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

Ashley Gross / KPLU

To live in the Northwest is, to some extent, to roll the dice. If you lived through the 1965 Seattle earthquake, or the Nisqually quake in 2001, or if you just read the New Yorker article about the “really big one” destined to hit our region, you know this well: There are forces under our feet that could just shrug our cities off into the abyss.

The push and pull of continental plates is so huge compared with a puny little human. And yet, for a man named Kelcy Allen, the act of a child shielded him from the seismic forces. He’s spent decades feeling grateful to the boy who died saving his life.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Port of Tacoma commissioners say they have a lot of unanswered questions about a Chinese-backed company's proposed methanol plant on port property.

Almost two years ago, the commissioners signed a 30-year lease with the company, Northwest Innovation Works, with little public input. But lately there’s been so much public outcry that the company paused the environmental review process and is now seeking an extension to the feasibility phase of the lease. 

Port of Tacoma

Northwest Innovation Works, the Chinese-backed company seeking to build one of the world’s largest methanol plants in Tacoma, says it wants to address community concerns, but at a panel discussion sponsored by the City Club of Tacoma, many people expressed frustration that they haven’t been able to get answers. 

Elaine Thompson / AP Images

(This story has been updated to include recently released data showing the number of hours an average Seattle commuter spent stuck in traffic in 2015..)

The average Seattle-area commuter wasted 66 hours stuck in traffic last year, according to the traffic data firm Inrix. Now, a group of the region’s major companies is trying to unclog our streets as part of a broader push to improve the quality of life around the Puget Sound region.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

There’s a lot of angst about Seattle’s growing tech sector these days, with people blaming it for everything from rising rents to congested streets. But comedian Bridget Quigg has found plenty of absurdities in what she calls "Techlandia."

That's the title of her one-woman comedy show, which she's performing at Seattle's Theater Schmeater this week.

Elaine Thompson / AP

As people increasingly use Uber instead of taking a taxi or riding the bus, cities such as Tacoma and Seattle have created new regulations to cover the ride-app companies. On Tuesday, Tacoma’s City Council will consider a measure to streamline its licensing process as a way to reduce the burden for city staff.

Under the proposed measure, Tacoma would still require drivers for Uber and other ride-hailing companies to get licensed by the city. But the city would no longer issue drivers a picture identification card or a decal to put on their car.

SounderBruce / Flickr

Right now, it’s illegal to live in your vehicle on a city street in Tacoma for more than 24 hours. But the Tacoma City Council will weigh a measure to extend that to seven days.

The change comes in the wake of a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. The judges said a similar ordinance in Los Angeles that prohibited people from using a vehicle as living quarters was unconstitutionally vague. So in response to that decision, Tacoma city staff crafted a more precise definition of what it means to inhabit a vehicle, for example, sleeping in it or setting up bedding. And the city proposes allowing people a week to use a vehicle as shelter before it would be a violation.

thekellyscope

For years, the National Federation of the Blind has been pressuring Amazon to make its devices and apps fully accessible to the blind. They even staged a protest outside Amazon headquarters three years ago.

Now, the organization says it’s reached an agreement to work together with Amazon to make sure blind students are able to fully use Kindle content.

Troy Bonnes / University of Washington

Race has been front and center in this year’s presidential election. This week, University of Washington and Bellevue College students are gaining a deeper understanding of the history of the struggle for civil rights in the U.S. by visiting landmarks in the South such as Montgomery, Alabama; site of the 1955-56 bus boycott that began after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

In Tacoma, a Chinese-backed company has been seeking to build one of the world’s largest plants to convert natural gas to methanol, which would then be shipped to China to be used in making plastics.

After an intense public outcry, the company recently said it will pause the environmental review process, saying it has been “surprised by the tone and substance of the vocal opposition that has emerged in Tacoma.”

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Home prices in the Seattle metro area jumped almost 10 percent in December compared with a year earlier. A forum hosted by the real estate brokerage and tech company Redfin Wednesday evening will examine how the city can remain livable for people of all incomes in coming years. 

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Northwest Innovation Works, the Chinese-backed company that has been seeking to build one of the world's biggest natural gas-to-methanol plants at the Port of Tacoma, said in a statement that it's decided to "pause the environmental review."

"We have been surprised by the tone and substance of the vocal opposition that has emerged in Tacoma," the company said. "To force a facility on a community that does not welcome it would not be consistent with our goals."

Port of Tacoma

Projects in the works for the Pacific Northwest could turn the region into a major hub for exporting petrochemicals and products derived from fossil fuels, according to a new study from the environmental think tank Sightline Institute. 

