this article first appeared November 5 in the Spokane Journal of Business. Written by Kevin Blocker.

Extended holiday shopping season benefits some here

Despite the fact thousands of retail storefronts across the U.S. have struggled or gone away in recent years, some Spokane-based retailers say they could be on the verge of all-time holiday sales records in 2020.

As the pandemic’s surge continues to strengthen heading into late fall, so too does consumer demand for some products as the holidays near.

At the General Store, general manager Mark McKee says he’s fully prepared for both store locations to set holiday records this season. The General Store, located at 2424 N. Division, and The General Store Outpost, at 1330 N. Argonne in Spokane Valley, last year partnered with ACE Hardware to carry its brand of tools and hardware.

The day after the region’s Oct. 23 snowstorm, the Division store set a single-day sales record, McKee says. Though he declines to disclose an actual dollar amount, he says Oct. 24’s single-store revenues were 150% above the same date in 2019.

“This year, both stores are up 45% year to date,” says McKee.

Online sales in 2020 have driven a substantial part of growth at both locations. Meanwhile, the North Division flagship store has gotten a steady facelift throughout the year.

“We’ve made the store more shoppable,” McKee says. “And something new here for us is that we’re launching a toy department on Nov. 14.”

As for in-store shopping, McKee says checkout stands will be reconfigured in an effort to create an even more socially distanced experience.

The store recently began offering curbside delivery, and for those customers with medical mask exemptions, The General Store offers full face shields for customers to use, he says.

“We want to be able to maintain full safety for customers and employees,” he says.

Chris White, the store manager at Wheel Sport cycle shop at 9501 N. Newport Highway, in North Spokane, says the company’s four stores have seen a 35.7% increase in revenue this year over 2019.

Chris White, store manager at Wheel Sports’ North Side shop, says sales are up a whopping 340% this year, and some products are difficult to get in stock.

And despite the fact this time of the year is considered off-season for riding bicycles, White says bikes have been a strong holiday gift traditionally.

Wheel Sport operates four stores across the region, and all share each other’s inventory. When asked if he was concerned about the company’s ability to fulfill holiday orders, White says, “Unfortunately, yes. Very few people anticipated this.”

He advises people to shop early for Christmas gifts; the store only recently received a pair of bikes he had ordered in April.

“If you’re going to wait to start shopping after Thanksgiving, then it’s going to be too late,” he asserts.

Mark Schneider, who owns and operates Rambleraven Gear Trader, an outdoor gear and clothing store at 3220 N. Division, says he’s feeling optimistic about a strong consumer holiday shopping season.

Schneider says Rambleraven is currently “fully stocked” with outdoor gear.

Schneider says Rambleraven has picked off traffic from the closing of Mountain Gear, which occurred at the beginning of the year.

“It’s hard to predict tomorrow, but one of the shining stars through the pandemic is the outdoor economic sector,” Schneider says. “There’s been a year-long, pent-up need for people to maintain their sanity.”

The Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation launched its nationwide consumer education campaign encouraging people to shop earlier and safer due to the pandemic.

“We know this has been a year unlike any other,” NRF President and CEO Matthew McShay told the Associated Press in a late October interview. “And we ought to expect that the holiday season will be just as different from normal holiday seasons as the rest of this year has been from normal years.”

Despite the pandemic, the federation projects consumer spending on gifts will be on par with 2019, decreasing by only about $9 per person, while spending on other holiday items, such as decorations, will be up slightly.

“Expected spending remains significantly higher than the five-year average for both those categories. The holiday season is top of mind, with 42% of people saying they plan to start their holiday shopping by the end of October and another 41% in November,” the retail federation says.

NRF estimates the average adult consumer will spend $650 on gifts this year, up from the four-year annual average of $624 from 2016 to 2019. Consumers are expected to spend $230 on nongift holiday items, such as decorations, compared with the $217 annual average from 2016 to 2019.

The only category the retail federation anticipates seeing a decrease in consumer spending is on “other nongift purchases,” down to $117 per consumer compared with the 2016 to 2019 average of $145.

“One in five holiday shoppers say that they typically travel for the holidays but will stay home instead this year,” according to the retail federation. “Over half of those who changed their holiday travel plans said they are likely to spend more on holiday items this year, specifically because they will not be traveling.”

