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Business Roundup | Colyar Jewelry shop closes

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Phil and Carrie Colyar closed the doors to their jewelry shop at 23 S. Wenatchee Ave. on Sept. 27. They had done business at that location for the past 30 years.

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Colyar Jewelry shop closes

WENATCHEE — After 35 years in business in downtown Wenatchee, goldsmith and jeweler Phil Colyar and his wife Carrie retired and closed their Colyar Jewelry shop at 23 S. Wenatchee Ave. on Sept. 27. 

The Colyars arrived in Wenatchee in 1983. His background was in jewelry manufacturing, repairs and custom work. He had spent more than seven years working as a goldsmith apprentice in Spokane.

His mentor encouraged him to start his own shop.

He told me, ‘You will always regret it if you don’t try it,’” Colyar said.

The first hurdle was finding a location.

We wanted to look for an opportunity outside of Spokane. We didn’t want to compete with the people who helped us,” he said.

They considered Montana, Oregon and different parts of Washington. Wenatchee was not on the radar until they drove through on a trip to visit friends and decided to stop. They liked what they saw.

No one here was doing what we were doing,” he said of the wholesale jewelry manufacturing, doing repairs, ring sizing, stone placements and custom orders for retail outlets. Store managers and owners he contacted said they were mailing out the work and would be interested in getting it done locally.

Still, making the move was daunting with their three sons who were ages 5, 3 and 10 days old at the time.

They leased an office on the fifth floor of the Doneen Building to house the wholesale workshop.

Business took off the first week, he said. Five years into it, they diversified into retail.

They signed a five-year lease on the corner space in the Morris Building and have been there since.

They continued doing wholesale work for other jewelers while they built the retail operation. As the retail side grew, they moved away from wholesale.

It took 15 years before we were weaned off wholesale and focused entirely on retail,” Phil Colyar said. “During that time, we had a lot of employees and did a lot of mentoring, taking guys through the apprenticeship process I went through.”

At its height, in addition to the Colyars, the shop had two benchmen, a polisher and a full-time sales person.

Talk of retirement started in 2016, about the time they cut back shop hours to three days a week.

We made the commitment that we would finish out with just the two of us, without employees,” he said. 

They searched for a buyer.

The pool of eligible goldsmith technicians has shrunk dramatically,” Colyar said. “It’s hard to find someone with the right skills. We knew that if we didn’t find someone with the right goldsmithing skills and temperament to work with the public, that they wouldn’t succeed. I didn’t want to do that to them or us. So we decided to close it up and start our next adventure.”

 

Om Cooking brings Pan Asian cuisine to downtown Wenatchee

WENATCHEE — Om Bechtel had a week to figure out if she wanted to jump feet first into her dream of owning a restaurant.

She did, but it was a busy week.

Om Cooking, offering Pan Asian cuisine, opened in early September at 104 N. Wenatchee Ave.

Cooking and managing the business were not the issue. Bechtel, 35, grew up helping in her mother’s restaurant in Thailand. She continued working in the industry after marrying and moving to the Wenatchee Valley a decade ago. Between caring for her husband and four boys, now ages 9, 6, 5 and 4, she spent a year at Wasabi in Leavenworth and five years at Spring Lotus in Wenatchee, eventually becoming a manager.

I learned a lot from them, but had my own dream that I have my own restaurant someday,” she said.

She introduced her own Thai food booth this past spring at the Leavenworth Farmers Market.

Her friend Benchawan Woodworth, who had opened The Thongbai Thai Restaurant in 2012, called her in August with a proposition. Woodworth needed to stop working to care for her husband, who was ill. She asked Bechtel if she was interested in taking over the restaurant space.

She asked me to step in. It was the right time,” Bechtel said. “But she only gave me one week to decide.”

Bechtel knew she couldn’t do it by herself, so she called Vaykham Voravong who had been working for her at the farmers market booth, and asked if she was interested in partnering in the venture.

Her family in Thailand offered to help. Voravong, who previously had worked at Mai Lee Thai in East Wenatchee, got a similar offer from her family.

The restaurant plan took shape from there.

Together they built the menu.

She is from Laos. I’m from Thailand, so we mix and match on the menu,” Bechtel said.

