Whatcom business expo covers Cherry Point impact, health care

BP Cherry Point refinery on Sept. 19, 2013 in Whatcom County .
BP Cherry Point refinery on Sept. 19, 2013 in Whatcom County . THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

The economic impact of Cherry Point and the rollout of a unique health-care plan are among the highlights of an upcoming business expo.

The NW Business Expo & Conference will kick off at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, at the Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa. Along with presentations, the expo will have 60 vendors and a networking event. The expo is organized by the Whatcom Business Alliance, a member group that focuses on business success and community prosperity.

The first major presentation starts at 11:30 a.m. with the results of an economic impact study of the Cherry Point industrial area. The study was put together by William Beyers and Hart Hodges. Beyers is a University of Washington professor who manages the state’s economic forecasting model, while Hodges directs Western Washington University’s Center for Economic and Business Research.

The study is focused on the 240 or so businesses that are currently in the Cherry Point area and does not factor in the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal project, said Tony Larson, president of the WBA.

One aspect of the study that will be discussed is the multiplier impact of those refinery jobs, which is different than expected, Hodges said.

The Whatcom Business Alliance will unveil its own employer health-care plan at a 2 p.m. presentation. It’s modeled after a plan Bellingham Cold Storage uses. In the BCS plan, the employer sets aside money for health insurance instead of paying through an insurance company. Two years ago BCS opened a clinic near its facility strictly for employers, which has led to lower health care costs, said Doug Thomas, president of BCS.

Larson said the health-care plan is a creative and unique way to help businesses in the WBA that want to meet the minimum requirements of the Affordable Care Act. In 2015 and 2016 employer mandates begin: Businesses with 50-99 full-time equivalent employees will need to start insuring workers by 2016. Companies with 100 or more will need to start providing health benefits to at least 70 percent of its FTE by 2015 and 95 percent by 2016, according to the website Obamacarefacts.com.

At 4 p.m., a keynote speech will be made by Bob Pritchett, CEO of Faithlife (formerly known as Logos Bible Software). Pritchett will talk about using unconventional ideas to build a productive workforce.

Tickets are needed for the event, which is free for WBA members and $25 for nonmembers, with lunch included. Registration and more information can be found at whatcombusinessalliance.com and by clicking the “Events” link.