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Business Roundup | Whoosh! Adventure park could zip into Leavenworth

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Illustration provided An artist's illustration of the proposed Leavenworth Adventure Park shows the track of the Alpine Coaster at its center.

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Whoosh! Adventure park could zip into Leavenworth

LEAVENWORTH — A proposed “activity park” at this Bavarian Village’s west end is in a fast downhill slide. But that’s exactly the way it should be, say developers.

The Leavenworth Adventure Park, a 10-acre family activity center featuring a 2,200-foot downhill coaster that’s a toboggan-rollercoaster hybrid, could open as early as June 2019 if all goes according to plan. More attractions are planned for subsequent years.

The project would cost about $6 million over four construction phases stretched over several years, say developers. It would employ from 20 to 30 workers and be open year-round.

Leavenworth is a spectacular area with just about any kind of outdoor recreation you could want,” said Project Manager John Sutherland. “But, besides shopping, there seems to be a shortage of family activities — active entertainment for people who aren’t going to hike alpine ridges or float fast rapids.”

Sutherland and David Moffett, longtime Seattle-area outdoor rec executives and partners in Leavenworth Adventure Park, say the project is modeled after similar ventures in North America and Europe to fit against a hillside near the junction of Icicle Road and Highway 2 at the entrance to Tumwater Canyon.

The property at 9342 Icicle Road is known as the Castle Site and has served as home base for the Osprey Rafting Company since 1995. That business would likely need to relocate if the adventure park is built, owner Gary Planagan has acknowledged.

Developers provided preliminary details of the park to Leavenworth’s city council during February annexation proceedings for the 10-acre parcel. The council approved the annexation Feb. 27.

City leaders noted that annexation allows the proposed park to hookup to city water and sewer, a preferred option for property that’s near the Wenatchee River.

Some type of commercial development is destined for that property,” said Mayor Cheri Farivar, noting that the property carries a commercial-tourism zoning designation.

A petition opposing the adventure park gathered more than 4,500 online signatures and was presented to the city council on March 13. City Administrator Joel Walinski said only about 70 of those signing the petition appeared to be local residents, but that the council accepted the document and “will keep those opinions in mind” during further discussions on the development.

Still to come, said Walinski, is the developer’s application for a conditional use permit that would take a closer look at the project’s effects on traffic, parking, noise, lighting, fire prevention and environmental concerns. Public testimony on the park proposal would be accepted during the CUP process.

Sutherland said that work to compile the CUP application should reach the city by June.

The heart of the adventure park would be a Wiegand Alpine Coaster, a German-engineered, gravity-powered sled that is speed-controlled by riders as they slide downhill through four 360-degree helixes and numerous jumps and curves.

Maximum speed is 25 to 29 mph. Vertical drop is 234 feet. Downhill run is 2,200 feet. Riders would be spaced about two minutes apart or longer. Each toboggan would be equipped with an electronic assist system to prevent collisions.

The installation would be the first Alpine Coaster in the state and the second on the West Coast, according to Sutherland. Ticket prices per ride would be around $15 with a discount program for local residents.

At the coaster track’s base would be facilities for ticket sales, parking, retail, restrooms, picnic areas, food and beverage sales and offices.

Planned for 2020 and beyond, additional attractions could include a via ferrata (Italian for “iron way”) aerial challenge course with ropes and ladders, a giant trampoline and a seated zipline that provides access to most wanna-be riders.

Lodging boom: New 103-room hotel coming to Olds Station

WENATCHEE — The number of hotel rooms in Olds Station will more than double now that a new 103-room hotel has been announced.

The new accommodation — which as yet has no franchise affiliation — is under development by hoteliers Steve and Tanya Tramp on property next to their 84-room Comfort Suites at the Park, 195 East Penny Road.

Developers hope to break ground on the new hotel sometime in April and open in around 10 months.

The intention all along was to add a mid-tier hotel next door to the Comfort Suites,” said Steve Tramp, principal owner of hotel management company Princess Properties Hospitality. “The Wenatchee tourism market is growing — overflowing in some seasons — so this hotel should be a welcome addition to this area’s lodging industry.”

The three-story hotel is the greater Wenatchee area’s third now under construction. The 177-room Hilton Garden Inn near Pybus Public Market and the 99-room Fairfield Inn & Suites near McDonald’s in East Wenatchee are both midway toward completion and could be open by year’s end.

Tramp said his own company’s estimates for Wenatchee Valley lodging in the next two to three years calls for another 300 to 350 rooms to be added to the area — and that’s after the current hotel building boom slows down.

