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Cantwell's role in CHIPS bill passage was a revival of the dying art of seeking bipartisanship

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The ability of members of Congress, either House or Senate, to work across the aisle to gather support from the other party for a proposal that requires bipartisanship to move toward final approval seemed to have become a dying art in this era of stark divisiveness between the parties.

Thus the ability of Maria Cantwell, Washington’s junior U.S. senator, demonstrated an across-the-aisle ability that was key to the passage and presidential signing of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 to subsidize U.S.-made semiconductor chips led to a rare but welcome act of bipartisanship. The so-called CHIPS bill passed the Senate with a 64 to 33 majority, with 17 Republicans voting in favor, and passed the House with a 243-187 vote, with 24 Republicans voting for the legislation.

In a place where feelings rather than facts frequently guide decision-making, since feelings, after all, are what politics is all about, Cantwell used facts to overcome the politics that were in play in the Senate Republican caucus after GOP minority leader Mitch McConnell told his side they were not to negotiate on the CHIPS bill.

With a comment that had amusing implications, perhaps, as Cantwell is looked to in seeking bipartisanship on future issues, she remarked, “The leadership politics just got in our way, and we just had to figure out a way around all that. And so we did.”

The “way around all that” was teaming with Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York to invite all 100 Senators to a classified briefing in a secure room on the national security imperative of passing a competition package before the August recess, a gathering that attracted about 60 Senators split equally along party lines. But she also credits Indiana Sen. Todd Young, who is completing his first term this fall, with his work on the Republican side of the aisle.
 
Cantwell had organized at least three previous classified briefings for members of the conference committee, but she wanted to hold one for all Senators to make a broader case for the legislation. The House held a similar all-members classified briefing on the legislation that week.

Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, and National Intelligence Director Avril Haines met with the Senators for nearly two hours, and the group of Senators reportedly asked 30 to 40 questions on the various national security implications of relying on chips made in China or Taiwan.

"Afterwards, I just remember members talking on the floor about it and saying, ‘Well if we can fall behind in one area, why can’t we fall behind in others?’ And so let’s get going,” Cantwell said.
 
“Today marks the start of the turnaround for U.S. chip manufacturing,” Cantwell remarked as the bill was signed. “More than a dozen companies are expected to make announcements in the next few months about expanding the chip supply chain in the United States,” she added.
 
“America wins, and workers win, and consumers win because every product dependent on semiconductors: cars, trucks, computers, phones, and farm equipment – will start to have a more reliable supply,” said Cantwell, who has chaired the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation since 2011, 11 years after she was elected to the Senate at the age of 42.
 
As the first woman to guide the important Senate committee, as well as being selected to co-chair the Senate Democrats’ new high-tech task force and earlier this year being named one of four “legislators of the year” by the Information Technology Industry Council, the lobbying arm of the high-tech industry, her leadership talents are being well recognized.
 
Maria CantwellMaria Cantwell found a way around leadership politics in getting across-the-aisle support for CHIPS semiconductor subsidyAnd an across-the-aisle leadership, as evidenced in the final steps on CHIPS would be a welcome re-emerged talent in the divisiveness-driven\ Congress.
 
In fact, one of her predecessors as Washington’s U.S. Senators was Warren G. Magnuson, who guided the Senate Commerce Committee for 22 years and was among the most respected members of what he liked to refer to as “the world’s most exclusive club” and he treated every member of his “club” as his friend.
 
Of course, your party must stay in control for 22 years to chair a committee for that long!
 
I’ve been a fan of Cantwell’s since I learned she was one of two Democrats among the eight votes against a measure called the America Invents Act proposed by President Barack Obama and supported by the vast majority of his Congressional Democrats. The measure, the first major change in patent law in decades, was touted as clearing the way for start-up and entrepreneurial innovation to find success against the tech giants by making first to file rather than first to use the new keystone of patent law.
 
Clearly, her high-tech background as an early employee and vice president of marketing at RealNetworks, a Seattle-based provider of artificial intelligence and computer vision-based products and an early pioneer in internet streaming-media delivery, gave her a unique understanding of the little guys’ tech struggle with the big guys.
 
I became aware of the act when I invested in a tiny company called VoIP-Pal, a penny stock company then based in Bellevue that had patents for most forms of voice-over-internet protocol, which by then had been, in essence, infringed upon by the major tech companies who were thus being sued by VoIP-Pal.
 
And the appeals board set up under the act could be, and was, composed of attorneys who had once been employed by one or another of the tech firms, Amazon, Verizon, T-Mobile, Twitter, or Apple, that were being sued for patent infringement.
 
So I began to search the background of the creation and passage of an act clearly doing the opposite of what it was promised to do.
 
As part of the research, I found a video clip of Cantwell giving a speech on the Senate floor in which she wound up with a heated comment: “This act is clearly favoring the big guy against the little guy,” explaining her “no” vote. In essence, leadership politics was getting in the way of doing the right thing.

A little-remembered example of her willingness to work across the aisle, even if it involved pushback against her leadership, was in May of 2010 when she joined 39 Republicans to block the Senate from ending debate on financial regulatory reform legislation, proving a “no” vote on the motion to proceed to a vote.
 
Despite the majority effort, Cantwell said she felt the bill, as it stood, failed to close loopholes in unregulated derivatives trading.
 
The bill then went back to the House, and as she recalls, “tough new rules on derivatives trading were added during conference negotiations.”

So now, as Cantwell is likely looked to for other cross-the-aisle initiatives, at least one comes to mind.

She promised some Senators concerned about the possibility of U.S. semiconductor manufacturers making investments in China or Taiwan for chip production that the CHIPS legislation provided “guardrails” allowing the government to “claw back” money if companies violate restrictions on investment in China. But it’s not unlikely that some subsequent legislation may be required to keep the companies on the straight and narrow.
 
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Lynn Brewer seeks to assist two crises, global warming and aiding Ukraine, with hemp growing

HempField

I’ve known Lynn Brewer to be a disruptive influence since I first met her two decades ago, soon after she had left the then-iconic energy company Enron and become an in-demand speaker on why she became a whistleblower before the Houston-based giant’s bankruptcy.

But it’s intriguing to see her attention now focused on the kind of disruptions that could bring the type of changes that would have a positive impact on the crisis of global warming as well as the more imminent crisis of helping restore a war-torn Ukraine.

First, the global crisis, where her current effort is for sure disruptive in a globally beneficial manner, for the creation of what she has named the Autonomous Climate Technology Ecosystem (ACTE), for which she has a patent pending. ACTE was invented as part of her effort to focus on hemp for climate crisis easing.

ACTE, she explained, was created based on her days at Enron and her knowledge of trading carbon credits in the regulatory markets. The invention is designed to use technology to generate uniform carbon credit certificates.
 
“The uniformity of the certificates automatically generated using artificial intelligence and other climate technology to quantify and qualify the carbon sequestered allows these certificates to be actively traded by Wall Street.”

She foresees the use of drones, satellites, and probes to detect carbon data from grassland, forestland, cropland, settlements, wetlands, and agricultural by-products derived from industrial hemp, like straw, corn, or any other agricultural waste, to allow anyone who owns or leases land to request carbon credit certificate.
Lynn BrewerLynn Brewer seeks to create focus on growing hemp to help fight global warming and related project to aid Ukraine's restoration
“Rather than clear-cutting the trees and receiving, for example, $200,000 for the timber, someone can keep the timber and sell carbon credits derived from the carbon dioxide sequestered in the trees and potentially receive more than $1,000,000 for the carbon credits,” she said.  
 
The patent is key to a multipart effort Brewer has found herself immersed in this year and is an initiative to draw this country in line with the rest of the world in the growing of hemp, a plant that grows to be 15-to-18 feet tall with the majority of the leaves and flowers being grown at the top.

The hemp plant, used by humans for about 10,000 years as a source of food and building material and at one point the most dominant cash crop on the American landscape, was made illegal in the late 1930s because the plant is the source of cannabinoids and THC and an anti-marijuana campaign across America in the ‘30s culminated with the plant being classified as illegal.

One of the uses of hemp fibers is in industrial products, including building blocks, basically called Hempcrete, that resemble concrete blocks for construction but are deemed to be carbon neutral because they sequester carbon.  

Growing hemp is a process already years in development in many parts of the world, promoted by the EU across Europe, but legalized in this country only four years ago after more than 80 years as an illegal plant because hemp and marijuana both come from the cannabis plant. The industrial hemp plant must contain less than .03 percent of THC under regulatory guidelines.

In those countries where building with hemp is well underway, including South Africa, two Cape Town businesses are partnering to expand a five-story building to 12 stories by adding levels constructed with blocks from Afrimat Hemp.

“Our hemp is like bamboo, growing tall shoots that are not allowed to produce more than .03 percent THC and is not smoked!” Brewer explained.

In fact, developments relating to her hemp-growing initiative have come in a rush this year, including her patent, which she says will revolutionize the way carbon credits are generated.

First was the planting of 52 acres of industrial hemp in the town of Kittitas, not many miles from her home in Easton. By the time of the first harvest in a month or so, the stalks will have grown to 18 feet or more.

Peter WhalenPeter Whalen will partner with a Ukrainian Hempcrete builder in the first veteran's rehab center to assist Ukraine orphan-refugeesThen this spring, she was appointed to the State's Task Force for the creation of a Hemp Commodity Commission, whose launch is an indication that there is a monetary future for growing the hemp plant that has only been legal since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.

An indication that her work isn’t going unnoticed is that she received an invitation to compete for Elon Musk’s Carbon Removal X-Prize of $100 million for carbon removal innovation, which is what hemp does in spades, sequestering two to three metric tons of CO2 per acre in the soil and up to 6 tons per acre in the plant.

“And,” Brewer explained, “These amounts accumulate in 90 to 120 days in the hemp, whereas a forest takes a minimum of 10 years to have the same sequestering effect.”

Evidencing an intriguing perspective on the profit value of helping save the planet, Brewer told me: “Buying and selling carbon credits should be as easy as ordering a product off Amazon.com. And anyone should be able to purchase a carbon credit certificate, whether it is a company that needs to offset its greenhouse gas emissions, a trader interested in market speculation, a broker selling climate-risk hedges, a young adult who wants to invest in the carbon credit market, or a grandfather who wants to buy a carbon credit certificate for his newborn grandchild.”

Now the Ukraine aspect of her focus. Brewer has put together a strategic partnership with Peter J. Whalen, a veterans advocate I’ve also written about, and who is proposing that his Invictus Foundation build treatment Centers of Excellence across the country for veterans’ rehabilitation from traumatic brain injuries. He is looking to use his wounded-veteran status to bring federal funding to a project in Ukraine.

Brewer contacted Whalen, a Vietnam veteran, after reading my column on him and learned he had been approached by someone in Turkey who sought to partner with him for building projects in Ukraine using Whalen’s wounded-veteran status to gather available federal funds.

Turns out that people around the world are looking for ways to get their hands on some of the millions of U.S. dollars that will go to aid Ukraine’s restoration.

“Why should we work with turkeys rather than directly with people in Ukraine,” Brewer remembers joking to Whalen. And thereby hangs the opportunity for her to introduce a Ukrainian builder named Sergiy Kovalenkov as a sort of new American hero once he gets to be known, as he will, as a co-founder of the U.S. Hemp Builders Association and now at work on building a facility in Ukraine to house orphans and homeless victims of the war.

Completion of his facility requires another $230,000 that Brewer has committed herself to raise, telling me she hoped to find opportunities to get people to donate pennies, dimes, or dollars to be part of aiding the Ukrainians.

Kovelenko is a Kyiv civil engineer builder who built the first hempcrete home in Australia.

Brewer describes him with a chuckle as “looking like he just walked off the beach at Malibu.” He's been building hemp homes for a dozen years with his company, Hempire, and will help develop a hempcrete building for Whelan’s first veterans center, which he hopes to locate on a 200-acre spot near Orting that is owned by the state.

In addition, Kovalenkov will be Brewer’s technical advisor for her hemp farm and negotiate deals, as with the French company that manufactures the block-making machine that Swiftwater will use to manufacture hempcrete blocks to use in building hempcrete homes that are pest resistant, mold resistant and fire resistant.

Brewer said her Swiftwater SPC (social purpose corporation), which is a division of her Swiftwater Holdings, “will take an investment position” in Whalen’s first center with her hemp to come from the acreage in Kittitas “sufficient to manufacture enough hempcrete to build the 15,000 square foot center from the 52 acres grown this year.”

“And the 200 acres that Whalen’s Invictus Foundation brain trauma centers will sit on would be sufficient to grow, with an agricultural designation, hemp that will be used for building transitional housing for veterans, with the first target being veterans among Seattle’s homeless population,” Brewer said.

 
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Mariners owner John Stanton, 'first and foremost a fan,' excited about team's surge into All-Star break

Safeco-Field-Seattle-Mariners
As the Seattle Mariners commence the post-All-Star break half of a season that ended its first half with sizzling success unseen in this area for two-plus decades, analysts and sports writers struggled to determine what brought about the success of a team went from a disastrous season start to now the most interesting in all of Major League Baseball.

Certainly, watching the team’s commitment to victory as a group of young men and the emergence of a couple of all-star players who have been hits off the field as well as on have been satisfying for long-suffering fans.

But I think it’s equally interesting to catch the excitement of the guy who occupies the owner's box, seeing a team that is finally achieving what has (clearly) driven John Stanton since the direction of the franchise became his as owner six years ago, giving his community and its fans a winning team.

Stanton became the CEO and majority owner of the Mariners in April of 2016 after the ownership group he led completed its purchase of the Mariners from Nintendo of America, and later that summer, Major League Baseball formally approved the sale of the Mariners to Stanton.

