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Business Roundup | Schmitt Electric charged-up over new offices

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José Amaya of contractor G G Richardson works on second-floor walls of the new Schmitt Electric Inc. headquarters. Carpenter Rick Meyers is partially visible in the foreground.

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Schmitt Electric charged-up over new offices

WENATCHEE — Schmitt Electric Inc., which provides leading-edge electrical work for a host of industries, is bursting at the seams in its current office location.

Solution? The electrical contractor is building a spankin’ new office-and-assembly complex to handle its expanding staff and increasingly high-tech projects. The $2.5 million offices will include energy-conserving features, such as LED lighting, and sport a 40-person classroom with audio-visual equipment for employee training in technical procedures and safety.

Over the last two decades, the 57-year-old company has grown to 130 employees and has taken on the mega-jobs of wiring data centers (T-Mobile in East Wenatchee, Microsoft in Quincy), installing electrical systems for the region’s new, giant fruit warehouses (Stemilt Growers, Blue Bird Inc., McDougall & Sons) and tackling the specialized assembly of high-tech motor and robot controls.

We’ve established a niche with apple growers and tech companies,” said owner Jim Schmitt. “And that niche just keeps on growing.”

Construction of Schmitt’s new two-story, 3,800-square-foot headquarters at 1114 Walla Walla Ave. (south of Lowe’s) kicked off April 1 and should be open sometime in late September or October. Wenatchee building contractor G G Richardson is the builder.

Adjacent to the office building will be a 9,000-square-foot facility for the assembly of “motor control centers” used by a variety of area industries, including ag companies and manufacturing firms.

The new headquarters are being built on a 1-acre parcel right across the street from the company’s current location.

What can I say? We like the neighborhood,” said Schmitt. And the new location “keeps us close to some of the companies we do business with,” he said. “We’re a big customer of Star Rentals (next door) — we rent a lot of equipment from Star Rentals.”

Schmitt Electric was founded in 1960 by Jim Schmitt’s father, Matthew Schmitt. Jim took over the company in 1973 and has since seen the number of office and field personnel nearly triple. In 2006 alone, the company provided 120 journeyman electricians to wire the new Microsoft data center in Quincy. That facility is now under expansion, and Schmitt has that contract, too.

We’re growing, but have problems finding enough good workers,” said Schmitt. “I figure that in the last six months, I’ve been 100 employees short of meeting (project) work demands. Right now, today, I could put 50 journeyman electricians to work.”

The electrician shortage, which stretches statewide, is a surprising situation, said Schmitt. “Our wage package is very competitive — nearly $100,000 a year when you figure in salary and benefits.”

The new offices “will be nice and comfortable,” said Schmitt. “It’ll be a place the company can stretch out and grow into. It’s fun watching them take shape right now — our new home.”


Rue21 in bankruptcy, but NCW stores remain open

EAST WENATCHEE — North Central Washington’s rue21 stores are currently safe from closure, but …

Teen fashion retailer rue21 filed May 15 for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a legal action expected for months by industry observers. Since last year, the seller of trendy clothes and accessories has had trouble meeting mortgage payments and built up $824 million in debt.

The filing follows the announcement in April that rue21 would close up to 400 stores in order to focus on its profitable outlets and online site. The closure list did not include two NCW stores — one in Wenatchee Valley Mall in East Wenatchee and another at the Grant County Mall in Moses Lake.

The nationwide retailer has nearly 1,200 stores in 48 states. Monday’s court filing warned the company may shutter additional locations to help bolster its finances.


Port and Soap Lake each nab $50,000 economic grants

NCW — The state has awarded $100,000 in grants for feasibility studies by the Port of Chelan County and the city of Soap Lake.

The funding is part of nearly $5 million in grants and low-interest loans approved May 18 by the state Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) for studies in nine counties across the state.

The two NCW grants provide:

$50,000 to the Port of Chelan County for a study to assess and create an inventory of county lands and buildings that are zoned for industrial and commercial development. The CERB funds are matched by nearly $17,000 in local resources.

$50,000 to Soap Lake for its Mineral Water System Plan. The study will assess the water systems facilities, prepare cost estimates for proposed upgrades, develop a debt-revenue analysis and assess environmental impacts. The city will provide matching funds of nearly $17,000.