Om Cooking opened quietly. They wanted to see how things worked before making a splash. They discovered that even with a new menu and a new name, customers were still expecting Thongbai Thai.

They closed for two days in mid-September and repainted and redecorated before rebooting Sept. 17 with a grand opening. They’ve been at it since.

Om Cooking is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with a to-go menu. For information, call 888-8188.

 

Port supports Mission Ridge expansion

WENATCHEE — The Port of Chelan County is supporting the Mission Ridge Ski and Board Resort expansion project.

The port commission on Oct. 16 cited the economic impact the project would have on the region.

The resort wants to build 613 condominiums, townhouses and duplexes, 260 single-family dwellings, 89,222 square feet of commercial space and a 50-room lodge, according to a Community Development permit application.

The resort plans to add restaurants, retail stores, meeting spaces, ski repair shops, as well as a multi-family home community.

The resort is also expanding onto 155 acres of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest land, according to a Forest Service report. It plans to add two ski runs, including a new beginner ski route, as well as a Nordic ski area.

The project is still undergoing an environmental assessment by the Forest Service and seeking a permit from Chelan County.

 

Cryptocurrency rates get November hearing

WENATCHEE — Cryptocurrency miners who have waited for months to have their applications for cheap power considered could see movement in the process by the end of the year.

In September, Chelan County PUD commissioners set a Nov. 19 hearing to consider proposed cryptocurrency rates that must be decided before a moratorium on new cryptocurrency hookups can be lifted.

If the commission approves rates and ends the moratorium, PUD staff could begin reviewing applications in December.

Decisions that could be made at the Nov. 19 hearing include:

  • How much to charge cryptocurrency and blockchain customers for power and access to power.
  • When the new rates will be implemented. PUD staff recommends a two-step phase-in of the rates — in April 2019 and April 2020 — timed to coincide with an upgrade of the district’s billing system now underway.
  • When to start processing current applications, including those idled since the moratorium was called in March.

PUD staff in September recommended a rate structure for residential and non-residential cryptocurrency users that includes an upfront charge covering distribution and transmission infrastructure costs, as well as a three-part monthly rate that includes:

  • A tiered basic charge.
  • A demand charge.
  • An energy rate based on market value.

The effective monthly rate would result in miners in residential areas paying about 9 cents per kilowatt hour, up from about 5 cents now. Miners in commercial or industrial areas would pay about 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour rather than 4 cents.

A breakdown of the proposed rates will be presented Nov. 7 at an informational meeting at the Confluence Technology Center. It will be followed Nov. 19 by the public hearing.

 

Big power users face rate hike

EAST WENATCHEE — Electrical rates could go up next year for Douglas County PUD’s largest commercial customers, but are expected to remain the same for residents and small businesses.

The rate hike, tentatively OK’d Oct. 8, would help raise about $800,000 to offset costs of providing service to the district’s biggest power users, including bitcoin miners and data centers.

The need is for additional distribution and transmission capacity due to accelerated commercial and industrial growth,” said PUD spokeswoman Meaghan Vibbert.

The biggest growth areas are in general commercial and computer processing loads, she said.

Douglas County PUD commissioners on Oct. 8 approved a preliminary budget that incorporates 1.5 percent rate increases for customers using more than 25,001 kilowatt hours a month.

The rate hike would apply to fewer than 600 customers, including data centers, fruit warehouses, larger government accounts and other large businesses, Vibbert said.

The PUD’s current rate of 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour applies to most homeowners and small businesses using less than 25,000 KWH. The average homeowner uses about 2,500 KWH.

The rate increases effect the next two tiers of energy users.

  • Those using 25,001 to 49,999 kilowatt hours will see an increase from 2.36 cents per KWH to 2.4 cents.
  • The rate for those using 50,000 kilowatt hours and above will increase from 2.4 cents to 2.44 cents.
  • Large power users — those requiring access to at least 50 kilowatts — have been paying $1.70 per kilowatt each month for every kilowatt above 50. The proposal puts the new rate at $2 for every kilowatt.

Exactly when the rate increase, currently proposed for Jan. 1, will show up on power bills will be decided closer to the end of the year, Vibbert said.

