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Seattle's Irish-banker trio reflects on what happened to industry, and risks emerging

They're not a band of brothers because, while the Seattle area's three long-respected senior Irish bankers are friends, they are also competitors. But Dineen, Fahey and Patrick, all first named Patrick, are a breed of bankers who have always gauged success by how they did business, rather than how much business they did. As Scott Jarvis, director of the banking-oversight state Department of Financial Institutions, put it: "If we had more folks in the industry like them, we would have less to talk about when it comes to troubled institutions." Reflecting on what happened in their industry as real-estate lending activities began to unravel five years ago and climaxed with the crash that occurred four years ago next month, they collectively shake their heads. The three recall thinking, as they watched the sub-prime mortgage fiasco heating up from their respective vantage points, that "something was really wrong. All agree that, as the banking industry and the economy recover, they have concern that what Patrick Patrick points to as "the fatal inclination that you have to grow," coupled with greed, could lead to history repeating itself. Pat Fahey and Patrick, both now 70, were in retirement at that time after careers building successful banks and turning around troubled ones while Pat Dineen, 71, was a couple of years into the successful launch of Puget Sound Bank, where he was chairman, following his retirement as U.S. Bank's president for Washington. But those memories of retirement are now fading for both Fahey and Patrick as they are immersed in troubled-bank turnaround efforts, Patrick presiding as president and CEO over the comeback of Seattle Bank, where he has brought a $50 million local-investor capital infusion, and Fahey as CEO of First Sound Bank. Both Patrick and Fahey, called from retirement in 2008 as the crisis hit home, found frustration in their first comeback involvements. Patrick took the president/CEO role at deeply troubled Towne Bank in Mesa, AZ, and sank a lot of his own money into the project, only to find it was too far gone to save. And Fahey, then a board member of Frontier Bank in Everett, was pressed by its board as the bank's bad-loan portfolio swelled to oversee the effort to turn it around. But ineptitude (not his words) on the part of regulators scuttled what would have been a successful private-equity capital infusion. Fahey and Dineen were both key statewide executives of Spokane-based Old National Bank before it was acquired by U.S. Bank in the late 1980s. And after his retirement from U.S. Bank, Dineen was succeeded by still another Irishman, Ken Kirkpatrick, who had spent his entire career with the bank. Fahey and Dineen offered some surprisingly candid observations that the aggressive lending of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and basically pressure from certain members of Congress on the two government-sponsored enterprises whose job it was to own or guarantee mortgage obligations, were key parts of the problem. "I think it's fair to say that political and Congressional pressure certainly 'encouraged' Fannie and Freddie to fuel the flood of unconscionable loans that were securitized and sold into the secondary markets, causing further fueling of the 'housing bubble,'" Fahey said. "I have seen video of President Bush and Senator McCain calling for a reigning-in of Fannie and Freddie, and then-Chairman Barney Frank of the House Committee on Financial Services rejecting that notion, asserting that they were doing a fine job," he added. Dineen's view from afar at the time was that "Fannie and Freddie spent an inordinate amount of time lobbying congress. They were in the big time themselves while common sense lenders like Wells Fargo and others trying to slow the growth of Fannie and Freddie, were thwarted by Congress and by the two financial entities who had no interest in slowing down." Patrick also suggested that the seizure of ill-fated Washington Mutual in September of 2008 and is fire sale to JPMorgan Chase were the result of the FDIC deciding to "make an example of someone." "Needless to say they (WAMU) had more than their share of problems and issues - but scapegoats were needed as the 'face' of the problems," Patrick added. " Unfortunately Lehman and WAMU had their photos taken for the necessary posters." Patrick has been doing turnarounds for almost 30 years, starting with Seattle-based Prudential Savings during the savings & Loan crisis of the early '80s, then Seattle's Metropolitan Savings in 1990. As far as concerns about "could it happen again," Patrick suggests that "not only could it happen again, but it's happening now in spades, with pricing again irrational in terms of institutions making term loans at rates that are inappropriate and too much is being lent against some projects, especially multi-family." "That market is almost out of control, from my perspective," Patrick adds. "One thing is for sure: de ja vu must be exciting for some." Fahey agrees, saying "the raging boom in apartment construction and lending may well be a looming problem." "Added to that is the burden of over-reactive legislation and regulation that will very likely stifle lending that could and should be done, as well as cause increased costs that will be passed on to borrowers and consumers of financial services," Fahey adds. "Aggressive banks are looking for growth opportunities and there is only so much real growth potential out there,"Dineen said. "Growing strictly by taking business from your competitors generally indicates that you are doing something a little more aggressive." "Bankers and lenders have short-term memories," Dineen chuckled.
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Confederates' "dixie" transplant in Brazil is lost chapter in the saga of the Civil War

The least-known yet most compelling chapter of the Civil War saga may well be the story of the thousands of Confederates who refused to come back into the Union after 1865, opting instead to create a new "Dixie" in Brazil.

 

That portion of American history and the stories of the "Confederadoes" who carved out new colonies in Brazil "are lost in a linguistic tomb because Portuguese is a barrier to entry for those seeking to explore history," explains Gary Neeleman.

 

He and his wife, Rose, have completed the most thorough history of that story and turned it over to a Brazilian publisher. His hope is that "Stars and Bars Under the Southern Cross: Confederate Migration to Brazil" will soon be published in English as well and be available for U.S. distribution.

 

I write about Neeleman, 78, and his book because, as a 40-year friend and a colleague at United Press International for half of those years, I've been struck by his perpetual zeal to evangelize on what he describes as "the spiritual link between the United States and Brazil, the two giants of the Western Hemisphere."

 

"It's even called the United States of Brazil and the whole constitutional structure of the nation is intentionally patterned after the U.S.," says Neeleman of his love affair with two countries. "And the Brazilian people have always viewed themselves as friends of America."

 

It's a spiritual cause, second only to his Mormon faith, that began when he was UPI's manager in Brazil, a country where three of his seven children were born and where one of those Brazilian born, David, has started his third airline, Azul, the fastest-growing carrier in Brazil.

 

The fact he had learned Portuguese as a youthful Mormon missionary prompted UPI to pluck Neeleman from Salt Lake City in the early '60s and send him to Brazil. It was there, almost 50 years ago, that he met a blond-haired blue-eyed young Brazilian woman with a soft southern accent. She was on an LDS mission at the time.