SPEEA

Boeing engineers and technical workers have voted to accept a new six-year contract, one that the company said "helps position us for continued success in a highly competitive landscape."

The contract covers about 20,000 Boeing engineers and technical workers, mostly in the Puget Sound region. The negotiations and vote were much more peaceful this time than they were three years ago. At that time, members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, or SPEEA, were so unhappy with the company’s proposals, they almost went on strike. 

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

About 20,000 Boeing engineers and technical workers, most of them in Washington state, have just a couple more days left to vote on a new six-year contract. The head of their union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), says the negotiations that led to the tentative contract agreement mark a shift in Boeing’s approach to labor issues. 

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Boeing shares dropped almost 7 percent after Bloomberg reported the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the company’s accounting. 

According to the story, which cites unidentified people "with knowledge of the matter," securities regulators are looking into how Boeing has accounted for costs and expected sales of its 787 Dreamliner and the 747-8 jumbo jet. Spokesmen for Boeing and the SEC declined to comment. 

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Ray Conner told employees during a webcast that the company will cut an undisclosed number of jobs as a way to reduce costs. 

"We will start reducing employment levels with executives and managers first," the company said in a statement. "We will also use attrition and voluntary layoffs. As a last resort, involuntary layoffs may be necessary."

Elaine Thompson / AP

Seattle was the first big city to adopt a $15 minimum wage law, and now there’s new research on how that’s affected the prices we pay at stores and restaurants.

University of Washington researchers are doing a multi-year study to analyze economic impacts of the wage hike. They started tracking consumer prices last March, right before the first wage hike to $11 an hour.

BASF / Flickr

On Wednesday, Tacoma residents will get another chance to weigh in on a plan for what could become the world’s biggest methanol plant. A lot of people have raised concerns about potential safety hazards posed by methanol itself and the process of refining it from natural gas.

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.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

There are now hard numbers to back up what Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a televised address earlier this week: Seattle and King County are struggling with a growing crisis of homelessness. 

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

There are legitimate questions about proposed multi-billion dollar methanol plants at the ports of Tacoma and Kalama, according to Gov. Jay Inslee. He said the plants offer benefits but their water usage and possible pollution need to be carefully considered. 

Dean Rutz / AP Photo

Seattle Police are searching for at least two people in connection with the shooting at a homeless camp south of downtown. Five people were shot Tuesday night in the unauthorized encampment known as “The Jungle.”

Seattle Police say they have leads and are interviewing witnesses in the shooting that left two people dead and three others wounded. But the perpetrators are still at large.

At a news conference, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said authorities believe the shooting was related to low-level drug dealing.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Boeing says it plans to reduce the production rate of its 777 wide-body jet, one of the company’s biggest sources of cash, to seven per month next year from the current rate of 8.3 per month.

“As a result of the rate change, we expect some impact on employment and will do our best to mitigate that by placing employees in other jobs across Boeing,” Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said in an emailed statement. “We are still studying how many roles may be impacted.”

Ashley Gross / KPLU

The city of Tacoma’s first public meeting about plans for the world’s largest methanol plant drew a much bigger crowd than expected. 

One fire marshal estimated that a thousand people showed up. Some couldn’t get into the main room or an overflow room because those were already full. 

Eugene Hoshiko / AP

Starbucks shares fell about 4 percent after the close of regular trading on Thursday after the company reported fiscal first-quarter results. 

In China, sales growth at the company's stores that have been open at least a year showed a slowdown, adding to recent concerns about the health of that country’s economy. 

SounderBruce / Flickr

Tacoma workers will be entitled to a minimum wage of $10.35 starting Feb. 1, up from the state’s current wage floor of $9.47. It’s the first of several hikes that will gradually phase in a $12 minimum wage approved by voters in November.  

IAM District 751

A group of Democratic lawmakers in the Washington House of Representatives is trying again to link Boeing’s tax break to the number of jobs the company keeps in the state. This time, they’ve won support from two Republicans: Rep. Cary Condotta, who represents the Wenatchee area, and Rep. Richard DeBolt from Chehalis.

Port of Tacoma

A Chinese-backed group wants to build what they say would be the world’s biggest methanol plant at the Port of Tacoma, raising lots of concerns among nearby residents, who will have a chance to weigh in on the project at a scoping meeting this Thursday. 

Zillow

If you’re a homeowner in the Seattle area, you might be interested to hear that Zillow is forecasting another jump in property values this year, driven in part because many tech workers are opting to live in and around Seattle instead of the San Francisco Bay Area. 

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