Ashley Gross

Business and Labor Reporter

Ashley Gross is KPLU's business and labor reporter, covering everything from Amazon.com and Boeing to garbage strikes. She joined the station in May 2012 after working for five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.

She studied history at Brown University and earned a master's in international affairs at Columbia University. She grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two sons.

One of Ashley's most memorable moments in radio happened several years ago in Northwest Alaska: "I was visiting an alcohol and drug rehab program in the tiny village of Selawik. It helps Alaska Natives recover by helping them get back in touch with their subsistence lifestyle. It was spring, which meant the river was still frozen - barely. We went out on snowmachines to go ice-fishing, but late in the day, as we headed back, the river had melted to the consistency of a Slurpee. It was a harrowing ride and a good lesson in trust - I rode with my eyes closed, clinging for dear life to the woman driving. A week later, three people drowned trying to ride a snowmachine over that river, and that's when I realized just how dangerous life in rural Alaska can be."

Ways To Connect

Robert Karma / Flickr

The port of Seattle and airlines agree – improvements at the airport are needed to handle growing numbers of international passengers. But a central question remains:  who pays for the expansion? 

Traffic at Sea-Tac International Airport has been booming and is expected to keep climbing. But there’s dispute among airlines about how to pay for a new international arrivals facility, which would be a spot for people go through customs and pick up their baggage.

401(k) 2012 / Flickr

The city of Tacoma is trying to get business owners to settle their unpaid tax bills by offering a one-time amnesty that will let businesses off the hook for penalties and interest if they come forward and pay. 

Danielle Larson, tax and license manager for the city of Tacoma, says the city’s recently boosted enforcement of tax collections by adding three compliance officers. But she says the city council also wanted to give businesses a chance to come forward voluntarily and pay their liabilities without penalties.

Boeing

Even in this day and age, aviation is a male-dominated industry. But when Boeing delivered a new 737-900ER to United Airlines on Wednesday at King County International Airport, men were the ones in the minority – by design.

Auntneecey / Flickr

A new law signed by Governor Jay Inslee eliminates most legal fees for juvenile offenders, removing a burden that’s been particularly hard for low-income families.

Democratic Representative Ruth Kagi, who sponsored the bill in the state House, says there's a long list of court fees that are getting eliminated for people under age 18.  

"Criminal conviction fee, juvenile criminal conviction penalty, criminal filing fee, juvenile crime victim penalty fee," Kagi said. "And there are many, many more."

These add up.

Jeffrey Pott / Flickr

Many of us feel powerless about online security. When hackers can get around the defenses of giant corporations such as Target or J.P. Morgan Chase, it’s hard to imagine how regular folks stand a chance. But a new effort by AARP, Microsoft, the state attorney general’s office and the Federal Trade Commission aims to let people know what they can do.

KPLU asked Andrew Becherer, technical vice president for the computer security consulting company NCC Group, for three tips.

1.      Exercise “good password hygiene.”

That means you should have a different password for every account. Becherer says he knows that sounds daunting, but there are ways to keep track of all those passwords. One way is to use a password manager – software that stores all of your passwords for you. You just need to remember one password that gets you into the password manager.

Ellen McLain had a long career as an opera singer. But now her voice is most famous for something entirely different: video games. McLain is the voice of GLaDOS, the passive-aggressive computer in the games Portal and Portal 2.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

A maritime festival taking place in Seattle this week is a good reminder of our city’s strong ties to the ocean. Thursday evening, an event called Stories of the Sea takes place at a pub at Fishermen’s Terminal. It’s like a story slam for fishermen, ferry captains and other mariners. 

For a taste of the event, I tracked down emcee John van Amerongen, who pulled out his guitar and sang his song, "Trip to the Bering Sea," a wry tale about a guy on a crabbing boat for the first time. The young man has an unfortunate encounter with the bait chopper, a machine that grinds up fish.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

In 2011, there was no crude oil transported by train in Washington. Two years later, 700 million gallons of crude came through the state.