 

"I was sure she was probably from Georgia, but asked her where in the South she was from," Neeleman recalls. "The southern accent came through even in Portuguese and when she told me she had never been to the South, I was blown away."

 

Through her he learned about the Confederates in Brazil, including the Fraternity of Confederate Descendants, whose annual picnic at Campo Cemetery, between the Confederate-established towns of Americano and Santa Barbara, draws up to 1,500 people. The cemetery, which has about 1,000 Confederates graves, has a 25-foot granite obelisk, emblazoned with a Confederate flag, that lists names from Ayees to Yancee. And Americana's city crest incorporates the Confederate battle flag.

 

Neeleman, whose consulting clients include media companies in Brazil, Sweden and Japan, as well as the Washington Post, will be attending next month's gathering of the Confederate descendants at the cemetery.

 

When he's not traveling with Rose on personal oir client business, he's doing Brazil' business as honorary counsel in Salt Lake City, as with his current effort helping the Utah Governor's office with a trade mission to Brazil.

 

After years of gathering historical data and personal recollections, Neeleman wrote his first book in 1985, a fictional account of the Brazilian Confederates titled "Farewell my South." 

 

"But more than 25 years since then, having more accumulated data than any living person, I realized that if something happened to me, all my research would go with me, so Rose and I said to each other: 'let's get it done,'" Neeleman said.

 

The book about the Confederates is one of three he has written about Brazil and its ties to the U.S. A soon-to-be-published one deals with the ties that allowed the U.S. and its allies to tap the Amazon rubber trees as the only rubber not controlled by Japan.

 

"If it hadn't been for Brazilian rubber in World War II, we would not have been able to wage the war and would have lost," Neeleman said.

 

He recalls the year he was asked to help arrange for former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, as well as aide Jody Powell to attend the Confederate picnic and how "they sat at the cemetery, sang Dixie and all three had tears streaming down their faces."

 

Neeleman explained to me, "Brazil's Emperor Dom Pedro II set out to convince the Confederates to move to his country in the hope they would help establish a cotton industry in Brazil, which the Southerners proceeded to do."

 

Dom Pedro had offered subsidized passage and land with rich, red soil like Georgia's for 22 cents an acre. He was intent on making Brazil a major player in world agriculture, and his investment paid off.

 

The Confederates employed their technology and established the cotton industry, but also brought a focus on education, with the major law school and the hospital where the Neelemans' children were born established by a grandson of one of the Confederates.

 

"Although Brazil was a Catholic country, and Dom Pedro was Catholic, he was also a Mason and the Confederates set up Masonic lodges under his direction," Neeleman noted. "They thus legitimized the Masonic movement in Brazil."

 

As Neeleman wrote in the prologue to his book, "The young emperor correctly reasoned that these talented, but shattered people could rise again in a new land - his land - and while doing so, provide Brazil with much-needed technology and cultural development."

 

"The results of his efforts produced the only reverse migration in American history, and established a spiritual link between the two young hemispheric giants that only a very few today know exists."

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Economic development interests bullish on growing financial-services sector

There's a growing conviction among economic-development groups in the Seattle area and Washington State that targeting the financial-services sector could bring dramatic and relatively quick returns for the local and state economy.

 

With the third annual Financial Services Summit taking shape for this summer, California's finance industry is clearly in the sights of many of those who are leading the charge and touting the fact that Washington State has neither a corporate nor a personal income tax.

 

The Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County has a list of industry clusters representing the key pillars of the region's economy and thus the key focuses for growth. Financial services is the newest industry on the list

and is attracting perhaps the most interest.

 

Jeff Marcell
Jeff Marcell

The fact that California didn't just shoot itself in the foot, but in the head, when it imposed a surcharge on the wealthy has raised the benefits bar on a concerted marketing effort aimed at financial firms. Several hedge funds have already moved from the Bay Area to Seattle and that surcharge is seen as the "moving" force.

 

 

The EDC, which has returned to the name it had for more than 30 years prior to being rebranded as EnterpriseSeattle early last decade, held the first summit on that industry sector in May 2011. That gathering dealt with the value of targeting financial firms and showed that Washington State ranks fifth in the nation as a hub for the financial-services industry. The six subsectors the study identified within the financial services cluster include things like banking, accounting, credit and lending.

 

 

Scott Jarvis
Scott Jarvis

 

But the excitement about potential rapid growth is focused on the financial-services subsector. And California's finance industry is the most prominent target for many, though there's a bit of "in-bad-taste" reluctance to talk about specifically targeting California's businesses.

 

David Allen, McKinstry Co. executive vice president and chair of the EDC, agrees the financial-services sector could well provide the quickest and most lucrative returns, if the state's benefits are marketed well.

 

 

Karl Ege, a Seattle attorney at Perkins Coie who served for a time as vice chair of Russell Investments and is heading the Regulatory Task Force, is unabashed about touting the state's tax benefits.

 

 

 

"Why shouldn't we go after 21st Century high-paying jobs for educated people?' Ege asked in an e-mail exchange with me. "Financial services encourages a bigger business base, creates good jobs and their money comes from assets they manage around the world. And really this state's advantage, for high-margin businesses, is that we have no income tax."

 

 

 

Washington is one of only seven states without a business or corporate income tax and the only others in the West are Nevada and Alaska.

 

In addition, the service sector (law, accounting and financial activity) is exempted from the state sales tax, though the 1995 Legislature punished the service-sector businesses for battling against imposition of the sales tax by hammering those businesses with the highest business & occupation tax rate. The B&O tax rate for service firms is 1.8 percent of gross revenue, three times higher than the next highest industry and almost seven times higher than the lowest B&O rate.

 

Jeff Marcell, president and CEO of the EDC, says "one reason we feel it's so important to target this industry is that it yields unbelievable results for the community in terms of fantastic wages and international connections."

 

"Thanks to technology, more and more financial services companies are enjoying the freedom to base operations where it best suits their needs," Marcell added. "And Seattle/King County is increasingly becoming a hub of major financial players who want their headquarters far from the negativity conjured up by Wall Street."

 

I asked Scott Jarvis, recently reappointed by Gov. Jay Inslee as director of thestate's Department of Financial Institutions, if he viewed the financial-services sector as potentially the biggest reward among the target sectors.

