Monthly Archives: February 2009

For McLaughlin, It’s All About the Wheels

Real-estate broker Penny McLaughlin is known for her trucks, but she’s also helped drive 313 foster kids to new beginnings.


By Rachel Pritchett


If there’s been one constant in Penny McLaughlin’s life, it’s been the vans, motorhomes and trucks she’s used to take so many people on their own life journeys.

McLaughlin today is known to locals as the real-estate broker with the small fleet of trucks, each with an enormous Lincoln penny on the side with her bunned profile, and the words “Penny’s Team.”

But for years, she used a 14-passenger van to haul a total of 313 foster children to their activities. She used that same kid-filled van in a campaign that changed one state’s foster laws forever. She went through a couple of motorhomes toting foster kids on a multi-state vacation.

Today, community groups borrow her trucks to move sports-team equipment or to collect discarded Christmas trees.

“It’s all free; they put gas in it,” said McLaughlin, now in her 60s.

Raised in upstate New York, McLaughlin was a housewife when she and husband Bill got into foster care in Fayetteville, Ark., where he worked for Tyson Foods.

With two small sons in the early ’70s, the couple wanted a girl.

A caseworker saw potential in the couple, and placed three girls, 11,13 and 16, with them. Raised in deep rural Arkansas, they were sexually abused by their father. They washed in creeks and didn’t know how to operate hot- and cold-water spigots or operate a toaster.

McLaughlin taught them basic life skills.

“It was very rewarding watching the grow and become what I call normal,” McLaughlin said.

The girls went on with their lives, and from Arkansas, Penny and Bill moved to Omaha, Neb., and into a house with eight bedrooms and six bathrooms.

By now, fosters kids were coming eight, 10 at a time.

“There was always one more,” she said.

McLaughlin ran a tight ship. Everyone pitched in on the laundry. Social-work students from a nearby university pitched in, taking the kids to therapy and family visits. Some kids stayed days, some stayed years.

McLaughlin by now was immersed in Nebraska’s overburdened foster-care system, and saw many kids simple not getting resolution to their cases.

With the help of a few others, she created legislation calling for citizen-review boards that would make recommendations to the state social-service agency on placement of foster children.

Every Wednesday, McLaughlin would pull her 10 foster kids out of school, dress them up, pile them in the van with a couple of other adults and drive to Lincoln, Nebraska’s capital. Each of the kids was assigned a senator; they fanned out and lobbied all day.

Soon, McLaughlin had Omaha and Lincoln media in tow, all fascinated about the woman and her ragtag team of teen lobbyists.

McLaughlin could not be ignored.

“They pushed. They made it happen in the first time around,” said Carol Schrader of Omaha, then a TV news anchor.

Today, 26 years after the citizen boards were formed, the cases of nearly 62,000 foster kids have been reviewed and pushed forward by the boards McLaughlin helped set up.

Bill died of cancer, and McLaughlin couldn’t continue as a foster parent on her own. But before it was over in the early ’80s, she piled eight of her kids into her motorhome and set out for vacation in Washington, where she had lived briefly earlier.

The motorhome died in Grants Pass, Ore., but she bought another one, and in a few short days, her foster kids saw the ocean for the first time and went dashing into the breakers.

“When we pulled up at Ocean Shores, the hoots and the hollers, you’d think I was killing ’em,” she said. “Moments like that make all the hard times forgotten.”

McLaughlin ended up settling on Bainbridge Island, and in order to get enough money to send her own boys to college, she went into real estate. She worked with a few other firms on Bainbridge and in Poulsbo before starting Penny’s Team.

For the 17 years she’s had trucks, they’ve been a bone of contention between her and her bosses, afraid of liability.

“Therefore my own company and my own trucks,” she said.

She views her business like she did foster care — helping people move on to a better situation in life.

Ironically, for all the people she’s helped, McLaughlin finds herself alone today. Working with people is a good antidote.

“Retire and do what? By yourself? I don’t think so,” she said.








KEDA Becoming Information Central on Stimulus

By Rachel Pritchett

Kitsap’s economic-development chief is urging business owners to prepare now to take advantage of the potentially many millions of dollars in federal stimulus money that could rain down locally.