Comfort Suites named chain’s top hotel

WENATCHEE — One of Wenatchee’s prime lodging facilities has been chosen as its national chain’s top hotel.

Comfort Suites at the Park, 195 E. Penny Road in Wenatchee’s Olds Station, on May 17 grabbed Choice Hotels International’s “Hotel of the Year” award for the Comfort Suites brand. The award is presented annually based on guest satisfaction surveys and rankings within Choice International’s 6,400-hotel system.

Comfort Suites in Wenatchee is owned by Princess Properties, which also owns and operates the Quality Inn Downtown in Spokane. Both hotels are multiple winners of Choice International’s Platinum and Gold Awards for excellence.

Choice International is parent company to 11 hotels brands, including Comfort Suites, Comfort Inn, Sleep Inn, Quality Inn, EconoLodge and others.


Banner Bank named tops in customer satisfaction

WALLA WALLA — Banner Bank has again grabbed the top spot in the Northwest for client satisfaction in a nationwide study of nearly 80,000 banking customers.

Based in Walla Walla with four branches in North Central Washington, Banner earned the title April 27 for its performance in offering banking products, setting fees, resolving problems, designing and maintaining facilities and other measurements.

It was the third year since 2012 that Banner took the honor in the J.D. Power U.S. Retail Banking Client Satisfaction Study.

Banner — bannerbank.com — has more than 200 locations in five western states, including Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, Ephrata and Moses Lake.


Fundraising takes off for flight to San Francisco

EAST WENATCHEE — Pangborn Memorial Airport’s efforts to establish a direct flight to San Francisco have taken off — at least in local fundraising — but more money is needed to land the new air service.

Pangborn’s “Destination San Francisco Bay Area” campaign to launch the new route by May 18 had raised more than half — $231,000 — of the $400,000 needed to match a $750,000 federal grant. The money will be used to “share the risk” financially with the airline that establishes the not-yet-tested route, a Port of Chelan County press release said.

The port estimates an airline would invest about $8 million over two years to start daily jet service between EAT (Pangborn) and SFO (San Francisco) in spring 2018, the press release said.

Port officials did not estimate the cost of a round-trip ticket using the new direct flight, but a check with Alaska Airlines last month showed a round-trip ticket costing between $317 and $450 to fly from Pangborn to Seattle to the Bay Area. Alaska-Horizon, the only airline currently serving the Wenatchee area, has three flights a day between Pangborn and Seattle.

Support has been strong across the region from many businesses, local governments, nonprofits and individuals excited to see the new air service,” said Port Commissioner Donn Etherington. The Port of Chelan County manages Pangborn.

Pledging to the campaign are more than 50 entities from four North Central Washington counties, said Etherington, including businesses in agriculture, technology, banking, real estate, marketing, manufacturing, insurance, tourism and lodging.

The combined local and federal revenue guarantee of $1.1 million demonstrates broad community support for the new flight, said Craig Larsen, the Port’s business development director. “Airlines that see this kind of support are willing to invest in new air service.”

Financial pledges are critical to receive the full grant amount from the U.S. Department of Transportation, said Larsen. The deadline for applying for the grant was extended from May 19 through June.

Larsen said the revenue guarantee provides funds only if ticket sales do not cover an airlines expenses during the two-year startup phase. If the service is successful, the contributions will be returned to the community investors at the end of the two years.

Launched in February, the Destination San Francisco campaign follows research indicating a growing demand for flights to the Bay Area. Surveys last year showed 62 people a day travel via Pangborn from North Central Washington to the Bay Area, a 39 percent increase since 2013.

Pangborn’s website said SFO is a popular market for business travelers, which includes employees of data centers in East Wenatchee and Quincy, and offers more flight times and destinations than Seattle. For instance, Seattle has seven daily nonstop flights to Washington, D.C., while SFO has 17. Seattle has six direct destinations in Asia; SFO has 25.

For more information about the campaign or to pledge, visit flywenatchee.com/bay-area-flight.


