Business Briefs – September 2022

2022 apple crop will be smaller

Washington’s celebrated apple industry is projected to produce 108.7 million 40-pound boxes in 2022, an 11.1% decrease from 2021’s 122.3 million boxes.

The Washington State Tree Fruit Association said it is pleased with the harvest given the long, cold spring.

“Growing seasons are never the same and currently many WSTFA members are still evaluating the impact of prolonged cold weather,” said Jon DeVaney, president.

The top five varieties comprise the majority of the harvest, with Gala leading production at 20%, followed by Red Delicious and Honeycrisp each at 14%, Granny Smith at 13.4% and Fuji at 12.7%.

Cosmic Crisp, the newest offering from Washington, represents 4.6% of the harvest, up from 3.2% in 2021.

Washington apples are sold in 40 countries and are the state’s leading agricultural product.

Harvest estimates are based on a survey of WSTFA members.


Energy Solutions Summit is Nov. 8-9 in Kennewick

The Association of Washington Business hosts the Energy Solutions Summit Nov. 8-9 at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.

The summit addresses the future of energy in Washington state, where the hydroelectric dams on the Snake River are under threat.

Go to awb.org/event/energy-solutions-summit for registration and program information.


Fuse Funds leads $500K funding for local startup

Fuse Fund, a Richland-based group of investors, led a $500,000 funding round to help a local startup deploy its first commercial hydrogen generator.

STARS Technology was founded in 2017 to commercialize hydrogen production technology licensed from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Fuse invested $150,000 in STARS and worked with other investors, bringing the total to more than $500,000.

The STARS hydrogen generator unit operates with a combination of natural gas, water and electricity. Its first generator is being deployed by Southern California Gas Co. at its SunLine Transit Agency in Thousand Palms, California. The technology will provide hydrogen for SunLine’s fuel cell buses.

SoCalGas also announced it would partner with Ford Motor Co. to demonstrate a fleet of For F550 SuperDuty Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Trucks.

PNNL called STARS pioneers in the realization of a viable clean hydrogen economy.

“We applaud the work by Bob Wegeng and his team at STARS in translating cutting-edge, taxpayer-funded PNNL research into economic impact,” said Christina Lomasney, PNNL’s director of commercialization.


Survey: State’s employers worry about economy

Inflation may be easing, but it remains a top concern for Washington employers, according to a survey of business leaders conducted in late July and early August by the Association of Washington Business.

AWB asked employers to list the most important challenges they face. There were 421 responses.

Top concerns were:

  • Inflation (68%)
  • Lack of qualified workers (65%)
  • Supply chain disruptions (56%)
  • Government regulations (49%)
  • Overall tax burden (40%)

Employers also expressed growing concern over the possibility of a recession.

While only 3% reported laying off staff, 15% said they delayed hiring because of recession concerns, and more than one-third of respondents said they delayed making capital expenditures.


Repair shop owner sentenced in workers’ comp scam

Rodney Eugene Dietrich, owner of Rod’s Cars in Kennewick, was sentenced to 30 days of electronic home monitoring after being accused of felony charges of failing to provide workers’ compensation insurance to his employees for the sentence time.

Dietrich, 47, pleaded guilty to doing business without workers’ compensation insurance, a felony,

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries investigated. According to L&I, Dietrich employed two men at his repair shop from November 2017 to May 2019. During that time, he did not provide workers’ compensation,
L&I said.

One employee told investigators he was paid cash under the table. The other said he traded labor for auto parts and other items.

Dietrich previously pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor version of the same offense in 2016.

The case was prosecuted by the Washington State Office of the Attorney General.


Department of Labor awards $5.7 million for state apprenticeships

The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded $50 million in Apprenticeship Building America grant funding for registered apprenticeship hubs – organizations that help employers design, develop and deliver programs. 

The state Department of Employment Security received $5.7 million.