For contractors, that means getting proper registration to bid if they don’t have it, and staying current on information that will begin to flow, said Bill Stewart, director of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance. 

It might even mean identifying businesses in other locales that could be contract recipients, and being ready sell supplies and services to them.

“It may be someone they haven’t sold to before,” Stewart said.

Stewart is turning his offices off Kitsap Way into Information Central for businesses hungry for a slice of the $787 billion recession-revival pie expected to be sent soon to President Barack Obama. He has begun to send out e-mail updates on the stimulus to more than 600 local recipients.

No one knows quite yet which Kitsap projects will be included in the package of historic proportion — stimulus funding for about $300 million worth of local projects was asked for.

“This is part of the challenge … trying to figure out how and where money is going to flow,” Stewart said.

But it’s a good bet specifics on shovel-ready road projects will be first to come out, he said.

Stewart’s big fear is that the spigot will turn off before the money gets to Kitsap. 

But he’s optimistic.

“I hope and expect that there’s going to be recognizable benefit to the Kitsap Peninsula,” he said.

Stewart was to spend a good chunk of this weekend pouring through the 1,071 pages of the plan. 


The stimulus plan, on the brink of final passage Friday night in Congress, included $281 billion in tax cuts for individuals and businesses and more than a half-trillion dollars in government spending for infrastructure, health care and help for cash-starved state governments, according to the Associated Press.

Proponents say 3.5 million jobs would be saved or created.

Port Madison Enterprises is Diggin’ It



Update: Also Drury Construction and Sound Excavation were involved.

I’ve received word that Port Madison Enterprises, the business arm of the Suquamish Tribe, has acquired Liberty Bay Excavating. The two go way back; the Poulsbo digger performed improvements for PME and the tribe at Kiana Lodge and the Masi Shop, as well as the emerging community house.

More coming … PME CEO Russ Steele is one of the busier persons I know, but he always gets back to me.


Pope Resources Reports Difficult Quarter, Year

By Rachel Pritchett


Pope Resources blamed a 50-year low in housing starts for a net loss of $1.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2008.

That compares to net income of $6.3 million for the same period in 2007.

Net income for the Poulsbo-based timber and development company for all of 2008 totaled $1.2 million, or 25 cents per diluted ownership unit, sharply down from $15.5 million for 2007, or $3.21 per unit, according to a statement.

Anticipating that 2008 would be a very tough year, Pope Resource leaders decided a year ago to reduce harvest volume by 35 percent, according to David L. Nunes, president and CEO.

“Prices for our logs reflect the fact that new housing starts are at a 50-year low, and, as a result, sawmill operating rates are also at historic lows,” he said.

Nunes blamed the credit crisis for a sharp decline in demand for its raw land.

He expects another tough year in 2009.

The company will continue to hold its timber harvest 30 percent below its long-term sustainability level, allowing its trees to get bigger and more valuable until the business cycle improves. Total harvest this year is expected to be 37 million board feet.

Pope Resources and its subsidiaries, Olympic Resource Management and Olympic Property Group, own or manage 400,000 acres of timberland and development property in Washington and Oregon. 

Pope’s fourth-quarter report can be read at

Kitsap Economic Development Chief Says, ‘Get Ready’


Bill Stewart, director of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance, on Wednesday put out an all-points bulletins that local businesses and others like local governments should prepare now to be in position to receive stimulus money.

That includes getting into position to bid on contracts and staying abreast of when and how that money will rain down.

“We don’t yet know how much money and for what purpose we may benefit, but we want to maximize any economic opportunities that may emerge,” Stewart wrote.

An agreement was reached this week n Congress on the $790 billion package. Final votes in the U.S. Senate and House are expected Friday and President Obama could sign over the long weekend.

In a story on Sunday, the Kitsap Sun identified dozens of prospective projects backers hope will get a pice of the pie, ranging from $170,000 interior renovation of a senior center to getting sewer service from Bremerton National Airport to the city’s wastewater treatment facility near the intersection of Highways 3 and 16.

