Business Briefs – July 2020
Richland taps former employee as next leader
A former Richland educator will return as the district’s next superintendent.
Shelley Redinger, who led the Spokane School District for the past eight years, is the district’s new choice to succeed longtime superintendent Rick Schulte, who retired June 30. Two prior superintendent picks did not pan out.
Redinger taught at Jefferson Elementary and was later appointed principal at Sacajawea Elementary and then Richland’s Director of Teaching & Learning before she departed to pursue leadership opportunities.
She also worked as principal for Oregon Trail School District in Sandy, Oregon, and for a school district in Virginia.
She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at Washington State University. She went on to earn a master’s and doctorate in educational administration at the University of South Carolina.
Visit Tri-Cities seeks excellent nominees
Visit Tri-Cities is accepting nominations for its annual Excellence in Service Award.
The honor is given to an individual or business for going above and beyond to provide outstanding customer service.
The nomination deadline is Sept. 1. The winner will receive a $500 gift card sponsored by Battelle.
Nomination forms are posted at VisitTri-Cities.com/events/excellenceinservice.
Wearing a mask? Say why on social media
Tri-Citians are being encouraged to make short videos to tell why they are wearing a face mask.
The #MinuteMaskChallenge is organized by the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, Visit Tri-Cities and the Tri-City Development Council as part of a pro-mask campaign to help Benton and Franklin counties move to next phase of the state’s Safe Start program.
Participants are invited to share a 60-second video explaining why they wear a mask and to post it to social media with the hashtag #MinuteMaskChallenge.
Pasco honored for African American history project
Pasco is one of five cities selected for the Association of Washington Cities’ 2020 Municipal Excellence awards.
Pasco was selected from 25 applicants for its efforts to record African American history in east Pasco. The project documented key heritage properties in the area that was home to the majority of African American residents who came to work at the Hanford site.
Many were lost in the name of 1980s era urban renewal projects.
The study will be submitted to the National Register of Historic Places.
A video about the work is posted at bit.ly/PascoAfricanAmericanHistoryProject
“This honorable award demonstrates the importance of our heritage in Pasco and the great people that work to remember and learn from our past to improve the quality of life for our future,” said Mayor Saul Martinez.
Insurance rules covering Covid-19 tests extended
Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler extended his emergency order to Washington state health insurers for an additional 30 days requiring them to waive copays and deductibles for any consumer requiring testing for coronavirus.
The order is in effect through Aug. 2.
Insurers also must continue allowing a one-time early refill for prescription drugs and suspend any prior authorization requirement for treatment or testing of Covid-19.
In addition, if an insurer does not have enough medical providers in its network to provide testing or treatment for Covid-19, it must allow enrollees to be treated by another provider within a reasonable distance at no additional cost.
Green2Go has lockboxes for cannabis
Green2Go Wellness, a corporate sibling to the Green2Go cannabis retailers, is providing secured boxes and bags to keep legal cannabis out of the hands of minors.
Owner Steve Lee is partnering with the Benton-Franklin Health District and Educational Service District 123 on the campaign to prevent underage cannabis use.
The secured storage devices are free and available to those who complete a survey and sign a release form. The devices will be distributed at Green2Go Wellness, 419 W. Columbia Drive, Kennewick, while supplies last. Call 509-497-2020 for information.
Washington’s average wage increased to $69,000 in 2019
In pre-pandemic news, Washington’s average annual wage grew by 6.7% in calendar year 2019 to $69,000, according to the state Employment Security Department.
It was the largest year-to-year percentage increase in 20 years.
The average weekly wage rose from $1,255 in 2018, to $1,340 in 2019. These figures include only those wages that are covered by unemployment insurance.
Much of the increase was driven by an 8.7% increase in total earnings, which grew by nearly $18.5 billion in 2019. Overall, the average number of workers in Washington covered by unemployment insurance grew by just over 59,267 in 2019.
The industries with the largest average wage growth in 2019 were transportation and warehousing, up 7.1%; information, up 6.5%; and educational services, up 6.4%.
The average annual wage is used to calculate unemployment benefits for jobless workers.
The minimum weekly unemployment benefit, calculated at 15% of the average weekly wage, will increase by $13 to $201, for new claims opened on or after July 5. At the same time, the maximum weekly benefit, which is the greater of $496 or 63% of the average weekly wage, will increase by $54 to $844.
Currently, about 20% of unemployment insurance claims are paid the maximum benefit amount, and 10% receive the minimum.
In addition to unemployment benefits, the average annual wage is used in computing employers’ unemployment taxes. Beginning in 2021, employers will pay unemployment taxes on the first $56,500 paid to each employee — up from $52,700 in 2020.
The Department of Labor & Industries uses the state average wage to calculate worker’s compensation benefits.