 

State unemployment rate falls to new low

OLYMPIA — Washington’s economy added 4,500 jobs in September and the state’s seasonally adjusted monthly unemployment rate for September was 4.4 percent according to the Employment Security Department.

The September unemployment rate decreased slightly from the August 2018 unemployment rate of 4.5 percent, making it the lowest rate recorded based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics data series dating back to 1976.

The state’s labor market is strong,” said Paul Turek, economist for the department. “Employers have been adding jobs to where most workers seeking one have been able to find one.”

The Employment Security Department on Oct. 17 released the preliminary job estimates from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics as part of its Monthly Employment Report. The department also announced that August’s previously reported unemployment rate of 4.5 was confirmed. However, August’s preliminary estimated gain of 9,100 jobs was revised upward to a gain of 9,400 jobs.

The state’s labor force in September was 3,770,900 — an increase of 5,200 people from the previous month.

From September 2017 through September 2018, the state’s labor force grew by 19,300. The labor force is the total number of people, both employed and unemployed, over the age of 16.

Private sector employment increased by 3,900 while the public sector added 600 jobs in September.

This report shows the greatest private job growth occurred in retail trade up 2,100, education and health services up 2,000, financial activities up 1,700 and manufacturing up 1,400. Other sectors adding jobs were government up 600, other services up 500, information up 300 and transportation, warehousing and utilities up 100.

The number of jobs in both the mining and logging as well as professional and business services sectors remained constant in September.

Leisure and hospitality experienced the biggest reduction in September losing 2,500 jobs while construction lost 1,400 jobs and wholesale trade lost 300 jobs.

Washington added an estimated 99,700 new jobs from September 2017 through September 2018, not seasonally adjusted. The private sector grew by 3.5 percent, up an estimated 97,100 jobs, while public sector employment increased by 0.5 percent with a net gain of 2,600 jobs.

From September 2017 through September 2018, all 13 industry sectors added jobs.

 

Home buyers get more opportunity as market shifts

WENATCHEE — Homes took about a week longer to sell in September than August, while prices leveled off and buyers had more selection — good news for buyers, but still not bad for sellers, say real estate professionals.

I see this market as moving from an extreme ‘sellers market’ with record low inventories in many price ranges, multiple offers on one home, with only one buyer and their broker winning the bid war, to a more balanced market,” said Jamie Wallace of Windermere Real Estate/NCW and president of the North Central Washington Association of Realtors.

The 87 homes that sold in the Wenatchee area in September — down from 104 last year — were on the market an average of 91 days, compared to 85 days in August and 78 days in July, according to Pacific Appraisal Associate’s monthly Real Estate Snapshot Report published in mid-October. The Wenatchee market includes Wenatchee, Malaga, East Wenatchee, Orondo and Rock Island.

The median price of homes sold in September was $325,905, a $5 drop from August’s price.

The report also notes 213 active listings for September, compared to 170 a year ago. It’s the highest number of active listings since the 225 listed in September 2016.

Despite the slowdown in the number of homes sold in the past two months, 2018’s year-to-date numbers are still ahead of 2017 — with 786 sold through September 2018 compared to 779 at the same time last year.

Nearly half (48 percent) of the 350 combined active and pending listings are priced between $251,000 and $400,000. The price range with the next highest number of homes on the market is the $701,000 and up, with 29 listings.

September’s real estate market report also showed shifts in the rental vacancy rates last tallied in June, though the overall numbers remain low — at 2 percent, the same percentage reported this time last year. The numbers are based on Pacific Appraisal’s survey of rental companies in the area.

 

Wenatchee Valley Mall owners refinance debt

EAST WENATCHEE — Uber Capital Group LLC helped arrange for $9.2 million debt refinancing of the loan to purchase the 356,845-square-foot Wenatchee Valley Mall in East Wenatchee.

We obtained the loan for the Wenatchee Valley Mall acquisition debt refinancing from a regional Washington state bank at a fixed rate of 4.85 percent,” said Joel J. Gorjian, president of Uber Capital Group LLC, a commercial real estate financial advisory and mortgage origination firm based in Great Neck, New York.

The mall’s anchor tenants are Bed Bath and Beyond, Macy’s, Ross Dress for Less and Sportsman’s Warehouse.

