Nordstrom sells credit card portfolio to Canadian bank

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

By: Lars Adam Akerblom

Seattle based upscale retailer Nordstrom, announced last year that it was seeking a financial partner to manage credit card receivables. It has now been announced that Toronto-Dominion Bank is acquiring Nordstrom’s Visa and private label credit card portfolio. The bank is Canada’s second largest and will soon assume control over the portfolio which totals around $2.2 billion in receivables.

Toronto based TD Bank Group markets itself as a technology forward institution and is among the world’s leading online financial services firms, with approximately 9.7 million active online and mobile customers. As of January 31st 2015, the bank’s total assets amounted to CDN$1.1 trillion, equivalent to just under USD$900 billion.

Nordstrom was adamant throughout the process that they maintain control over all aspects of the card that the customer interacts with directly, including the loyalty program. “When we began this process a year ago, our number one goal was to continue to take care of our customers directly,” said Nordstrom co-president Blake Nordstrom in a statement. “We are pleased to meet this goal through our collaboration with TD, a premiere global financial institution and experienced credit card partner.” The detailed terms of the agreement have not been disclosed, but Nordstrom announced in a news release that they will “be entitled to receive a substantial portion of net revenue generated by the credit card accounts.”

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Fred Hutchinson Expands Global Reach through Uganda Cancer Center

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

By: Lars Adam Akerblom

The Puget Sound region’s health care industry continues to expand its global reach. Fred Hutch recently became the most recent institution to broader its horizons as the doors to its 25,000-square-foot cancer treatment center in Kampala, Uganda opened. Others Puget Sound organizations to show major initiative in expanding to the developing world include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and PATH.

The center, called the UCI-Fred Hutch Cancer Centre, was created in partnership with the Uganda Cancer Institute. The new facility is a state-of-the-art-facility that can treat up to 20,000 patients a year and includes adult and pediatric outpatient clinics, a research clinic, laboratories, specimen repository, training center, conference rooms, and a pharmacy. It will significantly increase patient access to cancer diagnostics and treatment in a region where it is desperately needed.

The foremost goal of the treatment and research center is to curb the development of cancerous diseases in a country where sixty percent of cancer cases stem from infectious diseases. A secondary goal is to improve understanding of how cancers differ between different parts of the world. “For reasons not yet understood, the spectrum of cancers seen there are very different than in the U.S.,” said Dr. Corey Casper, head of Fred Hutch’s program in global oncology. “It’s more common and it looks clinically different there than here. Cancers there tend to be more aggressive. Why is that? That’s the question that has to be answered.”

Source:  Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

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Seattle in the running to become a global hotbed for AI startups

Friday, May 15th, 2015

By: Lars Adam Akerblom

Seattle magnates Paul Allen and Oren Etzioni have set their sights on making the Puget Sounds the epicenter of artificial intelligence companies. Together they head the relatively young Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence which just launched a startup incubator intended to attract and support more young companies in the field.

In the present state it is a small operation, housing a grand total of two people. However, both these individuals are well-regarded researchers from outside of Washington State. The fact that the Institute was able to attract these two prominent figures is a powerful indicator of things to come. CEO Oren Etzioni stated that “These guys could have gone anywhere in the world and they chose to come to Seattle. That’s really the impact of Paul Allen’s vision and resources.”

The two inhabitants are: Aria Haghighi, founder of machine learning company Prismatic who came up from San Francisco, and Xuchen Yao, who came from Johns Hopkins University where he focused on researching natural language processing. He has also previously been an intern at Google and Vulcan. While in the incubator, they will both contribute to the institute’s research while developing their own projects.

The hope is that Haghighi’s and Yao’s work will manifest into larger companies that will spin out of the institute. There are no current plans on behalf of the Allen Institute to add more entrepreneurs, rather the plan is to add new talent as the larger companies form and leave the incubator setting. The future of technology and artificial intelligence in Seattle is an exciting prospect, with Paul Allen and others like him continuing to promote the region and attracting global talents.

Source:  Puget Sound Business Journal 

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Costco prove boon to battered economy by embracing Greek olive oil

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

By: Lars Adam Akerblom

Olive oil, famously referred to as “liquid gold” by Greek philosopher Homer, is a staple in both the Mediterranean cuisines and economies. Spain is the world’s biggest producer of the product, followed by Italy and Greece.  After a year with a hot spring, a rainy summer, and a pesky olive-eating fly problem, Italy suffered what the domestic daily La Repubblica called “the black year of Italian olive oil.” While the Spanish harvest suffered from many of the same issues that its Italian counterpart did, Greece was largely spared.