 

"I don't know how to define 'the biggest reward,' but I certainly agree that the logistics of a move by one of those firms are relatively simple and the ability to be up and running, literally over a weekend, takes much uncertainly and 'down time' out of the decision to relocate," he replied.

 

And Jarvis is significantly involved in shaping the strategy for financial-services firms, including working with Ege's group to modernize Washington's trust laws, an effort which he explains is "to make them more relevant, modern and attractive to business."

  

 

"Currently, our trust laws are in the same chapter as our banking laws and have not been significantly amended in many years, Jarvis added. "We plan to work during the

 

interim with interested parties to separate out the trust law elements while at the same time ensuring that the elements needed for effective consumer protection remain and are modernized to address current and even future improper practices."

 

"Scott Jarvis been amazing," Marcell replied when I asked about the involvement of the state agency involved with overseeing financial institutions. "It's striking to see a regulator work so collaboratively about growing the industry cluster. He's an ace up our sleeves when we are competing for business."

  

 

 

"DFI has worked hard to foster a regulatory environment that is attractive and responsive to, and supportive of, financial entities while aggressively protecting consumers from improper or illegal behaviors," Jarvis replied when I asked about his department's involvement. "Those two activities are not mutually exclusive. Reduced to its essentials, we assist the good guys who want to play by the rules and go after the bad guys."

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Colleges, universities seek to explore ways to serve economic development needs

(Editor's NoteThis is the first of two articles exploring the challenges faced by higher education in coming to grips with the role of four-year colleges and universities in serving the economic development needs of their regions and states.)

 

As institutions of higher education come to terms with the expectation that they should adopt a mission to serve the economic development needs of their regions, some in academia may recall wistfully Thomas Jefferson's view that "education, as a lifelong encounter with the delights of the mind, is an end in itself."

 

But a growing number of leaders in higher education might view a different Jeffersonian observation as more appropriate today: "Education is a highly legitimate claimant on public treasuries."

 

The point of the latter quote, in the view of many within the higher ed system and in other segments of society, is that institutions of higher education provide economic value and should receive financial support accordingly.

 

The issue was brought to the fore in this state in recent days with a report to the board of regents of the University of Washington by the Washington Future Committee, headed by former regent William Gates Sr., which suggested UW could do more despite its obvious and significant economic impact.

 

The group of business and civic leaders Gates chaired urged UW to increase the number of in-state students, keep tuition affordable and increase the number of STEM degrees and do a better job of telling its story to key stakeholders.

 

But well before the Gates report, Initiatives have been under way across the country to explore what role colleges and universities should play, and, how, in helping grow the economies of their states.

 

UW President Michael Young and the regents will now have to digest the report and weigh its relevance to how the state's major research university charts its future.

 

Nowhere is the process of higher ed's role in economic development being scrutinized more than in North Carolina. There a process is under way that has each of the state's college and universities being asked to define their mission and answer how the mission is serving the needs of the state today.

 

"It's basically a hard look at what the state needs to meet its education and economic needs," says Sam Smith, the WSU president emeritus, who has been hired as a consultant to help the North Carolina process.

 

"They got me involved to see how they are using modern technology and online education to meet the needs of the state," explained Smith, who as WSU president from 1985 to 2000, launched WSU's three branch campuses and helped the launch of Western Governors University as an online accredited university. Still a member of WGU board of trustees, Smith guided the launch of WGU-Washington in early 2011.

 

Smith says he is currently advising colleges in a handful of states as part of his role with a Sacramento-based higher-education consulting organization called Collaborative Brain Trust, one of whose focuses is consulting for colleges and universities in dealing with the challenges of change they face.

 

"It's as simple as if institutions are doing a better job of meeting the needs of students, they'll get more students and more pay for what they are doing," Smith said.

 

Smith notes there's a challenge for colleges and universities facing increasing budget pressures and for businesses seeking the educated work force necessary to grow and compete and both challenges need to be addressed by those who would have higher education serve economic development needs of their states.

 

Those who help chart the changes higher education needs to make have to understand that "there's little incentive, from strictly a business point of view, for universities to increase the number of students and there's no reward for them to increase the percentage of graduates or to decrease the time it takes to get a degree," Smith said. "And there's little incentive for a university to see to attract middle-income students since those are the student least likely to be able to afford college."

 

And he pointed out that "many businesses don't feel there's a lack of educated people for them to hire because they are hiring students from other states. In essence those businesses think it's easier and less expensive to have a system where they hire those educated elsewhere.

 

"Higher education institutions who hope to become a more essential part of producing the state workforce of the future need to convince those businesses we're talking about that in-state schools can better tailor their programs to fit the changing and emerging needs of the state's economy," Smith added.

Smith lauded the University of Washington Medical School for the partnering arrangements it has developed.

.

 

 

 

Smith suggests that the fastest-growing segment of "the new model" for public universities will be what is referred to as the 2-4, meaning four-year institutions partnering with community colleges, which already have built a reputation of working with businesses to determine their workforce needs.

 

"One of the first things I do when I go into state to examine how things are working is to look at the primary medical school to see if it is a silo or is working with others," he said. "If the medical school is a silo, it tells me that the university isn't involved with others and isn't interested in changing."

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(Next: Elson Floyd, president of Washington State University, brought with him when he arrived here in May of 2007 from Missouri a conviction that economic contribution should be a key measure of how well an institution of higher education is fulfilling its mission.

 

 

And James Gaudino, who became Central Washington University president in 2009, spent 15 years looking at higher education from the outside as executive director of National Communication Association. He says "It would be irresponsible for a public institution to ignore the higher-education need" of its state or region. They share their thoughts on the next Flynn's Harp.)

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Yakima Valley hop growers benefitting from surge in growth of craft-brewing industry

As craft beer comes to rival quality wine as a palate pleaser for the discriminating, the hop industry whose bitter green cones give the beer its special taste is surging and thus playing an increasingly important role in the economy of the Valley and also Washington State.

 

The fields of grapes for Washington's successful and growing wine industry are spread across the Yakima Valley while the fields where the hops are grown are far less visible and the acres less numerous. But the fact is that hop growers and their industry, by far the largest in the nation, predate the wine industry by several decades.

Now the hop industry, after years of ups and downs that were mostly downers, is riding a growth wave thanks to the surging popularity of craft beer, most of which is brewed with hops from the Yakima Valley.