Uber Capital assists property investors in planning, negotiating and sourcing debt and equity financing.

  

Hospital and union agree to contract

WENATCHEE — Central Washington Hospital and union members have agreed to a contract that gives workers a 2 percent pay raise.

Hospital workers who are partnered with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 21 (UFCW) received a pay raise of 2 percent in their new contract that was approved in September, according to union spokesman Tom Geiger. 

Around 200 workers will see a pay raise. Negotiations between the union and the hospital had been ongoing since June 2017 when the last contract expired, according to Geiger.

To a degree, the ability to achieve reasonable pay raise was good,” he said. “I think we, the members, feel the wage rate and other issues toward recruitment and retention were not addressed.”

The issues that were not addressed for this contract are expected to be renegotiated when the union workers and hospital administration meet up again in 2020, according to Geiger.

 

Pangborn lands fourth flight for the holidays

EAST WENATCHEE — Alaska Airlines’ fourth flight at Pangborn Memorial Airport will return for the holiday season, giving holiday travelers some additional options.

Airport Director Trent Moyers reported the news Sept. 19 to members of the airport’s governing board.

He attributes the return of the flight to success of the summer’s test-case flight that operated from May 20 to Aug. 25 boosting the enplanements for the summer by nearly 6,500 passengers.

According to the August 2018 activity report, 79,186 passengers got on and off planes at Pangborn from January through August last year compared to 85,610 in the same time frame this year.

Our numbers for the summer were fantastic,” he said. “It was interesting that we did as well as we did considering the smoke issues we had. We lost a couple of flights due to visibility and smoke in August, so we had fewer available flights than we normally would have.”

The airline has agreed to bring back a fourth flight during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, which are typically busy times at Pangborn.

We will see some additional frequency back in the market starting mid-November. It will be on for a few weeks, then off and back on until Jan. 6,” he said.

The fourth flight will be available:

  • Nov. 15-21
  • Nov. 25-26
  • Dec. 16-Jan. 6

The return bodes well for the future, he said. Airport officials have been hoping the airline will permanently add a fourth flight. It was tested for about a month in the summer of 2015 and then for three months this year.

We are happy to see that they were responsive to that and saw the success the fourth flight had over the summer and are bringing that back,” Moyers said.

Those numbers also could work in the airport’s favor in a quest to attract an airline to provide service to the San Francisco Bay area, an effort that also is currently underway.

 

Port grounds deal to purchase airport buildings

EAST WENATCHEE — Port of Chelan County commissioners on Sept. 19 decided not to buy two Executive Flight buildings at Pangborn Memorial Airport.

The $4.5 million deal was announced in April as a revenue-generating plan for the airport. It hinged on a 60-day feasibility study, which was extended at least once, giving port officials time to evaluate the facilities and understand the business model.

It’s a sophisticated building and somewhat complicated,” Port Executive Director Pat Jones said at the time. “We looked hard at the model to see if it made sense to own it on behalf of the citizens of Chelan County. We came to the conclusion that it didn’t work for us.”

The commission, at a special meeting Sept. 19, considered and declined to extend the feasibility study period, officially grounding the deal.

Executive Flight and Carl Campbell have been fantastic to deal with,” Jones said. “It was disappointing not to close on the Executive Flight building. It’s a fantastic facility.”

The business model floated in April was that lease payments from tenants in the two buildings — 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 — would cover debt payments and provide a revenue stream.

The airport is jointly owned by the ports of Chelan and Douglas counties, with the Chelan port operating the airport and its aviation-related facilities. The Douglas port has focused on developing the non-aviation properties, including the Pangborn Business Park.

Ever-widening airport operating budget gaps and increasing capital improvement costs — adding up to about $1.8 million in 2019 — are covered by the two port districts, in a 70/30 split, with the larger Port of Chelan picking up the greater share. Port of Douglas officials have been saying for several years that they cannot afford their 30 percent share.

That has led to friction and discussion about changing to a more regional funding model, though no specific proposals have yet landed.

In the meantime, both port districts have looked at ways to increase revenues, which led port officials to consider the Executive Flight purchase proposal.

The broader funding issues were not necessarily connected to the decision against moving forward with the building purchases, Jones said.