John StantonJohn Stanton
Mariners owner John Stanton's site set on enjoying the second-half run as '...basically just a fan'
He had become an owner in 2010 with the purchase of the 10 percent that John McCaw had held since the original ownership group that was put together in 1992, headed by Nintendo of America, at a time when Stanton, a telecom innovator, and entrepreneur, wanted mightily to be involved as an owner but admitted he didn’t have the capital available to join the group at that time. He was launching Western Wireless and once told me he and his wife, Theresa Gillespie, were paying his 100-some employees out of their personal checking account.

Buying out one of the cellular-icon McCaw brothers was appropriate since Stanton had been the first hire for Craig McCaw in the mid-80s when he created McCaw Cellular and helped him grow the telecom company over the rest of that decade before leaving with Craig’s blessing to launch Western Wireless.

Over the next decade, Stanton’s leadership satisfied many shareholders of the wireless companies he created and guided.

Since I was among those shareholder beneficiaries, I offer a story I shared with Stanton 20 years ago about my wife and me deciding we had an interest in investing in wireless companies. So, we bought stock in Western Wireless in 1992 for $15 per share.

The shares grew in value into the $60s before Western Wireless spun off Voicestream Wireless, a subsidiary created in 1994, into a separate publicly traded company that was soon trading in the mid-80s, as I recall, making the Western Wireless and Voicestream shares together worth about $130.

When I visited Stanton at an event in the early 2000’s I told him, prompting a chuckle: “my wife and I burn incense each evening before your picture in thanks for the shares’ performance.”

Voicestrean Wireless, in fact, in 2002, was renamed T-Mobile as it became the Bellevue-based subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom and now has its name now on the Mariners’ domed stadium.

So now Stanton’s sights are focused on satisfying ticketholders, who apparently will be coming to T-Mobile Park in the coming days in stadium-filling numbers, reminding me of a quote I included in a pre-season column recalling that 1992 opening day and the new group of local owners that would save MLB for Seattle: “I am first and foremost a fan. I love the game and everything about it.”

Stanton told me in one of our interviews how he attended Seattle Pilots games as a 14-year-old watching his hometown team with his father in the team’s only year of existence and said he recalled crying when the Pilots left town for Milwaukee.

Now the Mariners, who brought a record of 22 wins in their last 25 games into this week’s All-Star break, head into the second half with a record of 51-42 and trail the Astros in the American League West by nine games.

Whether playoffs or further post-season activity lie ahead to remind Mariner fans and the communities the franchise serves of what the last playoff 21 years ago felt like remains to be seen.
 
There will be heroes who perform at the plate, in the field, and with their competitive zeal between now and October, and their efforts may restore memories of the achievements that long-time Mariner fans recall.
 
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Leen Kawas' comeback: Managing General Partner of Propel Bio Partners, a new fund for life sciences start-ups

Propel-Life-Science-Fund
When I did a column five years ago citing a comment from Melinda Gates to a large audience of women that the technology industry was dominated by “a sea of white guys,” I noted that it was actually a woman, Leen Kawas, a then-32-year-old immigrant not yet a citizen, who was the dominant face of the biotech sector of technology in this state.
 
In recalling that column, I remembered making the point that Kawas was the beneficiary of a large group of investors who were believers in her, in her commitment and in her company, Athira Biotechnology, as she was at the leading edge of the emerging field of regenerative medicine, destined to halt or even reverse the progression of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
 
I revisit the column here because of the corporate rollercoaster ride Kawas has been on over the past 18 months, first preparing for and taking Athira public in October of 2020. Then being placed on leave in June of 2021 for obscure allegations relating to her doctoral paper at Washington State University nearly a decade ago, then being forced by Athira’s board to resign her CEO role last September after an investigation of the doctoral paper allegations was completed, but results never announced.

Remember this is the young scientist who was co-inventor of Athira's lead drug candidate ATH-1017 and also invented several of the innovative drug candidates in Athira’s pipeline.
 
Dr. Leen Kawas co founder and managing general partner of new fund Dr. Leen Kawas,
Co-Founder, Managing General Partner - 
Propel Bio Partners LP
Now comes news of Kawas’ giant of all comebacks, easing the anger toward the board of Athira that has been the shared emotion for most of that large group of investors who never wavered in their support of Kawas. Now, in essence, she is past the pain of Athira, realizing that what she and her patents put in place there is still likely to become the vital drug she and those who invested in her anticipate.
 
So now rather than building one vital world-changing biotech company, her future will be in helping numerous entrepreneurs, including biotech ones, build important companies.

It was announced in no less than the Wall Street Journal that Kawas is co-founder and managing general partner of a new investment firm called Propel Bio Partners LP, which will seek to raise a pooled investment fund of $150 million, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Of particular significance to the investor world, her co-founder is Richard Kayne, prominent Los Angeles-based asset manager, former Cantor Fitgerald principal, and founder of Kayne Anderson. He will be Propel’s general partner.
 
Propel says it plans to invest in life sciences companies at various stages of development, seeking “to help founders and management teams fulfill the urgent mission to advance human health with disruptive therapies and technologies.”

Propel Bio Partners has quickly attracted some who were early investors in Athira, originally named M3 Bio. Thus it was announced at almost the same time as news of Propel Bio’s formation that John Fluke Jr., who remains on Athira’s board, and Carol Criner, vice president of strategic accounts for the global enterprise solutions company HCL Technologies, were planning to invest.

“Leen is a visionary entrepreneur with a unique blend of drive, intelligence, and demonstrated business acumen. In six short years, she built a company from the ground up, taking it through the early stages of drug development, through its public offering, and into the final stages of developing its potentially game-changing therapy,” Kayne said.

“Under Leen’s leadership, I believe Propel is uniquely positioned to identify excellent opportunities to assist entrepreneurs along the path to success,” he added.

The investment firm’s team includes senior associate Dasom (Christine) Yoo, former Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center business development manager.

And its advisory board includes Ronald Lee Krall, former GlaxoSmithKline chief medical officer, and current NIH Foundation director,

“I am looking forward to providing promising and passionate entrepreneurs the same opportunity that Ric Kayne and others gave to me when I started Athira,” Kawas said in a press release announcing propel Bio's launch.

Richard Kayne prominent Los Angeles based asset manager will be new funds general partner Propel Bio Partners LPRichard Kayne -
prominent Los Angeles based asset manager will be New Funds General Partner Propel Bio Partners LP
In statements coinciding with the fund's announcement, several of those advising or investing in the new fund, including Fluke and Criner, who were early investors in Athira, made it clear that their involvement was an endorsement of Kawas as an entrepreneur, leader, and scientist.

Those who are longtime readers of The Harp may well recall that Kawas has been my focus on a half dozen occasions, dating back to when I met her in the fall of 2013 before she had been named M3 CEO.

Because her drug was initially focused on Parkinson’s and my wife, Betsy, has been suffering with Parkinson's since 1999. I took to helping Leen meet potential investors through the fall of 2013 and all of 2014.

I told her "You are my company."

She liked to chuckle when she would tell people that I introduced her to the first 200 people she met in Seattle, Spokane, and Southern California, beginning even before she was formally made CEO in January of 2014, Among the first in Seattle were Fluke and Criner. Carol was the first woman I introduced Leen to and she became the first female investor and a mentor.

As I watched Leen's presentation ability, I quickly became comfortable introducing the young Jordanian woman to friends I felt could, if they wished to, ante up the $50,000 that was then the ask.

One was Richard Sudek, then recent past chair of the five-county Tech Coast Angels, which was the largest angel investor group in the nation. Thus at that point, he was likely the best known angel-investment leader in Southern California.

Sudek, who had returned to academia at Chapman University in Orange County, agreed in spring of 2014 to sit for Leen’s computer slide presentation and when she finished, Sudek, leaving me stunned, said: “If you have an advisory board, I’d be happy to be on it.” Sudek has never wavered in his support of her since then.

An accidental introduction allowed me to advise Leen that fate had already determined she would be a success. That came about at Suncadia when Leen was preparing for a presentation I had arranged for a board I was on and I went into the lobby to get coffee. Jim Warjone then retired as CEO but still chairman of Port Blakely Companies, saw me and we caught up for a few minutes since I hadn't seen him in several years. Then he asked what I was doing there and I told him, he asked if he could sit in on the presentation.

So he did and before long he called me to tell me he had decided to invest. He has shared with me several times in recent years when Leen comes up in conversation: "She is the smartest person I've ever met!"

At one point, Kawas cautiously explained to me M3’s focus had to shift from Parkinson’s to Alzheimer’s because it was easier to raise money for a drug to reverse Alzheimer’s and the company was now in a multi-million dollar raise preceding its planned IPO. But she added that “as soon as we finish with approval for Alzheimer’s we'll be 60 percent of the way along when we shift our focus to Parkinson’s” and indeed the trials for Parkinson’s have already gotten underway.

As Leen and I became close friends because of our common goal, at one point she asked: “Can you invest?” So a couple of days later I wrote her a check. A few days after that she told me Fluke had agreed to invest and I asked her if she had deposited my check. She said she hadn’t and I said “if you don’t deposit my check as your first investor before you deposit Fluke’s then tear mine up.”

Now she was certainly aware that a guy with his own family venture fund was of greater long-term investment value than a retired newspaper publisher. Nevertheless, she deposited my check that afternoon, so I have been able to say I was her first investor. And as her image and impact become more far-reaching in the future with her new biotech fund, it becomes ever more satisfying to say that. Because we are close friends, Fluke has been okay but tends to look aside if he's around when I have occasion to tell someone that I am investor number 1.

By 2015, Leen was finding biotech executives and funders beating a path to her door so my introductions were no longer needed, but we remained friends as I was able to turn my attention to other things but watched as she continued to grow a cadre of followers, frequently those for whom Alzheimer's and Parkinson's had personally impacted their lives.

One was Michael Nassirian, a retired Microsoft key executive and an Iranian whose father, who had headed the Iranian oil company, had died of Alzheimer's.

When Nassirian heard Leen's presentation at a Bellevue Chamber event, he approached her after her talk and told her he wanted to be involved and asked how much she needed.

Because of the Leen connection, Nassirian and I have become close friends and meet regularly and I'm sure one of those future meetings will relate to Propel and the need for him to be involved.

When Leen was once asked at an event about what's the difference between the technology industry and biotech, the answer she gave may help guide the future conviction of entrepreneurs drawn to her industry and to her fund.

"Would you rather be part of the industry that will create new instruments that people will be able to hold in their hand or would you want to be part of an industry whose role will be to help create a new hand?"
 
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Aggression in Ukraine ends 30-year ties between Washington State and Russia

Ukraine_Flag
Watching Russia in a warlike and aggressor role in its unprovoked war on Ukraine has likely brought a mix of sadness and regret for those who recall the time in 1994 that Boris Yeltsin, first president of the Russian Federation, stood before a Seattle luncheon audience of 800 that included ambassadors from many nations and shared his vision of a special relationship between this state and his nation’s Far East.

The unlikely but real relationship between a state and one of the world’s most powerful nations that began to develop more than 30 years ago and reached a high point in the ‘90s came to a sad but necessary end last week as both the state of Washington and the non-profit Council for US-Russia Relations ended ties with Russia because of its military aggression against Ukraine.

carol vipermanCarol Viperman - Founder, Foundation for Russian-American Economic CooperationGov. Jay Inslee last week ordered state agencies to cut ties with Russian institutions and the Council for US-Russia Relations condemned the “military aggression by the Russian Federation against the Ukrainian sovereign nation and people,” adding ‘We call for the earliest cessation of hostilities and withdrawal of Russian Federation forces from Ukraine.”

Derek Norberg, President and Founder of the Council of U.S.-Russia Relations, and Executive Director of its subsidiary Russian American Pacific Partnership (RAPP) said in advising me of the council’s action last week: “We are unable to continue, given the current situation.”

Although there was a trio of important events in that special relationship, mainly an economic one, for Washington State and the Russian Federation, the relationship was guided over two decades mainly by the Seattle-based Foundation for Russian-American Economic Cooperation and its founder and president, Carol Vipperman.

The first of those special events was the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle, which were never envisioned to be held in Seattle when media mogul Ted Turner, troubled by the political boycotts of the Olympics by the U.S, in 1980 and by the U.S.S.R. in 1984, decided to sponsor an international sporting event. The first games were held in Moscow in 1986 with the second destined for the U.S. four years later.
 
Even before the Moscow games opened, sports promoter Bob Walsh created the Seattle Organizing Committee to bring the games to Seattle. On June 19, 1986, the Committee won the bid from Turner for the 1990 games, outdoing five other cities that had hoped to be selected, and Walsh began putting together a $180 million production.

Seattle hosted those second Goodwill Games in July and August of 1990. Thousands of athletes from nearly a hundred countries competed at local venues, including the UW, the Tacoma Dome, and Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center that was built for the games. By then the U.S.S.R., was mid-way through its three-year dissolution that resulted in the emergence of 15 independent republics, including Russia.

The Games’ keynote address, a very brief welcome, came from Ronald Reagan, who had finished his second term just 18 months earlier. The Cold War was then almost over with what President Reagan had once described as “the Evil Empire” on the brink of collapse.

It was actually the year prior to the Goodwill games that Vipperman, a Seattle marketing consultant, was invited to join a U.S. group invited to go to Moscow and Leningrad to look in on newly formed cooperatives designed to pursue U.S. business approaches. She returned and launched the Foundation.

 
Derek NorbergDerek Norberg - Founder, President Council of US-Russia Relations“Remember April of 1989,” Vipperman replied when I asked her what her expectations were informing the foundation. “It would be seven months before the wall fell. We felt if we could do business together we’d be less likely to go to war.”

Derek Norberg, founder, President Council of US-Russia Relations
 
And so for the next 22 years, FRAEC would be a leader in the quest to build economic ties between the two nations.

Ralph Munro, then-Secretary of State, actually went to Russia on a people-to-people mission in 1983, a time when the tensions in the relationship between our two countries were at a peak.