Concern over those trains has prompted officials in Anacortes to hold a forum Wednesday evening to discuss emergency response. 

Andrew Harnik / AP Photo

Washington’s senior U.S. Senator, Patty Murray, is introducing a bill to phase in a $12-an-hour federal minimum wage by 2020, lifting the national wage floor up from the current $7.25. Her fellow Democrat, Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott, is sponsoring the bill in the House of Representatives.

The effort is another attempt by Democrats to raise pay for the nation’s lowest earners. Last year, Republicans blocked legislation supported by President Barack Obama that would have hiked the minimum wage to $10.10 over a period of three years. Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz have argued that lifting the minimum wage would lead to job losses.

Bill Downing / Washington State Department of Labor and Industries

At an annual ceremony, the state remembered 89 workers who died on the job during the past two years.

The deaths ranged from ones in industries known as dangerous, such as logging and truck driving, to high-profile accidents such as the crash of a KOMO TV helicopter near Seattle’s Space Needle in March 2014, which killed the pilot Gary Pfitzner, 59, and photojournalist Bill Strothman, 60.

Scott Hingst / Flickr

Silicon Valley tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple have all been opening offices in Seattle in recent years.

Now, the City of Destiny wants in on the action. Tacoma recently paid $2,600 to run a quarter-page ad in the San Jose Mercury News, one of the biggest newspapers serving California's Silicon Valley, aimed at persuading tech companies that want to expand in the Pacific Northwest to look 35 miles south of Seattle.

AP Images

Amazon shares jumped more than 5 percent after the company provided results for its cloud-computing business for the first time and showed it to be more profitable than investors expected.

Profits have long been elusive for Amazon, and the company posted another loss in the most recent quarter. Amazon said it had a net loss of $57 million, or 12 cents a share, in the quarter ended March 31, compared with net income of $108 million, or 23 cents, a year earlier.

But now Amazon has provided financial details for its cloud division, known as Amazon Web Services, that allows businesses to use Amazon’s computers instead of running their own. AWS net sales totaled $1.57 billion, with an operating profit of $265 million.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Boeing’s first-quarter earnings climbed 38 percent on strong demand for commercial airplanes. But the stock slipped 1.4 percent, partly on concern that low oil prices could hurt sales.

Growth in air travel, especially in Asia and the Middle East, has helped boost demand for Boeing and Airbus planes in recent years. But the 40 percent drop in oil prices since last July has investors wondering whether airlines will decide not to buy the newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft. 

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Editor’s Note: This story works best as an audio experience, so we urge you to take a listen.

What if you poured your energy into becoming an opera singer, but then became famous for doing the voice of a computer in a blockbuster video game?

That’s the unexpected twist in Ellen McLain’s career. She’s performed countless roles in operas in Seattle and Tacoma and acted in many Seattle theaters.

But now the thing she’s most famous for is doing the voice of GLaDOS, the sweet-sounding but passive-aggressive computer in Valve’s hit video games Portal and Portal 2.

Diueine Monteiro / Flickr

About 240 more homeless veterans in Washington state will soon have an option for permanent housing.

The federal government has teamed up with local officials across the country, including Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine, to tackle veteran homelessness. Julian Castro, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, spelled out their ambitious goal at a press conference in Seattle.

Ashley Gross
KPLU

Readers of Jamie Ford’s bestseller, Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet, know Seattle’s Panama Hotel as the place where Keiko Okabe and her family stashed treasured belongings – including the jazz album central to Keiko’s star-crossed romance with Henry Lee.

The book is fiction, but the part about Japanese-Americans leaving their possessions at the hotel is truth. The Panama Hotel is located on South Main St. at the corner of 6th Ave. South, in the heart of what was the city’s bustling Japantown.

Ansel Herz / The Stranger

For the past few years, Seattle has experimented with a different approach to handling low-level drug and prostitution crimes, and new research shows that it’s paying off.

Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program aims to end the revolving door for people who cycle in and out of the justice system. It offers job training, housing and drug treatment to some offenders instead of prosecution. 