That kind of growth in the hospitality industry is the only way we’re going to attract big conventions to our area,” he said. “Right now, because of the lack of good, quality hotels, we’re losing convention trade to Yakima, Spokane and Seattle. And that’s crazy, since Wenatchee is so conveniently situated in the center of the state.”

Said Tramp, “We’re hoping our new (Olds Station) hotel will capture a different audience than some of the more upscale properties in the area.” The new hotel will offer rooms in the $100 to $150 range to travelers “wanting a nice room with nice amenities but conscientious about managing their dollars,” he said..

The hotel will feature a continental breakfast, indoor pool, fitness center and high-speed Internet, said Tramp. “But it won’t necessarily have those high-end frills — custom-made omelettes, $1,300 mattresses — that can push nightly rates to $200 or more.”

This week, Princess Properties had narrowed the selection of a hotel franchise down to three companies, said Tramp. “These are national brands that everyone will recognize,” he said. “We just need a bit more study before we make a decision.”

Wenatchee-based Princess Properties owns the Comfort Suites in Olds Station and a newly-renovated Quality Inn in Spokane.

For info, visit the company’s website at http://bit.ly/2HRKdOa.

Horizon to add summer flights at Pangborn

EAST WENATCHEE — You think those Alaska/Horizon flights from here to Seattle are nearly always packed? Hardly ever an empty seat? No place to stretch your legs, much less your elbows?

Bingo. Alaska Airlines reported March 22 that flights from Pangborn Memorial Airport to SeaTac International Airport boasted a load factor last year of 83 percent — high enough to add flights for this year’s busy summer months.

Beginning May 20, seven more daily round trips per week will be added to the Pangborn-Seattle schedule. That means there’ll be four departures from Pangborn on Sunday through Friday — 6 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 3:20 p.m. and 6:44 p.m. — and three flights daily on Saturday.

For a more detailed schedule, visit alaskaair.com.

One word: Plastics

WENATCHEE — The Port of Chelan County announced a new tenant that will provide at least 15 jobs (with more likely in the future) and serve an international clientele.

Ultra Polymers Injection Molding, formerly Cascade Quality Molding, is in the process of moving its complete operation to Olds Station from Yakima, its home since 1984. The company will occupy a 12,000-square foot building and, if all goes well, complete its move here by June 1.

For you fans of injection molding: Ultra Polymers’ 28- to 440-ton presses can mold parts from under 1 gram (.035 of an ounce) to 1,275 grams (2.8 pounds) for a variety of industries, including aerospace, medical, electronics and even the military.

We’re a custom-job shop for a wide variety of clients” around the world, said General Manager Shawn Cox.

So why the move to Wenatchee? “A better quality of life,” said Cox.

For more info on the company, visit ultrapim.com.

Makers of pot edibles need new licensing endorsement

OLYMPIA — Makers of marijuana-infused edibles will need a new state endorsement beginning next month to help ensure the operations meet sanitary-processing requirements.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture announced in March that the additional endorsement would be required beginning April 1 for business licenses of producers of edibles.

The endorsement carries an annual fee of $895. The WSDA is allowing a 30-day grace period for businesses to obtain an MIE (marijuana infused edible) Processor License Endorsement.

The WSDA’s Food Safety Program has been inspecting MIE firms to enforce state sanitary standards. Under the new requirements, MIEbusinesses are likely to see more frequent inspections, according to a WSDA press release.

There are currently 127 businesses in the state producing marijuana-infused edibles, said the press release. For info on the new requirement, visit bit.ly/2pETjqa.

The power of pencils | Loyal customers get the point of quality writing sticks

WENATCHEE — Every business day, stationery store owner Peggy Nichols sharpens the image of the lowly pencil into a thing of beauty, creativity and personal connection.

Over the last two years, Nichols has cultivated her store’s pencil inventory to include some of the finest brands from around the world as part of a resurging popularity, she says, for the 450-year-old writing utensil.

In Pickle Papers, a dozen corner shelves lined with pencil containers display hundreds of the various writing and drawing instruments and accessories — erasers, sharpeners, clips, pencil boxes — that appeal to “writing stick” aficionados who travel to the store from around the Northwest.

I’ve been a pencil person from birth,” said Nichols, who 23 years ago opened Pickle Papers, one of the few dedicated stationery stores in central Washington. “My mother used pencils. I use pencils. I encourage my customers to give them a try.”