We looked at it as an opportunity to increase aviation related uses on the airfield and to generate net revenues to support the airport,” Jones said. “We looked hard at the second issue, asking, ‘Do we think the building lends itself to increased aviation business on the airfield and can that be marketed?’ We looked really hard if we could generate the net revenues to provide a funding stream. We just couldn’t get there.”

 

L&I proposes drop in workers’ comp rates for 2019

TUMWATER — Business owners and employees could get a break in workers compensation insurance costs in 2019.

The state Department of Labor and Industries has proposed an average 5 percent decrease in premiums employers pay for coverage — about $58 less a year per employee. Employees would pay about $6 less a year for their share of the premium.

The proposed decrease would mean Washington workers and employers, as a group, pay $136 million less in premiums.

If approved in December it would be the largest drop in costs since 2007.

The proposed decreases are an indication of a healthier system, said L&I Director Joel Sacks, pointing to decreases in work-related injuries and improved outcomes for injured workers.

One of the successful programs is the L&I’s Stay at Work Program, which covers some of the costs for employers to keep injured workers in light-duty jobs until they fully recover. Since 2012, the program has provided $72 million to employers, which has helped provide 27,000 workers with light-duty jobs while they heal.

Opioid prescription guidelines resulted in a 90 percent reduction in the number of workers receiving opioids at 6-12 weeks after injury, and the agency has been providing vocational support and assistance earlier in injury claims, helping reduce long-term disability.

Each fall, L&I proposes a rate for the following year by looking at expected workers’ compensation payouts, the size of the contingency reserve, wage inflation and other financial indicators.

Last year, rates went down by 2.5 percent.

Written comments on the proposed 2019 rates can be submitted until 5 p.m. Nov. 2.

For details, go to Lni.wa.gov/Rates. Final rates will be adopted by early December and go into effect Jan. 1.

 

Plans paused for Leavenworth Adventure Park

LEAVENWORTH — Plans for an activity park on the west end of the Bavarian Village are off the table — but not for long.

The developers for the Leavenworth Adventure Park, John Sutherland and Dave Moffett, have withdrawn their permit application.

Sutherland said that after reading public and agency comments, they decided to address concerns, especially traffic, parking and noise. They plan to resubmit an application in the near future.

We weren’t as clear on some things as we should have been,” Sutherland said. “We’re just kind of retooling all of that and making sure the questions are answered. … I believe we’ll be able to get the concerns mitigated.”

The park would be located on a hillside near Icicle Road and Highway 2 at the entrance to Tumwater Canyon. It would be about 10 acres and include a 2,200-foot downhill alpine coaster, a ropes course and a bungee trampoline.

If everything had gone according to plan, the park could have opened as early as June 2019. It would be open year-round.

We want to be a good community member,” Sutherland said. “While it’s not always easy to listen to criticisms, we read them — every one of them — and really did appreciate the feedback. … We’ll come back with something that I think people will like a lot better.”

City Administrator Joel Walinski said the permitting process, including the public comment portion, worked as it should for this situation.

There were comments that were very much for it, comments that were very much against it,” and others found gaps in the proposal, he said. “We’ll see what comes back next time around.”

 

Mining is part of recovery for Giga Watt

EAST WENATCHEE — Giga Watt is betting it can mine enough bitcoin to help dig its way out of financial difficulties that in late September resulted in laying off 49 of its 62 employees.

The change in tactics by the company that has until now served strictly as a host for other cryptocurrency part a recovery plan that includes:

  • Revising contracts with about 700 current mining customers who purchased “tokens” last year to temporarily increase cash flow for the company.
  • Leasing out its computing power for tasks other than cryptocurrency mining, providing a more stable revenue stream for the company and the clients it currently hosts. The non-bitcoin customers would include movie studios, medical facilities, banks and legal firms. The digital currency mining, then, would be used as fill-in revenue.
  • Convincing investors to give it more money — about $4 million — to complete construction of a substation at Pangborn Airport Industrial Park that will provide the 30 megawatts of power needed to energize the GigaPods that will house more servers.

The short- and long-term plans were outlined Sept. 28 by George Turner, who had been project manager before taking on the role of managing director in September.