“The Russians thought we were going to wipe them out,” Munro recalled. “All they seemed to want to talk about with an American was how we were going to kill them. Then I ran across people who thought there was hope.”

Then a year following the Games, as business relationships were being pursued both in the Russian Far East mainland and on Sakhalin Island, Alaska Airlines decided to commence summer service to the port town of Magadan, and Khabarovsk, the largest city in the Far East. Alaska eventually extended its service to five cities in the rugged Far East of Russia.

It's worth noting that Seattle is 500 air miles closer to Magadon than Moscow is. Vipperman said, “The Alaska flights were meaningful to both sides.”

Munro recalled taking eight to 10 trips to the Russian Far East, including one on which he “took the first boxes of Washington State Pears to that region and they went crazy for them.”

In 1992 the new Russian Republic opened its first consulate office in the U.S. in Seattle, with what was described as “jubilation.” Chicago, with a large Russian population, had expected to be selected, but it was Seattle.

“We got the consulate, and they gave us a consul general, Georgiy Vlasken, a visionary guy who wanted to make things happen,” Munro said.

Vipperman recalled that Vlaskin was “a vegan vegetarian and never drank,” which brought back an amusing memory of my encounter with him when Vlaskin invited me and three of my editorial people to come to his Capitol Hill home for a get-acquainted lunch.

As the four of us sat down, Vlaskin poured a vodka for each of us and offered a toast. As he drank down his vodka, I did the same. Then he poured another and drank it down, so I did as well.

It was a day on which I had to drive to the airport for an afternoon flight to Spokane so I was a bit edgy when he poured a third vodka for both of us and drank his down. I carefully downed mine and told him that was all for me.

When I later related the incident to Vipperman, she laughed and informed me he always had water in his vodka glasses.

Washington State’s relationship soon grew to include most West Coast states and several in other parts of the country.

“The vision was originally for Washington State and we led states by a long way in trade and commerce,’ Norberg of the Council of U.S. Russia Relations told me. “And we had the only operating joint U.S.-Soviet joint venture company, Marine Resources Co. International,” a company with which Norberg held a variety of management positions in the 1990s.In the late 1980s, Norberg worked on Soviet fishing joint-ventures in U.S. waters off Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.

Ralph MunroRalph Munro - Former Secretary of StateNorberg’s Russian-American Pacific Partnership held its 26th annual meeting last July, a bilateral gathering that attracted 90 participants from both Washington, D.C., and Moscow as well as representatives from seven states and seven eastern Russian regions. Among presentations was one by John Sullivan, U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation, who said there are now some 1,100 U.S. companies operating in Russia.

Sullivan noted that “during times when our two governments do not see eye to eye on many issues, annual meetings like RAPP assume even greater importance. Such meetings between businesspeople, entrepreneurs, academics, and students, and regional and civic leaders serve to explore the many avenues for potential cooperation and provide ballast when the bilateral relationship is strained.”

Then came the Ukraine invasion. And that has left little but reflection.

“We have no interest in having anything to do with Russia now,” said Norberg. “I don’t think there’s going to be much return to anything normal. There’s no path for Russia to return, except without Putin.”

Alaska Airlines’ service to the Russian Far East was driven by both the pursuit of a business opportunity as well as our interest in building cultural ties between regions of the Far North,” said Joe Sprague, president of Horizon Air who was Alaska’s senior vice president for external relations when I did a column a few years ago recalling the Russian Far East service.

Alaska had to discontinue the connection in 1998 when the Russian economy collapsed. In an email to me for this column, Sprague said: “Regrettably, the business opportunity did not fully materialize and there were significant logistical challenges. It’s unfortunate because, as we see today, those bridges of understanding are more important than ever.”

Alaska’s innovative outreach to the Russian Far East actually went back almost two decades earlier, in the early ‘70s, when the Seattle-based carrier began charter service to the Soviet Union’s Siberia as a result of what has been described as “secret negotiations” between the airline and Soviet Authorities.

When the U.S. Department of State learned of the deal, it decided not to block the plan, indicating it didn’t want to create a negative response from the Soviet Union. It might also be assumed the agency wanted to avoid a negative response from Washington State’s two U.S. senators, Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson, then among the Senate’s most powerful members.

Joe Sprague - Horizon Air PresidentJoe Sprague - Horizon Air PresidentI have my own Russian memories since part of the Goodwill Games involved conferences and hosting Russians. Thus as the publisher of the Business Journal, I agreed to host a journalist. So Mikail (Misha) Bonderenko, a 39-year-old journalist who was actually the president of the young journalists of Europe, became not only part of the PSBJ staff for a couple of weeks, but also my family’s house guest.

Through him my wife and three kids had the unique experience of learning first hand about Russia and Russians since later Misha asked me if we would host his wife and 9-year-old daughter, Masha, and Dasha, who lived with us for a time as we introduced to the growing Russian community in the Seattle area.

Meanwhile, Misha and I created a Russian newsletter with the intent of keeping interested business people informed of developments in Russia.. But we couldn’t generate enough newsletter sales to keep him interested, in part because he had a career to build and I lost track of him.

Vipperman recalled for me winding down her organization in 2011 because funding, primarily from government sources, was winding down as relations between the two nations were deteriorating.

She recalled, “getting the most touching emails from people all over the world” when word of FRAEC’s closing spread.

But she said she remained hopeful about the future until returning from a photo workshop on Mt. Rainier “I turned the radio and the top item on the newscast was that Putin was going to run for president again in 2012.”

"I was glad no one was around to hear the four-letter words that spewed out," she chuckled.
 
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New indoor track and downtown stadium add logic to a vote for Spokane as 'Sports town USA'

SpokaneWA
Madison, WI, home of the University of Wisconsin, wears the Sports-Illustrated bestowed crown, strongly disputed by several cities like Ann Arbor, MI, and Columbus, OH, as “Best Football Town in America.” There’s little dispute about Eugene, OR’s, claim to the title, ‘Track Town USA.” So comes now my sense that Spokane deserves the title. “Sports Town USA.”

But before the guffaws commence from those in the Puget Sound area where all the pro sports teams, as well as the collegiate Huskies, have large and super-loyal fan bases and tend to look down their noses at Spokane, or from California’s major cities with a similar nose problem, let me offer the points of my argument.

Stephanie Curran CEO of Spokane Public Facilities DistrictStephanie Curran CEO of Spokane Public Facilities DistrictThe idea actually came to mind as I watched high school and college runners from across the country at a track event at the city’s gleaming new indoor 200-meter track that boasts the nation’s newest and the West’s only hydraulic-banked running track, housed in the new Podium. That means the ends of the track are hydraulically elevated for sprint events and lowered for other events.

There should be little argument if Spokane claimed the title of the nation’s basketball capital. After all, it’s not only home to a Gonzaga Bulldog basketball team that dominates collegiate ranks, it also hosts on one weekend each year the 3-on-3 basketball tournament called Hoopfest which is the largest event of its kind in the world. Or as the event launched in 1989 touts itself, “the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament on earth,” attracting a quarter-million fans, 450 courts spanning 45 city blocks, and drawing 6,700 teams.

Then of course, for the world of runners, there’s the Lilac Bloomsday Run, the 12 kilometers, 7.4-mile run that on May 1 will mark its 45th anniversary this year, celebrating the 1977 launch of the event by Spokane resident Don Kardong, who had finished fourth in the marathon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. An amusing note is that Kardong had moved to Spokane only two years before the Olympics and was basically unknown in Spokane until his name came on television and Spokanites could watch and learn about him during and after the marathon.

An indication of Spokane’s ability to attract talent to its events, before Hoopfest began to attract global attention, is evidenced by the launch of Bloomsday. Kardong had hoped for 500 participants for the inaugural run and got nearly triple that. The second edition had over 5,000 and the third, in 1979, attracted 10,000 runners, with 50,000 spectators lining the streets.

As Stephanie Curran, CEO of the Spokane Public Facilities District that manages the new Podium and several other facilities, told me in an email: “I believe we are the model of how cities can grow and develop their public facilities,” pointing out that the PFD also manages a convention center, performing arts center, arena and new stadium under construction. “We literally manage one of every venue type. We are blazing a trail.’

Among the facilities under the oversight of the PFD will soon be the new downtown stadium to replace 70-plus-year-old Albi Stadium, located in northwest Spokane, which has primarily been the home of high school football over those seven decades.

Marty Dickinson chair of Spokane Public Facilities DistrictMarty Dickinson chair of Spokane Public Facilities DistrictThe Spokane Public Schools board, after three years of controversy that included an advisory vote in 2018 in which nearly 70 percent of the vote favored building a new stadium on the site of Albi Stadium, voted last April to approve construction of the $31 million, 5,000-seat stadium at the downtown site. Support, including financial concessions, from the downtown-business community’s Downtown Spokane Partnership as well as the PFD, tipped the scales in favor of the downtown location.

Curran, in praise of the stadium decision, said: “The School Board ultimately demonstrated bold leadership and made the best decision for the community. While not everyone agrees, I am confident in the end they will realize the opportunities the downtown location will provide will be amazing for our students and our community.”

The new stadium, being built across the street from the Podium, won’t just be the home to high school football, but to two new soccer teams, men’s and women’s teams in the United Soccer League, which touts itself as “the largest and fastest-growing professional soccer organization in North America.” Landing the two soccer teams was part of the downtown location payoff.
Spokane Sports CEO Eric Sawyer explained, of both the Podium and the new downtown stadium that opens next year: "we sat down a number of years ago to create a roadmap for sports in our region and a key conclusion was we needed a multipurpose sports complex to attract visitors in winter months. And realizing that Albi had to be replaced, there was a conversation on where to build a new one.”

“So we thought maybe downtown and make it something more than a high school football stadium so the final outcome of both the Podium and the new stadium was getting all the stars aligned,” explained Sawyer, whose non-profit marketing organization has a mission to recruit and develop sporting events.

He added that with those stars now aligned, he can look to retire next year when he turns 65.

The $54 million Podium, which sits high on a 15-foot basalt outcropping and overlooks downtown Spokane and is connected to Riverfront Park, opened in December and takes its next high-visibility step this weekend when it hosts USA Track & Field Indoor Championships that serves as the qualifying meet for the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, March 11-13.

Curran reflected in her email to me on the past that helped bring about the present and future.
“If you look at the history of Spokane and how Expo ’74 almost 50 years ago changed the trajectory of Spokane, I fully believe what we are doing in Spokane now, especially on the North Bank where the Podium, Arena, and Downtown Stadium are located, we are the next Expo (the World’s Fair for which Spokane became the smallest city ever to host the global event),” Curran said. “We are changing the trajectory of Spokane through Sports and Entertainment and driving money into our economy at the exact time it is needed post Pandemic.”

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward, discussing the emerging challenge of rising home prices and national attention that are part of that trajectory, said “Spokane has been discovered.” And the PFD And Spokane Sports are seeking to do their parts in providing things for those in other parts of the country to discover.

If the line “a river runs through it” were ever applied to an urban area, it would nowhere have more import than Spokane. The entire downtown area of the city abuts the Spokane River, which not only has the largest urban waterfall in the nation there near downtown but attracts activities and recreation to the shore and thus to adjacent downtown. So the downtown core of Spokane is never going to be diminished by future events, as is being feared for Seattle and San Francisco as the remote-work and blended-work phenomenon takes hold. And additions like the stadium and the Podium only ensure the future of downtown as well as the city surrounding it.

With nearby ski resorts and numerous lakes in both Eastern Washington and adjacent Northern Idaho, outdoor sports and activities offer as much newcomer lure for Spokane as organized sports events. But reputations are built on organized sports.

Marty Dickinson, chair of the PFD, praised sports investment as “the great connector in our community.” Dickinson, who was executive vice president of Spokane-based Sterling Bank and its successor Umpqua Bank said sports “serves as a wonderful convenor of diversity, unifies us and inspires many and along with that it is an economic driver.”

Referring to the Podium, Dickinson, who now also chairs the Washington State University Board of Regents, said “being able to provide a public space of this quality and share it with so many while also continuing to drive economic vitality into our region is something that everyone is very proud of.”

Spokane Sports CEO Eric SawyerSpokane Sports CEO Eric SawyerBecause it’s an entity partly funded with taxpayer dollars, how they handle that responsibility is clearly a part of the PFD's success. And as Paul Read, publisher of the Spokane Journal of Business and PFD vice-chair, told me in a phone conversation: “I’ve always been impressed with their stewardship of the public dollars.”

While the leadership and vision of the PFD and Spokane Sports have written a success story for a city that is attracting attention as a place to live for those tired of the pace and costs of Seattle and California cities, it’s important for the city to recognize those whose belief in the place came years ago.

I’m thinking of Bobby Brett, one of baseball’s most famous brother acts, who guided the Brett brothers to buy the Spokane Indians, now part of the High-A West baseball league, 36 years ago and in 1990 added the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League to their Brett Sports lineup.

But back to the Sports Town USA premise, I tossed out at the top of this column. Interestingly the PFD CEO Curran told me in her email, not yet being aware of this column, she had thought about “Sports Town USA” and suggested it to the county commissioners. And she seemed enthused that they opted for the name Sports County USA.

It's an understandable decision for the elected commissioners since the city of Spokane Valley, with its 106,000 population, almost half of Spokane's 229,000, might feel somehow slighted and thus upset.

That would seem a remote concern. And sadly, "Track County USA," would seem less likely to gain much traction for the city’s image if it’s promoted around the country. Hopefully, the marketing people find a way to bring “Sports Town USA” to fruition.

The city merits that title and in fact, it will add to the growing attraction it has evidenced with potential new residents, including those from Seattle and the West Side, as well as California.
 
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Google & Big Tech — New accusations of antitrust, privacy and possible criminal conduct abound

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Monopolize and manipulate. Those are the antitrust accusations and charges of privacy invasion, and even illegal conduct, being tossed at Google and Facebook by a group of state attorneys general, a coalition of newspaper publishers and members of Congress, all of whom want to bring the tech giants to heel in one way or another.