A high-quality pencil “can change your life,” said Nichols. “As you use it, it begins to reflect personality and creativity. The angle on the point is YOUR angle. The pressure on the paper — lightness, darkness, thickness — is unique to you and you alone.”

Plus, said Nichols, studies have shown that humans retain more information when they write it down rather than type it.

So who in this digital age still uses a pencil? “Anyone who enjoys the physical act of writing or drawing,” said Nichols. “And anyone who appreciates the elegance of a simple, beautiful and perfectly designed tool.”

With prices ranging from 25 cents to $4, each pencil brand and style offers customers “a different feel, a different writing or drawing experience,” said Nichols. “Preferences vary. Soft or hard, thick or thin, standard or colored, cedar or basswood — we try to have a good selection of it all.”

Customers flock to Pickle Papers both in person and online to browse its pencil stockpile. Popular brands include Palomino from Japan, Viking from Denmark, Viarco from Portugal, Staedtler from Germany, Derwent from the United Kingdom, Caran D’Ache from Switzerland, Koh-I-Noor from the Czech Republic, Musgrave and General Pencil in the U.S.and a dozen more.

To ease any customer confusion about making a good choice, Nichols offers the Pickle Papers’ Pencil Pack — a collection of different brands, lead types and finishes — for $12. Boxed sets of varying styles that also include a high-quality eraser and sharpener could sell for as much as $40.

Serious collectors shop Pickle Papers online for discontinued and out-of-stock pencil series. For instance, the Palomino Blackwing 24, a tribute pencil to author John Steinbeck (who wrote in pencil), was discontinued last year and has sold out at many outlets. Currently, a box of 12 is available at Pickle Papers online for around $100. Some competitors price the box at $140 or more.

Other tribute pencil series popular among collectors have been issued for baseball player Joe DiMaggio (Blackwing 56), country singer Guy Clark (Blackwing 1) and the California Gold Rush (the gold-barreled Blackwing 530).

It’s really fun to explain to people the background themes of these pencils,” said Nichols.

In the end, a pencil is a tool to communicate, said Nichols. “My whole career at this store has been about connecting people to people. Cards, stationery, inks, writing implements and lots more.”

She smiled. “For me, pencils are at the heart of it all.”

Jack FM joins Alpha Media’s radio lineup

WENATCHEE — Jack FM, a syndicated radio format featuring music from artists like Kid Rock, Katy Perry and Aerosmith, was introduced last Sunday morning to local radio listeners at 94.3 FM on the radio dial.

It’s a brand-new radio station,” said Alpha Media Vice President Gary Patrick. The station takes advantage of a translator that had been carrying the Country 104.7 KKRV signal. That job is now being taken care by another translator — 105.1.

We originally wanted to do it three or four years ago. The timing wasn’t right then. We sent it up the flagpole earlier this year and the stars aligned,” he said. “We tossed around a lot of ideas for formats. Our goal was to get something popular and easy to execute.”

Jack FM has been around for 10 years.

There are no DJs, no requests. We play what we want,” Patrick said Friday. “The signal reaches all of Wenatchee and into Cashmere and Leavenworth, depending on how good your radio is. I got my hair cut today and the stylist said she got reception on top of Blewett. I didn’t know it could reach that far. It’s designed to serve the Wenatchee metro area.”

It is a match, he said, to rival Cherry Creek Media’s KW3.

Alpha Media, Wenatchee, also airs Country 104.7 KKRV, La Nueva 92.1, KWLN and ESPN Radio 900. Those stations will remain unchanged.

The last new station in the Wenatchee radio group was La Nueva 92.1, the area’s first Spanish language format which was added about 16 years ago, he said.

At that time, the group was known as Columbia River Media Group, owned by Morris Communications. Alpha Media purchased the stations in 2015. The company employs 20 people in the Wenatchee area.

Labor report: Construction industry continues to build jobs

WENATCHEE — Construction remains the fastest-growing industry in Chelan and Douglas counties, accounting for 400 new jobs added in the region from February 2017 to February 2018.

The 18.2 percent increase, from 2,200 to 2,600 jobs, is higher than the industry growth statewide, according to job statistics released March 27 by the state Employment Security Department and compiled by state Regional Labor Economist Don Meseck.

Other industries adding the most jobs, according to Meseck, include health services and leisure and hospitality, which both increased by about 400 jobs in that same time frame.

The private health services industry showed a 5.6 percent increase, now sitting at about 7,600 jobs. The industry has added jobs for the past 53 months.

