Business Briefs — February 2019

Lawsuit against Hanford contractor alleges fraud

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a civil lawsuit against Mission Support Alliance, Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Services Inc. and Frank Armijo, alleging they defrauded the federal government.

The Justice Department alleges false claims and kickbacks in connection with a multi-billion dollar contract with the Department of Energy to support cleanup at the Hanford site near Richland.

Lockheed Martin and MSA have denied the allegations.

The federal government’s complaint alleges the defendants knowingly made or caused false statements to the DOE about the profit included in the billing rates for LMSI under the subcontract it was awarded by its affiliate, MSA. The complaint also alleges the defendants’ claims for these inflated rates violated the False Claims Act.

In addition, the complaint alleges LMC made payments of more than $1 million to Armijo and other MSA executives for favorable treatment from MSA related to the award of the LMSI subcontract at the inflated rates. The complaint further alleges these payments violated the Anti-Kickback Act. 

“Fraud, corruption, and self-dealing at Hanford will simply not be tolerated,” said U.S. Attorney Joseph H. Harrington for the Eastern District of Washington in a statement. “The critical mission of cleaning up the Hanford site in a safe, timely, environmentally responsible, and cost-effective manner is too important to the public and the residents of this region.” 

MSA is a Delaware limited liability corporation that, during the time alleged in the lawsuit, was owned by Lockheed Martin Integrated Technology LLC, Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., and Centerra Group (formerly G4S Government Solutions, and, prior to that, Wackenhut Services Inc.). 

Both Lockheed Martin Integrated Technology and LMSI were wholly-owned subsidiaries of LMC. Armijo is a vice president of LMC and also served as a president of MSA during the time period in question.

The multi-billion dollar MSA contract with DOE required MSA to provide a number of site-wide services to DOE and to other contractors involved in the clean up of the Hanford site. The allegations in the complaint relate to the management and technology solution services MSA agreed to provide at Hanford. 

In January 2010, MSA awarded its affiliate, LMSI, a $232 million subcontract to perform that work through June 2016.


List of closing Shopko stores includes Kennewick

The Kennewick, Prosser and Walla Walla Shopko stores are scheduled to close May 5.

The department store announced plans to close 38 stores nationwide but the local stores weren’t on the list when the news was announced last month. Shopko filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Jan. 16.

The new closure list includes 11 Washington stores, up from the previously released four.

Nationwide, 251 stores will be shuttered.

Those scheduled for closure in the state include: Yakima and Pullman, closing in April; Spokane and Lacey, closing in March; and Union Gap, Wenatchee and Quincy, closing in May.

The Prosser and Quincy stores are Shopko Hometown shops, which are smaller than the traditional big box stores, ranging in size from 15,000 square feet to 35,000 square feet.

“This decision is a difficult, but necessary one,” said CEO Russ Steinhorst in a Jan. 16 statement. “In a challenging retail environment, we have had to make some very tough choices, but we are confident that by operating a smaller and more focused store footprint, we will be able to build a stronger Shopko that will better serve our customers, vendors, employees and other stakeholders through this process.”

Shopko also is relocating more than 20 of its optical centers to freestanding locations and conducting an auction for its pharmacy business. Throughout this process, all Shopko optical centers and pharmacies remain open.

The company, which employs more than 18,000 people, said the court filing will allow it to pay wages, salaries, benefits and to pay vendors and suppliers.

Shopko has obtained up to $480 million debtor-in-possession financing to help fund and protect its operations during the Chapter 11 process, according to a company news release.

Shopko opened its first store in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 1962. It operates more than 360 store in 26 states.


Transit launches new general demand service

Ben Franklin Transit has launched a new general demand service.

The new service will provide customers in Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland areas with pre-scheduled pickups at designated stops in each city.

Finley’s general demand service launched Jan. 2.

Customers will be picked up within a scheduled window of time from one of the designated stops and taken to one of several connection points to access the bus system.

Return trips work the same way, with scheduled pickups from one of the designated connection points and drop-offs at a general demand stop. All trips require advance scheduling.

Cost is $1 or $3 each way, plus any applicable bus fare when transferring to a bus route.

Tri-City Taxi, which closed abruptly Oct. 30, forced the discontinuation of the transit’s taxi feeder, night and Sunday taxi service.

The new general demand service will continue on an interim basis while Ben Franklin Transit conducts a search for a third-party contractor to provide one or more of the services in the long term.

For more information about the new service, visit  www.bft.org/NewPlaces or call 509-735-5100.


Elevate! networking event connects Tri-City women

Professional women in the Tri-Cities are invited to network with each other at a quarterly networking event called Elevate! from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. April 25 at Goose Ridge Winery and Tasting Room, 16304 Dallas Road, Richland.

Elevate! connects area women who are professionals with five or more years in their field to build business associations, friends, advocates and network with the larger community to elevate each other.