The program advances the department’s efforts to expand, diversify and modernize registered apprenticeship by increasing the number of programs and apprentices, diversifying the industries that use the “earn-as-you-learn” model for workforce development, and improving the access and performance of the programs in underrepresented and underserved communities.

The department also awarded grants to eight other organizations in California, Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania.


Washington among  the most expensive states to hire workers

Washington ranks as one of the top five most expensive states to hire employees.

That’s according to Tipalti, a fintech company with offices in California and Texas.

Washington employers pay $18,349 in taxes and benefits each year for workers making the state’s average annual salary of $68,740, the report said.

The company reviewed federal and state tax and employee benefit data to determine the rankings.

Topping the most-expensive state list was Alaska, followed by New York and New Jersey.

The least expensive states to hire employees were Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.


Insurers free to use credit scores to set rates

Insurers in Washington are free to resume using credit scores to determine insurance rates following a ruling in Thurston County Superior Court.

The court ruled that Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler exceeded his authority when he adopted a rule to temporarily ban credit scoring, a move he intended to prevent discrimination against communities of color.

The judge agreed with the spirit of the rule but concluded that since state statute allows insurers to use credit scores, it was an overreach.

Kreidler and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and American Property Casualty Insurance Association agreed to a final order in late August under which Kreidler will not appeal the decision. He indicated he hopes the Legislature will address the issue.

In the interim, insurers may revert to using credit scores to determine rates, his office said.


Lower Granite Dam crossing hours change

The U.S. Army Corps resumed crossing hours at Lower Granite Dam in Clarkston.

Winter public hours are 7 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. The crossing is closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, but is expected to be open all other federal holidays.

In related news, the Lower Monumental crossing is closed through Sept. 25 for maintenance of the spillway.

Call 888-326-4636 for the latest dam crossing information or visit bit.ly/SnakeDamCrossings for information about crossing the Lower Granite, Little Goose and Lower Monumental crossings.


RiverFest 2022 to celebrate area’s river system

RiverFest 2022 expects to welcome more than 70 exhibitors and vendors at the event highlighting the benefits of the river system and the four lower Snake River dams.

The free event is from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 8 at the Lampson Pits in Columbia Park in Kennewick.

Exhibitors include ports, utilities, agribusinesses and trade organizations, fish and wildlife organizations, tribes, recreation- and tourism-related businesses and others who use and benefit from rivers and the hydro system.

Visitors will be able to investigate a juvenile fish transportation truck, crawl inside FIN the Migrating Salmon and learn about the hydro system with hands-on activities and games for all ages.

Food vendors include the Colville Fry Bread Food Truck and Lamb Weston Fry Trailer. Musical entertainment will be on the main stage, featuring performances from the Colville Tribes.


Franklin Historical Society lays cornerstone

The Franklin County Historical Society & Museum holds a cornerstone ceremony to celebrate its new addition at 10 a.m. Oct. 8 at the museum, 304 N. Fourth Ave., Pasco.

The 5,180-square-foot annex allows the museum to consolidate a collection that was spread across the county, but pieces of Franklin County history stashed in the basement of the Pasco police station, at the Kahlotus Grange Hall and at the Port of Pasco.

The museum was established in 1958 and eventually moved into the 5,000-square-foot building initially built with funds from Andrew Carnegie. The former library is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


International Film Festival kicks off Oct. 14

The 14th annual Tri-Cities International Film Festival runs Oct. 14-16 and features the best of 120 submissions from filmmakers in 16 countries.

Local filmmaker Augustin Dulauroy’s documentary about Hanford, which was picked up by Amazon Prime, will be featured. Rick Castaneda, a Yakima Valley native and writer/director/producer and cofounder of Psychic Bunny, is the guest director.

Genres include animation, comedy, documentary, drama, fan film, horror, music video and sci-fi/fantasy.

Genre films and the winners of the 72-Hour Film Challenge will be featured on Oct. 15. Indie shorts will be featured Oct. 16.

Day passes are $10. An all-festival VIP pass is $25. Go to bit.ly/FilmFestInfo.

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