Networking — September 2019


Derek O’Konek is the new principal of Jefferson Elementary School in Richland. O’Konek joined the district in 2013 and has helped implement various programs at Jason Lee aimed at building connections with the community, creating a positive school culture and improving student academic performance. He also was an assistant principal at Badger Mountain Elementary and Enterprise Middle School. Before coming to Richland, he worked in the Moses Lake School District as an elementary teacher and administration intern.

Dr. Matthew Fewel, a neurosurgeon, joined Trios Health on Sept. 1. Fewel specializes in neurological surgery and spine surgery. He has practiced locally for 14 years. He attended the University of Washington as an undergraduate, earning a bachelor’s in business administration. He went on to receive his doctor of medicine from the University of Southern California in 1998. After USC, he completed a neurosurgical residency at the University of Michigan from 1998-2005 and received the Resident Award for Outstanding Research from the Michigan Association of Neurological Surgeons for his work on brain tumor research.

Cardiologist Dr. Karan Bhatti and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Sam Strebel have joined Prosser Memorial Health. Bhatti is a non-invasive cardiologist specializing in valvular heart disease, heart failure treatment and management, preventive cardiology, stress testing, cardiac oncology, pulmonary hypertension, echocardiography and transesophageal echocardiography, arrhythmia management, hypertension management and hyperlipidemia management. Bhatti recently completed his cardiovascular disease fellowship at the University of Texas-Houston and he is board certified in internal medicine and echocardiography. Strebel has recently been caring for patients at Tri-City Orthopaedics in Kennewick. His  orthopedic services include anterior and posterior approach, total hip, total knee replacement, endoscopic and open carpal tunnel release, Ganglion cyst excision, fracture care, and more. He completed his residency in orthopedic surgery at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He went on to complete an adult reconstruction fellowship at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Strebel is fluent in Spanish.

STCU hired Yubrahan Mendoza to manage the credit union’s third Tri-Cities location in Pasco, scheduled to open in late 2019 or early 2020. Mendoza brings nine years of local banking experience, most recently at Bank of The West in Pasco. He will be based at STCU’s Southridge Financial and Home Loan Center in Kennewick until the Pasco branch opens.

The National Park Service has selected Ashley Adams as the new deputy superintendent for Whitman Mission National Historic Site in Walla Walla, Nez Perce National Historical Park, and Big Hole National Battlefield. She will assume the new assignment in November. Adams has a master’s degree in environmental management from Duke University and a bachelor’s in human biology from Stanford University. 


The U.S. Department of Energy awarded Hanford Site contractor Mission Support Alliance an honorable mention in the outstanding sustainability program/project category of its 2019 Sustainability Awards. As the site services contractor, MSA helps raise awareness of the Bonneville Power Administration’s incentive program that encourages BPA customers to reduce energy use. MSA’s Energy Management team identifies opportunities for sitewide energy efficiency and collaborates with all Hanford contractors for program participation. Hanford contractors received more than $279,000 in incentives and saved more than 1.2 million kilowatt hours in 2018—enough to power 111 homes for a year—and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, equal to removing nearly 100 cars from the road.

Cascade Natural Gas received the highest ranking in satisfaction among residential natural gas customers in the midsize natural gas utilities segment of the west region, according to the J.D. Power 2019 Gas Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study. The study looked at six study factors: safety and reliability, billing and payment, corporate citizenship, price, communications, and customer service

Gravis Law PLLC of Richland is No. 1 on the Inc. Magazine’s list as the fastest-growing law firm in the nation and No. 302 among other companies on Inc. magazine’s top 5,000 fastest-growing private companies.

Columbia Pulp Chief Executive Officer John Begley was recently recognized as one of the top 50 influencers in the pulp and paper industry on the Fastmarkets RISI’s Top 50 Power List. Begley was ranked on the list due to his leadership in building North America’s first tree-free paper pulp mill in Eastern Washington. Columbia Pulp’s $250 million wheat straw manufacturing facility is complete and will begin producing pulp in October. The Dayton facility will take 250,000 tons per year of straw from local farmers after wheat harvest and use it to produce 140,000 tons of market pulp for use in sustainable consumer packaging and paper products.  

Gary and Nancy Figgins were selected as the 2019 Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame inductees. The couple in 1977 founded Leonetti Cellar, Walla Walla’s first commercial winery and a tribute to the Leonetti Farm established in 1906 by Gary Figgins’ Italian immigrant grandparents. Nominees must be Washington residents involved in the wine industry for 25 years and exemplify legendary status because of contributions and commitment to the state’s wine industry.

Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland has been ranked a top hospital in Central Washington by U.S. News & World Reports. Kadlec was also recognized as a high performer in four additional categories of care: congestive heart failure, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, hip replacement surgery and knee replacement surgery. Additionally, Kadlec earned national recognition by Healthgrades in a variety of patient care areas, ranging from various specialties to excellence in patient safety.

Merle D. Booker of Booker Auction Co. in Eltopia was inducted into the National Auctioneers Association Hall of Fame during this year’s annual president’s gala at the 70th Annual International Auctioneers Conference and Show in July. He was one of four auctioneers to be inducted. The Hall of Fame was established in 1961 as a way to recognize leaders within the auction industry. Inductees receive plaques that are displayed in the National Auctioneers Museum in Overland Park, Kansas.