"The hop industry is booming right now and adding huge value to the Yakima Valley economy," says David McFadden, president of the Yakima County Development Association. "We are seeing hop processors purchase new buildings, add new equipment and boost local payrolls. Agriculture is very strong right now and hops are complementing our farmers' livelihoods." 

Ann George

For comparison, it's important to note that the hop industry's approximately $160 million annual contribution to Washington's economy is only 14th on the state's agricultural-products values and just a slice of the $2.25 billion annual production of the number one apple industry. But as McFadden notes, the industry's surge is bringing other benefits as well.

"The past few years have been an exciting up and thus a nice change for the industry," notes Ann George, who has been the chief administrator for the Washington Hop Industry association for 27 years and also serves as the chief administrative person for the Hop Growers of America.

"The success of the industry in the past few years has attracted back some of the young talent that had moved away from the farms," she adds, noting that many of the farmers are adding hops to their agricultural-product mix, with the acreage dedicated to hops being between one-quarter acre and 10 acres.

George is in Austria this week for the annual summer gathering of the International Hop Growers Convention, the global organization for hop growers where she chairs what may be the most important commission, called the Commission on Regulatory Harmonization. She thus is the global organization's key person in dealing with the trade and pesticide rules that are the primary challenge for craft brewing as the industry becomes ever more attractive globally, thus adding countries into which hops are sold.

George, one of whose duties is tracking statistics for the industry, says 74 percent of the 2014 hop crop will be from acreage in Washington State, 14 percent from Oregon (virtually all of that produced in the Willamette Valley) and 10 percent from Idaho.

Almost 90 percent of the U.S. hop production is exported to other countries, where craft-brewing industries are either already in existence of where the industry is beginning to take shape.

Most hop farmers in the Valley are third or fourth generation and one of the largest and best-known of those is B. T. Loftus Ranches, which began in 1932 when the first five acres of hops were planted by the great grandparents of current owners Patrick Smith, Meghann Quinn, and Kevin Smith.

 

The Bale Breaker Brewery, smack in the middle of the Lofus hop fields, opened in April of 2014 as the latest Loftus venture.

 

Germany, which produces 60 percent of the world's hops, and the Yakima Valley, which produces 25 percent of the world crop and 80 percent of the U.S. hop crop, are the two most noteworthy geographic areas for hop production.

Pete Mahony

 

Thus it's natural that there would be a convergence in some manner for the two most noted hop-producing regions. And the convergence is the decades-long presence in the Yakima Valley of the U.S. arm of the Barth-Haas Group, the world's largest supplier of hop products and services. Barth-Haas, founded in 1794, is now managed by the seventh and eighth generations of the Barth family and has roughly a 30 percent share of the hops market in Germany.

The U.S. arm of the company, John I. Haas, Inc., which owns and operates its own hop farms, warehouses, pellet and extraction plants and has been a fixture in the Yakima Valley hop industry for some 70 years, next month celebrates its 100th birthday.

Peter Mahony, who is Director of Supply Chain Management for John I. Haas, Inc., and has been with the Washington, D.C., based company for 28 years, explains that hops are "the spice of beer," giving the brew its flavor. And craft brewers use about 6-to-8 times as much hops as major brewers and their brews use one of the variety of what are called aroma hops, that magnify the beer flavor, whereas brewing used to involve what is known as alpha hops, still the primary hop for major breweries.

Mahony notes that acreage devoted to aroma hops in the Yakima Valley has become about 60 percent of the annual harvest, which extends from late August to early October and involves about 29,000 acres in the Yakima area with the average size farm about 450 acres on which hops are one of several crops grown.

Mahony, who says the 1,500 acres that Haas farms in the Valley is one planted in hops, expects that the growth of craft brewing and thus the health of the hop industry and its aroma varieties will continue, "but for how long is the million-dollar question."

He points to the attendance at the annual craft-brewers conference as a cause for long-term optimism for hop growers, noting "attendance at this year's crafters' conference was up 40 percent over the year before, to more than 9,000 attendees."

If there is any doubt that craft brewing is attracting a whole new generation of beer consumers around the globe, it should be dispelled by the advise from a beer sommelier at a Barth tasting event in Germany.

To those who might not be familiar with the fact there are beer sommeliers, Ann George makes the point that "more and more hospitality groups have a beer sommelier as well as a wine sommelier."

As the sommelier quotes puts it: "You shouldn't drink our beers when you're thirsty. Our beers should be drunk in small quantities on special occasions."

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Washington's only local elected official born in China sees major relationship opportunity

 

Bellevue City Councilman Conrad Lee, the only local elected official in Washington State who was born in China, is convinced the U.S. and China are "on the verge of a relationship opportunity that needs to be seized now to create a partnership that will provide long-term benefits for both nations."

And Lee, 76, a member of the Bellevue council since 1994 and mayor from 2012 to 2014, thinks the establishment of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX) in Bellevue will make the Eastside "a world center for innovation that will enhance the relations between the two countries in a way that will influence the rest of the world."

Conrad Lee

"China and the U.S., with similar geography and populations that have similar personalities, have been friends for 100 years," Lee said. "We are the two biggest economies of the world, the biggest pools of talent and the biggest markets."

He thinks the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), a partnership between University of Washington and Tsinghua University, which has been described as the MIT of China, with the $40 million funding from Microsoft, will be a key to the relationship he hopes to see emerge between the two nations.

"The GIX, as the beginning of a commitment on the part of the two vitally important universities and a world-leading company, will help provide a deeper relationship and the exchange of ideas between the U.S. and China and spur economic opportunities across the innovation ecosystem," Lee suggests.

But he cautions that it's important for the U.S. to move rapidly to seize the opportunity to create a special relationship while the current leadership of China is in power and open to that possibility.

And he is concerned that " bureaucrats of both sides are running around talking policy and don't know how to get beyond that to real communication," adding "China doesn't yet have a cadre of people who can understand and communicate with us and the same is true from our side."

"But we are both pushing to find the right connections," Lee added.

"If we are friends in the future, the world will benefit, but if we are enemies, the world won't sleep well at night," added Lee, who was born in Kunming in Southwest China into a family in which his father was founder of a bank and his mother was a high school graduate at a time when few women even attended high school.

Lee was eight years old when his father, who was an entrepreneur and the founder of The Bank of Kunming, died when his plane was lost at sea while he was on a flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong. Lee recalls that "two years later, as Communists were heading for our region, we left for Hong Kong where we had connections because of my father's had business there."

