grew up in Wenatchee playing sports on many of the same fields and in the same stadiums that area youth are using today. He’s been a volunteer coach for youth soccer and hockey teams and for a year was even an assistant coach for the Helena (Montana) Bighorns junior hockey club. He spent several years scouting for the Wenatchee Wild and four seasons calling the team’s games on local radio and Internet as a color analyst.

And his favorite pro teams? The Seattle Mariners and Detroit Red Wings.

You’ll find Norlin at the sports tourism desk in the Chamber’s new digs at 137 N. Wenatchee Ave. Phone: 662-2116.


Chelan to host Success Summit in November

CHELAN — An annual summit to showcase North Central Washington’s people and communities will be held this year in Chelan.

Sponsored the Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS), the 8th Annual NCW Community Success Summit will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Chelan Community Gym. More than 160 NCW residents are expected to attend.

For the event, IRIS is gathering success stories that show how NCW communities build “the kind of communities we want to live in — those that maintain diverse, health ecosystems, foster a high quality of life and bridge cultural and political divides,” said an IRIS press release.

The public is invited to submit success stories from the Lake Chelan area and from across Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan and Grant counties. Visit irisncw.org to download the Success Story Exchange template or fill out online.

To build on last year’s summit in Quincy, IRIS is working again with local school and community teams to prepare and run the event. Responsibilities include some promotion, food preparation, sponsored displays and providing live music.

For more information on sponsoring or attending the summit, call 888-7374 or email irisncw@gmail.com. An agenda and registration info will posted on the IRIS website later this summer. 


Restaurant supplier Cash&Carry readies to serve NCW

WENATCHEE — Shopping for a 50-pound sack of potatoes? A 60-ounce can of soup? How about a 40-pound pack of chicken thighs?

You’re in luck. Cash&Carry Smart Foodservice, a restaurant supplier that also welcomes the general public, will likely be open by mid-August in South Wenatchee.

The Portland-based, 63-store chain will begin in the next two weeks to renovate 22,270 square feet of the former Staples building at 200 Ferry St. The space has been vacant since February.

We look at a map of our locations — from Washington to California to Utah — and we have a gap in the Wenatchee area,” said Ryan Weedon, Cash&Carry’s marketing manager. “It’s time to fill that gap.”

Weedon noted that Cash&Carry is not part of Spokane-based URM Stores, Inc., a similar wholesaler whose stores also use the “cash and carry” and “foodservice” phrases in its marketing. URM has a Wenatchee store in Olds Station.

The increasing number of restaurants in North Central Washington is also a draw for the company, said Weedon. “I don’t have specifics, but we count a lot of restaurants in the area.”

In that regard, the old Staples location is the perfect place to serve both Wenatchee and East Wenatchee, he said. At the west end of the George Sellar Bridge, the store is “a hub at the center of several busy streets and highways — a lot of traffic flows through there.”

With a core business of the food service industry — restaurants, caterers, dining rooms at churches, cafeterias at office buildings — Cash&Carry typically offers items in bulk. Multi-packs of fresh meats, sacks of produce, boxes of frozen foods, flats of canned goods, plus dairy, deli, beverages and more. The store will also carry cleaning supplies, kitchen hardware and utensils and packaging. And despite its name, noted Weedon, the company accepts debit and credit cards, not just cash.

But that doesn’t mean the average household shopper isn’t welcome at Cash&Carry, said Weedon. “We encourage everyone. We service the whole community.”

Cash&Carry’s warehouse design means each store typically has fewer employees than a regular grocery store, said Weedon. He said the Wenatchee store would likely hire eight to 10 full-time employees. While the new store manager will likely be brought in from another location, most of the store’s work force will be hired locally.

Renovation crews will begin soon to customize the store to Cash&Carry’s specifications, said Weedon. “We’ve learned to adapt our floor plans and processes to different buildings in each location,” he said. “It’s been a successful strategy for us.”


Social Media School atwitter over the first year in business

LEAVENWORTH — Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat … yeesh. The world of social media can be a crowded and confounding place, especially for businesses.

But rest easy. There’s a school for that.

Leavenworth-based Social Media School NCW celebrated its first anniversary in early June with a recap for clients of the year’s most popular work sessions — from using hashtags to maximizing Yelp reviews to marketing with images and videos — and a kickoff of second-year topics that include Facebook Live for business and marketing with Pinterest.

I teach why social media is important and best practices for getting maximum effect,” said April Welch, founder of both the school and its sister company Flirting with Social, a social media training and consulting firm. “But mostly I provide a resource for clients who face a medium that’s constantly changing and evolving. The questions never stop about how it all works.”

Launched May 24, 2016, Social Media School uses a membership business model that offers clients live monthly workshops, “anytime” online tutorials and an exclusive Facebook group for exchanging ideas and solving problems.

The school is Welch’s third business. In 1999, she wrote and manufactured greeting cards that she sold through West Coast retailers. A few years later, she started Simply Organized, a clear-your-clutter consulting business. And in 2008 she began her social media consulting firm Flirting with Social, which spawned Social Media School.

So far, the school has attracted about 30 members from a wide range of local and out-of-area businesses, including retailers, government agencies, nonprofits and solo entrepreneurs.

Marissa Collins, marketing director for the Numerica Performing Arts Center in Wenatchee, said she’s attended numerous workshops on using social media, but Welch’s are the best.

There’s tremendous pressure to get social media right,” said Collins. “To use the right platform, to post the right stuff, to release it at the right time. For a lot of us, the big question has been just how to get started, These classes help with that a lot.”

The PAC posts mostly on Facebook and Instagram, which are proven favorites for Wenatchee Valley residents, and also on Twitter, a popular platform for performers and talent agencies.

Lyn Kelley, marketing director for the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center, joined Social Media School two months ago after learning about it through a workshop sponsored by the technology alliance GWATA.

I really appreciate (Welch’s) focus on what works locally,” she said. “What works in a small city and rural areas is very different from what works in an urban area like Seattle. Here, we’re already connected with friends and neighbors in many different ways (clubs, churches, schools, activities). Using social media in the Wenatchee Valley helps reinforce our connections, helps deepen our relationships.”

Facebook is the museum’s favorite platform, said Kelley, with Instagram a runner-up.

Welch said she spends hours each month finding and learning new platforms and apps that can benefit business people. “Part of my job is to discover new tools, learn if they’re useful and pass on that knowledge to clients. I want to be able to stand behind any recommendation I make.”

Top advice for businesses on effective social media? “In my mind, it all comes down to good storytelling,” said Welch. “Behind-the-scenes posts on staffers who make the business run. Posts on customers who find value in your service. These kinds of stories connect with people and help a business grow its community of customers.”