But a suit against Google and its subsidiary YouTube by a Seattle-based firm whose business includes managing receiverships may prove equally interesting to watch as it unfolds.

And now add the suit filed Monday by Washington Atty. Gen. Robert Ferguson and attorneys general from three other states focusing on Google’s collection of local data that can be used to target advertising as well as build internet-user profiles, even those users who had acted on Google’s agreement to let them opt-out. Ferguson said, bluntly, Google’s conduct “is not only dishonest, but it’s also unlawful.”

The suit by Revitalization Partners, likely the first of its kind by a court-appointed receiver, alleges Google and YouTube infringed on a trio of patents held by a Bellevue-based company named AudienceScience Inc., which actually went out of business five years ago. 

Al Davis Revitalization PartnersAl Davis
Revitalization Partners
Revitalization Partners’ co-founder and principal Al Davis said his firm discovered more than 30 AudienceScience patents after being appointed by the court to manage the receivership process, which involves finding the best solution for the highest possible return for creditors.

A determination of patent infringement would likely mean financial penalties for Google and YouTube, though Revitalization Partners’ suit does not include a request for a specific dollar judgment.

But Ferguson’s suit specifically asks that Google be ordered to disclose the profits it made from using the tactics alleged and give it all back as well as pay a $7,500 fee for each violation. That would mean uncovering Google’s profits from the activity.

Davis noted that AudienceScience invented and patented many of the “foundational technologies” used across the digital advertising industry today, including the industry’s first of what are called “behavioral targeting products.” That means targeting advertising based on both user history and page views.

AudienceScience was a Bellevue company known for building software and tools designed to help major marketers buy digital ads programmatically, using a combination of automation and data. It closed its doors after it lost its long-time client Procter & Gamble.

“Now that we’ve received the necessary approvals from the Washington State receivership court to pursue litigation, we are in a position to execute and potentially recover a significant amount of value for creditors using these and other patents,” Davis said.

If you’ve ever had the sense akin to something like catching someone peeking in your bedroom window when, for example, ads for various San Diego hotels suddenly appear on your desktop after you’ve been looking up the website of a hotel in that city, you’ll understand what technology of user information to empower advertisers is all about. And why the effort to control it as an example of privacy invasion is beginning to attract such attention at the highest levels.

And how much the major tech companies have made off of providing information to advertisers on where visitors to the internet seek information, should that sort of financial information ever be ferreted out, could prove interesting to the attorneys general, publishers, and Congress in determining actions to impose limits on the activities of the tech giants.

Ferguson’s suit seeking specific profit information would be a key step in determining that information on the riches gleaned by actions increasingly viewed as privacy invasion and patent infringement.
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According to material unveiled in the past few days in the case brought in Texas by the coalition of attorneys general, Google manipulated the system of buying and selling online display ads and deceived advertisers. Google dominates the online system for buying and selling online display ads.

If courts affirm such manipulation charges, it would mean more than just other media entities seeking to have their ads reach consumers were harmed but also consumers in general since such action inevitably leads to fewer product choices.

In fact, the Revitalization Partners suit against Google and YouTube isn’t the first on behalf of a small tech firm alleging Google infringed on its patents.

Coincidentally, another former Bellevue company named VoIP-Pal.com Inc. has over the past few years filed suits against Google, Amazon, Facebook, and other major tech companies alleging violation of the patents it holds on what’s known as Voice-over-Internet Protocol.

VoIP-Pal is a publicly-traded corporation that is actually a penny stock (hovering at a few cents a share) because it has never been able to monetize the technology of its patents and likely won’t unless the courts order the big tech companies to pay for using what VoIP-Pal contends it holds the patents for. It owns a portfolio of such patents.

For example, VoIP-Pal contends Amazon’s Alexa calling and messaging service uses VoIP-Pal’s patented technologies to direct voice and video calls and messages is an infringement on one of its patents. It doesn’t take much imagination to envision how much revenue would flow to VoIP-Pal from a court decision requiring Amazon to pay VoIP-Pal for Alexa’s technology.

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, after several years of deliberation, approved all the patents for the various technologies in the company’s portfolio and the entity known as the Patent Trials and Appeals Board, in an unusual decision favoring the “little guy,” rejected the challenges by the big tech companies to the validity of VoIP-Pal patents.

Observers of these types of litigations relating to patent infringement actions against the major tech firms know there’s a quiet desire not to have a suit by a small firm come before one of the Silicon Valley Federal judges.

But the federal judge in West Texas has a track record of the ruling, in patent infringement cases, in favor of the patent holder. VoIP-Pal recently moved its corporate headquarters to Waco, TX.

 
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Tale of two cities and debate over a region's name

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The congenial disagreements that I've had over the past couple of years with my friend John Powers, longtime economic development leader in this area, about our respective views of Seattle's future role in the region took on a bit of a new spin as a result of last week's Seattle elections.

In some respects, our discussions reflect primarily on who Seattle was, and its likely comeback, vs. a changing workplace dynamic and its maybe not comeback might be the tale of two cities.

Powers, whom I met 20 years ago when he was mayor of my hometown of Spokane and who then came to Seattle to head the King County economic development organization that he renamed Enterprise Seattle, has contended that despite the growth of the surrounding communities and counties, this region needs to remain "the Greater Seattle" area.

I have contended that it's time to focus on the fact this is the "Puget Sound Area," with the image of Seattle declining, and marketing material should acknowledge a Puget Sound designation.

John PowersJohn PowersBut the Seattle election results that suggest moderates may again be in the ascendancy in Seattle may have changed the tone of my conversations with Powers, who actually became a client of mine for a time after I retired as publisher of Puget Sound Business Journal and he was lured away from Enterprise Seattle to run Colliers International's Northwest operation. We've stayed close since then.

My view had seemed to gather greater credibility when Amazon CEO Andy Jassey, obviously throwing down the gauntlet to Seattle, told the Geekwire summit in early October: "We don't view Seattle as our HQ1 any longer. We view it as Puget Sound."

Jassy wasn't taking part in that "what should we call our region" discussion. But he might have been when he commented: "Bellevue, just east of Seattle, is where most of our growth will end up being." He added that he wouldn't be surprised if Amazon opened other offices in additional cities in the region.

But soon after Jassey's comments came last week's mayoral and a city council race and, of all things, a city attorney contest involving a former Republican who won. That allowed us to agree that, in Powers' words, it was "absolutely heartening" to see Bruce Harrell's overwhelming victory in the race to be Seattle's next mayor and the sense of the city's moderates emerging to actually make their voices heard.

For business and civic leaders in communities across Puget Sound who may have become convinced that the Seattle they watched warily over the past several years was on the verge of becoming a city living on the memories of yesterday's accomplishments, those Seattle election results had to bring a collective sigh of relief.

There was a particular satisfaction in seeing the photo of Harrell, son of a black father and Japanese mother, standing next to a hugely smiling Norm Rice, the black leader whose two successful terms as mayor saw him build back downtown, improve schools and reinvigorate neighborhoods.

Powers summed it up for me thus: "Bruce Harrell's Election bodes well for the entire region as 'Seattle Together' begins to tackle big challenges and moves forward to regain its footing and credibility. It will take time - resources - and a strong political consensus as well as the will to turn the situation around - but I do believe Mayor Harrell's election will be seen as the event that was the beginning of the turnaround."

But careful about giving way to optimism too soon, I told Powers in a post-election conversation. We have to see how Harrell as mayor handles the pushback that is sure to come from the group of city council members furthest on the political left, considerably to the left of Harrell.

It's pretty clear that the greatest opposition to Harrell is likely to come from council member Kshama Sawant. But then Powers offered: "Sawant's voice is going to grow feinter not louder." And she may be recalled in a vote on December 7.

And I suggested to Powers, who retired a year ago after nine years guiding the Kitsap Economic Development organization and moved home to Spokane, that Jassey may have inadvertently opened the door to that "Greater Seattle" vs. Puget Sound Area" discussion.

The elections were one of the things that have loomed on the horizon to determine what the future holds for Seattle's long dominance in the region's identity. The other, which hasn't gotten a lot of attention yet with the elections dominating the discussion, is the yet-to-be-released census data.

If the census data, to be distributed in depth before year-end, shows dramatic comparative growth of the Eastside vs, Seattle, it may require rethinking from both political and resource-allocation standpoints of the relative impact of the city vs. its Eastside suburbs.

The region is flush with communities whose ties with each other are at least as important to them as ties with Seattle, much as with the array of individual cities surrounding the Bay Area, which of course is a designation that has come to be globally recognized, as would The Puget Sound Area become.

In fact, I'd submit that the idea has been made much more logical by the post-COVID phenomenon of remote work, which is allowing a large percentage of workers once office-bound five days a week to now choose what appealing place they want to live. And it's likely to be true that communities around Puget Sound, along with more distant and more rural locations, will be in the running to create strategies to lure those remote workers.

And it's already clear that far fewer employees are likely to be working downtown, leaving a central Seattle that may well be far less a "where it's at" business community than it was accustomed to being in the pre-COVID time.

And it was amusing to see the PSBJ struggle over the "what's the name" issue over the weekend when under a headline that read "Seattle region office market's rent growth is tops in North America," the reporter wrote, "The Puget Sound region ranked No. 1 among North America's 30 leading tech markets for office rent growth."

Among those I visited with on the regional-name topic, I thought the best summing up for my side of the discussion came from a retired newspaperman, Peter Horvitz, who owned and was publisher for several decades of the Eastside Journal and the South County Journal, before succumbing to the inability to create a successful daily competitor of the Seattle Times. He thus understood the east-west competition in a more personal way than most business people on either side.

His summation of "the center of gravity has shifted away from Seattle" would draw a knowing acknowledgment from Eastside business leaders and a likely closed-lipped, reluctant lifting of eyebrows from many Seattle business leaders

"Despite what Seattle thinks, the growth has moved and won't be stopped," offered Horvitz, who himself moved with his wife recently to Florida. "It's important for people in positions of influence in the area to recognize the role the Eastside has come to play, a role that requires a rethinking of allocation of resources and where the political power rests."

And as with most Seattle vs. Eastside ideas, I had to ask Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, despite the fact that in repeated attempts over the years, I've never been able to get him to wax critical of Seattle, inevitably telling me "the leaders of Seattle were all friends of mine. I had dinner at their homes."

Of course, that reluctance to criticize has never extended to Seattle-born ideas that would impact the rest of the region, as with ST3, the light rail program for the region, the most expensive transportation program ever undertaken in the nation. Freeman paid for piles of research trying to defeat ST3 with the message it would never attract enough riders to cover the costs.

And merely because it will actually be completed doesn't mean Freeman might not be right in the end, particularly if remote work significantly decreases the number of people heading to downtown offices.

But Freeman did tell me for this column, "I can't explain how they've lost all the things that made Seattle great."

Then comes a vote for Powers' view from John Oppenheimer, founder, and CEO of Columbia Hospitality, the Seattle management and consulting company with a portfolio of more than 40 properties, hotels, restaurants, conference centers, and golf courses, in two dozen different communities, many of which could likely become remote-work success stories.

Thus he could be the region's key beneficiary of the growth of the remote-work phenomenon and the rise of Zoom Towns far from urban centers, although since his firm operates the World Trade Center as well as Port of Seattle conference facilities and owns part of the Four Seasons Hotel,

Oppenheimer would prefer to have economic health occur for both downtown and distant towns. And as he told me, "I'm very optimistic about downtown. Yes, we've had a period of shakeup, but the number of people moving downtown is increasing, the number of new apartment units is increasing and the inventory is on the rise. And the new convention center will add to the need for downtown."

I thought the best close for this column was to relate what's come to be a growing recognition of those from around the region, outside of Seattle, who, when in meetings in other parts of the country now note that when they say they are from Seattle, they catch themselves and correct if they are actually from Bellevue or Redmond, for example.

And one business person chuckled as he related an incident at the Canadian border as the border agent asked where he was from while looking at his driver's license. "Seattle," came the reply. "Then why does your license say Bellevue?"
 
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Reflecting on AT&T breakup, the innovative success that followed

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As Congress begins to finally consider action against the nation’s tech giants to control tactics being increasingly viewed as monopolistic and anti-competitive, those deliberations will prompt suggestions of breakup and that may prompt some to recall the mother of all breakups. That was the antitrust lawsuit against AT&T and the Jan. 1, 1984, divestiture of the telecom giant that was then the world’s largest corporation.

unnamed 11It may be instructive to remember what followed after AT&T was forced under a court order to give up its 22 local Bell companies, establishing seven Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) that became the key contacts with telephone customers.

The real sources of innovation that followed that end of monopoly communications came from new technologies, new firms, new platforms, and new business models from outside and inside the telecom world.

It’s likely a good bet that breaking the tech giants into pieces, particularly Google and Facebook, would allow innovators to emerge from among the pieces to create new products and new technologies, precisely what followed AT&T’s breakup.

 
Meanwhile, back then, cable TV was a flourishing young industry, full of small-town entrepreneurs and a few visionaries who were just beginning to think about scaling the business. Among those were the four McCaw brothers, sons of J. Elroy McCaw, a major figure in the broadcast industry who owned radio stations nationally and Ch. 13 television locally.
 
In 1966 Elroy McCaw sold his cable system in Centralia to his sons, including 16-year-old Craig. When the senior McCaw died of a stroke three years later, dozens of claims and lawsuits from creditors consumed the fortune he had amassed and the McCaw estate filed bankruptcy. That left his sons with only the small cable system but over the next few years, they turned it from a company with 2,000 subscribers to one with $5 million in annual income.
 
