Business Briefs – June 2020

National Realtors group takes temperature on consumer attitudes

A majority of people surveyed – 65 percent – who attended an open house within the last year would do so today without hesitation, according to survey data recently released by the National Association of Realtors.

The series of surveys, which explored how homebuyers and sellers want to handle home sales transactions during the coronavirus pandemic, were conducted by the research firm Engagious for NAR.

The surveys collected information on consumer attitudes about working with real estate professionals during the coronavirus pandemic. Several survey highlights include:

  • About half of buyers (47 percent) and sellers (53 percent) said that during the current pandemic, relying upon a real estate professional when searching for or selling a home is much more important than before.
  • A majority of buyers (54 percent) and sellers (62 percent) said that particularly during the pandemic, a real estate agent’s guidance is especially valued.
  • Almost six in 10 buyers and sellers – 59 percent and 58 percent, respectively – believed that buying and selling real estate is an essential service.
  • About half of buyers – 51 percent – said an agent can help buyers glean more valuable information from online listings than buyers could uncover on their own.
  • More than half of buyers – 56 percent – believed an agent can save a buyer the time and stress of weeding through online listings.

NAR represents more than 1.4 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

New farmworker housing rules focus on Covid-19

Emergency rules adopted in May aim to help reduce the spread of coronavirus in farmworker housing by requiring space for social distancing, frequent sanitation and other measures.

The measures are a joint effort between the Washington departments of Labor and Industries and Health.

They spell out several required steps to increase physical distancing, improve cleaning and sanitizing and reduce the chance of a large outbreak or spreading of coronavirus related to temporary worker housing at farms.

Employers must provide occupants of temporary worker housing with cloth face coverings and ensure physical distancing at housing sites, including all cooking, eating, bathing, washing, recreational and sleeping facilities.

Farms are required to frequently clean and disinfect surfaces in housing and must identify and isolate workers with suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19. 

Safety upgrades approved for 8 Walla Walla crossings 

State regulators recently approved more than $36,000 in safety grants for the Columbia-Walla Walla Railroad to upgrade signals at eight public railroad crossings in Walla Walla County.

The Utilities and Transportation Commission approved the Grade Crossing Protective Fund grants to replace existing incandescent lights with LED lights on the signal equipment and gate arms to provide greater visibility of the warning devices for drivers and pedestrians.

The grants, which range between $2,600 and $6,800, will be at the following crossings: Prospect Avenue; Poplar Street; Wallula Avenue; Tietan Street; Chestnut Street; Rose Street; Last Chance Road; and Highway 124.

The upgrades must be completed by Dec. 31, 2020. The railroad will cover any costs over the approved grant amount including labor associated with the upgrades. 

The 1969 Legislature created the GCPF to provide money for safety measures to reduce accidents and fatalities at public and private crossings and along railroad tracks.

The UTC regulates railroad safety, including approving new grade crossings and closing or altering existing rail crossings, investigating train accidents, inspecting public railroad crossings, approving safety projects, and managing safety education through Operation Lifesaver.

Sabey expanding Quincy Data Center

Sabey, a Tukwila-based real estate developer with a focus on data centers, will add new backup generators to its center at 2200 M St. N.E. in Quincy.

The company intends to add 32 additional emergency generators in two new buildings to the complex, which already has 37 emergency generators, according to its air quality of notice of construction filed with the Washington Department of Ecology.

Public comments are being accepted through July 10. In addition, the state will hold a virtual public meeting to discuss the project at 6 p.m. June 24.

Go to ecology.wa.gov/SabeyComment for details.

BIAW postpones summer board meeting

The Building Industry Association of Washington has canceled its summer board meeting scheduled for June 22-24 at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson.

BIAW will hold a summer board meeting. However, it likely will be an abbreviated version later in the summer, location and date to be determined.

General contractors group calls for infrastructure funds to stem losses

Nationwide construction employment rebounded by 464,000 jobs in May, but the total remained 596,000 below the latest peak in February and the industry’s 12.7 percent unemployment rate was the highest for May since 2012, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America of government data released on June 5.

Association officials cautioned that the future job losses are likely as temporary federal support programs end, state and local officials deal with tighter budgets and private sector demand declines later this year.

“The huge pickup in construction employment in May is good news and probably reflects the industry’s widespread receipt of Paycheck Protection Program loans and the loosening of restrictions on business activity in some states,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist, in a news release. “Nevertheless, the industry remains far short of full employment, and more layoffs may be imminent.

