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

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.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The stock market has bounced back from the recession, and philanthropy is climbing along with it. That’s the message from Philanthropy Northwest, a group that tracks grantmaking to nonprofit organizations in the Pacific Northwest. 

"The trend here in Washington, the trend in the Pacific Northwest and the trend nationally are all aligned. Everybody’s feeling very positive," said Jeff Clarke, chief executive of Philanthropy Northwest, a member organization of foundations, corporations and individuals who make charitable grants. "I would say it’s probably the most positive sentiment that I’ve heard since pre-2008."

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia says there’s a risk that Boeing’s 787 program might never be profitable. That’s because the airplane maker has accumulated $26 billion in production costs that it’s deferred into the future. 

Aboulafia says the total deferred production costs for Boeing’s Dreamliner program will probably climb to $30 billion or so.

He says what we’re seeing with those mounting costs is that employees are alienated after the company waged two contentious battles with its biggest labor unions in the past few years.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Democratic legislators in Olympia are taking aim at the huge tax incentive package the state passed to win Boeing’s 777X production line. Those tax breaks extend existing preferential rates and amount to $8.7 billion over 15 years. 

Birdy206 / Flickr

The Pacific Maritime Association says it won't have any vessels loaded or unloaded at 29 West Coast ports, including Seattle and Tacoma, this weekend.

The association, which represents port terminal operators, says it doesn’t make sense to keep paying workers engaged in what employers call a months-long work slowdown.

A McLin / Flickr

Residents of tent cities in Seattle are speaking out against a proposal from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray to allow more such encampments.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Amazon shares jumped 13 percent in after-hours trading on news that the company returned to profitability in the fourth quarter. Strength in the cloud-computing business was an especially bright spot.

Cloud computing means hiring a company such as Amazon to run your computer system remotely instead of managing all those machines and software in-house.

Amazon and rivals such as Microsoft have been spending a lot to build big computer server farms. In spite of that expense, IDC analyst Al Hilwa says it’s an attractive business for Amazon.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Investors are becoming more optimistic about Boeing’s ability to generate cash even as deferred costs continue to mount for the 787 Dreamliner program. 

Boeing shares climbed more than 5 percent after the company reported fourth-quarter net income of $1.47 billion, up 19 percent from a year ago.

Mike Mozart / Flickr

Microsoft’s profit dropped 11 percent in the most recent quarter, partly due to expenses connected to layoffs after the company’s purchase of the Finnish cell phone maker Nokia. 

Ashley Gross / KPLU

The number of homeless people in King County continues to grow, according to this year’s One Night Count which showed a 21 percent jump from last year in the number of people without shelter. 

Volunteers found people sleeping in doorways, under overpasses, in cars and in alleys. Some were just wandering around, no place to go.

From Auburn to Woodinville, Seattle to Kirkland, 3,772 homeless people were counted this year, up from 3,123 last year.

Kid Clutch / Flickr

Later this week, volunteers will fan out across King, Snohomish and Pierce counties to try to tally all of the people without a home as part of annual counts that take place at the end of January. 

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The Puget Sound region is a trade powerhouse, but it has lagged behind smaller cities like Portland in attracting foreign-owned businesses to set up shop here. Now King, Kitsap, Snohomish and Pierce counties are teaming up to win more foreign investment here, and China is their main target.

A McLin / Flickr

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has revived an idea to expand the number of authorized homeless encampments, calling it a short-term fix for a growing crisis. 

It's hard to ignore the problem if you walk in downtown Seattle early in the morning. You'll pass lots of people sleeping in doorways or under store awnings. Some use cardboard boxes to create a semblance of private space.

Nick Ares / Flickr

Mention taxes and people either get irate or their eyes glaze over. But one well-known Seattle economist has spent a lot of time thinking about our state tax system and says it stinks. And, he says, it’s time we all paid attention.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Boeing appears to have topped Airbus for a third year in a row in airplane deliveries, and the company has a new record backlog of more than 5,700 planes still to build. That's eight years' worth of production at the current rate.

B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure / Flickr

A federal mediator has been appointed to help facilitate collective bargaining between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, the group representing terminal operators up and down the West Coast.

The employers have been saying the longshoremen have deliberately slowed down work to gain leverage in contract talks. The workers say the slowdown is the result of other congestion problems, including a shortage of truck beds for carrying containers.

Starbucks

In news that will please Australians, New Zealanders and Brits living in the U.S., Starbucks says it will start selling a coffee drink known as the `flat white’ this week, and there’s one person in Seattle who’s particularly delighted. 

We first heard of the flat white last fall, when KPLU spoke with Aidan Lang, the new general director of the Seattle Opera.

Lang is from the U.K. but lived for years in New Zealand, and that’s where he first tasted what became his favorite coffee drink.

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