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Seattle minimum-wage workers at large businesses should now be earning $11 an hour, and workers at smaller businesses should earn at least $10 an hour, plus an extra dollar an hour in either tips or health benefits.

But the city is still searching for the right person to head the office in charge of enforcing that law. 

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

The past couple of years have been rocky for taxi companies as riders flock to services such as Uber, which has a network of drivers who use their own cars to pick up rides and find customers through a smartphone app.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez is praising Seattle for leading the way by phasing in a $15/hour minimum wage. He appeared at a press conference at a restaurant in the Columbia City neighborhood with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and other leaders who worked to hike the city's wage floor. 

Perez says Republicans have blocked the president’s efforts to raise the federal minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009.

But Perez says local and state governments are not waiting around. He says Seattle has set an example for the rest of the country.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

If you’re poor and you live in Washington state, you wind up forking over almost 17 percent of your income in state and local taxes. That’s according to a recent report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

But if you live in, say, Boise or Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, state and local taxes only eat up 8.5 percent of your income.

Bryan Corliss / District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers

Washington state is facing an “enormous budget challenge,” according to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has proposed creating a tax on capital gains and another on carbon pollution.

But wait a minute, didn’t lawmakers pass what’s been called the biggest tax break in U.S. history just a year and a half ago? What are we getting in exchange for those tax dollars we’ve chosen not to collect from the aerospace industry?

Seattle Daily Times

Editor's Note: We're taking a closer look at Washington's tax system through a week-long series. This is the first installment of “Where’s the Dough? On the Hunt for Washington’s Missing Tax Dollars."

Washington state’s tax system has long been heaped with insults. Lately, it’s been called a jalopy, a Ford Pinto and the worst in the country.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, says Washington's tax system is the most regressive in the nation. That’s because with our state’s heavy reliance on sales tax and lack of an income tax, the poorest 20 percent of residents pay 16.8 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the richest pay 2.4 percent.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Boeing workers facing job cuts are urging state lawmakers to require more from aerospace companies in exchange for tax breaks. The Washington legislature passed a 16-year extension of the tax incentives in 2013 to win Boeing's 777X production line.  

401(k) 2012 / Flickr

Some House Republicans and a couple of Democrats in Olympia have teamed up to try to overhaul the state’s business and occupation tax, arguing that the tax is convoluted and unfair to small business, and the time is right for reform. 

Ashley Gross / KPLU

When Lucas Smiraldo became Tacoma’s poet laureate two years ago, he had the spark of an idea. He wanted to get the people around him writing their own pieces and then share them through an interactive map.

Now it’s ready

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Environmental groups are suing the Port of Seattle over its decision to let Royal Dutch Shell base part of its Arctic drilling fleet here, arguing the port needed to allow more public involvement and violated two state laws. 

The port last month signed a two-year lease with Foss Maritime, the company that will manage Shell’s drilling fleet here in Seattle at Terminal 5. That terminal has been empty since last summer because the port is planning to overhaul it to allow bigger cargo ships. So this is a temporary use to generate about $13 million. 

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo

In a candid address to a group of downtown business leaders, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray spoke about the city’s struggles with rising homelessness and a lack of treatment options for people with mental illness. Murray urged all of them to lobby state and federal lawmakers for more funding. 

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

That Starbucks around the corner from your house may be draining your wallet, latte by latte. But if you’re a homeowner, it may be paying off for you in other ways, in the value of your home, for example.

That’s one of the eye-catching findings that two executives of the Seattle-based real estate data firm Zillow reveal in their recent book, "Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate."

Kevin P. Casey / AP Photo

Speculation has climbed that Boeing might be interested in acquiring the military aircraft unit of rival Northrop Grumman, but Boeing’s chief executive told investors he’s not inclined to make big purchases. 

Boeing and Lockheed Martin have teamed up to try to win a contract from the Pentagon to build new long-range strike bombers. They’re going up against Northrop Grumman.

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