Simonson noted that that nearly one-fourth of contractors nationwide reported a project that was scheduled to start in June or later had been canceled. He added that with most states and localities starting a new fiscal year on July 1, even more public construction is likely to be canceled unless the federal government makes up for some of their lost revenue and unbudgeted expenses.

The gain of 464,000 jobs in May followed losses of 995,000 in April and 65,000 in March, for a cumulative loss over three months of 596,000. Construction employment totaled 7,043,000 in May, about where it stood in late 2017, the economist noted.

The industry’s unemployment rate in May was 12.7 percent, with about 1.2 million former construction workers idled. These figures were roughly four times as high as in May 2019 and were the highest May levels since 2012 and 2011, respectively.

Association officials said the best way to avoid the expected future construction job losses is for federal officials to boost funding for infrastructure, including highway, bridges, waterways and airports. They noted that the additional funding would help cover expected state and local budget shortfalls and would help replace expected declines in private-sector demand.

Covid-19 forces Kennewick’s Bookworm to close

The Kennewick Bookworm store announced plans to close July 15 “due to the ever changing Covid-19 pandemic.”

The independent bookstore at 731 N. Columbia Center Blvd. made the announcement on its Facebook page May 20.

“Since January 2019, business has been booming and we had many future plans for the store. The store closing is strictly due to the fact that we had to close down and had a near complete loss of revenue,” the store posted on Facebook.

The owners are selling everything in the store, which offers used and new books and gifts, at discounted pricing, including bookcases.

Customers may shop by appointment only. The one-hour appointments may be made by calling the store at 509-735-9016.

“It has been our sincere pleasure to offer excellent customer service to our loyal customers and we hope we were successful in this endeavor. It has been our joy to serve this community for the last 46 years and our customers will be greatly missed,” the store said on Facebook.

Homebuilders open 2020 Parade to model, spec homes

The Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities is waiving its normal rules for the 2020 Parade of Homes to allow model and spec homes previously open to the public.

The one-time change reflects the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on building, supply chains and housing inventories.

Previously open homes will have their own set of judging criteria.

The multiple weekend Parade of Homes showcases the best efforts of local homebuilders each fall. The deadline to apply is June 30.

West Richland hires contractors for police facility

The West Richland City Council has hired the construction and design team for the first phase of the city’s new police station.

Chervenell Construction of Kennewick and Design West Architects of Kennewick were awarded a progressive design-build contract June 2. The contract is not to exceed $819,672.

Design West chose TreanorHL Architects, based in Lawrence, Kansas, to assist in designing the new facility, based on its nationwide experience with police facilities.

The design phase has already begun, and the facility is scheduled for completion by Dec. 1, 2021. The location for the new facility is on Van Giesen Street just south of Keene Road.

Voters approved a $12.5 million police station bond to voters in 2019. The 22,500-square-foot station will replace a 3,500-square-foot facility on West Van Giesen Street.

Developers finalizing design for Kennewick apartments

The Nineteen, a mixed-use apartment and office building, is now on track to break ground in late summer at 19 W. Canal Drive at South Auburn Street in downtown Kennewick.

The Nineteen, offering 28 luxury apartments as well as commercial space in a brick-faced, five-story building, is a few months behind its anticipated May construction start date. Partners Andrew Klein and Brian Griffith are developers for the project.

The duo expects to complete design work by late June and to pursue building permits from the city of Kennewick after that.

The Nineteen will cater to young residents seeking a walkable, urban environment and residences with high-end touches. It will have 10 units each on the third and fourth floors and eight on the top. The building will offer a rooftop common area with hot tub, outdoor kitchen, fire pit and more.

Port of Pasco secures state loan to plan Reimann Industrial Center

The Port of Pasco secured a low-interest $50,000 loan from the Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board to develop a master plan to guide development of the future Reimann Industrial Center.

The CERB funds are matched with $175,000 local funds.

The future Reimann Industrial Center will be built north of the Pasco Processing Center on 300 acres of agricultural land the port bought in 2019. The project is named to honor late port Commissioner Ron Reimann.

The state agency awarded a total of nearly $5.1 million in May to promote economic development activities in the state. The Port of Skagit Valley received loans and grants totaling $3 million to support expansion of the Mavrik Marine on Puget Sound.

Scammers target unemployment insurance accounts

Scammers are keeping up their attack on the Washington Unemployment Security Department by targeting individual online accounts.