The leisure and hospitality category now has 6,500 jobs, primarily at hotels and restaurants. That’s a 6.6 percent hike in year-over-year figures.

The overall 2.1 percent increase in jobs, from 42,800 to 43,700, is good news, Meseck said, as is the drop in unemployment rate to 6.9 percent, down from 7.5 percent last February. It’s the lowest February reading since 1990, when electronic records started.

(Unemployment) rates have been declining for the past 17 consecutive months — excellent economic news,” Meseck said.

The lower unemployment rate comes even though the number of people looking for work has increased. The year-over-year number of people looking for work increased by 237, while the number of unemployed dropped by 309 people.

The good economic news is the total nonfarm employment in the Wenatchee MSA (metropolitan statistical area) increased or stabilized, year over year, in each of the past 70 months (May 2012 through February 2018),” Meseck said.

The downside, he added, is the job growth rates here have lagged behind the statewide job growth rates since July 2016.

Port of Chelan buys Executive Flight, FedEx buildings

EAST WENATCHEE — The Port of Chelan County is buying two Executive Flight buildings at Pangborn Memorial Airport for $4.5 million.

The purchase and sale agreement, approved by port commissioners April 17, includes the former Executive Flight headquarters at 1 S. Campbell Way, and what’s known as the FedEx building, 3790 Airport Way, on the east side of the airport.

Final approval hinges on the results of a 60-day feasibility study.

Port Executive Director Patrick Jones said the hope is current tenants will remain, providing a revenue stream that will cover the debt payments and then some.

The commission intends to assign the FedEx building to Pangborn, so revenues from the lease beyond the debt payment would go into the airport’s operations budget. That detail will be ironed out at the Pangborn Airport Governing Board meeting next Tuesday.

The airport is jointly owned by the ports of Chelan and Douglas counties, with the Chelan port operating the airport and the Douglas port operating the Pangborn Business Park.

A similar earmarking of revenues from the headquarters building would go into an account dedicated to capital projects on the airfield, Jones said.

Port Commission President Rory Turner said the move will provide financial stability for the airport.

We’ve looked at successful models of airports, regionally and throughout the West Coast. The success always comes down to this real estate portfolio that supports airport operations,” he said. “Airport operations typically don’t make money. It’s the other things that make money. We’ve been studying how to do that. This opportunity came up and it worked so perfectly. As soon as the deal closes, we will have a positive cash flow to the airport.”

The buildings also will give an extra boost to the airport’s marketing efforts to bring more aviation-related businesses here.

That’s a world-class facility, so we have another tool when we’re talking to different businesses, particularly aviation businesses,” Turner said.

Possibilities include businesses that provide aircraft storage and maintenance, flight training programs, a corporate aviation center and aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul.

Another opportunity might include wildfire support agencies and fire support businesses, those with aircraft, personnel and firefighting equipment looking to find space at a central location.

The 64,305-square-foot headquarters building is a mix of office and hangar space. It was built in 1998 for the charter flight company founded by Carl Campbell, which closed several years ago.

The current office tenants include:

<> GigaWatt, the bitcoin miner. The building includes just the administrative offices.

<> CIMCO, a real estate management company.

<> Port of Douglas County’s administrative offices, which relocated there just a few months ago.

The hangar side of the operation houses five aircraft now, with another three expected soon. It also includes a jet-fueling facility that will be added onto the airport’s fuel service center based on the other side of the airport.

The 24,000-square-foot FedEx building was built in 1984. FedEx leases all of the 6,100 square feet of office space and about 11,500 square feet of hangar space, leaving 6,500 square feet of hangar space available for lease. The current lease expires at the end of 2018.

We are hopeful we can sign FedEx for an extended term in that building,” Jones said.

Deal discussion started about six months ago, Jones said.

 

We really do want to thank Executive Flight and Mr. Campbell for their participation at the airfield,” he said. “They have been major sources of support and participation at Pangborn. This deal indicates their continued support and intention to support what’s best for the airport. This is a very good deal for Pangborn and the Port of Chelan County. We really appreciate their willingness in working with us to make it happen.”

New owners for Wenatchee Valley Mall

EAST WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee Valley Mall has new owners.

The shopping center’s website lists New York-based Namdar Realty Group as the owner and Mason Asset Management as the property manager, but no additional details about the sale of the regional shopping center are available.

Previous owners Vintage Real Estate of Sherman Oaks, California, purchased the mall in 2007.