Chamber offers Covid-19 relief grants
The Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce and Washington River Protection Solutions again have partnered to offer $30,000 in grants to local small businesses through the Small Business Incentive Program.
This year, winners will select from one of three Covid-19 relief packages valued at $1,000:
- Retrofit Grant – to install new safety equipment, and/or modifying existing facilities with plexiglass, handwashing stations, no-touch doors, walk-up windows, etc.
- Personal Protective Equipment and Screening Tools Grant – to buy masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, thermometers, etc.
- Rent Assistance Grant – For rent due directly to the applicant’s landlord.
To be eligible:
- The applicant must be an established small business and a member of the Tri-City Regional Chamber.
- Non-members that have been in business at least 18 months may still qualify for the program upon joining the Regional Chamber prior to the application deadline.
- The applicant must be organized as a for-profit business.
- Applications must be complete.
- Applicants must have 30 or fewer full-time equivalent employees and annual revenue less than $3 million.
- Funds must be used toward purchases made after Aug. 12.
Qualifying applications will be numbered and entered into a drawing with 30 winners selected at random at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 12. The drawing will be broadcast live over Zoom.
Members must apply for a grant through the online application form. Printed applications will not be accepted. Applications must be submitted by 5 p.m. July 31. Apply at https://bit.ly/Chambergrantapp.
Pasco OKs plan to create sidewalk dining
Pasco Mayor Saul Martinez signed an order that allows restaurants to create outdoor seating, including on sidewalks, as Franklin County moved into a modified Phase 1 plan to control the spread of coronavirus.
The order allows restaurants to operate in outdoor spaces, generally under the following conditions:
- Sidewalk/café seating plan shall be approved by the city of Pasco Community & Economic Development Department.
- Off-street parking areas adjacent and dedicated for restaurants may be fenced off to provide additional seating, provided the area shall not exceed 100% of the interior seating space of the restaurant. Required off-street parking may be reduced by 50% during the duration of this emergency order.
- Handicapped parking stalls shall not be used for patron seating.
- Fences shall be no more than 42 inches high and shall be decorative metal.
- Tables/seating shall be a durable material and complementary to the decorative fencing. Fencing and furnishings shall not be permanently affixed to the sidewalk. Fencing and furnishings shall be adequately weighted to prevent tipping.
- Clear access for pedestrians of at least 6 feet shall be maintained along sidewalk corridors at all times.
- Maintenance of all allowed fencing and furnishings shall be the responsibility of the business owner/applicant.
- Additional outdoor lighting and/or signage in conjunction with the outdoor seating may be allowed.
- Curbside pickup zones shall be maintained within 500 feet of each restaurant.
Call 509-545-3441 for more information.
Businesses can apply for PPP loan forgiveness
Businesses that received Paycheck Protection Program loans through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act, can apply to have the loans forgiven under a loan forgiveness program signed into law by President Donald Trump on June 5.
The PPP Flexibility Act defines terms to convert loans into gifts.
The U.S. Small Business Administration, in consultation with the Department of the Treasury, has posted a loan forgiveness application to its website.
SBA also published a new EZ version of the forgiveness application that applies to borrowers that:
- Are self-employed and have no employees; or
- Did not reduce the salaries or wages of their employees by more than 25%, and did not reduce the number or hours of their employees; or
- Experienced reductions in business activity as a result of health directives related to Covid-19; and did not reduce the salaries or wages of their employees by more than 25 percent.
The EZ application requires fewer calculations and less documentation for eligible borrowers. Both applications give borrowers the option of using the original eight-week covered period or an extended 24-week covered period. These changes will result in a more efficient process and make it easier for businesses to realize full forgiveness of their PPP loan.
The EZ forgiveness application is posted at bit.ly/PPPloanforgiveEZ.
The full forgiveness application is posted at bit.ly/PPPloan_forgive.
Controversial new overtime rules now in effect
Updates to Washington’s rules that spell out what type of workers don’t have to receive overtime pay took effect July 1. The rules establish the criteria for certain workers to be considered exempt from getting overtime pay and other protections under the State Minimum Wage Act.
The state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) announced the changes last December after a lengthy public process. It involved numerous public hearings and taking comments and input from more than 2,400 people.
The July update is primarily to the part of the rules known as the “job duties test.” In general, it helps determine which workers are considered executive, administrative, and professional employees, as well as computer professionals and outsides salespeople. Workers who fit into these categories based on the duties they perform, and earn more than the required salary threshold, can be considered exempt.
Washington currently uses two job duties tests to determine if an employee could be classified as exempt but starting July 1 the state will use a single test aligned more closely with federal standards. The test for each exemption spells out what duties an employee must perform to be classified as exempt, regardless of the employee’s job title or job description.