The McCaw brothers founded McCaw Communications and, with Craig taking the lead, began to explore cellular service.
 
unnamed 2There are multiple ironies in the tale of the McCaw brothers and AT&T links to their company, whose success helped make the Puget Sound region the global mecca for a new cellular communications industry, to AT&T.

The first came when Craig ran across an AT&T memo in which the company predicted the number of U.S. cellular users would be 900,000 by 1995. Thus, in what one writer called “the worst guess about future values since the Red Sox traded pitcher Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees,” AT&T buried the cellular program.
 
That set Craig on a quest for licenses for the cellular spectrum and within two years McCaw Cellular had purchased licenses in six of the nation’s 30 largest markets.
 
Using those as collateral and taking out loans to buy more licenses, he eventually wound up with billions of dollars of spectrum, outpacing the growth of the “Baby Bells” in the emerging markets.  After purchasing MCI Communications’ mobile businesses in 1986 and LIN Broadcasting three years later, McCaw Communications partnered with AT&T as a technology provider and introduced their Cellular One service in 1990 to create the first truly national cellular system and a brand that attracted numerous other cellular companies.

That led to the final irony when, in 1994, the McCaw brothers sold McCaw Cellular to AT&T for $11.6 billion, making Craig McCaw one of AT&T’s largest shareholders. The company was soon renamed AT&T Wireless.
 
In its earliest days, McCaw Cellular attracted some of the brightest young minds in the region and they put their own stamps on the industry, further cementing the Puget Sound region as a wireless mecca.
 
Mikal ThomsenMikal ThomsenFirst was John Stanton who, at 28, was the company’s first employee and quickly became COO and vice-chairman. He was soon followed by 27-year-old Mikal Thomsen and by the late ‘80s, with Craig McCaw’s blessing, the two, along with Stanton’s wife, Terry Gillespie, McCaw Cellular’s senior vice president and controller, began acquiring rural wireless properties.
 
As the three thus began a business and personal friendship that has extended across the decades, including ownership of minor league baseball teams, to their current investment firm Trilogy Partners and its global arm, Trilogy International, their several rural-focused startups soon merged to form Western Wireless Corp., which went public in 1996.

Western Wireless spun off its VoiceStream Wireless in 1999 into a separate publicly-traded company and it was purchased by Deutsche Telekom in 2001. Deutsche Telekom renamed VoiceStream Wireless T-Mobile USA in 2002. Western Wireless merged with Alltel Corporation in August 2005.

The T-Mobile Park, home of the Seattle Mariners of which Stanton is the majority owner and chairman, is a continuing testimony to the success of a group of young innovators who found an opportunity in the breakup of the world’s largest company.

So to those who would mouth dire predictions should Congress begin considering what should become of the nation’s tech giants, the counter should be “remember AT&T.”
 
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New Alaska Air CEO Ben Minicucci eyes the future with optimism

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As Alaska Air Group’s new CEO Ben Minicucci looks back on the emergence of the airline he now guides from the year of the pandemic that left uncertainty about the future of air travel, he says “we’re optimistic and well-positioned for the recovery and to seize opportunity.”

Minicucci, 54, assumed the CEO role less than two months ago with the retirement of Brad Tilden, who in his nine years as chairman and CEO built respect across the region and across his industry. Minicucci filled the key CEO in waiting role as Alaska president since 2016, the year Alaska acquired Virgin America at a cost of approximately $4 billion.

Ben MinicucciBen MinicucciOverseeing Virgin America’s operation under its own name and brand until it was fully incorporated into Alaska Airlines two years later fell to Minicucci, who served as Virgin CEO as well as Alaska Airlines president, overseeing the integration of Alaska and Virgin America’s operations, processes and workgroups.

Much of the opportunity he intends for Alaska to seize was put in place during the COVID year by Tilden, who remains as chairman, and Minicucci, foremost of those being Alaska joining 13 other airlines in a global alignment called One World, plus adding 42 new routes and extending Alaska service to a fourth country. But perhaps most importantly, Minicucci predicts Alaska will return to profitability by October.

Minicucci shared his thoughts on what Alaska has been through and how it is prepared for what lies ahead during a Microsoft Teams interview from his office at Alaska headquarters south of Sea-Tac International Airport.

He noted that leisure travel is returning before business travel, which normally is about 30 percent of Alaska business, with leisure having returned to pre-pandemic levels but business at only about 20 percent of the pre-COVID level. But he said “we expect business travel to ramp up to 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels by year-end.”

I suggested to Minicucci that while Alaska seems to have done a good job of coming back to prior levels as it relates to customer and financial performance, two key issues that could impact financial performance in the future have emerged for major companies to deal with.

First is the social issue of racial diversity driven by the Black Lives Matter unrest of the 2020 summer and the other is the political issue of demands from sectors of a divided nation for business allegiance, as in the flap over the Georgia election law.

In other words, I suggested that the racial divide and the political divide have added new and unanticipated challenges to the future direction of all major companies, and wondered how Alaska was preparing for them.

But it turns out that a focus on diversity is not new to Alaska, the company having been specifically focused on it for 15 years. Minicucci didn’t blow the companies horn about the partnership with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). I had to find it out after our interview. The story is that the partnership started 15 years ago, with Alaska’s initial support being for UNCF’s fundraising in the form of tickets and event sponsorships.

In 2017, UNCF became one of Alaska’s LIFT Miles partners, meaning guests could contribute airline miles alongside the company, “ensuring that travel does not hold young people back from pursuing their dreams” is the way Alaska’s explanation for the program puts it. “We are proud to partner with and support an organization whose mission is to build a robust and nationally-recognized pipeline of under-represented students who, because of UNCF support, become highly-qualified college graduates.”

“Throughout the pandemic we didn’t lose track of what’s important, leading with our values,” he said during our interview. “As we return to growth, it’s an opportunity to rebuild responsibility and embed those values even deeper in our culture, especially around our social and environmental commitments.”

“As a company, we know we are not yet where we need to be when it comes to racial diversity, but we are inspired and guided by our s to do the right thing,” Minicucci said.
Alaska has put in place a challenging set of goals relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion, starting with a commitment to ”increasing racial diversity of our leadership to reflect the racial diversity of our frontline workforce. Today, a third of our frontline and manager levels are racially diverse compared to 16 percent racial diversity within leadership.” Getting those into alignment is a five-year goal that Minicucci said will include determining compensation packages.

The company’s stated commitment is: “We believe that education is the great equalizer and a critical component on the path to equity. Now through 2025, we’ve set our sights on supporting community-based education and career development opportunities to reach at least 175,000 young people, with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Minicucci’s modest upbringing as the son of Italian immigrants who moved from their home country to Canada, where he was born, could have given him a personal understanding of education as the great equalizer. His mom had a fifth-grade education and his father had less so they pushed him toward education as the path to better things.

His “better things” leading up to his arrival at Alaska 17 years ago included getting his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the Royal Military College of Canada, after which he served in the Canadian armed forces for 14 years, then various roles with Air Canada.

With respect to the political divide, emerging now as the battle over voting laws that commenced first in Georgia and in which Alaska rival Delta Airlines found itself caught up, along with Coke and several other major companies in Atlanta, I asked Minicucci about how Alaska would respond if it finds itself squeezed in the divide. Delta and Coke called Georgia’s voting law unacceptable, which riled business groups.

“It’s a delicate proposition,” Minicucci said. “The way we have to think about these things is through the filter of our values, meaning through the eyes of stakeholders, including employees. It can’t be Ben’s personal opinion guiding those decisions.”

Finally, several recent additions to Alaska’s route structure are clearly focused on the growing importance of leisure travel, including the recently announced addition, beginning in the fall, of the tiny Caribbean nation of Belize, immediately south of Mexico.

Alaska will be disclosing tomorrow which cities will be serving Belize, the fourth country that Alaska will be serving from its West Coast hubs, and when tickets will go on sale.

With respect to new domestic routes, Alaska started non-stop service to Cincinnati last week as the 95th nonstop destination with non-stops to both Idaho Falls and Redding, Ca., starting June 17, bringing Alaska close to 100 nonstop destinations.

I was particularly intrigued by what the airline promotes as "the newest 'sun and fun' additions" to its route structure, non-stops connecting Los Angeles and San Diego with Kalispell, MT, and San Diego and San Francis with Bozeman. The new routes, which will operate through the summer, are the strongest connections yet for Alaska between Montana and California. Direct connections between Missoula, home of the state's major university, and Los Angeles and San Diego are already in place.

It’s clear the new connections are leisure-focused to Big Sky Country and the Flathead country of Glacier Park. But Bozeman and Kalispell have come to evolve as centers for entrepreneurs and angel investors, including a number from the California tech-investor centers.

And as another post-pandemic trend, remote work, continues to emerge, Alaska may find that enough remote workers are embracing Montana that what is clearly a leisure connection may develop a business role that the airline didn’t anticipate.
 
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Two experienced women head Bellevue first-responder groups

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Two Eastside women with significant business backgrounds have recently assumed roles heading the non-profits that fund technology needs and community outreach programs of Bellevue’s first responders, both police and fire. This amid the challenge posed by the national movement to defund the police, a move that both view as not supported by the majority of citizens.

Villette Nolon, president and executive director of the Bellevue Police Foundation for only a few weeks, has made an intriguing transition into her new role having most recently served as the president and CEO of Imagine Housing, the Eastside’s leading affordable housing non-profit where she frequently worked with low-income families.

Villette NolonVillette NolonThat involvement helped her realize “the relationship between the community and the police is complicated but important.”

Nolon was long one of this area’s most prominent female angel investors, including chair and president of Seraph Capital Forum, the nation’s first all-women angel group, and a key executive with Angel Capital Association, the national association of angel investors.

Laura McCloud Mathers, President & CEO of the Bellevue Fire Department Foundation, was urged by Bellevue Fire Chief Jay Hagen to take the leadership of the foundation after she had been tapped as a consultant in December of 2019 to advise on how to create a foundation for the department.

Mathers, who had served as head of the Seattle Police Foundation for two and a half years while Kathleen O’Toole was chief, describes Hagen, who had spent 30 years with the Seattle Fire Department before being tapped to head the Bellevue fire department three years ago, as “an incredible leader, passionate in his commitment.”

Mathers’ background includes being the first membership director of the Columbia Tower Club, a key executive at the World Trade Center, and executive director of the Seattle Rotary Club.

“It is so sad that defunding the police foundations is a new racial justice target, putting pressure on companies to cut vital ties with nonprofit police foundations,” said McCloud. “Clearly they don’t understand the role of the foundation is primarily to ensure the police are well equipped with those things that will save lives and make the community safer for ALL!”

Nolon used as an example of the importance of the foundation’s work last month’s grant of $104,000 to police for what she described as “sorely needed new training and command system and a mobile wellness hub for officers, their families and retired officers to access health and wellness benefits the department offers.”

Mathers pointed to several examples of tools available to the Seattle police department as a result of community donations to the foundation, starting with AEDs for every patrol car, which she explained are “easy to use, low-maintenance defibrillators for people experiencing cardiac arrest while waiting for a medic unit to arrive.”
 
Another Mathers example:
Laura McCloud MathersLaura McCloud Mathers“Naloxone, a nasal spray that could be administered by officers to opioid overdose victims to bring back to life,” she explained. “SPD having Naloxone was initially a concern with the Seattle Fire Union - it was believed to be intruding on their scope of work. Fortunately, a meeting between Police Chief O’Toole and Fire Chief Scoggins put that to rest. “The union recognized the greater good for the community was for police to have it as they typically are at the scene before medics arrive – and seconds do matter between life and death.”

It might be suggested that those seeking to “defund the police” be made aware more forcefully of that point that police are usually at the scene of accidents or crises before the medics arrive and thus their services in such situations are vital, possibly even to the survival of victims.

The pushback against defunding the police may be getting underway, at least if the comment by New York mayoral candidate Eric Adams, a black former NYC police officer who see himself as the pro-public safety candidate who seems police as part of the solution. is any indication.

In an interview with New York Magazine published Tuesday, Adams said the "defund the police" movement is led not by people of color in the Big Apple, but rather by young white professionals.

Reflecting on her time guiding the Seattle Police Foundation, Mathers said:  “It was truly an honor to work with the many amazing men and women of SPD. I saw only big hearts and dedication to serving a community and improving lives. After seeing the evil of mankind perpetrated daily, they got up every day to face it again and pray they returned home safely to see their families again.”

Both are undertaking their roles confident that they’ll get more yes than no responses as they go about their fundraising duties in the Bellevue community.

 
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Cody Peterson's disruptive inventions aren't unnoticed

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Serial inventor Cody Peterson is surprisingly little known beyond the two industries his technologies have disrupted, though he's hardly gone unnoticed, being named “Most Creative Person” by Inc Magazine in 2012.

That was the year his first company, Pacinian, the Coeur d’Alene, ID, manufacturer of his lightest-weight-ever keyboard, as thick as a credit card, as well as touch-screen innovations, was acquired by Silicon Valley-based Symantic, a market leader in touch screen technology.

Now Peterson, 46, and his team at Rohinni, also a Coeur d’Alene company, are poised to change the entire lighting and display industry worldwide with the revolutionary development of mini and micro LEDs.

The LED industry is well aware of Rohinni, even if not likely aware of the extent of his intent for his invention’s “potential to be like GE or Phillips, changing every industry that uses light.”

Cody Peterson R and sons Brandon L and Reece CCody Peterson (R) and sons Brandon (L) and Reece (C)My bet is that most readers of this column and many tech-industry people, as well as potential investors, haven’t heard of Peterson whereas, were Rohinni located in Silicon Valley or East Puget Sound, media entities and wanna-be participants in the company’s growth would be beating a path to his door.

Instead, Rohini’s growth, as with Pacinian before it, has been in lab space in developer John Stone's Riverstone Development of condos, office buildings, hotels, and restaurants on the river. Over the seven years since it was founded, Rohinni has been under the supporting eye of patient and friendly capital, with Stone as a primary investor since start-up day, in a business environment where a guy who lets others wear the CEO title can focus on family as well as business.