Namdar Realty Group, based in Great Neck, New York, is a privately held commercial real investment and management firm, according to its website. It has more than 15 million square feet of commercial real estate, including retail strip centers, medical and office buildings.

Mason Asset Management is based in Long Island, New York. The company, founded in 2010, manages more than 120 shopping centers including 45 regional malls, according to its website.

The East Wenatchee shopping center, which opened in 1978, sits on 28.7 acres. It has 51 stores, including anchors Macy’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Bed Bath & Beyond, Ross Dress for Less and Marshalls.

Leavenworth nursery plays to green thumbs of the Upper Valley

LEAVENWORTH — Leavenworth Greenhouse and Nursery owner Mike Chase saw an opportunity to mix business and pleasure when he bought 10 acres on the Chumstick Highway about 3 miles north of Leavenworth in late 2005.

The property included a shop, carport and greenhouse where the previous owners, a retired couple, had operated a small nursery.

I’ve always enjoyed landscaping and gardening,” he said. “I had always started my own plants.”

He could picture himself in the nursery business sometime down the road.

He had worked for a wireless company for 10 years, a job he enjoyed with a company he liked, but he could see what was on the horizon.

I thought, in the world of mergers and acquisitions, our company is going to get bought out. And when that happens, this is what I want to do,” he said of the nursery business.

Within three months of me buying the property, my company announced they were selling. I agreed to stay six months through the transition. I’ve always been a workhorse. I decided I wanted to be a workhorse for myself. So I jumped into this.”

And jump, he did.

The nursery, which has grown to about 5,000 square feet of greenhouse space plus an outdoor area for trees, shrubs and perennials and a retail store, opened for its 12th season on April 7, offering annuals, seeds, garden starts and growing supplies, for now.

Chase, with help from the nursery crew of two full-time and a couple part-time seasonal employees, starts 5,000 plants each year, including 1,200 tomatoes and 800 peppers.

We grow varieties I know do well and that we can’t get from suppliers,” he said.

The perennials he buys started arriving April 20, the trees and shrubs on May 7.

The staggered inventory supply, an adaptation to the Upper Valley’s climate and short growing season, stems from lessons learned the hard way.

The biggest challenge is it’s a lot different from the west side as far as what you can grow outdoors, perennial wise, trees and shrubs, the zone hardiness, the cold hardiness and what will take the heat,” he said.

The first year, he wanted all the tables full of plants for opening day.

I would get so excited. I wanted everything here so it would look great,” he said.

A couple of frost freezes later and he changed his mind.

The second year things got frosted I said, ‘I can’t do this. It doesn’t make sense,’” he said, which prompted the staggered approach. Even then, Mother Nature is tricky.

Last spring, he was up at 2 a.m. almost every night until mid-May setting out 5,000 square feet of frost blanket over the trees and shrubs.

It took me an hour and a half to put it on and then 45 minutes to pull it off in the morning,” he said.

The lessons, though, have served him well in terms of customer loyalty.

On a beautiful day when it’s 80 degrees, people want to take the tomatoes home. They pay attention to the daytime highs, but it’s the nighttime lows they need to watch,” he said.

He does his best to talk them out of making that mistake.

I’m not going to sell something that doesn’t work or sell something that someone can take home and let the weather kill,” he said.

He stocks Zone 5 trees, shrubs and plants, which will survive -20 degrees, suitable for the Leavenworth, Lake Wenatchee and Plain climate. On special request, he will order some Zone 6 plants (good to -10), but lets people know they’re more like annuals for the Upper Valley area.

He is diligent about research.

I try to think outside the box each year,” he said. “I love to dabble. I try to put every plant we sell, or prior to selling, in my landscape for a year to see how it does.”

His experimental beds are behind the greenhouses.

 “Everything I sell in here I know works,” he said.

City council studies truck route exception for wheat

EAST WENATCHEE — Wheat farmers likely will get the OK to use their traditional route through East Wenatchee to get their crop to market after all.

Wheat was left off the list of exceptions to the new designated truck route approved by the city council in November.

The matter was brought to the city council’s attention April 10 by a contingent of farmers, including Mike Doneen and Doug Bromiley, who said requiring grain haulers to stick to Grant Road or Highway 28, as outlined in the new ordinance, would add time to their harvest trips and create more traffic backups than the route they’ve been using for years.

Wheat farmers historically have come off Badger Mountain to Eastmont and then down 9th Street, the easiest, shortest way to access to the Sellar Bridge and the grain elevator in Wenatchee.

It’s our closest, safest and most reasonable route for the grain trucks,” Bromiley said.

