Pacific Northwest Boeing won orders worth $2.03 billion at list prices for 30 of its 737 jets. The planes, listed on Boeing's Web site as...

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Pacific Northwest

Boeing won orders worth $2.03 billion at list prices for 30 of its 737 jets.

The planes, listed on Boeing’s Web site as coming from unidentified customers, bring the total orders for this year through Tuesday to 318. The company’s 737 model, whose order total for the year is now 216, is the world’s most widely flown plane. Boeing has delivered more than 5,500 of the 737s since the jet first flew in 1967.

Credit unions

Share to merge with Watermark

Share Credit Union, which has about 4,300 members in mostly health-care jobs, is merging into Watermark Credit Union, the two institutions said Thursday.

The combination should be complete by the end of May. Watermark plans to retain Share’s First Hill and South Lake Union branches, in addition to its own seven branches in King and Snohomish counties.

Share’s 11 workers also will be kept on, joining Watermark’s 186 full- and part-time employees.

Share, which had $31.5 million in assets as of Dec. 31, serves workers at the Swedish Hospital group, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Northwest Kidney Center, among other employers.

It will be the third area credit union absorbed by Watermark in recent years, following the King County Medical Society Federal Credit Union in 2004 and the Northwest Retail Federal Credit Union last year.

As of Dec. 31, Watermark had assets of $486.5 million, making it the fifth-largest credit union in the four-county Puget Sound region.

Real estate

Woodgate Center sold for $14 million

The Woodgate Center retail complex in downtown Woodinville has been sold for $14 million.

A partnership of TRF Pacific and Washington Capital, both of Seattle, bought the 47,000-square-foot shopping center on Northeast 175th Street earlier this month from Schuster Group, which had owned it since 1996.

TRF Pacific and Washington Capital also own the nearby 400,000-square-foot Downtown Woodinville Shopping Center.

Microsoft

Company updates maps program

Microsoft released an updated version of its Live Maps program that routes users around traffic snares, stepping up competition with Google’s maps.

The ClearFlow feature, which can now be accessed on the Live Search Web site, will be available in a version for mobile phones between June and August, said Justin Osmer, senior product manager at Microsoft’s Live Search unit.

The company is competing with Google and Yahoo, which also use traffic-tracking maps to lure visitors and advertisers to their Web sites.

Immigration

Applicants exceed openings for visas

The U.S. government will have to reject almost half of the 163,000 applications it received for visas for foreign high-tech workers sought by U.S. businesses such as Microsoft and Oracle.

Congress has allowed for the issuing of 65,000 so-called H-1B visas and 20,000 visas for workers with graduate degrees. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) Thursday released the number of applications submitted for the visas, which will take effect Oct. 1.

Companies have urged lawmakers to increase the number of visas so they can hire the foreigners as software designers and computer engineers. The businesses have said not enough U.S. citizens have qualifications for the jobs.

A computer will randomly select people from the applicant pool. Those selected will have their applications scrutinized before the State Department approves the visa.

Energy

Price at the pump goes up … again

U.S. retail gas prices extended their record run Thursday, adding to the pain consumers feel every time they fill up. Experts predict prices will rise even higher as peak summer-driving season approaches.

Meanwhile, crude-oil futures fell as the dollar strengthened, giving investors an opportunity to collect profits from the previous session’s record rise above $112.

At the pump, the national average price of a gallon of gas climbed 1.4 cents overnight to a record $3.357 a gallon.

Retail diesel, the fuel of trucks, trains and ships, rose overnight to a new national record of $4.045 a gallon.

Aviation

Three airlines raise domestic fares

United Airlines said Thursday it’s raising U.S. fares as much as $30 to help recoup record fuel costs, prompting two rivals to follow.

United increased fares between $4 and $30 round trip, depending on the length of the flight and the low-fare competition on the route, said Jeff Kovick, a spokesman for the carrier.

United’s increase, the sixth it initiated this year, means many travelers will pay as much as $130 more than they did in the first week of January for a domestic round-trip ticket, Rick Seaney of fare-tracking Web site FareCompare.com said in an e-mail.

Carriers are trying to cope with fuel prices that have surged 83 percent the past year.

United increased prices $10 round trip on flights under 500 miles, $20 for trips up to 1,499 miles and $30 for longer flights, Kovick said. In markets where United competes directly with low-fare airlines, the increases by category were $4, $8 and $12.

Continental Airlines and Delta Air Lines matched United’s increases, said Tom Parson of Web site bestfares.com.

Delta raised fares by $2 to $15 on one-way trips, said Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton. Messages left for Continental weren’t immediately returned.

Aviation

Pilots deal clears way for merger

Delta Air Lines and its pilots agreed on a tentative contract to clear the way for a merger with Northwest Airlines that would create the world’s largest carrier, people familiar with the talks said.

The accord would raise pilots’ pay and give them an equity stake in the combined airline, which would keep Delta’s name, said the people, who didn’t want to be identified because the plan is still private.

The proposed merger may be announced next week, the people said.

The airlines had been prepared to announce a combination in February, people familiar with the talks have said. Those plans were postponed because the pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, weren’t able to agree on a way to protect members’ seniority rankings after a merger.

IBM

Breakthrough may expand storage

IBM said a breakthrough in physics research will lead to faster, cheaper and higher-capacity data storage.

The new technology, called Racetrack, stems from an area of physics called spintronics, said Stuart Parkin, the lead researcher at IBM Labs in San Jose, Calif. Unlike conventional memory, which relies on electronic charges to store data, Racetrack uses the spin of an electron.

The technology may help increase the amount of storage in devices such as iPods 100-fold and pave the way for entirely new products. A media player could use Racetrack to hold as many as 500,000 songs or about 3,500 movies, said Parkin.

It may take five to seven years to build consumer products with Racetrack, he said.

“Only in the last three or four years has the spintronics needed to make Racetrack possible been understood,” he said in a telephone interview. Parkin published his findings Thursday in Science magazine.

Sharper Image

Chairman quits, wants to buy firm

The chairman of Sharper Image has resigned, a departure triggered by his notice that he wants to buy all or part of the bankrupt specialty retailer, the company said Thursday.

Jerry Levin’s exit comes just two months after the beleaguered San Francisco-based company named a new chief executive — its third in a year and a half — and filed for bankruptcy protection as it tries to survive a worsening sales slump.

Sharper Image said in a statement that Levin agreed to resign from the board of directors after notifying top executives that he’s interested in teaming with other investors in an attempt to buy the company.

Compiled from Bloomberg News, Seattle Times business staff and The Associated Press