Business Briefs — December 2015

Food for Fines Drive

The Mid-Columbia Library will have its annual Food for Fines Drive through Dec. 31. Library customers can pay their fines using non-perishable food items. Each food item counts as $1 toward overdue fines, up to $10 per account. All food will be donated to local food banks throughout the region. As part of the event, the Mid-Columbia Libraries is also holding a contest. For each additional food item donation that is not eligible toward fine reduction within a library account, customers receive a raffle ticket and a chance to win one of several gift cards from local restaurants, including a year of pizza from Papa John’s. Entries are not limited, but customers can only win one gift card. The drawing and notification of winners will be Jan. 8. Last year’s Food for Fine Drive bought in more than 7,900 pounds of food, which was donated to area food banks, including Second Harvest Tri-Cities, Basin City Help Services, Benton City Food Bank, Othello Food Bank, Connell Food Bank, Kahlotus Food Bank and Jubilee Ministries Prosser Food Bank.

Luminaria planned

Homeowners in the Desert Plateau area of Pasco are planning the 30th annual Luminaria. Thousands of homeowners will participant and more than 30,000 candlelit bags will line the streets in the Desert Plateau, River Heights and First Place developments in Pasco.

The event will be at 6 p.m. Dec. 19. This year’s Luminaria will also feature a ‘Fill the Bus’ food drive hosted by the Pasco School District. A decorated school bus will be parked at the McGee Elementary School and the district is asking for donations of nonperishable goods, which will be donated to Second Harvest. Last year, more than 10,500 pounds of nonperishables were collected during the Luminaria.

Nominations sought

Northwest Farm Credit Services is seeking to honor Northwest agriculture leaders who impact their industries and rural communities. As part of the Farm Credit System’s centennial celebration, Northwest FCS is participating in the national Farm Credit fresh Perspectives campaign. Leaders can come from a variety of backgrounds: farmers and ranchers, individuals who represent other agribusinesses, cooperatives, academic institutions, government agencies and community organizations. Award categories include: leadership (over 21); youth leadership (21 and younger); rural policy influence; beginning farmer or rancher achievement; entrepreneurship and innovation; sustainability and natural resource conservation; financial stewardship; mentoring and volunteerism; agriculture education and community impact; rural and urban connection. Deadline for contest entries is Dec. 18. Nominations can be submitted online at http://www.farmcredit100.com/fresh.

Boy Scouts start annual popcorn fundraiser

The Blue Mountain Council of the Boy Scouts of America has launched its 2016 Trail’s End Gourmet Popcorn sale. More than 250 youth from 25 Cub Scout Packs and Boy Scout Troops will sell popcorn with more than 70 percent of the proceeds of the sales benefitting local scouts. Proceeds from the popcorn sales help scouts attend summer camp and obtain camping gear. The popcorn sales also help teach the scouts about salesmanship and economics. The proceeds also support the local Blue Mountain Boy Scout Council operation, which serves about 5,000 youth and 2,000 adult volunteers annually. Information on where to buy popcorn or how to support scouting can be found at www.bmcbsa.org or by calling 509-735-7306.

Casey to speak

Paul D. Casey will be the featured speaker at the Jan. 12 dinner meeting of the local American Society for Quality. His talk, ‘You can be a Change Agency,’ will focus on the change agent’s role and challenges and offer tools to help guide teams through the change process.

The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. with check-in and networking, followed by a dinner buffet at 6 p.m. Casey’s presentation begins at 6:45 p.m.

The cost is $20 for ASQ members, $25 for non-members or $5 for the presentation only. RSVP by Jan. 7 by email at Panda_2@charter.net or by calling 509-371-2221.

More seniors, disabled qualify for property tax relief

Recently enacted legislation lifts the income limit to qualify for a property tax exemption from $35,000 to $40,000 for property owners ages 61 and older, or those retired due to a service or job-related disability. The exemption applies to a person’s principal residence and depends on the combined disposable income of the applicant, spouse, partner and/or co-tenants occupying the same home.

The legislation also raised the income limit to $45,000 for the deferral program, which delays property taxes for seniors and the disabled until a later date. Under the deferral program, the Washington State Department of Revenue pays the property taxes and any special assessments on the property owner’s behalf. The deferred amount, plus interest, becomes a lien on the home until the total amount is repaid.

To be eligible, the homeowner must be either at least 60 years old, unable to work because of a disability, or be at least 57 years old and the surviving spouse or partner of someone who was receiving a deferral at the time of death.

The counties administer property taxes on behalf of the state. Interested homeowners should contact the county assessor’s office to apply.