The retail federation says online sales have skyrocketed in 2020, and 60% of its survey respondents say they plan to purchase holiday items online.

Other top holiday shopping destinations for consumers include department stores, mentioned by 45% of respondent, discount stores (43%), and grocery stores or supermarkets (42%), NRF says.

The survey was conducted Oct. 1-Oct. 9 and sampled 7,660 total consumers, according to the retail federation.

Consumer zest for spending is still strong even though as of mid-August, a Business Insider report said retailers were expected to close more than 7,500 stores in 2020 following a record-high closing of more than 9,300 store closings in 2019.

This article first appeared on October 8, 2020 in the Journal of Business. Written by Natasha Nellis.

Company to boost sales, engineering jobs this year

Tamarack Aerospace Group Inc. is continuing its rapid expansion, having nearly tripled its space at its Sandpoint headquarters.

The company has added 3,500 square feet of office space and an additional hangar to its 14,000 square feet of space at 2021 Industrial Drive, near the southern edge of the Sandpoint Airport. The addition of a third hangar, which company President Jacob Klinginsmith estimates is about 5,600 square feet, brings the company’s total hangar space to roughly 23,000 square feet.

“The big-picture objective with the expansion is making room for R&D,” he says. “As a technology company our intent and plan is to take our game changing technology and do it on other platforms.”

The company manufactures and installs active winglets, which are designed to be attached to wingtips to boost fuel efficiency by increasing lift and reducing drag.

Currently, the winglets are designed to be installed on Cessna CitationJets, but Klinginsmith says Tamarack is exploring expanding the product to fit other types of aircraft, from the CitationJets up to Boeing airplanes.

With the addition of more research and development space, the company also plans to hire five sales and engineering employees, with the expectation of hiring an additional five engineers by year-end, according to a company press release.

Tamarack has 27 employees.

Klinginsmith declines to disclose sales figures, but says he expects this year’s sales will be up compared with last year.

“The economy has really increased the demand for charter flights,” he says. “People are looking for less contact with others, so our charter customer base is growing. People are looking at adding winglets to get more out of their aircraft.”

He adds that the increasing popularity of charter flights has bolstered the company’s sales.

Earlier this year, the company also established its first international outpost at the London-Oxford Airport. Tamarack partnered with Jet Maintenance International, an airline-based asset management company based in Alexandria, Virginia, to lease an 18,000-square-foot hangar on the airport property.

This article first appeared in The Spokesman Review on Friday September 25, 2020. Written by Amy Edelen. 

Spokane-based Spiceology has secured a $4.7 million round of Series A funding, led by grocery and retail executive Ty Bennett with participation by Kickstart Funds III and IV, a group of angel investors and the Cowles Co., which publishes The Spokesman-Review.

“I have been an investor in Spiceology since the early days and had the privilege of watching the company elevate above the thousands of small spice purveyors in the market,” Ty Bennett, founder and former CEO of Jacent, said in a statement. “I look forward to bringing my retail and grocery experience to the table to help Spiceology continue to delight customers and find new ways of meeting customers where they shop.”

The privately held spice company will use the funding to bring process automation to its SpiceLab operations, and advance its sales and marketing efforts. The SpiceLab is where spice blends are formulated and packaged with the company’s trademarked “periodic table of flavor” labels, according to a company release.

Series A funding is the first round of investment funding after seed funding. It typically involves venture capital firms and is for startups that have established growth.

Spiceology, founded in 2013, was recently named to Inc. Magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the nation. It ranked 1,081 on the list with a three-year revenue growth of 423%.

The company has steadily grown its operations by creating recipes and how-to videos for customers as well as collaborating with chefs and food influencers on new product lines.

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Spiceology experienced an uptick in spice sales as more people began preparing meals at home.

Bennett has joined Spiceology’s board of directors. The company also hired Roger Landrum as senior vice president of global supply chain and operations, the release said.

Landrum was formerly the senior director of supply chain, risk management and procurement at Litehouse Foods, a Sandpoint-based $300 million salad dressing and herb manufacturer.