Lee was schooled in Hong Kong, came to the U.S. in 1958 to attend school at Seattle Pacific, but transferred to the University of Michigan to get his engineering degree and received his MBA from University of Washington.

He became a U.S. citizen in 1971. He worked at Boeing where, as an engineer, he was on the team that developed the 747, then worked for Seattle Solid Waste Utility as a project manager on the team that transformed garbage disposal to solid waste management to make Seattle one of the first cities to recycle and compost its garbage.

He was appointed Regional Administrator of the SBA by President George W. Bush, then ran for the Bellevue City Council. He is mid-way through his sixth term, a tenure twice as long as any other member of the council.

Lee sums up the potential that sets the stage for a U.S.-China close relationship noting, "We need their money and they want our creativity and innovation. We have a nation with a culture of creativity whereas China is very structured, which is the opposite of fostering innovation."

"But the Global Innovation Exchange may help turn that around," he added.

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Montana's 'angel' investor sees changing values boosting state's investor appeal

Those who have watched or experienced Liz Marchi's commitment to provide funding for Montana entrepreneurs and startups for a decade might suggest that the term "angel investor" was coined specifically to describe her.

Liz Marchi
Liz Marchi 
It was 2003 that Marchi, who had arrived in Montana with three daughters and her then husband and settled in the Flathead Valley, decided to create the state's first angel fund, Frontier Angel Fund I. The fund closed in 2006 at $1.7 million, $300,000 more than she had hoped.   
     
She eventually guided the Kalispell-based fund, which had attracted investors from around the country who were either fans of or summer residents in the Big Sky Country, to lead three deals and gather a total of 12 active investments and was soon also overseeing angel groups that had sprung up in Missoula and Bozeman.

Because she successfully syndicated her deals with a number of other angel groups outside the state, she jokes that she has become "the grandmother of crowd funding." She's not referring to the formal definition of crowd funding but rather the syndication efforts she initiated that attracted a crowd of angels from numerous groups making small investments.

Now Marchi, who grew up near Jackson Hole, WY, but who had never been to Montana when she arrived here in 2000, says she is looking forward to making the investor-leader handoff to Will Price, whose roots in the state brought him back from Silicon Valley to create Next Frontier Capital, at $20 million the largest venture fund ever raised in the state.

Price, on the board of or a key executive with a number of Bay Area tech companies, did his due diligence on the attitudes of national venture and mergers & acquisitions firms toward Montana before making the move to Bozeman.

Price's fund, which closed last April a year following his decision to bring his family to the state where his father, Kent Price, is well known as Montana's first Rhodes Scholar and University of Montana board member, has already made two investments.

I've kidded Liz and her husband, Jon, who in 1978 founded Glacier Venture fund as the first venture fund in Montana and presided over it for 29 years, about being "Mr. and Mrs. Montana Money." To which she once responded: "We are more like Mr. and Mrs. Montana risk capital since we share a very high risk tolerance...and often share the consequences."

Although Marchi talks about making a handoff to Price, as well as "the next generation of angels, including some members of Fund II in their '30s, who slay me in terms of their abilities," she was completing the formation in August of $2.7 million Frontier Fund II, which has already invested $900,000 with syndication adding $300,000 for a total of $1.2 million already invested.

"We have 48 investors in 10 states and meet physically in Bozeman and the Flathead, alternating with a WebEx option," Marchi said, noting that investors met in Bozeman today, with investors from two continents and four states, including Montana investors from Bozeman and Kalispell to review three Bozeman companies.

That sounds less like "handing off" for the 62-year-old Marchi than welcoming the potential follow-on investment opportunity that venture capital can represent for angel. And she hopes Price's fund will provide.

She says she does have an agreement with Fund II to be the key administrator only for the next two years, but could opt to remain longer. And she is down to business cards representing her current five involvements.

But Marchi is genuinely pleased at the implications of the arrival in Montana of Price, who did his homework before deciding a venture fund could work in Montana.
Price shared with me the research he did with and his thoughts about how "changing values" will benefit Montana's ability to attract capital.

Montana was often dismissed as a "fly-over" state, meaning that the most viable potential investors on the east and west coasts usually just fly over on their way to the other coast.

But Price's SurveyMonkey sampling of both venture and merger & acquisitions firms and found that the appeal of the big sky to many increasingly disenchanted with urban challenges was strong but that direct air access is a challenge Montana must come to grips with.

Fully 70 percent of responding M&A firms said they would consider buying a company in Montana, even though 80 percent said they had never been to the state. And a third of the venture firms said they would consider doing a deal in Montana, although 47 percent said they had never been there.

The import of improved air access to a state that has no direct flights currently to the major markets was dramatically indicated with the response of M&A firms, 90 percent of whom said it was "important" or "Moderately important" to have direct air access to the market of their investment.

"That's something the state is going to have to address," Price said. "But I think it will be addressed."

Among venture firms, almost two thirds sad the quality of the local syndicate partner would determine their involvement.

Although Marchi herself has attracted investors from around the country, she observes that "Being away from the noise of the coasts keeps us grounded in an important way.

"The entire conversation and perception needs to move about rural America, what is going on here and its role in making our economy and our country work better," she said, expressing the principle that has guided her commitment to Montana entrepreneurs.
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A rural economic development strategy focused on entrepreneurs

 

If Global Entrepreneurship Week, the annual worldwide celebration of innovators and job creators, had been a competition among nations, states and regions, Washington State could have laid claim to being the hands-down winner. And that would be appropriate recognition for the man who has guided much of this state's effort to advance entrepreneurship, particularly in rural areas and particularly with young people, for 25 years.

 

 

 

 

Maury Forman, senior manager for the Washington State Department of Commerce, is proud of the fact that in this state, GEW 2015 was actually Global Entrepreneurship Month and extended to every corner of the state with activities in all 39 counties. Four years ago, when Forman plugged the state into GEW activities, three counties participated.Forman says "we are changing the way communities look at economic development." That's an outgrowth of his effort, over much of his quarter century overseeing key economic-development sectors, to develop a culture of entrepreneurism in rural areas.

Global Entrepreneurship week was founded in 2008 by the Kauffman Foundation, the Kansas City-based 501c3 that is the nation's pre-eminent entrepreneur-focused organization, to create an annual celebration of innovators and job creators who launch the start-ups that drive economic growth.