With an emphasis on business acumen, Stone refers to Peterson as “the miracle from Idaho.”

Other investors, in addition to Stone, include Future Shape Principal Tony Fadell, the inventor of the iPod, head of iPhone development, and founder and former CEO of Nest.

Peterson, a mechanical engineering graduate of Washington State University, says that over the past three years, Rohinni has devised a mini-LED as a light source “that’s about one-tenth as thick as a regular LED and about six times brighter while costing roughly the same.”

“I don’t usually drink the kool-aid, but I know the benefits of what we created that the entire lighting industry will change direction and do what we’re doing,” said Peterson, a Native American who grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, MT.

Without disclosing individual clients, Peterson said: “Rohinni is dealing with some of the world’s largest consumer electronic companies to launch screens much, much brighter than anything in the market today, while also enabling them to use mini and micro LEDs to design lighting in ways never before possible throughout their product lines.”

And he predicts television screens with Rohini miniLEDs “will be 10 times brighter with one-tenth the energy.”
 
A major coup for Rohinni came two years ago when it announced a joint venture with Beijing Electronics (BOE, formerly Beijing Oriental Electronics Group), among the world’s largest suppliers of technology products.

A news release announcing the joint venture said: “With distinctive, high-performance displays in high demand and a requirement for competitive consumer electronics or industrial products, BOE and Rohinni will be forming a joint venture to produce ultra-thin micro LED lighting solutions for display backlights. Together, BOE and Rohinni will usher in a new era of displays with unprecedented speed, accuracy, and yields compared with existing manufacturing processes.”

Oh, and waiting in the wings for the unveiling is Peterson’s newest Coeur d’Alene-based company, Qurrent, and his invention, a 100 percent electric boat. basically an autonomous craft.

As the website for Qurrent explains: “For the last three years we have been using our development platform ‘Frank’ and have created the building blocks to provide a 100 percent electric boat. Qurrent provides a safer, newer, and zen-inspired experience through the use of all new technology and an AI-controlled system. we are enabling entirely new boating experiences never before thought possible.”

Never short of seemingly impossible goals, Peterson said during our interview: “You know what Google did with Google Earth (a 3D representation of Earth based on satellite imagery)? We can do that for the sea and the oceans.”

John StoneJohn StoneI actually went to Coeur d’Alene a couple of weeks ago both to meet Peterson with Stone’s introduction and to evaluate Coeur d’Alene’s potential as a prospect for the zoom-town-focused business, ZoomTown Communities, that a media partner and I are launching.

I learned Stone and Peterson have basically already helped make Coeur d’Alene a zoom town, boosting innovation, while coupled with a growing appeal to vacation and permanent residents from Seattle and beyond and condominium towers to house them.

Peterson’s contributions include not just Pacinian and Rohinni, and soon Qurrent, but also what he calls the Innovation Den in downtown Coeur d’Alene, a large old multi-story brick building that has 50 small offices to house start-ups and entrepreneurs.

He and a friend bought the century-old building that had sat empty for more than 25 years and four years ago Cody and his wife Danelle, his high school sweetheart from Cut Bank High School. opened Coeur d’Alene Coffee Company as an espresso shop in the Den that he and Danelle and sons Reece, 20, and Braden, 23, turned building it into a family project.

Peterson said Braden made a commitment to source and roast coffee for the Den and explained: “he started looking at ways coffee is made and devised a new, more automated way to create really good pour-overs without having the barista stand there the whole time. It was neat to see him apply those little nuggets I’ve hoped he would learn from me.”

The comment is a hint of the importance being a father plays in Peterson’s life. And the kinds of lessons he teaches include “if you have lofty goals you attract smart people,” and “don’t let anyone slow you down,” both lessons that have carried Peterson far, before he’s as widely known, as he is certain to be.

 

 

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The saving of NatureBridge was one of the hero stories of 2020

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Thanks to the commitment by Bellevue business leader Robert J. Holmes to helping kids experience the outdoors and to leaders of the Dean Witter Foundation and its support of environmental education programs, the survival of NatureBridge is one of the hero stories of 2020.

Throughout 2019, as in previous years, the NatureBridge campuses in various national parks were alive with activity with up to 35,000 students spending their days exploring the parks, engaging in scientific inquiry, and discovering their connection with nature.

Then came the pandemic and, like so many organizations and businesses, NatureBridge had to make the difficult decision to suspend in-person programming, threatening its ability to deliver on its mission and even threatening its survival after 49 years.

Robert HolmesRobert HolmesHolmes, CEO of The Holmes Group (THG) and a NatureBridge board member for whom the call of the wild has been a lifetime personal counterpoint to his role as a developer of both real estate and resort projects across North America, saw the closure as a "crisis."

So Holmes, who was president and CEO of Intrawest USA and president and CEO of Harbor Properties in Seattle before shifting to Bellevue where his projects have included Kemper Freeman's Bellevue Collection and whose resort projects have included the development of the Village at Mammoth, Schweitzer Mountain Resort and the Village at Whistler, was convinced he could guide a NatureBridge survival.

Beyond merely surviving, NatureBridge, with its goal of providing environmental education in national parks, has now launched distance learning programs in classrooms across the country to reach kids who may never visit a national park. So NatureBridge has been able to innovate and grow and is well-positioned now to weather the pandemic.

This all came about because Holmes, buoyed by his confidence in NatureBridge’s history of excellence and its strong leadership, called on his community to match his own contribution of up to $25,000. Not only did he get over $25,000 in donations but attracted the attention of Malcolm (Max) Witter, board member of the Dean Witter Foundation. a former Seattleite who now lives in the Coachella Valley.

For background, The Dean Witter Foundation supports specific wildlife conservation projects and seminal opportunities to improve and extend environmental education. The Foundation makes additional grants to launch and expand innovative K-12 public education initiatives and seeks to practice imaginative grantmaking in the fields of education and conservation.

So comes the personally satisfying aspects of this NatureBridge story, one that exemplifies that sometimes the writer gets to be more than an observer.

In April I did a column on Holmes, NatureBridge’s plight, and his personal call for a match to his $25,000.

I saw that Witter, who gets The Harp, had opened it so I emailed him to see if he would like to connect with Holmes.
He did and then discussed with fellow director Allison Witter Frey, a Seattlite and, like Malcolm, grandchild of Dean Witter.

they notified the remaining directors at The Dean Witter Foundation of the opportunity to help NatureBridge and Holmes’ two-for-one match. Between Holmes, Witter, and over 700 donors, NatureBridge raised $1.1 million in a few months.

Designed to support teachers and connect kids to nature, NatureBridge has been able to not only reach many of the students who were supposed to come to their in-person programs but also students who live hundreds of miles from a national park and might not ever be able to make the trip. Its leadership now sees the scale of impact as tremendous with this new online component.

And NatureBridge came to be able to conduct family camps in Yosemite, one of the four national parks where it looks to fully restore in-park programs once the pandemic permits. The others are Olympic, Golden Gate and Prince William Forest in Virginia.

So now as NatureBridge approaches its 50th year, it continues to make advancements in Distance Learning education. Its leaders know the pandemic will change the way they teach kids with quality distance learning experiences increasingly a part of high-quality education.

 
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Snowflake celebration sets the stage for Bellevue Square 75th year

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Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman Jr. is seeking to cap a year of COVID tragedy and accompanying economic devastation with a memorable Holiday Season event to set the stage for the 75th anniversary of his Bellevue Square Mall.

It was clear that in this virus-impacted Holiday season Snowflake Lane, which annually has turned downtown Bellevue into a month-long enchanted scene, had to be reimagined if it was to be held at all in 2020.

“I thought about not doing it this year,” said Freeman, the Bellevue developer whose Bellevue Collection of retailers, restaurants, and hotels forms the core of Downtown Bellevue.

Kemper FreemanKemper Freeman“But with all things that have fouled up people’s lives this year, we didn’t think it would be right to also take away something as symbolically important as Snowflake Lane,” he added. “So while we can’t have the parade and performance with dancers and drummers, every night there will be twinkling lights and holiday music.”

“And while we can’t do Santa,’ Freeman noted, “we have the best display of Christmas lights ever in our 14 years, stretching a mile all around Bellevue Square.

Freeman’s pleasure with the holiday display is clearly a way for him to close a disastrous year of the pandemic as well as economic distress it caused and that likely played a role in the social unrest that occurred.

All had a dramatic impact on his business and his city, particularly the severe damage suffered by many of the mall’s retailers at the hands of rioters who embedded in the ranks of peaceful protesters then hurried away from the crowds to break into the mall.

It was at a cost that he hasn’t yet fully calculated that he helped restore the retail life of the 230 merchants and shops in the mall.

Now Freeman is looking forward to the year of celebration for Bellevue Square, launched 75 years and two generations ago by Freeman’s grandfather, Miller Freeman, and father Kemper Sr.

Plans for the 75th-anniversary celebration are just being finalized by his staff, Freeman said.

Freeman, now 79, chuckled as he shared the story of how his grandfather stirred comments across the business community, which labeled as “Freeman’s Folly” his decision to buy 10 acres in 1944 for $40,000, land that became the start of Bellevue Square. Two years later he assisted his son, Kemper Sr., to launch the shopping center.

Now in addition to an upbeat focus on 2021 for the 75th, Freeman is also welcoming the renaissance of the campaign to raise the funds necessary to complete the Performing Arts Center Eastside (PACE), a campaign that has basically been in limbo for the past year and a half.

Cathi Hatch, the Vice-Chair of the PACE board and leader of the fundraising effort, noted that what was once planned as a $200 million facility to fulfill the arts and cultural needs of the Eastside has gone up substantially in cost but the final figures aren’t complete.

But she did note that a search for major naming rights will be underway in full in the new year. The center has been part of Freeman’s vision since he and his wife, Betty, donated the land on the northeast corner of Bellevue downtown’s central core, on the same block as the Bellevue Hyatt.

Completion of PACE after fundraising is finished, will be several years further out.
 
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Lengthy effort to get documents in jobless-payment snafu leads to suit

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If the suit against the state Employment Security Department by a woman best described as a professional whistleblower is successful, it will be fair to say, objectively rather than as a political comment, that Gov. Jay Inslee is a slow learner. Only this time the failure to learn may cost the taxpayers millions of dollars.

Four years ago the recalcitrance of one of his department heads in dealing with a public disclosure request from the Seattle Times brought a court rebuke and a fine. Now a delayed public disclosure response related to the state’s unemployment disaster could bring the court down harder.

The failure of the governor to learn relates to the months-long effort by Lynn Brewer to get access to emails between Inslee and his now embattled Employment Security Department (ESD) Commissioner Suzie LeVine. Brewer gained prominence after leaving a budding career as an executive at energy giant Enron before its 2001 bankruptcy to become a high-visibility whistleblower.

Brewer has been seeking to determine the extent of responsibility by LeVine, and what Inslee knew, of the employment security disaster that rocked the state after COVID-19 struck. First thieves pirated $650-million in unemployment insurance from the state as people started losing their jobs by the thousands, then thousands didn’t get their unemployment checks, or got them dramatically late, as ESD tried to figure out how to avoid further fraud.

Now that State Auditor Pat McCarthy’s criticism of LeVine for imposing “significant constraints” on audit staff, including seeking to limit interviews and delaying access to documents, have become public, the media has come to be all over this. And that media scrutiny is bound to move upward toward Inslee.

In June Brewer was told that her public disclosure request for the emails between Inslee and LeVine and between the ESD director and her staff, because of the mountain of documents involved, couldn’t be honored until December 31, almost seven months later. Some might chuckle at the point that would be after the November election, perhaps ensuring that Inslee’s quest for a third term couldn’t be hindered by anything in the emails.

In her lawsuit filed a couple of weeks ago in Thurston County Superior Court, Brewer asks for a court order that ESD “has violated the Public Records Act” and asks for “an award of statutory penalties, fees and costs against the Department.”

I asked Brewer why she filed the suit given the promised delivery date ESD and she said first, that the delay was illegal and, second, there was only the ESD statement that she couldn’t get the emails before December 31, not that she would get them then.

The lesson unlearned relates to the fact that Inslee has been here before, four years ago with a different department, Labor and Industries, in a public disclosure request by the Seattle Times, in which it took The Times months to get the documents it sought.

In that 2016 decision, the state high court upheld a $546,509 superior court judgment against L&I, finding that it repeatedly delayed the release of records related to lead exposure at Wade’s Eastside Gun Shop.

The department, meaning the state, was ordered to pay the money to The Times, plus attorney fees because monetary penalties are possible under state law for the failure of agencies to respond to public disclosure requests in a timely manner.

The Times was moved to muse editorially after that 2016 victory: “The remaining questions are whether Gov. Jay Inslee will hold anyone accountable for this costly violation of state law and how the state will prevent this from happening again.”

For a longtime reporter, there’s a disappointment that this story has eluded the media for months, except for a drip here and a drop there, until McCarthy’s statements brought the media attention on LeVine and her agency, but not yet on the governor, into full force.

So now perhaps some reporter will ask Inslee: “Governor, when did you know about the auditor’s concerns and when you learned, why didn’t you say to your ESD commissioner, ‘get your act together, Suzie or you are gone?’”

It’s important to keep in mind that we are talking here about a prominent Democratic fundraiser since LeVine raised millions for every Democratic presidential candidate starting with Obama and extending through the candidates who ran in 2020.
And in fairness to the media, both print and broadcast, the coverage requirements of 2020 from the virus to the marches and riots to the economy to the tragic stories of the jobless left little space or time available for an investigative look at why the jobless disaster was unfolding.