“Spiceology’s formula is focusing on quality and innovation at scale. By doing so, we’re bringing life into a very tired category that’s sorely in need of a fresh alternative,” Chip Overstreet, president and CEO of Spiceology, said in a statement.

“There’s nothing more core to our lives than eating, and we bring smiles to people’s faces when they realize how much better every meal can be with a simple sprinkle of Spiceology goodness.”

by Derek Deis

Buildings made with cross laminated timber are already commonplace in Europe, but it’s a relatively new concept here. So to say Russ Vaagen, whose family has owned Vaagen Brothers Lumber for more than 70 years, is excited about his new venture would be an understatement.

“We could put this as the mass timber capital of North America eventually,” said Vaagen, the CEO and founder of Vaagen Timbers.

Cross laminated timber is an eco-friendly, wood panel product made from gluing layers of lumber together. Vaagen says it’s kind of like a Lego set.

“We’re actually putting together a kit that a builder can do very rapidly, high quality and goes together the same way every time,” explained Vaagen. “And so, it’s going to speed construction time up, it’s going to provide a much higher quality build, we’re going to be much more energy efficient.”

Vaagen Timbers can build its CLT panels up to 60 feet wide with varying depths. And Vaagen says it’s one-fifth the weight of steel and concrete with the same structural strength.

“So we’ll have a lighter, more nimble building. It’ll also be much better equipped to handle seismic shifts.”

And Vaagen says it can be used for all sorts of applications, including, “Mid-rise structures for commercial buildings, apartments and even homes.”

CLT panels start with pieces of lumber on the finger jointer machine.

“We take knives and we make a set of fingers. And they do just as it says, they joint together. And then we use pressure and an adhesive to tie those together,” said Vaagen.

After the wood is planed, it goes to the layup line, where Vaagen says those pieces of lumber get turned into panels.

“So we take four feet of wood, we lift it up all together, put it on the conveyor, goes and gets a layer of glue.”

A set of vacuums then lifts and places each additional layer.

“Sets it on top of that glued layer 90 degrees to the other layer, comes back through the glue, gets another long layer set back on it.”

The now heat cured panels then get cut by giant saws on the CNC line.

“We’re cleaning the cuts, we’re making the connections to go panel to panel if we’re doing a wall or a floor system,” said Vaagen.

After sanding, they’re ready to be shipped to customers.

One of the first places you’ll be able to see Vaagen Timbers’ CLT put to use is in Spokane’s Perry District, where Blockhouse – Life is building a 14 unit modular structure using CLT.”

“So we’ll make boxes basically that can be repeatable, but they can be customized,” said Vaagen. “And it’s modular. So ultimately, you could pick it up and move it and put it someplace else.”

Vaagen says Spokane, and Washington as a whole, are poised to be leaders in CLT and mass timber products. And that has him excited about Vaagen Timbers’ potential for growth.

“There’s just no losers. Everybody wins. And we’re going to be offering incredible structures for people to build with for years to come.”

The following are projects, initiatives and economic developments are making news in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.


SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington Department of Commerce has provided a $100,000 grant to support expansion and workforce training needs of SkyOne Aerospace. Founded in the Spokane Valley in 2015 with three employees, SkyOne Aerospace, specializes in customer-oriented repair and overhaul of instruments, avionics, electronics, mechanical units and hydraulic units of military aerospace aftermarket. SkyOne will purchase new equipment to meet expansion needs and hire additional skilled technicians with military aerospace experience. The company will retain 18 jobs and create 45 new jobs over the course of the next three years. Presently, 40 percent of SkyOne’s workforce are veterans, and the company is committed to hiring more, mostly from Fairchild Airforce Base. Read more on the SkyOne website.

COEUR d’ALENE, Idaho — Idaho Central Credit Union, ranked 2nd by Forbes’ 2020 Customer Satisfaction Survey, opened a branch in Coeur d’Alene at 1327 W. Appleway Avenue. This is Idaho Central’s 38th location in Idaho. The 8,600-square-foot branch has a drive-through with three lanes, an ATM and a video booth in the corner for members to access our VideoChat services. See more about ICCU’s Appleway Branch here.