The newly designated official truck route would require them to instead use the Eastmont extension to Highway 28. The turn onto Eastmont would be an immediate uphill start, which would be slow going, as would the turn into Sunset Highway, Bromiley said.

The farmers’ request for an exception was supported by Douglas County Commissioner Kyle Steinburg, who also attended the meeting. He presented a letter from commissioners outlining concerns heard from ranchers about getting farm products to market, and encouraging the city to come up with a remedy.

Exceptions spelled out in the current ordinance include perishable commodities, like apples and cherries, as well as vehicles that have business in town, emergency vehicles, buses and garbage trucks on local routes.

We made an exception for perishables, for fruit, but we left out nonperishables like wheat. That was an oversight,” Mayor Steve Lacy said in a later interview. “We didn’t consider, and it didn’t even cross our mind that for years wheat farmers from July through September used Eastmont and 9th Street to get to market.”

The official truck route, which applies to vehicles that weigh more than 26,000 pounds, was established to help save the city money on pavement repair.

The wheat truck exception proposal is expected to be brought back to the city council in an upcoming workshop.

Then it would be a draft amendment to the ordinance and then we have to let everybody know when it will be considered,” Lacy told council members and wheat growers. “I’m thinking it could take a matter of a couple months to get to fruition, but still in plenty of time before we get to harvest season.”

Stemilt Growers adds Hansen Fruit Co. to the mix

WENATCHEE — Wenatchee’s Stemilt Growers is adding Yakima-based Hansen Fruit Co. as a grower/marketing partner.

Stemilt will assist in marketing the remainder of Hansen’s 2017 apple crop and will market the company’s 2018 cherry and apple crops under Stemilt’s label.

Hansen will continue to grow and pack its own fruit. Stemilt has similar marketing relationships with Douglas Fruit in Pasco and Peshastin Hi-Up Growers in Peshastin.

The Hansen family is passionate, humble and hard working as they share similar values to the Mathison family,” Stemilt President West Mathison said in a press release. “They have excellent farming practices and their culture fits well alongside Stemilt’s.”

Employers have new tool to verify worker eligibility

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has launched a new website, E-Verify.gov, as a source for information on electronic employment eligibility verification.

The new tool is for employers, employees and the general public.

The website provides information about E-Verify and Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, including employee rights and employer responsibilities in the employment verification process.

E-Verify.gov allows employers to enroll in E-Verify directly and permits current users to access their accounts. Individuals with myE-Verify accounts can also access their accounts through E-Verify.gov.

For the past decade, E-Verify has been the cornerstone of our continued commitment to helping employers maintain a legal workforce,” USCISDirector L. Francis Cissna said. “E-Verify.gov now allows users to better understand and navigate through the employment verification process.”

E-Verify is a free, internet-based system that can be accessed anytime, anywhere directly from a web browser.

According to a press release, nearly all employees are confirmed as work-authorized instantly or within 24 hours. The system, which has nearly 800,000 enrolled employers, compares information from an employee’s Form I-9 to records available to the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration to verify authorization to work in the U.S.

Wine research program tops $1 million

Two wine research grants addressing labor shortages are included in the 17 projects recommended for funding this year by the Washington State Wine Commission.

The research grants, administered by Washington State University, aim to improve overall wine quality by addressing vineyard and winery challenges. This year’s research funding of just over $1 million is 30 percent higher than funding five years ago of $776,280.

The research projects on vineyard health address grapevine diseases and a new leaf-folder pest, irrigation water savings and efficiencies, heat stress and drought, and new spray application technologies. Winery research topics include tannin management, wine quality impacts from mechanization, wine spoilage, sensory characteristics of wine and the impact of pH on wine microbial ecology.

One of the labor shortage projects is to develop a mechanical solution for shoot thinning. The other begins development of a smartphone application for crop load estimation.

Both shoot thinning and crop estimating are very labor-intensive, time-consuming chores in the vineyard,” said Rick Hamman, vineyard manager for Hogue Ranches of Prosser and chairman of the Wine Commission’s Wine Research Advisory Committee, a subcommittee that annually reviews research proposals and makes funding recommendations.

Viticulture and enology research in Washington is funded through the statewide Grape and Wine Research Program. The program receives industry support from the Washington State Wine Commission; state government dollars through WSU; a portion of the sales tax paid on all wine sold in the state; and private donations from the Auction of Washington Wines, an annual event held to raise awareness of Washington wine.

Reach Nevonne McDaniels at 509-664-7151 or .