The no-host event is being organized by Shelley Kennedy, a financial advisor at Edward Jones, Melanie Hair, publisher of the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business, and Shasta Meyers, branch office administrator for Edward Jones. Light appetizers will be provided.

To RSVP, call 509-946-7626.


New fashion shop to open at Columbia Center

A popular fashion retailer plans to open later this year at Columbia Center mall in Kennewick.

Forever 21 will open a 12,000-square-foot shop this spring or summer next to Victoria’s Secret, mall officials announced Jan. 16.

Headquartered in Los Angeles, the women’s, men’s and kids’ clothing and accessory store is known for offering the latest fashion trends at affordable prices.

Founded in 1984, Forever 21 operates more than 815 stores in 57 countries.

The announcement comes on the heels of the abrupt closure of Old Country Buffet, on mall property at 2321 N. Columbia Center Blvd.

The buffet restaurant’s kitchen equipment, ranging from double ovens to refrigerators, to a steel griddle to a double fryer, were listed online for auction Jan. 15 at AuctionNation.com.

A second Old Country Buffet restaurant a mile away at 6821 W. Canal Drive remains open.

The mall will lose a longtime anchor tenant when Sears closes in late March.

But a new tenant will be open to shoppers later this year.

Dick’s Sporting Goods is building a $7.5 million store where the former Regal Cinemas used to be. The 45,138-square-foot store is under construction and scheduled to open this fall.

The mall’s other anchor stores — JCPenney and Macy’s (formerly The Bon Marché) — have been at the mall since it opened 50 years ago. The jewelry retailer, Zales, also was an original store, according to mall officials.

The mall celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

“We have reached an exciting milestone for the mall, while simultaneously seeing continued expansion,” said Barbara Johnson, Columbia Center’s general manager, in a news release.

Mall officials invite the public to send pictures of their memories at the mall over the years by using tagging
@ColumbiaCtrMall using the hashtag “#ColumbiaCenter50,” or by bringing photos directly to the mall management office outside the mall between JCPenney and Men’s Macy’s.

The mall will collect the photos and display them during a celebration in October.


Lourdes Health opens new rheumatology clinic

Lourdes Health has opened a Rheumatology Clinic inside Lourdes Medical Center at 520 N. Fourth Ave. in Pasco.

Dr. Sudeep Thapa, who most recently completed a fellowship at Wayne State University and is board certified in rheumatology, joined the clinic. He completed his residency at Henry Ford Hospital and medical school at Wayne State University. He is fluent in English, Hindi and Nepali.

“This is a specialty that patients in our community have historically had to wait months for an appointment. With Dr. Thapa’s new clinic, people are now able to get the help they need much sooner,” said Melda Velasquez, director of Medical and Surgical Specialties, in a release.

The clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 509-416-8890 or visit lourdesrheumatology.com.


State, U.S. employment on the rise in December

Employment for nonfarm jobs in Washington rose by 11,400 in December, with 9,800 of those being in the public sector, reported the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Year over year, the state gained 101,900 jobs from 2017-18. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged from November to December with 4.3 percent. It was lower than 4.7 percent in December the year prior.

Construction gained the most jobs from November to December with 2,400 positions followed by transportation, warehousing and utilities with 2,100 and manufacturing with 1,800. Annually, the increases were seen the most in construction with 14,500 positions, followed closely by education and health services with 14,200 jobs and professional and business services with 12,100.

The national seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 3.9 percent in December, which was down slightly from 4.1 percent the same month in 2017.


Richland to consider 8 percent electric rate increase

The Richland City Council will consider an 8 percent electric rate increase at its March 5 meeting. If approved, the rates will be effective June 1, with the first bill customers will receive in June.

The proposed rate increase is because of a projected 8 percent revenue deficit primarily due to higher wholesale power costs, according to the city of Richland.

Wholesale power is Richland Energy Services’ most significant operating expense making up more than 60 percent of expenses, and the Bonneville Power Administration, RES’ wholesale power provider, is implementing a wholesale power increase effective Oct. 1.

The average residential customer’s bill will increase about $8.40 per month, or from $105.20 to $113.60.

Commercial, industrial and irrigation rates also will increase.

Upcoming meetings about the increase are March 5, when the city council holds a public hearing and first reading for the ordinance followed by the second reading, March 19.

The dates are subject to change but check updated council agendas at
ci.richland.wa.us/agendas.


AARP offers free tax help throughout the Tri-Cities

The AARP Foundation is providing free in-person tax assistance and preparation through April 15 through its Tax-Aide Program.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteers are trained and IRS-certified each year to ensure they know about and understand the latest changes to the U.S. Tax Code. 

Assistance is being offered in the following locations:

• Richland Public Library, 955 Northgate Drive, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturdays, through April 15.