Quiroga Law Office, an immigrant-owned business that has offices in Kennewick, Spokane and Las Vegas, has been ranked 1,137 on Inc. magazine’s top 5,000 fastest-growing private companies.

Second Harvest Inland Northwest received its ninth consecutive 4-star highest rating from Charity Navigator, which rates charities on their financial health, accountability and transparency. 

Columbia Basin College named Vicki J. Wilson as its 2019-20 Alumnus of the Year on Sept. 11. Wilson is a software engineering services manager at Mission Support Alliance in Richland. She earned her associate transfer degree from Columbia Basin College in 1979. Wilson serves as a CBC foundation board member and also on the advisory council for CBC’s Information Technology Department. She is a trustee at Eastern Washington University, where she received her bachelor’s in business administration in 1981.


Lori Mendoza, a rule 6 law clerk, senior paralegal and office manager at Clearwater Law Group in Kennewick, has earned state certification as a limited license legal technician, or LLLT, to advise and assist people going through divorce, child custody and other family law matters in Washington. She attended the paralegal program at Columbia Basin College and earned a bachelor’s in criminal justice with a minor in political science from Washington State University in 2015. She went on to become a certified paralegal through the National Association of Legal Assistants in 2017. Mendoza is also studying for the Washington State Bar.

Lori A. Selby, vice president at Epic Trust Investment Advisors LLC in Kennewick, has been authorized by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards as a certified financial planner. She completed financial planning coursework and passed the CFP certification exam covering the following areas: the financial planning process, risk management, investments, tax planning and management, retirement and employee benefits and estate planning. Selbyhas worked at Epic Trustsince March2017 and is responsible for financial planning and managing investments.


Gesa Credit Union presented $155,087.05 to representatives from its school partners on Aug. 15. The funds from this donation are a part of an exclusive partnership agreement between Gesa and the Kennewick, Richland, Pasco, Yakima, College Place, Moses Lake, Finley and Columbia school districts, along with Delta High School and Liberty Christian School. Gesa’s High School co-branded Affinity Debit Card program supports local schools by earning money for school districts to use toward student programs. With every swipe of one of the debit cards, Gesa makes a small donation to the school or district represented on the front of the card. Cards are free to Gesa members.

Heartlinks Hospice and Palliative Care received a $510 donation, thanks to 143 balloon rides. That’s because each time 143 Benton REA members rode 50 feet in the air in Touchstone Energy Cooperatives’ hot air balloon on July 13, a donation was made. The tethered balloon rides took place during the 82nd Benton Rural Electric Association annual meeting. Benton REA employees chose Heartlinks as the recipient of the donation. Benton REA is one of six Touchstone Energy electric cooperatives in Washington state. Heartlinks serves patients in Benton and Yakima counties.


The Tri-City Development Council recently reorganized its team, a plan that’s been in development for nearly a year and comes in response to rapid growth throughout the region. 

Two positions have shifted and one added.

Traci Jao has been named director of business recruitment. Jao, who joined TRIDEC in 2007, has served as a project manager and, most recently, as director of communications and member services. Jao’s new role specifically aims to support and manage the rapid expansion of the greater Tri-City region. She will focus on showcasing the region’s potential to new investors, talent development and increasing opportunities for collaboration between local industry and science, technology, engineering and math projects.

David Chavey-Reynaud has been named director of business retention and expansion. He joined the team in 2016 as a business recruitment specialist before taking on his current role. 

In his new position, Chavey-Reynaud will work closely with established local businesses and industries to facilitate conversations with local leaders, help navigate complex regulations and provide resources to thrive and expand within the greater Tri-City region.  

Ashley Stubbs has joined the TRIDEC team as director of communications and investor relations. Prior to joining TRIDEC, Stubbs helped develop programs and strategic messaging for business chambers and economic development organizations throughout California, worked as a public information officer in the state House of Representatives, and most recently served as communications director for the Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ campaign. Stubbs is a Benton City native and graduate of Kiona-Benton City High School and Central Washington University. 

With more than 300 members, TRIDEC touts itself as the region’s leading economic development organization. Originally established in 1963 as the Tri-City Nuclear Industrial Council, TRIDEC aims to stimulate and sustain a vibrant regional economy by facilitating economic growth and prosperity.


The Energy Northwest Executive Board elected new officers at its August public meeting. Sid Morrison of Zillah will continue in his role as chairman of the board; Will Purser of Sequim will serve as vice chairman; Linda Gott of Shelton will continue to serve as board secretary; and Jim Moss of Edgewood will continue to serve as assistant secretary. All will serve two-year terms effective immediately.

Thomas A. White, a certified public accountant, recently was elected to the board of directors of Yakima Federal Savings and Loan Association. He is the owner of White & Company PC and White and Co. Financial Planning Inc. in Sunnyside. The association has 10 branches throughout Central Washington, including in the Tri-Cities.

Richard Bogert, president of Pasco’s Bogert Aviation Inc., has been appointed vice chairman of the Community Aviation Revitalization Board for a three-year initial term. The eight-member board is a program supporting airport sponsors with low-interest loans meant to assist communities with revenue-producing projects located on airport property that are ineligible for aviation grant money. The program was re-established during the 2019 legislative season. Bogert occupies a designated seat as a representative of the Community Economic Revitalization Board. He is a board member of the Association of Washington Business, as well as an active member of CERB.

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