Scammers are sending emails to holders of Secure Access Washington, or SAW, accounts. In an attempt to get people who use the SAW accounts to access unemployment and other services to reveal their log in formation, the scammers tell holders they have 24 hours to correct inaccurate information in their accounts and that it could lead to restrictions.

The state unemployment department does not send emails asking users to validate their accounts.

Tri-City libraries offer summer reading challenge

Mid-Columbia Libraries and Richland Public Library have rolled out their summer reading programs.

Mid-Columbia Libraries’ 12 branches and Bookmobile remain closed in compliance with Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order. All due dates and holds have been extended.

Though the libraries are closed, readers may register for the libraries’ summer reading program online at midcolumbialibraries.org/summer-reading-challenge.

Those 13 and older and adults can play Book Bingo. They’ll read books in certain categories to earn a bingo by completing a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line.

Beginning July 6, finishers may turn in their completed logs to their local library and collect their prize.

Program finishers receive a book bag, while supplies last. All finishers will be entered to win grand prizes. Prizes are sponsored by Friends of Mid-Columbia Libraries.

The Richland Public Library will conduct its summer reading program via phone and tablet via the Beanstack app.

The program for students and adults continues through Aug. 31.

Register and read online at richlandlibrary.beanstack.com/reader365.

Kennewick releases online Summer Activity Guide

Volleyball, day camp and ninja training are in the lineup for summer activities in Kennewick.

The Parks and Recreation Department has posted its Summer Activity Guide online. The program lists activities scheduled through August and is available at https://bit.ly/KennGuide.

The catalog covers a wide range of educational, physical and entertainment activities for people of all ages.

Programs may be modified to ensure compliance with safety measures related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tumbleweed Festival will be held online

The 24th Annual Tumbleweed Music Festival, scheduled for Labor Day weekend, will be held online instead of in Richland’s Howard Amon Park.

Details for TFMVirtual2020 will be posted at tumbleweedfest.com.

The planning committee concluded it would not be feasible to hold a live event because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tri-Cities farmers markets open

The Tri-Cities farmers markets have opened for the summer with social distancing and other safety protocols in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

  • The Downtown Kennewick Farmers Market season is from 4-7 p.m. Thursdays through Oct. 22 at Flag Plaza, 204 W. Kennewick Ave.
  • The Downtown Pasco Farmers Market is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through October at Fourth Avenue and West Columbia Street.
  • The Richland Farmers Market is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays through October at The Parkway on Lee Boulevard.

Cities nix Fourth of July festivities

The cities of Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland have postponed events related to the Fourth of July because of the coronavirus crisis.

The River of Fire fireworks display is canceled for 2020 and the city of Pasco canceled its Grand Old 4th Parade. Pasco’s annual fireworks show at Gesa Stadium is delayed to a later date that has not been determined.

Fireworks are banned in the city of Kennewick. Some personal fireworks are permitted within the cities of Pasco, Richland and West Richland. Details are posted on the cities’ respective websites:

Sunset at Southridge shifts to late summer

Kennewick’s popular Sunset at Southridge program will be a late summer undertaking because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The series of food truck events begins Aug. 21 and runs Friday evenings from 4-7 p.m. through Oct. 2 at the Southridge Sports and Events Complex, 2901 Southridge Blvd.

The weekly event includes food trucks, entertainment and a family-friendly outdoor activity. 

It is sponsored by Toyota of Tri-Cities and Retter & Company Sotheby’s International Realty.

WSU shares in $4M energy manufacturing grant

Washington State University shared in a $4 million grant through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) Manufacturing Institute program.

The winning projects align with a focus on chemical and commodity processing, natural gas upgrading, renewable bioproducts, intensified process fundamentals, modeling and simulation, and module manufacturing.

WSU and partner GTI will develop liquid-phase electrochemical reforming process for the low-cost, distributed production of hydrogen from ethanol.

The other recipients:

  • The University of Minnesota and RTI International will develop a reactive-absorption process for ammonia synthesis that improves safety, lowers energy intensity and enables distributed manufacturing.
  • Cornell University, together with Electrochaea and other partners in the state of New York, will develop an integrated route for carbon-efficient conversion of dairy and food wastes to renewable, pipeline-quality biomethane.
  • The University of Arizona, together with partners at Aquastill, Chemstations, DWP Energy Solutions and W.L. Gore, will develop a solar-driven, intensified, membrane-distillation process to efficiently manage the concentrate waste stream from reverse-osmosis plants.
  • The University of Kansas, together with partners at DuPont Biomaterials and Hills Inc., will develop a furan-based polymer membrane for energy-efficient separation of hydrogen from mixed gas streams common to production of ammonia, oil and gas.

