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Friday, January 4, 2008
Local breaking business news prepared by Business Examiner staff.

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State reports on 2007 economy
Investigations of The HealthMarkets reveals problems
State uncovers nationwide cell-phone scam
Jamba Juice celebrates major milestone
Heritage CEO to ring NASDAQ opening bell
Around the Sound
State reports on 2007 economy
The state Employment Security Department’s “2007 Washington State Labor Market and Economic Report” notes that 2007 was a good year for employment, construction, and professional and business services in Washington. Although the housing market did weaken in Washington, it fared better than most of the rest of the nation.

Wage statistics are not yet available for 2007. Looking back to the previous year, the report found that there were many new jobs on both the lower and upper ends of the wage scale in 2006, although wages varied widely across the state.

In 2006, King, Benton and Snohomish counties topped the state median of $18.66 per hour, while Thurston came close. Okanogan had the lowest median wage. Of the 18 lowest-wage counties, 17 were located east of the Cascades.

Investigations of The HealthMarkets reveals problems
A national, multi-state market conduct examination of The HealthMarkets Inc. and its affiliated companies has found multiple problems involving consumer disclosures, oversight and training of agents, claims handling, and complaint handling practices.

The HealthMarkets — formerly UICI — companies examined include: MEGA Life and Health Insurance Co., Mid-West National Life Insurance Company of Tennessee and Chesapeake Life Insurance Co.

The multi-state examination was initiated in 2005 by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and led by state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and Alaska Division of Insurance Director Linda Hall. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia participated in the examination.

In a 112-page report detailing the examination, regulators cited multiple and numerous deficiencies in five major areas of the companies’ operations: oversight, communication, monitoring and training of agents; processing and handling of claims made by policyholders; disclosure of relationships with membership associations and affiliated companies to consumers and policyholders; handling of policyholder complaints and grievances; and adherence to a compliance plan.

With the conduct portion of the examination completed, a multi-state settlement group headed by Washington and Alaska will be convened to determine what enforcement actions will be applied to the companies, and how the companies can improve the problems and issues identified in the report. There are approximately 72,900 policyholders in Washington.

State uncovers nationwide cell-phone scam
December marked the 13th straight month of small business hiring growth, according to the recently released SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard. The scorecard tracks small business hiring and pay statistics. Salaries were also up in all four regions – the Midwest, West, Northeast and South.

In a SurePayroll survey of small business owners, 80.8 percent indicated that they were not hiring new employees in December. 10.4 percent were hiring new employees, and the remaining 8.8 percent were downsizing. Salary demands appear to be easing, with 38.2 percent of respondents indicated that they have to pay more to hire an employee this year than last year. Just a month ago, that statistic stood at 52.8 percent.

The West continues to lead the country in hiring and salary growth. In Washington, small business hiring is up 11.9 percent and pay has increased 8.1 percent. To read the complete Scorecard, visit www.surepayroll.com.

Jamba Juice celebrates major milestone
Jamba Juice recently announced the opening of its 500th company-owned store in Gig Harbor on Dec. 27.

“This is a significant milestone for Jamba Juice as we continue to grow and expand nationwide, further increasing the accessibility and awareness of the Jamba brand,” said Paul Clayton, chief executive officer of Jamba Juice. “In 2007 we opened more than 100 stores across the country, 21 of which were in the Pacific Northwest. We will continue to open company-owned stores in our traditional format, and look to expand into airports and college campuses to meet the needs of our customers.”

The South Sound store is located in Gig Harbor, at 4709 Point Fosdick Dr. NW.

Heritage CEO to ring NASDAQ opening bell
Brian Vance, president and CEO of Heritage Financial Corp., will preside over the opening bell to commemorate the company’s 10th anniversary of the bank’s listing on the NASDAQ stock exchange on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

Accompanying Vance will be Don Hinson, senior vice president and chief financial officer, and Ed Cameron, senior vice president and corporate secretary.

A live Web cast of the opening bell will be available at www.nasdaq.com/reference/marketsite_about.stm.

Around the Sound
Youth and Young Adult Media is proud to announce a one-night public premier of their youth-produced documentary video about methamphetamines, titled “My Life’s Notice.” All proceeds from the premier will benefit YAYA Media, a program of Thurston Community Television that helps youth and young adults share their voices with the community through the media arts. My Life’s Notice will premier on Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Capitol Theater in Olympia.

Washington State Department of Transportation will host a Toll Operations Open House on Thursday between 4 and 7 p.m. at the Gig Harbor Civic Center, located at 3510 Grandview Street in Gig Harbor. WSDOT staff will be on hand to answer questions and distribute materials on the first six months of tolling operations on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The public is invited to attend.

The U.S. Small Business Administration will host a Lender Roundtable on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at Woody’s on the Water, located at 1715 Dock Street in Tacoma. The agenda includes review of mortgage lending activity and comments related to small business loan activity and processes.

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