• Richland Community Center, 500 Amon Park Drive, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through April 11. No clients accepted after 11 a.m.

• Mid-Columbia Libraries, Kennewick branch, 1620 Union St. from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays and from 12:30 to 3 p.m. Thursdays through April 15.

• Pasco Police Community Center, 215 W. Sylvester St., from 9 a.m. to noon. Mondays through April. 15.

Mid-Columbia Libraries, Pasco branch, 1320 W. Hopkins St., from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through April 10.

• Mid-Columbia Libraries, Keewaydin Park branch, 405 S. Dayton St., from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays and from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays through April 13.

• Burbank Library, 875 Lake Road, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays on Feb. 9 and 23, March 9 and 23, and April 6.

For more information, including which documents to bring to the tax site, call 888-227-7669 or visit  aarpfoundation.org/taxhelp.


New senior housing opens in Prosser

Catholic Charities Housing Services’ $11.7 million senior housing community has opened. 

Called Saint Anthony Terrace, the 60-unit affordable housing community for those 55 years and older features one- and two-bedroom apartments. Rents range from $307 to $658 per month. Section 8 vouchers are welcomed.

The pet-friendly complex includes a fitness room, resource library and computer area, community room, community gardening areas, storage space and three laundry rooms. Each kitchen includes a dishwasher, microwave, stove and refrigerator. 

Catholic Charities Housing Services said it developed Saint Anthony Terrace using green building techniques, saving apartment tenants about 50 percent of the energy usage typical of standard construction. Water usage will likewise be reduced through the incorporation of low flow fixtures and xeriscaping.

For more information, call 509-781-6380.


SARC offers 32-hour volunteer training session

The 32-hour volunteer advocate training for the Support, Advocacy & Resource Center is Feb. 25 to March 9.

The nonprofit said it is in “great need of volunteers at this time.”

SARC serves Benton and Franklin counties by providing crisis services and prevention education for community members on human trafficking, sexual assault/abuse and all non-domestic violence crimes, such as child abuse, elder abuse, assault, homicide, robbery, identity theft and fraud.

SARC relies on community volunteers to help run its 24-hour hotline, which can be done from volunteers’ homes.

The volunteer advocates only respond to calls regarding sexual assault and abuse. Volunteers interested in working with human trafficking clients may take additional training.

To be an on-call crisis advocate, volunteers need a cell or home phone number. Those able and willing to meet with clients in person can sign up to be an on-call hospital advocate.

For more information, call Rosanna Herrera at 509-374-5391 or email rherrera@supportadvocacyresourcecenter.com.


Local eateries to appear on upcoming Fieri shows

Want to watch the spotlight shine on Tri-City restaurants with Food Network star Guy Fieri?

Tune in to his show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” at 9 p.m. Feb. 22 and midnight Feb. 23. Though the restaurants aren’t named, the program notes say Fieri visits a Pasco “bakery serving up savory goodness, like a killer Cuban and off-the-chain chicken.”

Fieri’s visit to a Richland “joint going big with their legit barbecue” airs at 9 p.m. March 8 and midnight March 9.

His visit to another Richland eatery to check out “a funky spot serving serious strombolis and an apple-dough dessert” airs at 9 p.m. March 29 and midnight March 30.


Libraries now offering streaming video service

The popular on-demand film streaming service Kanopy is now available for free for all Mid- Columbia Libraries and Richland Public Libraries cardholders.

MCL patrons can access Kanopy and sign up to start streaming films instantly by visiting midcolumbialibraries.kanopy.com.

Richland library card holders sign up at richlandlib.kanopy.com.

Kanopy showcases more than 30,000 of the world’s best films, including award-winning documentaries, rare and hard-to-find titles, film festival favorites, indie and classic films, and world cinema with collections from The Great Courses, PBS and many more.

No software is required. Films can be streamed from any computer, television, mobile device or platform by downloading the Kanopy app for iOS, Android, AppleTV, Chromecast or Roku. An internet connection is needed.


New college scholarships available to students

New scholarships are available for Columbia Basin College and Washington State University Tri-Cities students who might have struggled to get financial support in the past.

The scholarships are created by two $25,000 donations in 2018 and 2019 from STCU to Women Helping Women Fund Tri-Cities to create an endowment for education. The endowment will fund an annual scholarship to at least one deserving student at both CBC and WSU Tri-Cities with the intention of positively changing the lives of women in the community through education.

An endowment fund is an investment fund established by a foundation for a nonprofit organization. The capital of the fund is invested and once it reaches maturity, a certain percentage of the interest is available for regular withdrawals to fund designated programming. The key is that each year, only a small portion of the interest of the endowment fund will ever be used, so the remainder is left to grow. 


Richland’s curbside recycling rates increase

Starting in February, the rates for Richland’s co-mingling curbside recycling program will be increasing.

