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Mike Irwin’s Everyday Business: Canola company putting squeeze on; GWATA tackles Windows 8

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Oil me up and call me Slick.”

We think that’s an expression of surprise blurted frequently by execs in the canola oil business. Listen carefully right now, and you might hear the expression echoing from a southerly direction.

That’s because Legumex Walker, Inc., the canola-seed squishing company based in Winnipeg, Canada, is about to start up commercial production at their new canola processing facility in Warden.

And get this: They’re slightly ahead of schedule. If that doesn’t bring forth a couple of blurtings of “oil me up …,” nothing will.

We’ve completed the commissioning of the core processing equipment and have begun running canola seed through the facility,” said Joel Horn, Legumex Walker’s president and CEO. “We’re thrilled that our team is now operating the facility.”

Well, heck yes. During construction, the $110 million canola processing plant brought about 200 temporary jobs to this Columbia Basin town. In full operation, it’ll bring 35 to 40 permanent jobs. The facility will process about 1,000 tons of canola seed per day to make, oh, roughly 130,000 tons of canola oil and 200,000 tons of canola meal per year.

It’s the first commercial-scale canola crushing operation west of the Rocky Mountains, says Legumex Walker. Several smaller facilities, including one in Oroville, also process canola and other oil-producing legumes and grains.

Aside from new jobs, another positive aspect of the canola facility is the opportunity for local farmers to grow a new crop — a pretty, yellow-flowered crop — and sell it to the Warden processor. Already, canola fields have been spotted from Tri-Cities to Coulee City, according to online news reports and county extension agents.

How’s that housing market doing?

Speaking of surprises, the Wenatchee-area real estate market continues its strong recovery after several miserable years following 2008’s popping of the housing market bubble.

The November real estate snapshot, provided by our buddies at Pacific Appraisal Associates (a Wenatchee-based appraisal and consulting firm), shows year-to-date sales of homes jumped 28 percent from 2011 to hit 644 units. Dollar volume for the year rose 30 percent to $151.1 million.

About 71 percent of those sales were homes priced under $300,000. The average home price has risen only 2 percent to $234,607.

In the rental market, condo vacancies have surged to 7 percent for a 133 percent jump from one year ago. Not sure if that’s good or bad. Meanwhile, apartment vacancies remain tight, suffering a 60 percent drop from last year to just 2 percent in November.

And here’s a stat worth noting: Year-to-date building permits are up 24 percent to total 174 compared to 140 in November 2011. Before the recession, building permits in 2007 totalled 344.

Have you heard … ?

Lunch topic to munch on: Is the Windows 8 operating system a boon to businesses or a Microsoft misstep that should be avoided? GWATA will address the issue at its first roundtable luncheon of the new year. It’ll be held at noon Jan. 29 at the Confluence Technology Center, 285 Technology Center Way. Topics include reasons to upgrade (or not), tips and tricks of the new system, compatibility with other software and hardware choices (laptop, tablet, desktop?). Free for members and $10 for non-members. To register, call 661-9000 or visit gwata.org.

Click and learn: Free computer software courses, one of the state Employment Security Department’s most popular services, has been expanded to include programs by Adobe, Apple, IBM, Intuit and others. The courses are Web-based, which mean you don’t need to own the software to study how the program works. Any working-age residents of Washington are eligible — whether you’re employed on not — to register for the courses and take them at your own pace. Learn more at go2worksource.com/e-learning.

This weekly column is compiled from “Everyday Business,” a blog by World reporter Mike Irwin. You can reach him at 665-1179 or irwin@wenatcheeworld.com.

Reach Mike Irwin at 509-665-1179 or . Read his blog Everyday Business or follow him on Twitter at @MikeIrwinWW.

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