Kaiser to acquire Group Health

Kaiser Permanente, based in Oakland, Calif., has agreed to acquired Group Health Cooperative, a Seattle-based health insurer with approximately 130,000 customers in Eastern Washington. The transaction must be approved by Group Health’s voting members and regulators, and the transaction could take up to a year to complete. If acquired, Group Health would be fully integrated into Kaiser and become Kaiser’s eighth region.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed, by Group Health officials said $1.8 billion in proceeds from the transaction will be used to establish the Group Health Community Foundation, which would be focused on improving health for Washington families.

Group Health currently has nearly 590,000 enrollees. After the acquisition is complete, Kaiser will be the insurer for nearly 11 million people, who will have access to about 18,700 physicians at nearly 680 hospitals and medical facilities in eight states and the District of Columbia.

Nominations sought

The West Richland Chamber of Commerce is seeking nominations for its 2015 community awards. Awards include outstanding business, female business leader of the year, best business to work for, nonprofit of the year, Herb Ganz Community Spirit Award, outstanding volunteer, outstanding chamber member, Solopreneur of the Year, best creative marketing and the customer-focused business of the year. Nominees must live or do work in West Richland. Nomination forms are available at the West Richland Chamber of Commerce or by emailing wrcc@westrichlandchamber.org.

Key Technology reports earnings

Key Technology Inc. (NASDAQ: KTEC) announced its sales and operating results for the fiscal year 2015 and the fourth quarter, which ended Sept. 30.

Net sales for fiscal 2015 were $102.9 million, a decrease of $15.3 million or 13 percent, compared to the $118.3 million reported for fiscal year 2014. The company reported a net loss for fiscal 2015 of $5 million, or $0.80 per diluted share, compared to a net loss of $5.4 million, or $0.86 per diluted share for 2014.

The gross profit was $28.8 million for fiscal year 2015, compared to $34.4 million in fiscal year 2014.

Operating expenses for 2015 were $36.2 million, or 35.2 percent of net sales, compared to $42.3 million, or 35.8 percent of net sales for fiscal year 2014.

Jack Ehren, president and CEO, said that as a result of the low annual net sales and related margins for fiscal year 2015, overall annual operating results were below expectations. Although operating expenses increased during the fourth quarter of 2015, primarily related to the introduction and beta testing of the Veryx platform, operating expenses for the fiscal year declined significantly in all functional areas when compared to the prior year, he added. The decrease demonstrates the managements commitment to establishing a ‘scalable infrastructure for future growth’ and maintaining a healthy financial position and strong, stable balance sheet, Ehren said.

Orders received for fiscal year 2015 were $114.8 million, compared to $110.5 million in 2014. As of Sept. 30, the Company’s backlog was $30.7 million, compared to $18.1 million on Sept. 30, 2014.

NFPA plans expo and conference

The Northwest Food Processors Association will bring together the best speakers and company leaders in the food and beverage industry for the 102nd annual NW Food & Beverage Manufacturers Expo and Conference Jan. 11-13 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. This year’s conference will include a ‘continuous improvement’ track, where attendees will learn about the latest tools and techniques to improve food production, workforce effectiveness, overall equipment efficiency and audit preparation.

The annual expo is the largest regional food and beverage conference in North America, attracting 440 exhibit booths, more than 20 educational sessions and more than 3,000 attendees.

Keynote speakers include Jeff Manning, the creator of the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign and Frank Yiannis, vice president of food safety for Walmart. Other conference tracks include government affairs, business, energy efficiency and sustainability, training, food safety and policy.

Register online at bit.ly/2016NWFPAexpo. For more information, go to www.nwfpa.org.

Veteran’s Day Parade winners

The West Richland Area Chamber of Commerce has announced the winners of its Nov. 7 Veterans Day Parade.

The grand prize went to Wendal Lint, Tri-City Military Vehicle Club. Other winners were: UA Plumbers & Steel Fitters, Local Union 598, best float; American Heritage Girls, youth spirit; Nuclear Elite Cheer, marching unit; Robert Clark-Polaris Slingshot, motorcycles; Benton Franklin Mounted Sheriff’s Posse, equestrian; Hanford Marching Band, marching band; Benton City Salutes Our Veterans, cars/trucks.

ACT receives grants

The Academy of Children’s Theatre has been awarded two major grants. A $10,000 grant from the Charlotte Martin Foundation will support ACT’s special theatre program for children with autism, Spectrum on Stage, for 2016. The program will be offered weekly and in a special two-week camp format that culminates in a full-scale production presentation.