Residents with the standard 96-gallon blue container will see a 90-cent increase, from $5.70 to $6.60 a month, and businesses or those with a 300-gallon triple size gray container will see an increase of $2.20, from $13.90 to $16.10 a month. Commercial customers can view the recycling rate structure by visiting ci.richland.wa.us/solidwaste or by calling 509-942-7700.

Over the years, the costs of processing recycled materials climbed and the resale markets and international exports fell. A cost and market evaluation study was done in 2018, and it found recycling processing costs have increased 185 percent since 2015. The city council voted in favor of an increase in January.

Recycling drop boxes in Richland neighborhoods remain available free of charge. For locations, visit ci.richland.wa.us/recycle.


Richland kicks off second search for police chief

A second national recruitment effort for a police chief is underway in Richland after the city rejected two finalists.

The position was previously held for seven years by Chris Skinner, who accepted a position as police chief in Eugene, Oregon. Jeff Taylor is serving as the interim police chief.

Ralph Andersen & Associates again will assist with the national search.

The position remains open through March 18, or until a list of qualified candidates has been identified. The process can take up to several weeks depending on the amount of screening and verification required.

The annual salary range is $122,699 to $171,787, depending on experience.

The recruitment brochure is available for review on the Ralph Andersen & Associates website. Qualified applicants are encouraged to apply at ralphandersen.com.


Fuse, UW team up for free entrepreneurship sessions

A series of presentations designed to help owners, dreamers and investors navigate the world of startups is offered every Friday at Fuse SPC in Richland.

Fuse and the University of Washington’s CoMotion Innovation Lab present experts in entrepreneurship during the free live-streamed events at noon at Fuse, 723 The Parkway, in Richland. The series, called Friday Fundamentals, is open to the public.

Upcoming topics are:

• Feb. 22: The Studio Model: Building a Startup in Six Months

• March 1: How to Negotiate with Investors

• March 8: How Leaders Build Diverse Teams

• March 15: To be determined

• March 22: The Startup Studio Model: Building a Startup in Six Months

The lunchtime presentations are about 45 minutes, with opportunities for questions. Guests may bring their own lunch.

Fuse SPC focuses on innovation, collaboration and community building. Located in Richland’s The Parkway, it offers small business and idea development workshops, co-working space, community leader fireside chats and collaboration events.

CoMotion is UW’s collaborative innovation hub dedicated to expanding the economic and societal impact of the UW community and beyond.

For more information, visit fusespc.com or call 509-572-3340.


Results of local vision project MyTri2030 to be revealed

Results from a community-driven vision project will be unveiled during the Tri-City Regional Chamber’s Feb. 27 luncheon.

The event is from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Red Lion Hotel and Convention Center, Pasco.

The MyTri2030 project’s goals are to create a shared vision for the region and combine it with collaborative action for six so-called “opportunity areas.”

 “After connecting with more than 4,500 Tri-Citians, the MyTri2030 team noticed two central themes: immense pride in our region’s achievements over the past decade, and a noticeable fever from community members and leaders to define new goals and opportunities for regional collaboration,” said Paula Linnen, chair of the Regional Chamber’s Regional Affairs Committee. “With a better understanding of our region’s strengths, challenges, and desires, the MyTri2030 team is proud to present a set of six opportunity areas that will serve as a framework for the next phase of our journey. It’s a journey we will continue to inform and implement together.”

The cost to attend the luncheon is $25 per person. Attendees are required to register at tricityregionalchamber.com or by calling 509-736-0510 by Feb. 22.

For more information about the MyTri2030 project, visit mytri2030.com.


State’s credit unions deliver $5.1 billion economic boost

Washington credit unions drove a positive, $5.1 billion economic impact in the Evergreen State last year, according to a recent report by ECONorthwest, the region’s largest economic consulting firm. 

The report, “2018 Economic Impacts of Credit Unions in Washington,” was commissioned by the Northwest Credit Union Association. The analysis measures jobs, economic output and income supported by credit unions.

Credit unions are nonprofit cooperatives and do not pay stockholders on Wall Street. Instead, they reinvest in their members, typically by offering lower interest rates on loans and credit cards, better returns on savings, and by charging fewer fees for services.

Last year, Washington credit unions delivered over $350 million in benefits to their membership, an average of $82 for each member. ECONorthwest found those benefits generated a ripple effect “buying power” of $787 million when members reinvested the money back into their local communities. 

In Washington, 58 percent of the population belongs to a credit union, or 4.3 million consumers. ECONorthwest found credit union membership is growing faster than the population; 14 percent since 2016, compared to 3.4 percent population growth. 

Washington credit unions provide family-wage careers for 11,100 professionals. Each job supports 1.6 additional jobs in the economy, meaning the total impact of credit union employment supports 29,100 jobs.

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