Stewart is watchdogging stimulus developments. You can contact him at (360) 377-9599. I, too, am watching developments. Call me at (360) 475-3783.

Rachel Pritchett

New Jobless Claims Drop Slightly; Retail Sales Up, But May Not Last

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 5 million Americans continued to draw jobless benefits late last month, and new requests again exceeded 600,000 as companies lay off scores of workers amid a deepening recession.

In slightly better economic news, retail sales rose unexpectedly in January, reversing six months of decline and following a dismal holiday season. But analysts said the jump was unlikely to last, partly because of the weak job market.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of initial jobless benefit claims dropped to a seasonally-adjusted 623,000, from an upwardly revised figure of 631,000 the previous week. The latest tally still was above analysts’ expectations of 610,000 claims.

And in a sign that laid-off workers are having difficulty finding new work, the number of people claiming benefits for more than one week rose to 4.81 million from 4.78 million, the highest total since records began in 1967. The continuing claims data lag new claims by a week.

An additional 1.5 million people are receiving benefits under an extended unemployment compensation program approved by Congress last year, bringing the total number of recipients to 6.3 million.

Continuing claims are up sharply from a year ago, when the figure was 2.7 million.

“The smaller-than-expected decline suggests that the recent spike in claims reflects a fundamental deterioration in labor market conditions rather than statistical noise,” David Resler, chief economist at Nomura Securities, wrote in a research note.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported Thursday that retail sales jumped 1 percent in January, defying expectations of a 0.8 percent drop. The rise in sales follows a 3 percent plunge in December, which marked the weakest holiday selling season since at least 1969.

But higher gasoline prices and sales, and buyers snapping up other items on post-holiday discounts appeared to aid last month’s results.

“This is a big surprise, though the net rise in sales is less impressive than it looks because (December and November) were revised down by 0.3 percent each,” Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote in a research note. “The headline relief today is welcome but it is unlikely to last.”

Business inventories, meanwhile, plummeted in December by the largest amount in seven years as companies sought to cut stockpiles in response to the dismal holiday season. The Commerce Department said inventories dropped by 1.3 percent, far worse than the 0.9 percent analysts expected.

The financial markets fell on the news. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped more than 170 points in midday trading, and broader indices also declined.

The 631,000 new jobless claims filed two weeks ago was the highest tally since October 1982, when the economy was emerging from a steep recession, though the labor force has grown by about half since then.

The four-week average of claims, which smooths out fluctuations, rose by 24,000 to 607,500, the first time that figure has topped 600,000 in the current recession.

Economists consider jobless claims a timely, if volatile, indicator of the health of the labor markets and broader economy. A year ago, initial claims stood at 339,000.

Companies from a range of sectors are hemorrhaging jobs as the recession worsens. Consumers have cut back on their spending in response to declining home values and plummeting stock portfolios, and businesses also are tightening their belts.

On Wednesday, Boston-based money manager Putnam Investments said it would cut 260 jobs, or about 10 percent of its work force.

A day earlier, General Motors said it would cut 10,000 salaried jobs, or 14 percent of its white-collar employees. FedEx Corp. said Monday it is eliminating 900 positions.

Among the states, California saw the biggest increase in jobless claims, a jump of 20,000 that it attributed to layoffs in construction and service industries. The next largest increases were in: North Carolina, with 8,663; Ohio, with 4,738; Georgia’s 4,392; and Kansas, with 3,232.

Virginia saw the largest drop in claims, a decline of 1,937, which it attributed to fewer layoffs in manufacturing. Drops of 1,000 or more also were reported in New Jersey, Missouri, Oklahoma and Connecticut.

Kitsap Gas Continues Rise, as Oil Sinks Lower

Local unleaded a penny higher today than yesterday, at $2.17. Rachel

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Oil prices slid closer to a new multiyear low Thursday because of growing doubts that the $789 billion stimulus package will reinvigorate the economy and demand for energy.

Retail gas prices, meanwhile, reached a new high for 2009 on Thursday and appeared headed back to $2 a gallon as refiners cut back on production.