As a result of these factors, Issaquah based wholesale giant, Costco Wholesale has switched to Greece as the source of the extra virgin olive oil for its Kirkland Signature two-liter bottle. The switch could be a much needed boost for the struggling Greek economy. According to the World Bank, Greece exported some $602 million worth of olive oil in 2013, making it the third most valuable export commodity after petroleum products and medicine. Despite ranking third in the world in olive oil output, the Greek variety does not have the same reputation that the Italian or Spanish versions do. This is largely due to that most of the Greek oil is exported to Italy were it is blended with Italian oils and sold at a higher mark-up. While we know all about Greek yoghurt and feta cheese, currently only four percent of Greek olive oil ends up on the U.S. market, despite the fact that the U.S. is the second largest global importer of the product.

The decision by Costco to source its oil from Greece could change all that. Retail and wholesale companies across the globe pay close attention to what the giant does, and any move by Costco has the potential to spark major trends. David Neuman, CEO of the U.S. unit of Greek olive oil company Gaea, says of the recent switch that “certainly it’s going to put Greece on the map, because people watch what Costco does.” To reflect the change, and to further brand the region, the formerly green label and cap of the 2-liter extra virgin oil bottles are now blue and proudly display the oil’s Hellenic origin.

Source: Seattle Times/ Tri-City Herald 

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Microsoft expands retail efforts to Australia

Friday, April 24th, 2015

By: Lars Adam Akerblom

Microsoft has announced Sydney, Australia as the location of its first branded Microsoft Store outside of North America. The store will be spread over two floors with more than 6,000 square feet of retail space, and is expected to open in “late 2015.”

The Redmond-based tech giant currently has more than 110 such stores in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, along with 17 store-within-a-store locations in China. The new flagship store will be located in Westfield Sydney, a leading retail district in the country’s biggest city and economic hub. The Microsoft Store will fronting on to the busy Pitt Street Mall and will be just around the corner from the flagship stores of competitors Apple and Samsung. Occupying the space next door to Microsoft will be cosmetic mogul Sephora, another U.S. company to recently expand to the Australian market.

Microsoft says the new Sydney store will lead the brand’s push into the Asia Pacific region as the ‘centerpiece’ of its retail presence in the region. Alongside Windows PCs, Surface devices, Windows Phones, Xbox consoles and Office products, the store will also feature Microsoft’s variant of a customer service and repairs counter, known as the Answer Desk. The company referred to as a “one-stop shop for questions, troubleshooting, repairs and support.”

The expansion comes at a key time for Microsoft as they are set to launch Windows 10, the next version of is operating system, later this year. The update will bring a number of major changes to the entire spectrum of Microsoft devices, and has the chance to boost sales across the board. A new retail location and the knowledge gained from the expansion process will likely be instrumental in the company’s efforts to globalize their retail presence in the wake of the launch.

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Greater Seattle Kickstarts innovation at impressive rates

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

By: Lars Adam Akerblom

A quick glance will tell you all you need to know about how successful Greater Seattle has been as a home to Kickstarter innovators. Notable past successes include Touchfire’s iPad keyboards and cases, Robot Turtles’ board game for young programmers, and Camouflaj’s video game Republique. The impressive track record is further validated by the massive triumph achieved by Arkyd in 2013. The project hold the record to date of the most funded campaign in Seattle with $1.5 million raised to support its space telescope. Even to the uninitiated, it is obvious that Seattle is a crowdfunding hotspot.

Upon closer inspection it becomes clear just how impressive the crowdfunding scene in Seattle is. It ranks fifth in the country for most projects launched. Since the inception of Kickstarter in 2009, Seattle has had just about 1700 projects have come to fruition. Seattle boasts a success rate of 51.3 percent for projects posted on Kickstarter, and this may seem unremarkable, it is 13 percent higher than the global average. The only U.S. cities that topple Seattle are Boston (54.2 percent), New York (53.7 percent), San Francisco (53.7 percent), and Austin (52.2 percent).

Crowdfunding services such as Kickstarter have truly revolutionized the entrepreneurial scene. The virtually unrestricted access to global funding is unlike anything seen before, and consumption, just like funding, is equally global. The platform for promotion and sales that exists through these sites allows otherwise isolated micro-companies to reach a global audience. These are not exactly the type of companies that spring to mind when thinking about State exports, but they are important to consider in thinking about the economic landscape of both Washington and the United States.

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Boeing score big with Panama’s Copa Airlines

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

By: Lars Adam Akerblom

A ground breaking deal was recently announced between Boeing and Copa Airlines. The Panamanian company placed an order for 61 Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 planes to add to its fleet. The deal is reported to be worth $6.6 billion and marks the largest business deal ever between a Panamanian and U.S.-based company.

To commemorate this landmark, both President Barack Obama and Panama President Juan Carlos Varela Rodrigues were in attendance to witness the deal. “It is an honor to be joined by Presidents Varela and Obama on this great day. All of us at Boeing are proud to partner with Copa as it works to remain one of the most progressive airlines in the world,” said Boeing CEO Jim McNerney in a statement.