I may benefit from having known Brewer for more than a decade, first as she gained prominence in the wake of the collapse of Enron. Her book Confessions of an Enron Executive: A Whistleblower’s Story chronicled her experiences and observations during her two-and-a-half years as a mid-level executive. Her duties included providing key personal briefings on new investments for Enron's now-infamous duo, CEO Ken Lay and President Jeff Skilling.

So she reached out to me after her husband’s and her request for unemployment got caught up in the ESD tangled web and I did a column in the spring and waited for other media to get on the story.

Lynn BrewerLynn BrewerAnd it’s important to note that, as is sometimes, unfortunately, the case these days, Brewer is not some rightwing agitator trying to get Inslee, whom she says she voted for twice, "but not this time because he's responsible for what happened to the unemployed."

In fact, she’s spent her years since leaving Enron after she became aware of the malfeasance of its leadership, speaking to groups and organizations around the world. Brewer was called upon not only to recount the lessons of her Enron experience but more importantly to her, is to share her vision of a way that provides the equivalent of a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" on the integrity of public companies.

And it’s with a combination of amusement and anger that Brewer notes the irony of last week’s anniversary of the 2001 fall of Enron when it went out of business as its financial illegalities were disclosed.

“This is a bigger disaster than Enron,” she told me. “Enron was a $600-million fraud on its shareholders. This is a $650-million fraud on taxpayers.”

“If the court decides there will be a per-page, per day, fine and ESD indicates there are tens of thousands of pages that had to be processed, you do the math,” said Brewer. “The state could be liable for millions of dollars because no one was in charge of this.”

 
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Quest for 20 to honor for COVID creativity and caring strategies

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It should have come as no surprise that our quest for nominations for The 20 of 2020 Awards to recognize creative and caring contributions by business people to our communities during COVID-19 would make it clear that prominent givers connect with dozens of equally committed individuals to carry out the giving.

One of those I refer to as creative givers that I reached out to is longtime Bellevue business leader Joan Wallace, who explained to me that what has gone on across her community and the region is "loving and caring people intersecting at the crossroads of need."

Sharon BloomeIn fact, Wallace sought to dispel what seems to be a growing sense that darkness is settling over the mood of the country that is due to more than the impact of COVID-19.

"What we see on the news leads us to believe that we have devolved into tribalism, segregating ourselves into silos where we acknowledge only those who look and believe as we do. My experience tells another story," Wallace told me in an email.

Two other friends that I connected with to help me plum the depth of the giving now going on were Katrina Eileen Romatowski, whose Katrina Eileen Real Estate is the only Benefit Corp, or social-purpose corporation, in her industry in this state, and longtime activist and philanthropist Sharon Gantz Bloome.

Interestingly, these three won't have known each other until they meet in this Harp, indicating people who carry a heavy load of giving don't sit around visiting about their giving.

In sharing the three interviews, I'll start with Wallace's admonition to set the stage: "I will share some of our adventures with the caveat that you make it clear to your readers that our efforts are just one small cog in a massive set of interlocking gears silently at work across this community.". We are just one example of thousands of families responding to needs as we become aware of them."

So I'll be back with Wallace but first want to introduce the other two interviewees.

Meet my longtime friend, Sharon Bloome, whom I became aware of decades ago after she moved to the Northwest in 1984 and co-founded Heart of America Northwest, which became the leading citizens' watchdog group for the cleanup of Hanford.

As chairman of the Rotary Club of Seattle's Environmental Committee, she co-produced an environmental guide for the business community entitled "Going Green: A Guide to Becoming An Environmentally Friendly Business Without Going Broke." Because of it, she was nominated for a United Nations Global 500 Award.

She spearheaded the mission of bringing computer skills to Seattle's inner-city children at the Rotary Boys & Girls Club, whose Computer Learning Center is named the Sharon Gantz Bloome Computer Learning Center. It's dedication plaque reads -- "Built by many, but delivered by the vision and tenacity of one."

Because she has Dyslexia, Bloome invested early this year to help create a teacher training program at Heritage University in Toppenish for a master's degree in inclusive education with a focus that includes Dyslexia and is the only program of its kind on the West Coast.

And when the coronavirus hit, and the program had to move online, Bloome says she believed the program "is just too important to go on hiatus even as we turned our attention to the pandemic and I am pleased to have played a part in its continued success." That meant financial support for the students.

Noting her view of the continued support of the degree at Heritage, Bloome said: "we must not completely lose focus on the post-covid-19 world. There are people who suffer across an array of issues great and small that we must continue to fight for."

An ongoing commitment of Bloome's was her personal support for a largely poor and Hispanic catholic parish in South King County, for which she regularly provided parishioners with food, clothing, and furniture.

 "Not Catholic, never was and never will be." chuckled the board member of the American Jewish World Service. "That doesn't matter. What matters is humanity and easing suffering in whatever way possible, wherever possible."

Then came COVID, of which she said, "I can't fix Covid. I wish I could. But I can help ease suffering for some families. The most elemental need is for people to eat. And so that's where I went, making it possible for the church to offer grocery gift cards and boxed assorted groceries to distribute to families in need."

Katrina Eileen is actually one of the creators and sponsors of The 20 of 2020 event, which is to be held February 11 at the Columbia Tower Club if live events return by then, or the evident honoring the 20 will be virtual. So she's not eligible to be among the 20, although her actions exemplify what we're looking for in potential honorees.

Katrina EileenMore than a decade ago, Katrina Eileen began a focus on aiding foster youth, culminating with her creation of a non-profit called Level Up, which is a housing and mentoring program for at-risk youth ages 18 to 24 who have aged out of the foster-care system.

In the face of the early struggles and fears people faced, Katrina Eileen decided to create a safe place for people in a Facebook group she called Real Kindness. It was a place people had a chance to share kind acts that they knew were occurring around the community, and she offered $1,000 a week for the posts with the most likes. One winner went on to be an overnight YouTube sensation, "Dad How Do I," a YouTube channel that soon had 400,000 hits.

Long a believer in the United Nations Global Goals, the first two of which are the end poverty in all its forms and to end hunger, she has partnered with a non-profit called Unify in a campaign that she calls Share the Number Love. It's an initiative to encourage people to pick one of the 17 global goals and share them on social media.

Now back to Joan Wallace, whose involvements accelerated by COVID start with Jubilee REACH, a Bellevue non-profit focused on "building a caring community in and around schools to meet the social and emotional needs of students and their families

"Since last March, individual families all across the greater Eastside have been showing up at Jubilee REACH every single week with a couple of bags of groceries that are immediately placed in the hands of waiting, needy people," Wallace said. "There are 26 Eastside churches involved in this effort where every week one family feeds another."

Then there's Congregation for the Homeless, a shelter for homeless men in downtown Bellevue, which had only been open six months a year until the current need made it clear the need for food and shelter would stretch through the winter,

So the Wallace's son, Kevin, former Bellevue City Council member, reached out to the community and raised the equivalent of $2 million in labor and supplies to get the building up to code in time to get open for the winter.

Meanwhile, Joan and Bob picked up when the previous process of volunteers preparing meals was ended by the virus and had to be replaced, but not totally, by area churches and groups providing food. Joan had to find Maggiano's Restaurant and Costco to fill food need for two nights a week, supported by $5,000 from her and Bob.

Bob and Joan WallaceThe Wallace outreach wasn't limited to the Eastside since a minister friend from an African-American church in the Rainier Valley told her of a low-income apartment building that he had built as one of the church's community enterprises that housed a mostly Muslim community.

Her conversations with the minister "revealed a need for baby diapers, wipes, and toilet tissue. I put out an email request to my neighbors as our daughter, Kim, did in hers. In one week, our collective neighbors donated enough to fill three large SUVs, so our entire family caravaned to the Rainier Valley to deliver the goods."

So as Wallace summed up of her family's involvements: "We are just one example of thousands of families responding to needs as we become aware of them."

It's those examples of creative giving that we are looking for by the deadline of December 1.

Marketingnnw.com, for three decades, the print bible of the Northwest marketing community and the digital format that replaced it on January 1, 2018, will produce a print supplement and online version with stories on the event and each of those selected.

The goal for this event, best summed up by a friend helping me assist in putting a similar focus on a San Diego event, is to seek out "those who combined success and sacrifice in a model that will become the new order. And in doing so, we begin to set a new standard for business people."

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Kirkland company's plan for rail-car energy-storage concept fuels renewable-energy interest

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The decade-long quest of two Seattle businessmen and the team of prominent investors they have attracted to create a unique new method for generating renewable energy is about to bear fruit in the form of rock-filled rail cars plying a Southern Nevada mountain.

Advanced Rail Energy Storage North America (ARES) is the Kirkland-based company that Spike Anderson, self-described “serial entrepreneur,” and Seattle attorney Art Harrigan created to funnel the millions of dollars they raised over the last 10 years to bring the project to fruition.

Howard TrottThe ARES Nevada project, located near Pahrump, about 60 miles west of Las Vegas, is the first of what they expect will be a series of similar energy-generating projects around the country, to help states meet their increasingly stringent renewable-energy goals.

“Those renewable-energy goals are not merely for the states, but are for the planet,” Anderson offered in a reference to the broader and increasingly pervasive issue of climate change that clean, renewable-energy initiatives are seeking to address.

For example, the broad success of ARES’ concept could eliminate the need for any more hydroelectric projects, and perhaps end the need for some existing hydro projects.

It’s likely the broader global goal is behind the commitment of time and money that Anderson and Harrigan, as well as retired Costco CEO Jim Sinegal and Car Toys founder Dan Bretler have committed.

Add to those names two key executives of a Denver conglomerate, Thermo Companies. Thermo was attracted as a major financial partner because of a business relationship between ARES North America CEO Howard Trott and Jay Monroe, who guides some of the numerous companies under the Thermo corporate umbrella. Another key Thermo executive directly involved in the funding is Kyle Pickens, Thermo vice president for strategy and development.

Trott has more than 25 years of experience developing and operating a wide range of energy projects, real estate investments, and other business ventures, including doing projects for telecommunication pioneer Craig McCaw for two decades.

Among his projects for McCaw was the successful conversion of James Island, a 780-acre island in the gulf of British Columbia to a model of environmental sustainability.

Anderson credits Trott with “getting us headed in the right direction, including reengineering our system, for which we have patents.”

ARES Nevada actually named the Gamebird Pit for the gravel pit from which the rail cars are filled with rock, is an affiliate of ARES North America.

A groundbreaking was held last week for the project, the first of what ARES has branded as GravityLine energy storage facilities. This one will generate up to 50 megawatts of stored electricity for 15 minutes in 30-minute cycles, enough to power 50,000 homes for those minutes.

The construction phase of the GravityLine facility begins in December and will take about a year to bring on line with the power generated into the California energy grid to California Independent System Operator for the purpose of stabilizing the grid.

From afar the railcars arrayed up and down the hillside may look like bugs scurrying around a small hill. But the reality is that each of the approximately 200 cars weighs 720,000 pounds and is 20 feet long, 16-feet wide, and 15 feet deep, making their way up and down a mountain.

ARES GravityLine’s fixed motor, chain-drive system, similar to how a rollercoaster operates, draws electricity from the grid to drive mass cars uphill against the force of gravity. That converts electrical energy into potential mechanical energy and when the grid requires power, this process is reversed and the cars proceed downhill with the electric motors operating as generators, thereby converting the potential mechanical energy back into electricity.

GravityLine’s storage systems are made up of multiple 5MW tracks and can vary in size from 5 MW to 1 GW of power and an equivalent range of energy depending upon weight and number of rail cars, slope, and distance.

This is a small project, what’s called an ancillary services installation, which basically means it will be used to balance the grid, leveling out peaks and valleys of power generated by renewable resources like solar and wind.

but the profits for ARES will flow from long-duration storage, up to 10 hours, and more, at utility-scale projects around the country.

The challenge, of course, for the renewable energy of wind and solar is that the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. But the gravity that drives ARES’ projects is always there.

A quarter-scale proof-of-concept model of the ARES Nevada project was brought on line at Tehachapi, in the mountains east of Bakersfield, CA, in 2013.

With that model, which attracted interest from utilities around the country, the motors were on the cars’ driving wheels on the track just like a train. But the problem, Anderson explained, was “too much weight or too steep a grade, causing the wheels to lose traction.”

Trott’s re-engineering solved that problem by using chain and sprockets, thus giving positive contact.

Anderson noted that the chain system can go much steeper than the original 7.5 percent, adding “The system is pretty much infinitely scalable.”

Anderson and Harrigan own the technology with both being major shareholders of ARES, Anderson as lead investor and board member, and Harrigan, who first introduced Anderson to the technology in 2010, as chairman.

Despite the fact they’ve been friends for decades, they bring dramatically different business backgrounds to ARES.

Anderson, for years, was a large Kirkland Signature products supplier for Costco and was Costco's largest supplier by the time he sold his company.

Harrigan had key roles in saving both the Seattle Mariners and the Seahawks because Harrigan’s law firm represented King County and the county-owned the Kingdome, which the two professional sports teams were threatening to vacate by leaving town. Harrigan’s legal maneuvers, for which he basically got no visibility until I wrote a column five years ago, forced the two out-of-town owners to sell the team to local buyers (see Flynn’s Harp: Art Harrigan).

In discussing the fact that the ARES projects are based on gravity, Anderson quipped that “gravity is always with us. It’s been important for a long time, going way back to Sisyphus,” referring to the ancient Greek legend of the king condemned by the gods to spend eternity rolling a large boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down the hill and be forced to push it up again.

 
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Angel-investor leaders applaud SEC's new 'accredited investor' definition

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Angel investor leaders are applauding a Securities and Exchange Commission decision that essentially adds brainpower to wealth as qualifications to be "accredited investor." The decision is seen as a key to bringing more investors to the capital market at a time when the COVID-decimated economy needs a dramatic assist, as well as in the future.
 
Those angel leaders in the Northwest and elsewhere that I reached out to for comment saw the decision as an "enlightened" action by the federal regulatory body and one likely to bring much-needed capital to early-stage companies.
 