Light, sweet crude for March delivery fell 59 cents to $35.35 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract has closed lower every day this week and on Thursday, dipped as low as $34.26.

There were also more signs of economic weakness.

The number of people requesting first-time unemployment benefits dropped slightly last week, but remained near a 26-year high as companies lay off thousands of workers amid a deepening recession. The Commerce Department said the number of initial jobless benefit claims dropped to a seasonally adjusted 623,000, from an upwardly revised figure of 631,000 the previous week. The latest tally still was above analysts’ expectations of 610,00 claims.

The 631,000 figure was the highest number since October 1982, when the economy was emerging from a steep recession, though the labor force has grown by about half since then.

In a sign that laid-off workers are having difficulty finding new work, the number of people claiming benefits for more than one week rose to 4.81 million from 4.78 million, the highest total since records began in 1967. The continuing claims data lags the new claims numbers by one week.

Retail sales surprised analysts by rising 1 percent in January, reversing a six-month trend. Analysts said the rise was unlikely to last though and that much of the increase was due to rising gasoline prices.

Moving with lightning speed, the Democratic-controlled Congress and White House agreed Wednesday on a compromise $790 billion economic stimulus bill designed to create millions of jobs. President Barack Obama could sign the measure within days.

Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said it is unclear how much oil will benefit from the stimulus package and the Treasury Department’s plan announced earlier this week to spend more than $1 trillion to help remove banks’ soured assets from their books and unclog the credit markets.

“Just like the stock market, there’s a feeling of the malaise because of a lack of definition,” he said.

He said he is looking for oil prices to retest multiyear lows of $32.70 reached in January.

While oil prices have been sliding, gas prices have been on the move. Prices at the pump rose 1.2 cents overnight to $1.95 nationwide, the highest level since Thanksgiving, according to auto club AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express.

Prices are 34 cents higher than they were when they bottomed on Dec. 31, but still $1.02 below year-ago levels.

The Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that crude inventories for the week ended Friday jumped 4.7 million barrels to 350.8 million barrels, surpassing the expectations of analysts surveyed by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos., who expected a boost of 3.4 million barrels. Including last week’s buildup, crude inventories have increased by more than 30 million barrels in the past five weeks.

Oil trader and analyst Stephen Schork said inventories are now 16.5 percent above year-ago levels and within 10.5 percent of the all-time high of 391.9 million barrel set in late summer of 1990 just before Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Gasoline inventories last week, however, slipped by 2.6 million barrels, or 1.2 percent, and demand for the four weeks ended Friday rose 0.1 to 8.8 million barrel a day, suggesting that more people may be spending money on fuel. Analysts expected stockpiles of the motor fuel to rise by 900,000 barrels.

U.S. refineries ran at 81.6 percent of total capacity on average, a drop of 1.9 percent from the prior week. Analysts expected capacity to slip to 83 percent. Refiners took in 214,000 fewer barrels of crude last week and gasoline production fell, the EIA reported.

The companies that own refineries are seeing the same dour headlines about job losses, and have slashed production as they try do match supply with demand. They also have curtailed production for maintenance typically performed this time of year.

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service, said his forecast is for gas to hit $2 to $2.50 a gallon. He said gasoline now is nearly $20 a barrel above crude prices east of the Rocky Mountains and nearly $40 in California.

But he said the high refinery margins for gasoline will not last.

EIA said Thursday that natural gas storage levels in the U.S. dropped less than expected last week, but remain above year-ago levels. In its weekly report, EIA said inventories held in underground storage in the lower 48 states fell by 159 billion cubic feet to about 2.02 trillion cubic feet for the week ended Friday.

Analysts had expected a drop of 165 billion to 170 billion cubic feet, according to a survey by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.

In other Nymex trading, gasoline futures rose less than a penny to $1.278 a gallon, as did heating oil, which rose to $1.3195 a gallon. Natural gas for March delivery fell 4.1 cents to $4.491 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, the March Brent contract rose 22 cents to $44.50 on the ICE Futures exchange.