Kennewick wine village adds three food trucks

Three food trucks are joining Swampy’s BBQ and Rollin’ Fresh Ice Cream at the Port of Kennewick’s Food Truck Plaza.

The plaza is part of the Columbia Gardens Urban Wine and Artisan Village off East Columbia Drive, west of the cable bridge.

Ninja Bistro and Don Taco have joined the lineup. Ann’s Best Creole & Soul Food will arrive by the end of June. Ninja Bistro serves up Asian fusion cuisine while Don Taco offers authentic Mexican fare.

The individual trucks set their own days and hours. Links to their sites are available through portofkennewick.org on the Columbia Gardens and Clover Island pages.

AWB launches website to help businesses

The Association of Washington Business established a website to help businesses bring back employees and customers.

The website includes PPE Connect, which links businesses to Washington-based companies that manufacture personal protective equipment, and Business Toolkit, which offers guidance on preparing physical spaces to meet distancing requirements.

The website is at reboundandrecovery.org.

Women-owned businesses need to act now

Women-owned businesses will not be able to self-certify themselves to qualify for government contacts after Oct. 15.

Businesses are encouraged to take steps before then to ensure they are included in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s industry list.

The federal government has a goal of awarding 5 percent of contracting dollars to woman-owned small businesses each year but they must be on the list to compete.

After Oct. 15, businesses will have to pay for a third-party firm to certify their eligibility.

Go to https://bit.ly/WOSBrequirements for information.

Banks asked to step in over unemployment claims

The Washington Department of Financial Institutions has asked the state’s banks and credit unions to support customers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic whose unemployment claims have been delayed, affecting their ability to pay bills.

The department asked financial institutions to waive overdraft fees for 90 days, postpone closure of affected accounts for 90 days, not report overdrafts to credit rating agencies for 90 days, offer overdraft protection to support affected customers and to reach out to customers who may be affected by delayed unemployment benefit payments.

Businesses ignoring closure orders can be cited, fined

Washington businesses that decide to open or operate in direct violation of Gov. Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order may be cited and fined for unsafe workplace conditions under emergency rules filed by the state Department of Labor and Industries.

The emergency rules give Labor and Industries the authority to cite businesses for being open or for operating in a way that is purposely defying the phased-in approach and, as a result, putting their workers at risk.

Labor and Industries will work with the state Emergency Operations Center to take in and respond to complaints about businesses operating illegally. If employers are found to be defying the governor’s order, they’ll be informed and directed to close or adjust operations immediately. If they do not, they’ll face a workplace safety citation that could carry a fine of nearly $10,000 or more.

Along with contacting businesses by phone and in writing, Labor and Industries will perform in-person spot checks.

An online form to report suspected violations is at bit.ly/LandIviolationreport.

Washington health insurers seek small rate cuts for 2021

Fifteen health insurers operating in Washington are seeking average rate cuts of about 1.8 percent for the 2021 individual market.

The Washington Insurance Commissioner’s office notes the 15 include two newcomers to the state — UnitedHealthcare of Oregon and Community Health Network of Washington.

All 39 counties will have at least two insurers selling plans inside the Washington Healthplanfinder exchange. Ten also will sell plans outside the exchange.

The proposed average rate decrease follows an average premium reduction of 3.25 percent for 2019 plans.

They are the first filings under Cascade Care, enacted by the Legislature in 2019 to create new coverage options that will be available through the exchange during open enrollment starting Nov. 1 for coverage effective Jan. 1, 2021.

About 282,000 people who don’t get coverage from their employer must buy their own health insurance through the individual market, with most shopping on the exchange.

Regulators target investment scams

The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions is cracking down on investment scams capitalizing on coronavirus fears.

DFI is part of an enforcement task force organized by the North American Securities Administrators Association that will investigate fraudulent activity in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Task force members are using online investigative techniques to identify websites and social media posts that may be offering or promoting fraudulent offerings, investment frauds, and unregistered regulated activities.

Washington residents can report suspicious activity to 877-746-4334, locally at 360-902-8730 or via email at securities@dfi.wa.gov.

To help investors identify common telltale signs of possible investment fraud, DFI suggests three questions to ask before making a new investment:

  • Is the investment being offered with a guaranteed high return with little or no risk? All investments carry risk that you may potentially lose some or all of your money. Anyone who says their investment offer has no risk is lying.
  • Is there a sense of urgency or limited availability of detailed information surrounding the investment? Walk away if someone offers a “can’t miss” investment opportunity and pressures for an immediate commitment.
  • Is the person offering the investment, and the investment itself, licensed or registered? For the same reasons you wouldn’t go to an unlicensed doctor or dentist, you should not rely on unregistered investment salespeople and their products.