 

Forman, who joined what was then the Department of Trade and Economic Development in 1991 in a career transition from healthcare at the age of 40, says "No other state can claim that every part of the state had at least one event that celebrated entrepreneurship."

 

 

"One of the exciting aspects of this year's celebration of entrepreneurship was the number of high school programs being held throughout the state," Forman said. "In many cases, college isn't the natural next step it was once for high school students so these programs expose them to the idea of starting their own business once they graduate. Or if they do go on to college, they can focus their education on skills that will allow them to start a business in the years to come."

 

 

Forman says he has kept his primary focus on rural economies because "they need the assistance much more than urban communities," as well as because he has become convinced that the strategies for growth of many rural areas that has been focused on recruiting companies from out of state is outdated.

 

 

"That has to change if rural communities are to survive," Forman said. "Communities have to be shingle ready and not just shovel ready."  

 

 

In a recent article in Governing, a national magazine covering state and local government news, Forman wrote about Washington's three-year-old program called Startup Washington that focuses on building local economies "organically" by serving the needs of local startups and entrepreneurs.  

 

 

Forman is likely among the national leaders in the conviction that programs to enhance local economic development "must nurture the belief that young people who grow up in rural communities can be guided to start businesses in their own community rather than moving to urban centers."

 

 

"Just as young people are looking at new ways to enter the work force other than working for someone else, so too are communities looking for ways other than recruitment of businesses from elsewhere to grow their economies," Forman said.

 

 

One of the ways he is seeking to do that "is by matching those students that are serious about being entrepreneurs with mentors, especially in rural communities."

 

 

Indeed matching students who hope to be entrepreneurs with mentors is becoming the model for successful communities, particularly rural ones, to pursue.

 

 

Some communities have long been employing that model, as chronicled in the oft-quoted book written by Jack Schultz, founder and CEO of Agracel, a firm based in Effingham, IL, that specializes in industrial development in small towns.

 

 

It was in pondering why some small towns succeed where others fail that Schultz set out on the backroads to rural America to find out as he became the nation's guru of rural economic development and wrote of his travels in Boomtown USA: the 7 ½ keys to Big Success in Small Towns.

 

 

I emailed Schultz about entrepreneurism's role in small town success and a possibly emerging role for mentor programs.

 

 

"Embracing entrepreneurism in communities has been a key factor that differentiated great communities from also-rans," he emailed back. "Increasingly, we are seeing those great communities taking it a step up by tying their local entrepreneurs up with their young people, educating them on both entrepreneurship and also the great things happening in the private sector of their towns."

 

 

Schultz' successes in believing in small-town entrepreneurs and small-business lending is partly responsible for the fact the Effingham-based bank he helped found and now chairs the board, has grown eight fold to $2.9 billion in assets and gone public.

 

 

"At Midland States Bank, we have very much focused on small business lending and it has been a major factor in our growth over the last several years," Schultz said.

 

 

In an unusual and innovative commitment to the dozens of communities it serves, the bank has funded a not-for-profit institute to expand an entrepreneurship class that was started in Effingham eight years ago and has now expanded to 27 other towns.

 

 

Forman seemed intrigued by the details Schultz provided:  The class meets each day during the school year from 7:30 to 9 am; meets in local businesses; is totally funded by local businesses with a maximum contribution of $1,000 per business or individual.  Each class has a business and each student must also start a business.  

 

 

Meanwhile, Forman approaches his 25th anniversary with the department on January 1 having collected numerous regional and national awards for his work and successes. Those include last year winning the international Economic Development Leadership Award and recognitionby the Teens in Public Service Foundation with the Unsung Hero Award for his work with at risk kids.   

 

 

He has authored 14 books related to economic development, and has also designed and developed creative "game show' learning tools, including Economic Development Jeopardy, Economic Development Feud and two board games for the profession.

 

 

Forman credits the directors who have guided the department over his time there for allowing him "to be intrapreneurial," meaning behaving like an entrepreneur while working in a large organization, noting "not many government agencies allow the freedom to take risks in an effort to solve a given problem."

 

 

 

 

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Entrepreneur of the Year event has become community entrepreneurship celebration

In the quarter century since national accounting firm Ernst & Young (now rebranded as EY) brought its Entrepreneur of the Year event to Seattle and the Northwest, the annual black tie gala has represented a community celebration of entrepreneurship. And with that has come a growing awareness of the importance of recognition for those struggling to build businesses and create jobs.

That increased awareness of the role visibility plays has brought with it an array of events, created by firms, organizations and media entities who want to own a piece of visibility value of their own for creating visibility for and thus developing relationships with young companies and the entrepreneurs who guide them.

Indeed all of those other recognition events have brought value to the startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem by allowing individual firms to attract the attention of potential investors and potential new talent.

But the EY event has remained the most prestigious gathering for entrepreneurs, as this year's select group of honorees preparing for the June 17 event at the Sheraton Hotel are coming to learn. Among other things, Northwest winner get to move forward to compete for recognition at the EoY national and world events later in the year with winning entrepreneurs from the 145 cities and 60 countries in which the EoY event is held.

As Dan Smith, managing partner of the Seattle EY office, put it:"We've recognized many remarkable leaders who have disrupted industries, created new product categories, and successfully brought new innovation and technology to traditional industries."

In fact three winners in the local event have gone on to win at the national level. They are David Giuliani, who as founder and CEO of Optiva, won in the manufacturing category in 1997; Zillow Group CEO Spencer Rascoff, who won in the "services" category in 2013, and Zulily CEO Darrell Cavens, who won in the "emerging" category in 2014.

Smith notes that this year's finalists include 21 entrepreneurs from the life sciences, retail and technology industries, adding "we've definitely seen a lot of growth in these sectors compared to 30 years ago when the program started."

This annual Entrepreneur of the Year event has held a special attraction for me because of personal involvement, both before and since the event came to Seattle five years after Ernst & Young launched it in 1986 in Milwaukee.

Part of my regard for the event is having close connection to entrepreneurial honorees for this special recognition. The first was Kathryn Kelly, the president of a young Seattle firm ­­­called Environmental Toxicology, who was among those honored as finalists at the second event in Seattle in 1992.

Then came Pete Chase, CEO of Spokane-based Purcell Systems, who won in the communications category in 2006 and became a judge in the following three years, before guiding the sale or his company and launching a new company, Columbia International Finance, for whom I am doing some consulting.