PULLMAN, Wash. — With the recent successful completion of the $155M runway realignment project at the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport (PUW), work recently began on the design and construction of a new terminal. In early August, the PUW Airport Board created a Terminal Advisory Committee to help gather community feedback and help shape the design of the $35 – 50M project. Committee members include community and university officials, key business leaders and other interest. Contact the PUW for more information.

MOSCOW, Idaho — Work continues on identifying and developing additional water supplies for the Palouse Region. Under the direction of the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee (PBAC), an organization which includes the cities of Pullman, WA, and Moscow, ID, Latah and Whitman counties, University of Idaho, and Washington State University, a $150,000 contract was recently awarded to Alta Science and Engineering, Inc., of Moscow, ID. The study will focus on refinement of potential water supply alternatives as well as interim measure to help identify and develop additional water supplies within the Palouse Basin. Contact PBAC for more information.

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — The Spokesman-Review has moved its printing operation to a new facility in Spokane Valley. It is now being printed on a press that was built in the early 2000s, and used to print the New York Times in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A second press, expected to come online this summer, will give the new company, Northwest Offset Printing, a way to print magazine-quality products. Read more in this Spokesman-Review article.

KELLOGG, Idaho —The Silver Valley Community WIFI CO-OP has recently launched to provide community Wi-Fi and free internet connections to Kellogg, Wallace, Pinehurst and Cataldo for residents to do remote learning, apply for essential services, pay bills, and perform other essential tasks. See more at

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — Spokane-based GL8 Hospitality LLC is breaking ground this week on a Tru by Hilton property in Spokane Valley, marking the brand’s first in the state. The 43,000-square-foot, four-story building will be at 13509 E. Mansfield Ave., east of CenterPlace Regional Event Center. The hotel, which will have 92 guest rooms, is expected to open in November 2020. See the full story here.

LEWISTON, Idaho – The Port of Lewiston welcomes Tsceminicum Bottling Company as its newest tenant. The full-service beverage and bottling factory produces Artesian Fusion Brand products in Aluminum, 500ml PET and PHA fully biodegradable plastic bottles, using water directly from their own Artesian well located at their factory, providing nutrient rich minerals from a deep and ancient aquifer. The bottling factory located on Colonel Wright Way will create eight full time and two part time jobs. Artesian Fusion brand products will be available in regional grocery stores and distributed through Idaho. More on Artesian Fusion here.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Palo Alto, California-based electric car manufacturer Tesla Inc. has established a service center in East Spokane.  The company is planning to install 10 more superchargers in Washington, according to its website.  Electric vehicles have grown in popularity in Washington in recent years, with over 42,500 plug-in electric vehicles registered in the state as of December 2018, according to the Washington state Department of Licensing. Over 810 of those were registered in Spokane County. Read more here.

MULLAN, Idaho — Lucky Friday mine, located near Mullan, produced 568,537 ounces of silver in the second quarter of 2020 and expects to reach full production by year-end. Lucky Friday is owned and operate by Coeur d’Alene-based Hecla Mining Co, and is the closest mine to Spokane. A Canadian company is a new investor in Hecla. Hecla Mining Co. has silver mines in Idaho, Alaska, and Mexico, as well as gold mines in Nevada and Quebec. Read the full article in the Journal of Business.

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — Etailz has secured $25 million in debt financing to develop new products, expand inventory and grow retail partnerships. The new round of financing will specifically allow the Spokane Valley-based company – which partners with third-party sellers to grow their brands on Amazon, eBay and Walmart – to improve its proprietary software that discovers product trends, identifies new distributors and optimizes price positioning decisions. Etailz was founded in 2008 by Gonzaga University graduate Josh Neblett, his wife, Sarah, and angel investor Tom Simpson. Trans World Entertainment, a publicly traded company, acquired etailz in 2016 for $75 million. Etailz relocated to its 40,000-square-foot Spokane Valley headquarters in 2018. Read more here.


Inland Northwest Economic Alliance (INEA) is a consortium of fourteen economic development agencies representing fifteen counties in the North Idaho/Eastern Washington region. The collaborative effort is aimed at building economic growth through enhancing the brand recognition of the Inland Northwest and its communities and showcasing its business value.  To learn more, visit