A $2,500 grant from the Columbia Center Rotary will provide money to start the conversion of exterior facility space adjacent to ACT into an outdoor classroom and theatre venue. The project is planned for completion before next summer and it will help expand the ACT facility to accommodate growing class enrollment.

Blue Cross, Express Scripts extend contract

Premera Blue Cross and Express Scripts (NASDAQ:ESRX) announced an early renewal of the companies’ long-standing pharmacy benefit agreement in late November. The partnership, which began in 1999, will now extend through at least 2019.

After evaluating pharmacy benefit manager capabilities during a competitive review and selection process, Premera concluded that Express Scripts continues to offer the best health plan integration and deliver the most overall value for Premera’s clients and members.

The two organizations have collaborated to implement new data-driven solutions to improve medication adherence, user experience and overall health outcomes. The include: RationalMed®, an evidence-based safety program that integrates and evaluates medical, pharmacy and lab data to close potential care gaps; ScreenRx®, a predictive analytics program that identifies members who are likely to stop taking their medications and intervenes with adherence nudges tailored to help patients stay on track; First Call Resolution, a combination of technology, people and processes to more quickly and satisfactorily respond to member inquiries and enhance the overall experience of being a Premera member; and a cross-platform mobile app that enables Premera members to keep track of their medications, order prescriptions, view lower-cost options, set reminders and get personalized safety alerts.

Orchardist fined

A Columbia County orchardist illegally watered a 100-acre apple and pear orchard after being ordered to stop irrigating during Washington’s historic drought.

The Washington Department of Ecology required 67 irrigators to stop irrigating in July and August 2015 to help save water for endangered fish and farmers with more senior rights to the water.

Warren Orchards continued to irrigate at night, and will pay $73,530 for illegally using more than 90-acre-feet of water from the Touchet River.

Ecology staff witnessed owner and operator Robert Warren illegally irrigating his orchard at night on Aug. 18 after having received the cease order.

Warren was issued a second order on Aug. 22 to disconnect the power to irrigation pumps and provide his water meter data to Ecology.

Metering data showed that Warren illegally diverted water from the Touchet River over a period of 44 days, impairing other irrigators who had rights to the water.

Warren’s illegal water use also reduced the flow of the Touchet River for nearly 50 miles, which provides critical habitat for threatened steelhead.

Warren can appeal the penalty and order to the Pollution Control Hearings Board within 30 days.

Cascade asks for rate increase

Cascade Natural Gas filed a natural gas rate increase request with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission in early December. If approved, it would increase residential customers’ monthly bill by an average of $4.87 a month.

Scott Madison, executive vice president and general manager of Cascade, said the main reason for the rate increase request is to recover the cost of the increased investment in natural gas facilities and increased operating expenses. As of June 30, Cascade’s total gross investment for Washington natural gas operations is $619 million, which is $156 million more than the total gross investment in 2006 when the last general rate case was filed.

The proposed increase is for $10.5 million annually over current rates, or a 4.17 percent overall increase. Cascade serves nearly 204,000 customers in 65 Washington communities. The 2006 rate case resulted in a 2.7 percent increase.

Based on rate class studies, the increase is proposed to be allocated only to the residential rate class in order to bring rates more in line with the cost of service. The allocation results in a proposed 8.93 percent increase for residential customers, or $4.87 per month, on average.

Conservation tips, information on energy assistance and information on the company’s budget payment plan can be found on Cascade’s website at www.cngc.com.

Transit begins search

Ben Franklin Transit has started its search for a new general manager. The board of directors has contracted with The Prothman Company to help them with the search. Prothman is a Northwest-based consulting firm that specializes in national and regional executive recruitment services for cities, counties, special districts, nonprofits and other governmental agencies.

The position is posted on the Prothman website and advertising, active requirement and direct mail outreach will begin in January. The final interview process, which usually includes a candidate reception, should be complete by the first week of April.

TRIDEC, Lamb Weston ink agreement with Inner Mongolia

ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston and the Tri-City Development Council recently signed individual Agreements of Mutual Cooperation with the People’s Government of Wulanchabu, Inner Mongolia, China. The signing ceremony took place in the Bechtel Room at the Tri-Cities Business Center, Kennewick. Preceding the signing ceremony, the Inner Mongolian group of seven government and agricultural representatives toured the Washington State University Tri-Cities Wine Science Center in Richland.

Inner Mongolia is furthering its claim to fame as the “Potato Capital of China” thanks to pioneering work being conducted by ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston in growing and processing potatoes in this northern Chinese province. Lamb Weston celebrated the one-year anniversary of the grand opening of its processing facility in Shangdu, Inner Mongolia, in November. Potatoes were recently elevated in China after being targeted by the Chinese government as one of the four staple foods that need to be developed to feed their ever-increasing population.