And Leen Kawas, Ph.D., president and CEO of the promising young life science company M3 Biotechnology Inc., is a 30-year-old Jordanian woman who is among this year's honorees and whom I tout as changing the face of life sciences in this state. I have had the satisfaction of being an investor and providing introductions and visibility since she arrived at the helm of the fast-growing company in January of 2014.

The impact of the honor on the entrepreneurs nominated was evidenced by Kelly's reaction back then when I expressed my regret, having nominated her, for the fact she had been one of three finalists but had not won in her category.

"You have to be kidding! Just being here (including the video vignettes of each finalist shown before the envelope is opened and the winner disclosed) was the satisfaction of a lifetime," she said.

There is also a bit of amusement for me when I think of the Entrepreneur of the Year event in that as publisher of the Business Journal I was involved in two entrepreneur of the year events before Ernst & Young brought its event to Seattle.

That came about because Woody Howse, then a partner in the venture capital firm Cable & Howse Ventures, approached me about partnering in an event we named Entrepreneur of the Year, which we promoted and held in the mid-'80s to honor a single entrepreneur each year. It would be hard to top either of our honorees.

The first was W. Hunter Simpson, who had taken over defibrillator-manufacturer Physio-Control 20 years earlier and guided it into a global-leadership role in its industry. The next year we honored Microsoft founder and CEO Bill Gates, whose company was just then gathering momentum, having gone public a year earlier.

Cable & Howse, then the area's premier vemture capital, had a vested interest in creating visibility for entrepreneurs, as did the Business Journal. We were among many organizations then casting about to determine how best to serve those individuals who held the keys to our future.

In fact, some edginess on the part of the Ernst & Young Seattle leadership would have been appropriate at our having pre-empted Simpson and Gates as the two most impressive names in the local entrepreneur community at the time.

PSBJ and Cable & Howse partnered for several years thereafter with another accounting firm to stage a High Tech Entrepreneur of the Year event, before Ernst & Young Managing Partner Karl Guelich called me to let me know our party was over because the real thing was coming to Seattle.

Guelich had allowed us to go ahead without comment with a Seattle event using the E&Y copyrighted name, partly out of friendship and partly because he likely figured, as it turned out accurately, that our event might even lay visibility groundwork for the arrival of the official awards event of that name.

For perhaps a decade, the Business Journal was part of a process that represented a win for the firm, for the newspaper, and for the entrepreneurs as well. Ermst & Young always scheduled its event for a Thursday evening and provided all the advance detail needed for PSBJ to produce a special supplement with stories on the event and all the honorees, passed out to all attendees as a keepsake as they left the event and then it was inserted in the PSBJ copies that arrived in subscribers' mail the following day.

Since then some of the biggest names among regional entrepreneurs have been in the winners' limelight at the Northwest EoY. They included Mark Britton of Avvo, Jim Weber of Brooks Sports, Inc., Dara Khosrowshahi of Expedia, Inc., Gertrude and Timothy P. Boyle of Columbia Sportswear Company, Jeffrey P. Bezos of Amazon.com, Inc. and Howard Schultz of Starbucks Coffee Company.

So perhaps I'm prejudiced, but it seems clear that EY Managing partner Smith is accurate in suggesting that "the award has acquired a great deal of prestige, and is recognized around the world as an emblem of entrepreneurial success."

text here .

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Arrival of federal crowdfunding gives start-up companies options

Almost four years overdue, federal crowdfunding rules went into effect last week to fulfill a 2012 Congressional mandate to "democratize" the process by which entrepreneurs and small businesses can raise start-up capital from "the crowd" of investors of average means.

Some cynics might view as "Democracy in action" the fact that it took almost four years for the Securities and Exchange Commission to come up with the rules that Congress originally gave it 180 days to enact so the legislation known as the Jumpstarts Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act could go into effect.

But the upside of the years of delay was that almost half of the states, including Washington, were spurred to seize the opportunity to come up with intrastate versions of the crowdfunding concept. As a result entrepreneurs in most states have the choice of federal or state regulations to use in seeking start-up capital from average investors, a choice that would likely not have come to pass without the SEC's foot dragging.

And in fact, the act's regulatory debut of 17 federal filings the first day was characterized as "pretty impressive" by Faith Anderson, the respected Registration and General Counsel Program Manager in the Securities Division of the state Department of Financial Institutions (DFI).

How the individual states have fared in the responses to their crowdfunding legislation has depended on a number of factors. Oregon, for example, because it has a non-profit dedicated to helping entrepreneurs through the process, has had good reviews.

Montana, on the other hand, has an unusual constraint that requires that half of a startups' business must be done in Montana.

"Makes it a pretty small prospective market," quipped Liz Marchi, the Kalispell-based leader of three Montana angel funds.

Before its crowdfunding legislation was approved last year, Montana was already rated the top state in the nation for start-up businesses on the Kauffman Index, the annual state ranking of startups by the Kauffman Foundation, largest entrepreneurship-focused non-profit in the country.

Marchi, who is finding enough entrepreneurs already emerging in the Big Sky Country, is not a big fan of crowdfunding for entrepreneurs, saying "I plan to stay away until all the unintended consequences have been worked out."

Meanwhile, Oregon's non-profit called Hatch Oregon, which travels around the state vetting startups it works with, is getting positive attention from startups there for what amounts to an incubator that seeks to guide entrepreneurs past the financial rocks and shoals of the crowdfunding game.

Hatch, whose platform hosts 10 of the 11 offerings filed in Oregon so far, offers no guarantee to the companies it works with. The incubator also produced a video called "Let's Be Frank" that tries to outline the risks in plain language.

Washington has no such entity to inexpensively help entrepreneurs along the road toward fundraising. But regulators have sought to put in place a program that helps guide startups to produce a document that ensures they are in compliance with securities laws, that investors are protected and entrepreneurs themselves are steered away from possible future liabilities.

The intent is an entrepreneur could be helped through the process without having to necessarily incur the expense of an attorney.

But the fact not all startups want to be so carefully guided is evident by the fact that one of two companies filing under the crowdfunding law got considerable media attention by lamenting that its efforts to get the paperwork done and get to fundraising was being hung up in red tape.