What the SEC did earlier this month was amend its "accredited investor" definition to allow investors to qualify based on defined measures of professional knowledge, experience, or certifications in addition to the nearly four-decades-old tests for income and net worth.  
 
"For the first time, individuals will be permitted to participate in our private capital markets not only based on their income or net worth but also based on established, clear measures of financial sophistication," said SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, in a statement accompanying the August 19 announcement.  
 
An accredited investor is an individual or a business entity that is allowed to trade securities, often higher risk, that may not be registered.
 
Prior to this SEC decision, investors needed to earn at least $200,000 in annual income ($300,000 for married couples), or have $1 million in net assets, excluding their primary residence, to count as "accredited."  
 
For decades, the SEC had allowed only the wealthy to make private venture investments, largely because of their presumed greater ability to sustain losses and fend for themselves. 

After this change, having sufficient "knowledge and expertise" is all it takes.
 
"This enlightened SEC action will pave the way for thoughtful sophisticated investors to invest in the startup community and bring much-needed capital into very early-stage companies," said Bill Payne, viewed by many as the nation's dean of angel investors. Payne has not only invested in a number of Northwest startups but has launched angel-investor groups in a number of cities.
 
"There are 400 angel groups in the U.S. in all kinds of different neighborhoods: urban, rural, academic. cross-border, etc.," added Payne, who in addition to his angel-investor leadership in this country spent a year in New Zealand, at the invitation of that nation's government, teaching angel investing. "I am sure some ecosystems will choose to focus on sophisticated investors."
 
"My angel colleagues generally welcome this regulatory improvement because it will bring more business-literate shareholders to the high-risk equity sector," said longtime investment leader John Fluke, chairman of Fluke Capital, which he has guided since its founding in 1981. "And perhaps it will induce high-risk equity enterprises to develop more pragmatic and realistic business plans."
 
"That definition now includes individuals with specific investment subject-matter expertise, regardless of whether such individuals met traditional annual income and net worth criteria," added Fluke, who is now mostly involved in angel investing.
 
"I am pretty excited about this SEC action," enthused Elizabeth Marchi, whom I have described in several columns as "Montana's queen of angel investing" because she oversaw three angel groups in the state from her and husband, Jon's, cattle ranch near Polson.
 
Marchi, who now serves as the head of marketing for an interesting new White Fish-based venture fund named Two Bear Capital, said the decision "embodies Chairman Clayton's attitude that there shouldn't be arbitrary thresholds. This will help reach innovators and problem solvers beyond the ecosystem centers."
 
Richard Sudek, chairman emeritus of Tech Coast Angels, whose 400 members spread across units in five Southern California counties make it the nation's largest angel group, said the SEC decision "will likely allow significant additional investment capital to flow into an economy at this virus-impacted time."
 
"However, this decision could have an important long-lasting impact beyond the pandemic," added Sudek, who in his post-angel career helped guide creation of the Applied Innovation Center at U-Cal Irvine and serves as its executive director and Chief Innovation Officer. "It could accelerate small business starts as well as help small businesses grow quicker and larger."
 
"I do feel the expansion offers an opportunity to grow the private investment community for early-stage companies," offered Brianna McDonald, who with her husband, Nathan, guides the Northwest chapter of the international angel investor network, Keiretsu. He is CEO and managing partner and she is president of the Keiretsu Forum Northwest.
 
"As a membership organization we depend a lot on leveraging others' experiences and expertise and over the years we have called on these individuals to help with diligence, but they would do the work and not be able to participate in the investment," she said. "With the potential pool opening, we now need to put an even bigger focus on education."
 
In an example of the perpetual dynamic tension on the five-member commission over its conflicting roles of facilitating capital formation while protecting investors, the two Democrat appointees voted against the decision, saying it could leave investors vulnerable.
 
Gary Ritner, founder and president of the Puget Sound Venture Club, the Seattle angel group that celebrates its 35th anniversary this fall, suggested there was some legitimacy to the concerns of the SEC's minority.
 
"With statistics indicating that on average half of the deals that attract angel investment go broke in the first two years," said Ritner. "Long term, an investor will likely make money, but how many of this type of investor can emotionally live with the potential of the early losses."
 
But having offered those thoughts, Ritner shared with me the strongly positive reaction of the Angel Capital Association (ACA),
The North American professional organization of active accredited investors.  
 
"This action will significantly impact the availability of capital to cutting-edge innovative start-up companies that are the foundation for job creation in our nation," said the ACA.

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Could the governor's office be follow-on prize in this year's lieutenant governor race?

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The battle for the nominations for the part-time position of Washington's lieutenant governor has drawn a cluster of hopefuls based in part at least on what some pundits see as the strong possibility that the governor's office could be a subsequent prize awaiting whoever wins the post in the November general election.
 
That isn't at all what the framers of the state's constitution had in mind when they created the position of an elected official to fill in for the governor from time to time and preside over the Senate when the legislature is in session. And hang around in case the governor died or was incapacitated. Or, as with Inslee, a possible appointment to a Biden administration, should there be one.
 
That limited constitutional role made it historically a job coveted by those who first made a name outside of politics, then sought an easy ride into a job most voters likely don't really pay much attention to.
 
Thus this year is only the third time in the past century that a person running for lieutenant governor nurtures the hope that winning the job could lead to becoming the next state chief executive, sooner rather than when Gov. Jay Inslee completes the third term for which he's now running. And has promised to serve out.
 
The "sooner" looms like an apple hanging from the tree because of the much-discussed possibility that if Joe Biden is elected, he would tap Inslee.
 
The interesting side note is that by the time Biden could win office, Inslee's image could be badly tarnished as the effort unfolds to tie him tightly to the state's employment security disaster that has devastated the lives of thousands of state residents forced to wait endlessly and needlessly for their unemployment checks.
 
Inslee's protection of his employment security head Susan "Suzi' LeVine and avoidance at press gatherings about discussing the disaster and LeVine's role in it will be made an issue in the governor's race. And if Inslee's image begins to tarnish, it will be interesting to watch how the four Democrats in the lieutenant governor's race handle questions about the unemployment disaster.
 
But back to the race for the $115,000 annual salary position, a race that has attracted four Democrats, five Republicans and two Libertarians to this year's contest.
 
Three of the state's first nine lieutenant governors actually became the state's chief executive when the man who was governor died in office. One of them, Louis Hart, was elected to a full term after succeeding Ernest Lister in February of 1919, a month after Lister took office.
 
William Jennings (Wee) Coyle, a former UW football great and decorated war hero, started it all in 1920 when he parlayed his name familiarity into a landslide victory in the race for the state's second-highest elective office, openly indicating he hoped to become governor four years later.
 
Coyle was only 32, a handsome former UW star quarterback just back from the World War I battlefields when he strategized to use the lieutenant governor role to position himself to run for governor, a race he ran in 1924, but lost.
 
For most of the next 96 years, the office was held by those who had first risen to prominence beyond the political sphere.
 
It wasn't until Brad Owen, a Democrat and former state legislator from Shelton was elected in 1996 and was re-elected four times that a lieutenant governor created real importance for the position.
 
During his five terms, Owen created for the office the role of a goodwill ambassador for the state in international trade and promotion of Washington products overseas. The lieutenant governor also serves as chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development, Tourism and Trade. Plus Owen led trade missions to parts of the world where the title "lieutenant governor" opens doors.
 
But the history of the position has provided some interesting political lore.
 
The fact the lieutenant governor is often described as "a heartbeat away from the governor's chair" has seemed to hold little importance for Washington voters, despite those three early in the 20th century who rose to the top state office because of the deaths of the governors.
 
Colorful Victor A. Meyers, a mustachioed maestro who earned a reputation as a big-name band leader, decided to seek the office as a Democrat in 1932. He won and was re-elected four times before being defeated in 1952 by Emmett Anderson, who had gained fame as the "Grand Exalted Ruler" of the Elks.
 
Anderson, like Coyle, had hoped to use the post as a springboard to the governorship and made an unsuccessful run for governor in 1956 and lost to Albert D. Rosellini.
 
That allowed John A. Cherberg, a failed football coach at the University of Washington, to run for the job as a Democrat and win. Cherberg commenced a 32-year stand in the job that made him the longest-tenured lieutenant governor ever in the nation.
 
The most interesting effort to boost a non-politician into the job came in 1968 when then-Gov. Dan Evans and his state Republican chairman, C. Montgomery (Gummie) Johnson along with future U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, then running for attorney general, hatched a plan to oust Cherberg from the office, which by then he had held for 12 years. The goal was to set the stage for the election of the first black man since reconstruction to become governor four years later.
 
I've written about Evans, Johnson, and Gorton seeking to boost the fortunes of Art Fletcher, a black city councilman from Pasco who had gathered some national prominence for the development of a self-help program in the East Pasco ghetto.
 
The effort by three Republican leaders, back in 1968, to create an opportunity for an African-American to have a shot at becoming governor needs to have a high-visibility role at this time, in particular, rather than being lost in Washington State history. I wrote a 50-years-on column in 2018 at Evans's suggestion, as he reminded me of "the Republican plot to get a black man a chance to be governor."
 
So Johnson talked popular and prominent hydroplane driver Bill Muncey into running for the post, once confiding to me off the record that Muncey had wanted to know what a lieutenant governor did. "Not a lot," Johnson had replied, with some honesty.
 
Fletcher won the GOP primary but failed to dislodge Cherberg in the general election. But a year later, thanks in part to the visibility Evans helped create for him, he gained a position in the Nixon Administration's U.S. Department of Labor, where he created the first Affirmative Action program
 
By the time he retired in 1988, Cherberg had built a reputation for integrity and even-handedness in his role as the State Senate's presiding officer. And with the election of Joel Pritchard, a respected Republican congressman, and former legislator, the job took on an increasingly important role that Owen continued to build on during his years in the office.
 
Incidentally, the state's top-two primary system doesn't guarantee any party a spot in the general election, so it would be possible for the votes to split in such a way that two Democrats or two Republicans could advance to the general. Election.

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Boeing board faces questions - What lies ahead? How about coming home?

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Were it not for the trauma the coronavirus is visiting on this region, the travails of Boeing's effort to restore the lost luster that made it the model for corporate success and community treasure would likely be the subject of negative conversation wherever community leaders gather.
 
Now David Calhoun, new to the Boeing CEO role but a decade on the board during which the crises within the company were being spawned with no sense the board saw anything to question now-ousted CEO Dennis Muilenburg about, is seeking to right the ship.
 
As if to prove that the board had no sense of anything amiss until the two 737 Max crashes and the challenges that have dogged the company since then, Calhoun admitted, in an interview two months after he took the reins, that things inside the company were worse than he had thought.
 
"It's more than I imagine it would be, honestly," Calhoun said, adding "it speaks to the weakness of our leadership," an indictment aimed at ousted CEO Muilenberg.  

But there are some who would suggest it might logically apply to the board. Part of a board's responsibility, after all, is being accountable to the public for the quality of services and goods delivered.
 
It's quite likely that the congressional report that scored "a culture of concealment" and "grossly insufficient oversight" was referring to more than the executives who ran the company.
 
I recall when I first heard that Boeing charged its airline customers an additional amount for installing devices that would ensure greater safety of its products, my first thought was "the board needs to determine if that's true and, if it is, simply say 'don't do that anymore."
 
But some will protest, "boards don't do that!" Tell me about it.
 
So if you haven't, it's worth looking at the board whose job it is to protect the traveling public and the customers who fly them, no less a responsibility than overseeing shareholder profits.
 
It's definitely a board that could compete admirably with other boards in "the fame game."
 
First, there is (The) Caroline Kennedy, who most recently served as ambassador to Japan, and former South Carolina governor and U.N. representative Nikki Haley.
 
The board has military star power. Adm. John Richardson was appointed to the board last year after completing a four-year term as Chief of Naval Operations, and Adm. Edmund Giambastiani Jr. former vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, is completing a decade on the board.

Board chair is Lawrence Kellner, former chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines, who has been on the board since 2011

Other board members were company chairman and CEOs, Robert Bradway at Amgen, Arthur Collins Jr. at Medtroni, Ron Williams at Aetna and Ed Liddy at Allstate president and CEO, as Lynn Good at Duke Energy and Mike S. Zafirovski, at Nortel. Susan Schwab.  
 
Professor at the University of Maryland school of public policy and the former US. Trade representative, named last year fills out the board.
 
All seem capable of more innovative action than just to name one of their own as CEO.

The fact is, the Boeing that was created in Seattle in 1916 by William Boeing and grew to become one of the most successful and admired companies in America hasn't been the same since it moved to Chicago a week before 9-11. Bean counters, represented by Harry Stonecipher who as president and CEO of McDonnell Douglas orchestrated the merger of the two companies and replaced ousted Phil Condit, took control of Boeing in 2003.

In fairness, a defense-department procurement scandal that eventually led to Condit's resignation, among other embarrassments to the company, began when Boeing was still a Seattle-based company and only exploded after the move to Chicago.

Hard to know whether the culture might have continued in Chicago if Alan Mulally, then president of Boeing Commercial, where the airplanes were made, had been named Boing CEO, which he had expected when Condit was replaced. So instead he went to Ford two years later and worked his engineering-leadership magic for a car company.

Nevertheless, what would be the reaction if that Boeing board decided on a dramatic move to prove the board members wanted a different culture and opted to return the company to its Seattle roots?

The culture shifted when the years passed with the corporate executives 2,000 miles distant from the place where the culture of Boeing's largest unit, commercial airplanes, was nurtured or diminished.

Given the corporate presence that has emerged here in the past two decades, not only in homegrown companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Expedia but expansions here by the likes of Google, a move home by Boeing could not only carry shareholder logic. It could also send a message to customers, lawmakers and employees about the desire to restore the culture and integrity that seems to have waned.

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