The order is good news for the Greater Seattle region as the 737 Max planes are all built locally at Boeing’s Renton factory. Employees at the bustling plant will have no problems staying busy with the Oman Airlines recently ordering 20 737s, including some of the new Max planes, and Garuda Indonesia airlines ordering 50 of the 737 Max planes last year. Boeing has ramped up production of the aircraft to try to meet the growing demand, and plans to hit a rate of 52 planes per month by 2018.

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Trendy Japanese apparel retailer to set up shop in Bellevue

Friday, April 10th, 2015

By: Lars Adam Akerblom

Uniqlo, a Japanese apparel company that has been taking the world by storm, is opening a location in Bellevue this fall. The store will be the retailer’s first in the Seattle area. The company has grown to massive proportions in Asia and is also gaining ground in France, Germany, the U.K., and Russia. So far, Uniqlo’s U.S. stores have been solely located in the Northeast and California.

Uniqlo is known for its practice of offering only a few styles, but providing those styles in many different colors. Just to name an example, they offer 50 different colors of socks. The company is owned by Fast Retailing, based in Yamaguchi City, Japan. The parent company employs 30,448 people worldwide and is headed by Tadashi Yanai, who according to Forbes is Japan’s richest man, with a fortune of $21.4 billion. Along with the 13,000 square-foot Bellevue Square Mall locale, the company now plans to open stores in Denver and Washington, D.C. as well. To date, the company is operating 39 stores in the U.S.

Uniqlo will face stiff competition in the rapidly expanding Seattle market as it is just the latest of many global apparel empires to try their luck in the Greater Seattle region. Notably, Spanish clothing- giant Zara opened in Westlake Center just last year. Other recent additions to Bellevue Square Mall include Luxury camera store, Leica, and parent company Kemper Development announced that a W Hotel would take up space at Lincoln Square.

The retailer’s international ventures have garnered great results, sales are booming and revenues rose 47 percent for the quarter which ended last November. Sales in China and South Korea have been the driving force behind the growth, while the U.S. “fell short of plan” with higher revenues but shrinking profits. Perhaps the newest addition to the company’s U.S. portfolio will help turn the tide.

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Bellevue-based K2 raises $153M in fundraising round

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

By: Lars Adam Akerblom

K2 created waves last month when they issued a statement that they had raised “well over” $100 million in fundraising. In the end, it turns out that this figure was a whopping $153 million. In raising this amount, the company joins only a handful of local companies to surpass the $100 million milestone in recent years. Other companies to achieve this goal are: Adaptive Biotechnologies, PayScale and Avalara. Juno Therapeutics, a Seattle-based biotech company, raised a particularly noteworthy $176 million round shortly before going public in 2014.

K2 offers IT departments worldwide a platform to create business applications without having to write the code in-house. CEO Adriaan van Wyk said that as companies seek to automate internal company processes the demand for this type of service is increasing at an incredible rate. K2 has ridden the wave of their success and the rapidly expanding market to servicing 1.5 million users across 80 countries, while counting companies like Shell and Microsoft among its customers.

The money raised will serve to springboard new K2 offerings and international expansion. With global offices already situated in England, Singapore and South Africa, markets of special interest to K2 will include Europe, Asia, and to some degree Africa. 45% of the company’s business already comes from overseas and this number looks to increase as the expansion plans are implemented. Van Wyk also said that K2 will expand its Greater Seattle-area presence. The company’s employees total 430 across the globe, with just over 80 located in the Greater Seattle area. That local number, along with the amount of office space they occupy in the region, is set to increase in the future.

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Chinese e-commerce giant looking to put down roots in Seattle

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

By: Lars Adam Akerblom

It is looking increasingly likely that the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba is going to establish their U.S. headquarters in Seattle. The company already owns a smaller downtown office since last year, but is reportedly seeking to expand. Rumors have been floating around that the company is looking for up to 80,000 square-feet in real estate.

Alibaba is by some measures the largest e-commerce company in the world. Transactions on its online sites totaled $248 billion last year, more than those of eBay and Amazon combined. Founder and Executive Chairman, Jack Ma, a former English teacher, is reported to be the richest man in China. The company made quite a splash on the U.S. stock market late last year when it raised $25 billion from its U.S. IPO and its stock jumped 38% in the first day of trading.

A Seattle based U.S. headquarters would be an interesting move for both Alibaba and the city of Seattle. For Alibaba, a Seattle location would mean big savings on rent compared to other technology hubs such as San Francisco, and the company would benefit from a flourishing talent pool with both Amazon and Microsoft already attracting high numbers of talented recruits. Meanwhile, Seattle stands to add the feather of yet another corporate heavyweight to its cap. The rapidly growing city is continuing to cement its place in the big leagues of trade and finance.

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