The sense is that what the filing firm viewed as "red tape" was insistence by state regulators that all the requirements be met, and one of the challenges for startup hopefuls is that not all attorneys understand the law and its regulatory requirements at this point.

One nagging aspect of the SEC rules in place that govern the crowdfunding laws of all the states is something known as Rule 147, referred to as the "intrastate offering" exemption, which has strict requirements that intrastate offerings be contained within the boundaries of a single state. In other words, an entrepreneur filing under the Washington State law not only can't take money from the resident of another state, but the resident of another state isn't even to see the offering.

So far, the SEC has been firm in the view that if someone in another state sees the information on the offering, it is no longer intrastate, which would basically nullify the fund-raising effort.

Anderson, chair of the Small Business/Limited Offerings Project Group of the National Securities Administrators Association, produced a report some months ago for the securities departments of all 50 states that was critical of Rule 147 and its impact on entrepreneurs.

The SEC has apparently gotten enough push back from the states on that constraint that, as Michelle Webster, financial legal examiner for DFI, explained, the SEC has several proposals, which are currently merely proposals it will consider that would amend the JOBS Act rules. One that would address that almost universal Rule 147 irritant would allow intrastate visibility for an offering as long as only residents of the filing company's state were permitted to invest.

But the fact is there is no timeline for the SEC to actually act on proposed amendments to rule 147. And some suggest the agency might never act since they do not have a Congressional push to do so.

Joe Wallin, a Seattle attorney with Carney Badley Spellman, who basically wrote the state legislation that created the crowdfunding law in this state, has been critical of the fact that those assisting entrepreneurs to raise funds cannot legally charge a fee representing a percentage of dollars raised unless licensed as a broker-dealer.

That's a federal restriction and Wallin is convinced an easing of that rule would find a lot of individuals and groups stepping forward to provide fee-based assistance based on a percentage of the dollars raised rather high hourly fees.

Washington' Securities Administrator, Bill Beatty, suggested that from now forward, with both federal and state options open to would-be crowdfunders, to be determined is: "will the federal model, which requires the use of licensed portals, or the typical state model, which allows issuers to conduct the offering, be more attractive?"

The sense has been that the cost of using a licensed portal could be a substantial slice of the $1 million that a crowdfunding startup would be permitted to raise the first year. But Beatty said he has gotten the sense of more reasonable pricing from some portal operators.

"If the costs prove to be reasonable, I think federal crowdfunding has a much better chance of gaining traction and being a useful tool for some small businesses," he said.

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Willingness to provide funding key to state's life sciences future

Although this state is home to a world class life sciences and biotech non-profit sector, Washington's Legislature seems to only toy with understanding that being competitive with other states in the quest for pre-eminence in that industry requires demonstrating a willingness to spend state dollars.

That's likely at least part of the reason for the strong bi-partisan support among the lawmakers for a bill that would have put in place the essential final piece of a cancer research fund: an administrative body to begin planning grants, accepting donations and basically letting the fund become operational.

But one of the issues left undone when the Legislature adjourned at the end of March was final action on the bill, HB2679, that would have consolidated the cancer-research fund that was born of a bold idea in the 2015 Legislature into the Life Science Discovery Fund (LSDF). Intriguingly the same legislature left LSDF without a future by defunding it.

The bill was approved overwhelmingly by the Democrat-controlled House and passed out of the Senate committee and sent to the Ways and Means Committee, which has to approve bills that carry an appropriation. The bill languished there in the final days and died with the end of the session.

The LSDF-related bill, sponsored primarily by Democratic Rep. Jeff Morris, was to create a new Center of Excellence for Life Science and Cancer Research, to be overseen by LSDF.

The cancer-research-fund bill itself is designed to provide $20 million a year for the next 10 years with $10 million to come from state funds that can be released only after commitment of a "non-state match" of $10 million. The lawmakers appropriated $5 million to launch the fund, called CARE, which needs a board to oversee it and a contract with a non-profit designated to administer it before it can actually go into effect and begin considering grants.

So the provisions of the legislation creating the cancer fund are still in place, waiting to be implemented, and in fact Gov. Jay Inslee is in the process of selecting the 13-member board required to be named by July 1, according to the legislation.

The LSDF bill died at the end of last session and would have to be introduced again in 2017, in the event Morris should decide to take another run at employing LSDF as administrative entity

A life sciences ecosystem is important for the state and an ecosystem is supported by numerous pillars. In Washington, the approach of the lawmakers has been to take down the pillars, specifically removing the state's R&D tax credit for life science firms and ending the funding for LSDF, which was created a decade ago to provide funding for life-science startups, both in research and in commercialization.

As former Gov. Christine Gregoire put it: "We are in fierce competition with other areas but, unfortunately, as a state, we have gone in the wrong direction by eliminating the research and development tax credit that supports early stage companies and defunding LSDF."

The cancer-research fund is viewed by the life sciences industry as restoring a pillar and all have indicated their support for the fund. But those life science leaders also share the view that the $10 million a year of state funds that it provides is merely a start, particularly given the support other states have stepped up to provide. What could be considered the other end of the state-support spectrum from Washington is Massachusetts, where a 10-year $1 billion dollar plan to support life sciences is now in place.

Gregoire, who as Washington's Attorney General led the fight that brought millions in tobacco money to the states then as governor led the effort to create LSDF as a vehicle to fund life science innovations, called the new cancer-research fund "an essential building block for a vibrant life sciences sector."

Gregoire, newly named to the board of The Hutch and thus soon to make her mark from inside the industry, addedwith respect to the cancer fund: "It can do a lot of good for our researchers and advance the work being done in areas where we have a unique advantage, including immunotherapy. The cancer research fund is just one part of it and the state needs to continue its targeted role or we risk losing our talent and the ability to bring cures to people faster."

Part of the pressure on the states has come about because of what had become, in recent years, a trend of NIH grants that have stayed fairly constant while purchasing power for those grants has declined yearly.

In fact, this state has always had a healthy share of NIH grants, totaling about $230 million the past fiscal year with $94.8 million to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, $71.8 million to the University of Washington and $29.3 million for the Benaroya Research Institute.

As to LSDF itself, because it is currently managing nearly three dozen grants toward their completion, it will still be in operation, if greatly reduced in staff and perhaps board, by the time of the nest legislative session, so it remains as a possible experienced administrative body for the board now being appointed to contract with to guide the cancer fund.

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© 2016 Mike Flynn

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