In collaboration with ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston, Wulanchabu officials requested an agreement with TRIDEC to promote agricultural trade and economic development opportunities between the two communities.

The Agreement is similar to one recently signed between TRIDEC and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, which resulted in TRIDEC exhibiting in the recently completed Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair.

The Agreement on Mutual Cooperation with TRIDEC is a significant step in positioning the Columbia Basin as the Strategic Gateway in the food and beverage industry between America and Asia, a primary goal of the FABREO Columbia Basin Program.

Restaurant, lodging associations merge

The Washington Restaurant Association and the Washington Lodging Association have joined together and created a partnership that will result in one of the state’s largest trade associations.

On Oct. 1, the WRA and WLA began working under a joint operating agreement, combining staff and operational functions in the WRA’s Olympia office.

Under the agreement, the associations remain separate legal entities with independent Boards of Directors. However, the two boards will hold joint board meetings and are governed by a joint executive committee. WRA’s President & CEO Anthony Anton now also serves as WLA’s chief executive officer.

As the next step in the collaboration, WLA and WRA will launch a unified hospitality association under a new brand in 2016. The decision to join forces came after an extensive, two-year due diligence process that focused on the common interests of the state’s restaurant and lodging sectors.

Anton said that by joining forces, the entities now have an expanded government affairs team that is increases their influence and addresses the challenges facing the industry at both the state and local level.

The new, unified hospitality association will have more than 6,000 members and advocate on behalf of an industry that employs more than 250,000 Washingtonians and generates $17.7 billion in revenue each year. It will also serve as the primary source of hospitality information for the state’s restaurants and hotels.

Kennewick port makes staffing adjustments

Tim Arntzen, Port of Kennewick’s chief executive officer is shifting the duties and responsibilities of some Port staff, so that he is better able to spend time on Vista Field redevelopment.

Port Commissioners emphasized that they wanted to be sure the port is prepared to lead redevelopment of the 103-acre, former airfield, which closed in 2014. The commissioners asked Arntzen to develop a staffing plan to accommodate the increased workload created by the redevelopment.

Tana Bader Inglima was promoted to deputy chief executive officer as of Oct. 1. Since 2008, Bader Inglima had served as the organization’s director of governmental relations and marketing. As deputy CEO, she will assume some of Arntzen’s duties, including working with staff members on budgeting, contracts, performance reviews, and meeting agendas.

The port has obtained consultant services for writing assistance on its newsletter and for researching and submitting grant applications, which was previously among Bader Inglima’s duties. The port will also contract for a “town architect” to help with development and construction management at Vista Field.

In addition, Tammy Fine, the port’s chief financial officer, is retiring at the end of the year and Nick Kooiker, who currently serves as the port’s assistant CFO will become CFO/auditor. The port will contract with Fine to help train Nick Kooiker as her replacement and provide assistance with audits. To help pay for the staffing adjustments, the port will not fill the position of a mid-level accounting assistant who left in 2014.

Christmas Eve Service

Christmas Eve Service will be celebrated at Calvary Chapel Tri-Cities amphitheater located at 10611 West Clearwater Ave. in Kennewick from 5:30 – 7 p.m. Dec. 24.

This is a special outdoor event with a bonfire, decorative lights, candle lighting and joyful music to celebrate Christmas Eve. Bundle up the family, snuggle under your blankets, sip complimentary hot cocoa or coffee and enjoy the festivities.

All are welcome and encouraged to bring family and friends. Experience the fellowship, community and heartwarming hometown celebration as we share the love of our Savior this

Christmas Eve. For more information contact, Calvary Chapel Tri-Cities at 509-736-2086 or visit www.calvary-tricities.org.

Pasco offers information on 20th Avenue Improvements

The City of Pasco will have an informational meeting and open house at 5 p.m. Dec. 16 to share information about the 20th Avenue Safety Improvements project.

The agenda includes an overview of the project and review of the project schedule. The public is invited to attend to get a better understanding of the project and the impacts to the corridor.

The project includes traffic and pedestrian signal improvements, ADA ramp upgrades, widening of a narrow section of 20th Avenue near Robert Frost Elementary School, and the addition of two pedestrian beacons. The city will also build access management curbing with designated left-turn locations in specific areas. These improvements are being made to improve safety for citizens and provide more manageable access for local businesses. The event will be recorded and shown on PSC-TV Channel 191 on Charter Cable for later viewing.

The meeting will be held in Council Chambers at City Hall, 525 N. Third Ave. For more information, contact the City of Pasco Engineering Office at 509-545-3444.

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