Turner said the company also is working with about 700 hosting clients to revise the token system to increase cash flow to the company.

The company in late September laid off all but 13 employees (from a peak of about 70 in May). It also announced Giga Watt founder Dave Carlson had stepped down as chief executive officer and that it was working on a plan to clear more than $620,000 in contractor liens filed by electrical contractors working on the construction project in East Wenatchee, which is at a standstill.

That project included building a series of buildings (GigaPods) to house cryptocurrency mining devices the company would install and host for its clients. The pods aren’t the problem, Turner said.

The hiccup came with the substation needed to power the GigaPod project which, because of planning snafus, requires a complete redesign and an additional $3.5 million to $4 million investment.

We need outside revenue to move forward,” Turner said.

If the money was in hand, finishing the substation and getting it online would take about six months.

Board members, including Carlson, who remains on the board and involved though he stepped down as CEO in August, are working on finding other investors.

In the meantime, Turner said, the business model is shifting to using the “blockchain” computing power for projects such has processing 3-D graphics for special effects movies and virtual medicine imaging and for verification and validation of signatures for smart contracts for banks and legal firms.

That would be a more stable and more lucrative revenue stream for us and our clients,” he said, given the price volatility of bitcoin. Rather than relying on cryptocurrency mining, it would be used as a fill-in task.

Turner said he expects the company to boost its blockchain computing effort within the year.

 

Small business adviser Jim Fletcher opts for retirement

WENATCHEE — Jim Fletcher has helped hundreds of Wenatchee Valley businesses do things businesses do — open, close, expand, move, borrow, refinance and strategize.

As the face of Wenatchee’s Small Business Development Center, which offers free business advice to residents in Chelan and Douglas counties, Fletcher served as the sounding board. The good ideas, he encouraged, helping secure about $24 million in capital funding in the process. He admits to trying to steer some of the bad ideas in a different direction.

The SBDC has 34 business advisers working throughout the state. Half of the program funding is provided by the Small Business Administration and the other half through a local source. Here, the local match comes from the ports of Chelan and Douglas counties, with Washington State University handling the administrative duties. When he started in 2002, Wenatchee Valley College hosted the program.

The advisers work together, offering expertise in specific areas like manufacturing or international trade, or simply providing support and a second opinion for a particularly tricky problem.

We share our skills,” he said. “None of us knows everything. It’s good to get different ideas. We want to help the client and make sure we’re giving the best advice.”

Fletcher announced his decision to retire in late July after 16 years on the job. His last day was Sept. 28.

  

Senior Insurance Services gets a new home

WENATCHEE — Senior Insurance Services of Wenatchee has a new location, 1108 Springwater Ave.

Company owners Jim and Rae Heinlein designed and built the new office, working with local contractors. According to city records, G.L. White Construction was the contractor on the $500,000 project.

The insurance previously was located in a suite at the Wenatchee Valley Senior Activity Center.

The company provides education, enrollment and customer support for those age 65 and older or on disability who need help navigating the world of Medicare insurance.

Our company teaches you to shop and compare all your Medicare options. After you make an educated choice based on your own individual needs, we can assist you with enrolling in the plan of your choice,” Jim Heinlein said. “All our services are at no fee to you.”

The move to the new office started in September, settling in before the annual Medicare enrollment period from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.

Senior Insurance covers Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties, with offices in Omak, Ephrata and Moses Lake, as well as the headquarters in Wenatchee.

 

Aspen Dental office opens

EAST WENATCHEE — Aspen Dental opened its new 4,068-square-foot office Aug. 30 at 401 Valley Mall Parkway.

The new practice is led by Dr. Bruce Wilcox who earned his dental credentials from the University of British Columbia. Wilcox and his team of eight offer dental services that range from general dentistry and preventive care to restoration and dentures.

The practice also offers:

  • Free new patient exams and x-rays to those without insurance.
  • A denture lab to provide a quick turnaround for dentures, repairs, relines and adjustments on all dentures, not just those purchased at Aspen Dental.

For information on office hours and to schedule appointments, go to aspendental.com or call (509) 289-2500. Walk-in and emergency patients also are welcome.

Aspen Dental-branded practices are independently owned and operated, with nearly 700 offices in 38 states.