Under the rule changes, the state will base the salary threshold on a multiplier of the state minimum wage. That threshold will increase incrementally until it reaches 2.5 times the minimum wage in 2028.
The change will not impact most salaried workers this year because Washington employers will continue to follow the federal standard for the rest of 2020. That’s because the federal requirement that a salaried worker needs to earn at least $684 per week to be exempt from overtime is still slightly more favorable to employees than the new state threshold.
Employers will have to meet the state threshold beginning Jan. 1, 2021, when it exceeds the federal level.
Economic injury loan program reopens
The U.S. Small Business Administration has reopened the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and EIDL Advance program portal to all eligible applicants experiencing economic impacts due to Covid-19.
The program offers long-term, low-interest assistance for small businesses or nonprofits.
The loans can be used to cover payroll and inventory, pay debt or fund other expenses. Additionally, the EIDL Advance will provide up to $10,000 ($1,000 per employee) of emergency economic relief to businesses experiencing temporary difficulties and these emergency grants do not have to be repaid.
Go the SBA disaster assistance website at SBA.gov/Disaster for details.
Vit plant’s Analytical Laboratory finishes startup testing
Workers have finished startup testing at the Analytical Laboratory in Hanford’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant, known as the vit plant.
The achievement meets a U.S. Department of Energy contract milestone for the Bechtel National Inc.-led team and supports DOE’s 2020 strategic vision priority for significant construction project milestones. Completing construction and then startup testing of facilities for Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste moves the Hanford site one step closer to treating millions of gallons of waste in underground tanks.
The plant’s commissioning team will now ensure workers are trained, systems and equipment are operational and written procedures are in hand to support future lab operations.
The laboratory’s key function is to determine the correct glass formulation “recipe” for each incoming batch of waste and confirm that vitrified glass produced by the Low-Activity Waste Facility meets regulatory requirements and standards.
During operations to treat tank waste using the Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste approach, laboratory chemists and technicians will analyze about 3,000 samples each year. Samples also will be taken throughout the vitrification process to confirm production of a high-quality glass product and good process controls.
State launches free Covid-19 counseling program
Washington has launched Washington Listens, a support program and phone line to help people manage elevated levels of stress due to the pandemic.
People who call the Washington Listens support line will speak with a support specialist and get connected to community resources in their area. The program is anonymous.
The Washington Listens support line is 1-833-681-0211. It is available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. TTY and language access services are available by using 711 or their preferred method.
Resources and self-help tips are available at walistens.org.
Red Cross needs volunteers to help with wildfire relief
The American Red Cross is seeking local volunteers to help with relief efforts for what is expected to be a busy wildfire season.
It is seeking volunteers to help place victims in emergency lodging, including hotels and shelters, and health care workers, including doctors, nurses and paramedics. It is also seeking volunteers to help shelter pets of people forced to leave their homes.
Go to redcross.org/volunteer for information.
Mayors weigh in on State of the Tri-Cities
Kennewick Mayor Don Britain, Pasco Mayor Saul Martinez, Richland Mayor Ryan Lukson and West Richland Mayor Brent Gerry will discuss their priorities and initiatives as well as the toll the pandemic is taking during the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Cities virtual luncheon. It’s from noon to 1 p.m. July 22.
Attendance is free but registration is required.
Go to /bit.ly/StateoftheCities to sign up.
Taxpayers need to resume payments by July 15
Taxpayers who took advantage of the People First Initiative tax relief and did not make payments to the Internal Revenue Service between March 25 to July 15 need to restart their payments.
The IRS reports taxpayers who had installment agreements, offers in compromise or payments in private collection and skipped any payments from March 25 and July 15 should start paying again to avoid penalties and possible default on their agreements.
Taxpayers who can’t pay or who have questions should contact the IRS. Go to irs.gov/payments for information.
Benton REA lands $5M USDA loan
Benton Rural Electric Association received a $5 million loan through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program to provide loans and grants to expand economic opportunities.
Benton REA was one of three entities in Central Washington to share in
$1.6 billion in rural electric loans awarded in 21 states.
Benton REA services 14,000 customers in Benton, Lewis and Yakima counties.
Recipients may use money to improve electric transmission and distribution lines and to mitigate the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Reclamation helps CID line irrigation canal
The Columbia Irrigation District in Kennewick will line about 850 linear feet of its Lateral #2 canal after receiving a water efficiency grant from the Bureau of Reclamation.
The grant of $61,320 will support the $122,640 effort to reduce seepage and prevent potential canal failures.
Reclamation awarded $163,500 to Washington projects that bolster water efficiency.
The Lake Chelan Reclamation District received $75,000 and Kittitas Reclamation District received $27,184.
Sign-up for our e-newsletter filled with featured stories and latest news.