Financial Awareness Even Set for Feb. 21

By Rachel Pritchett


Anyone who wants to improve their financial literacy for free will have an opportunity at the first “Super Saturday Event” at the Westpark Community Center.

A number of experts will be on hand. Some from AARP will offer free tax preparation. Experts also will dispense advice on credit counseling and personal banking, financial aid for college, low-income housing and starting a business.

It is scheduled for noon to 4:30 p.m. Saturday; the center is at 110 Russell Road.

The sponsor is the Asset Building Coalition of Kitsap, formed last year to increase financial literacy among Kitsap’s low-income population.

Group members seek to increase public awareness on the tax code’s earned income tax credit, which can result in dollars put in the pockets of working people who don’t earn a lot.

Free credit reports also will be available at the event.

Participants include American Financial, Habitat for Humanity of Kitsap County, Olympic College, Kitsap Credit Union, Bremerton Housing Authority, Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority, Washington CASH, Republic Mortgage, Kitsap Community Resources, United Way of Kitsap County and the state Department of Social and Health Services.

For more information, call the center at (360) 479-8108.

Food Banks Grapple with Recalls

During a time of great need, Kitsap food banks are being forced to toss out potentially tainted items, thanks to a nationwide salmonella scare.

By Rachel Pritchett


he scare over tainted peanuts is forcing local food banks to destroy hundreds of pounds of food at a time when the need for food has never been more acute.

At the cramped Central Kitsap Food Bank, boxes of granola bars, dry-roasted peanuts, cookies and ice-cream take up valuable space before weary volunteers tote them outside. There, to prevent people and wild creatures from getting to the food, volunteers smash up the boxes, pour water on them, stuff everything into heavy-duty trash bags and chuck them into a Dumpster, which they lock.

It goes against everything a food bank stands for, but operators have no choice, said Kathy Ungren, a staffer at the food bank.

“It’s made an incredible amount of work,” said Ungren, who estimates the food bank has been forced to toss hundreds of pounds of food in recent weeks, as a long list of recalled items grows even longer.  

As of late Wednesday, 1,914 products with peanut ingredients were on the Food and Drug Administration’s recall list. 

Also on Wednesday, the number of deaths linked to salmonella rose to nine nationwide. Six hundred people have been sickened from the salmonella outbreak.  

The FDA last week said the Peanut Corp. of America of Lynchburg, Va., knowingly shipped salmonella-laced products from one of its plants.

The massive recall comes when local food banks are reporting as much as 20 percent higher demand this year over last year.

About the only peanut product on local food-bank shelves now is peanut butter with familiar brands like Skippy and Jif, which get their ingredients from unaffected suppliers.

The recall also has overwhelmed staff and volunteers at the county’s biggest food bank, Bremerton Foodline. Executive Director Monica Bernhard also has overseen disposal of hundreds of pounds of food.

“It’s just sad to see a product like that that we can’t put out,” she said.

As many as 20 banana boxes stuffed with recalled peanut products like peanut-butter dog biscuits and Thai peanut sauce sit in the warehouse at South Kitsap Helpline. Workers hope they will be able to put some of it back on the shelf when the recalls subside, Executive Director Jennifer Hardison said.

That won’t happen soon. Local food banks are getting daily updates of newly recalled items from Food Lifeline of Seattle, which supplies 300 Western Washington food banks and is now the chief distributor of recall information.

Food Lifeline recently had to destroy more than 900 pounds of food it had already distributed to 14 food banks. Workers at the state’s largest hunger-relief agency on Wednesday were sorting through 1,500 pounds of food, removing it from its packaging, then loading it up to be sent to a composter.

“All this food could potentially be feeding hungry people,” said Food Lifeline spokeswoman Camille Wells.

The supplier is doing everything it can to avoid distributing items on the recall list to food banks, Wells added.

Despite having to set aside or destroy food, local food banks say they are still doing everything they can to feed the hungry.

The nine main food banks in Kitsap County distributed 450,000 pounds of food to 6,000 people in December, according to Food Lifeline.