Ecology fines two Tri-City entities

The Washington Department of Ecology issued two fines against Tri-City entities in the first quarter of 2020.

The first is a $1 million penalty issued in January to the U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, for restricting the state’s access to critical data. The restricted data is vital to Ecology’s regulatory and oversight role at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington near the Columbia River.

DOE is required to provide access data by the Tri-Party Agreement that was signed by DOE, Ecology, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1989. The agreement governs cleanup of the Hanford site.

DOE is required to provide Ecology access to data it compiles. Restricting access causes unnecessary delays in regulatory decisions and makes it nearly impossible to independently verify whether Energy has complied with requirements for managing its hazardous wastes, the state said.

Ecology also fined Pacific Northwest Solutions Inc. $5,000 in February for operating an unknown and unpermitted reactor to produce 585 tons of 10-34 fertilizer at Two Rivers Terminal.

Pandemic cost 527,000 jobs in April update

Nonfarm employment in Washington fell by 527,000 jobs in April, including 498,500 in the private sector and 28,500 in the public.

Washington Employment Security, citing federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data, said the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 15.4 percent, compared to 5.1 percent in March and 4.4 percent a year earlier.

There were 610,700 unemployed workers, out of a labor force of nearly
4 million.

BLS estimates are based on a survey of businesses. May statistics were not available by the deadline for the June edition of the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business.

Richland superintendent search is back on

The Richland School District’s incoming superintendent has backed out.

Mark Davidson withdrew his acceptance, citing uncertainty around the Covid-19 pandemic, the district announced June 5.

Davidson leads a small school district in Alberta, Canada. Richland officials wished him well as he remains in his current job.

Richland is seeking a superintendent to succeed Rick Schulte, who is retiring.

Monthly chamber luncheons go online

The Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce will hold a series of virtual luncheons in place of its regular in-person gatherings because of the Covid-19 crisis.

The luncheon series is free but attendees must register at tricityregionalchamber.com/summerluncheonseries. Space is limited to 500. Programs begin at noon. Here’s the schedule:

  • June 24: The State of Education features Chris Reykdal, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
  • July 22: The State of the Cities features Kennewick Mayor Don Britain, Pasco Mayor Saul Martinez, Richland Mayor Ryan Lukson and West Richland Mayor Brent Gerry.
  • Aug. 26: U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, offers an update from Congress.

Tri-City businesses asked to take Open and Safe pledge

The Tri-Cities Open and Safe Coalition has launched a regionwide initiative to support and recognize local businesses when Benton and Franklin counties are eligible to move to Phase 2 of the Covid-19 recovery.

The coalition compiled resources available through the Benton-Franklin Health District on a free website, tcopenandsafe.com.

Business owners will find information about keeping their establishments in compliance with reopening regulations. They also can sign the Open and Safe pledge to signal their intent to protect workers and customers as they work to restore the economy.

The website will feature a map of the businesses that take the pledge to boost consumer confidence. The effort is sponsored by the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, Tri-City Development Council and Visit Tri-Cities.

TRIDEC takes on Hanford Communities

Hanford Communities, an intergovernmental organization that monitors and advocates for the Hanford cleanup, is now managed by the Tri-City Development Council as part of a leadership change.

David Reeploeg, vice president of federal programs for TRIDEC, succeeded Pam Larsen, who retired after 25 years of leading the group under the management of the city of Richland.

Hanford Communities serves as a monitor and advocate for Hanford funding on behalf of Benton and Franklin counties, the cities of Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland and the Port of Benton.

Mattis to discuss ‘crisis leadership’ via Zoom

Gen. James M. Mattis, former Secretary of Defense and Richland native, will discuss leadership in a time of crisis at the June 18 meeting of the Columbia Basin Badger Club.

The event will be held via Zoom from noon to 1 p.m.

Attendance is free but registration is required.

Go to bit.ly/BadgerClubJamesMattis to sign up.

Tri-Citian of the Year postponed to 2021

The Tri-Citian of the Year banquet has been rescheduled for April 30, 2021, because of the Covid-19 crisis.

The award is the region’s highest civic honor and dates to 1962. It is presented jointly by local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.

The 2021 event will name the program’s 50th winner from the nominations submitted in 2020.

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