Chamber’s new offices ‘feel like home’

WENATCHEE — No matter where you’re from — Wenatchee, Walla Walla or waaaay far away — Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce officials want you to feel like a local in their new downtown digs.

Right away, visitors can see we’re proud on our agricultural heritage,” said Chamber Executive Director Shiloh Schauer, pointing to the 1946 Ford flatbed farm truck that frames a beer- and wine-tasting bar featuring local brews and vintages. Swinging doors are made from salvaged apple bins. Tree props provide wood accents in the visitors’ lobby.

Everything here is designed for a better visitor experience,” she said. “We want people to feel welcome and comfortable, but we also want to encourage them to get up and get out to see what this area has to offer.”

On Saturday, the Chamber opened its new office and visitor center in the corner space of the newly-remodeled Doré Building, 137 N. Wenatchee Ave. The group joins the decor and consignment store Spruce and Willow Home on the first floor and general contractor Goodfellow Bros. Inc. in new offices now under construction on the second floor. The three-story building has 36,000 square feet of useable space.

The 3,000-square-foot Chamber office features an entry lobby, tasting bar with tables and stools, visitors’ seating area with iPads to browse the Chamber website, a large meeting room with electronic presentation tools, a smaller meeting room for staff, open office space for up to six staffers, executive director’s office and kitchen.

It’s a perfect location for us,” said Schauer, noting that it’s on a highly-visible corner, next to the Coast Wenatchee Center Hotel, half a block from the Wenatchee Convention Center and Numerica Performing Arts Center and at the northern entry to the city’s commercial hub. “We keep thinking to ourselves, ‘This is where we were meant to be.’”

Moving in last week, Chamber staff members hauled boxes of files and desk supplies into earth-tone rooms bright with natural light from the high ceilings and huge windows. Construction crews put finishing touches on the tasting bar, offices and meeting rooms. Technicians from Kelley Imaging Systems in Wenatchee wheeled a huge copy machine into place.

The Chamber held a soft opening Saturday — “We need to start slowly to get everything running just right,” said Schauer — and has plans for a grand opening on June 23.

Believe it or not, the Chamber has had four addresses in four years,” said Schauer, smiling at the group’s new offices. “Hopefully, we’ll be here for awhile. To me, this feels like home.”


Turner, tribes honored with preservation awards

WENATCHEE — A local developer and a collective of five Northwest tribal groups recently earned preservation awards from the state Department of Archeology & Historic Preservation.

Rory Turner, a Port of Chelan County commissioner and Wenatchee developer who has rehabbed several historic buildings in central Washington cities, grabbed one of three 2017 Valerie Sivinski Awards for his redevelopment of the 94-year-old Elks Building in downtown Ellensburg.

In addition, five tribal groups were honored with the state’s 2017 Preservation Stewardship award for their successful repatriation of the Ancient One (Kennewick Man). The five groups are the Colville Confederated Tribes, the Wanapum Band Tribe, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) Awards were announced April 20 by agency’s director Allyson Brooks. The seven awards were presented in five categories, including building rehabilitation, preservation stewardship, career achievement, preservation education and special achievement. Recipients will be honored at a ceremony in May.

Turner received his Sivinski Award for his work to redevelop Ellensburg’s Elks Building, built in 1923 and considered the cornerstone of the Downtown Ellensburg Historic District. In disrepair for years, the building was targeted for demolition before being rescued by Turner. After meticulous rehabbing, the building now houses two restaurants, commercial and nonprofit office spaces and an events center. An adjacent boutique hotel is in the planning stages.

In 2016, Turner received the state’s Excellence on Main Award for his work on the Elks Building and redevelopment in downtown Wenatchee that include the Wenatchee Hotel Building and the Doré Building, where tenants are now moving in.

Two projects by other developers in Vancouver and Seattle also received Sivinski Awards.

Tribes received the Preservation Stewardship Award for “their unwavering efforts over a 20-year timespan to bring the Ancient One’s remains back home. More than 200 tribal members attended a ceremony Feb. 18 to celebrate the return of the Ancient One. The site of the repatriation has not been disclosed.

In conjunction, Preservation Stewardship Awards were also given to several congressional members, including U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. representatives Dan Newhouse and Denny Heck.