Stocks React Favorably to Agreement

Exchange closed at 7,939 Wednesday, up 54. Rachel

NEW YORK (AP) — Investors shuttled between optimism and pessimism Wednesday, finally betting that the government might help the economy out of recession after all.

News late in the session that key lawmakers agreed on a $790 billion economic stimulus plan sent stocks moderately higher in a partial rebound from a plunge Tuesday that took the Dow Jones industrials down 382 points. Stocks meandered for much of Wednesday’s trading as investors struggled for a second day over what to make of developments in Washington.

The government has been the biggest player on Wall Street this week.

Anthony Conroy, managing director and head trader for BNY ConvergEx Group, said investors are simply trying to keep ahead of the rush of news about the banking system and the economy.

“I think everybody is trying to get through all this news,” he said. “Everybody has to digest all the tidbits of information that are coming out.”

“Everybody is looking for clarity, good, bad or indifferent,” Conroy said.

Stocks had plummeted Tuesday as investors showed their frustration with what many saw as a lack of detail from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner about the latest version of the government’s bank bailout plan.

On Wednesday, the uncertainty continued. Investors snapped up heavily beaten-down bank stocks as chief executives of the nation’s top banks appeared before a House committee to answer questions about how they have used more than $160 billion in taxpayer money to date.

But a sustained turn higher didn’t come until key members of the Senate announced a deal on the stimulus bill and said President Barack Obama could sign it within days. The measure includes provisions for unemployment benefits, food stamps, health coverage and more. It also includes billions for states facing yawning budget gaps.

Investors have been eager for any signals that the economy is set to recover. Supporters hope the bill’s mix of spending and tax cuts will increase consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

But investors are still cautious. Wednesday’s 51-point rise in the Dow is “not a strong statement here,” said Kim Caughey, equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group. “More information is what we need. What I mean by that is what exactly has been agreed to with the stimulus plan.”

And Wall Street remains nervous about how, exactly, Geithner’s financial rescue plan will work out: how it will assess the banks, how it will price their bad assets, and how it will recreate a market for those assets.

Investors “reacted to bad news yesterday. There wasn’t more bad news today,” Caughey said. “People didn’t have a good sleep and say ‘Whew, was I wrong yesterday.”’

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 50.65, or 0.64 percent, to 7,939.53.

Broader stock indicators also rose. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 6.58, or 0.80 percent, to 833.74, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 5.77, or 0.38 percent, to 1,530.50.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 2.18, or 0.49 percent, to 447.95.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange, where consolidated volume came to 5.14 billion shares compared with 6.68 billion shares traded Tuesday.

Bond prices were mixed. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 2.76 percent from 2.82 percent late Tuesday. The yield on the three-month T-bill, considered one of the safest investments, fell to 0.29 percent from 0.30 percent late Tuesday.

Light, sweet crude for March delivery fell $1.61 to settle at $35.94 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The dollar was mixed against other major currencies. Gold prices rose again Wednesday, bringing their two-day gain to nearly 6 percent.

Philip S. Dow, managing director of equity strategy at RBC Wealth Management, said investors are eager for any insights into which banks might survive and which others might not. He said the plan announced Tuesday didn’t help investors answer that question.

“Somebody has to take some losses,” he said. “The market is hungry for some kind of a plan with very specific steps to it and what we got was nothing of the order.”

Bank of America Corp. rose 51 cents, or 9.2 percent, to $6.07, while JPMorgan Chase & Co. rose $1.47, or 6 percent, to $26.09. State Street Corp. rose $1.87, or 7 percent, to $28.48.

Energy stocks fell as oil slid. Exxon Mobil Corp. fell $1.56, or 2.1 percent, to $74.58, while Devon Energy Corp. fell $3.57, or 6.4 percent, to $52.63.

Meanwhile, Research in Motion Ltd. weighed on the technology-heavy Nasdaq. The maker of BlackBerry devices warned after the end of trading Tuesday that its fourth-quarter earnings likely will come in at the low end of its forecast. The stock fell $8.28, or 14.5 percent, to $48.76.

Overseas, Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.50 percent, Germany’s DAX index gained 0.54 percent, and France’s CAC-40 rose 0.23 percent.