Thursday August 18th, 2005

Plans offered to convert Astrodome into hotel and entertainment complex...New Jersey okays SBC's acquisition of AT&T...Monster North America says online job recruitment remains level in Houston...

Developers have a plan to turn the 40-year-old Astrodome into a hotel and entertainment complex. The Astrodome Redeveloping Corporation's proposal for Harris County officials includes 1,200 hotel rooms surrounding a nine-acre atrium with restaurants, shops and attractions. The Harris County Sports and Convention Board gave its preliminary approval. Mike Surface, chairman of Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, says that his group is looking forward to studying it further. Developers continue to work out problems with parking, but the Convention Board plans to vote on the proposal at its meeting next month.

New Jersey regulators have okayed the acquisition of AT&T by San Antonio-based SBC Communications. The approval came after regulators secured a pledge from SBC that it would keep a number of AT&T facilities in New Jersey. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities also says a comprehensive analysis determined there would be a positive impact on competition, customer rates and service reliability. SBC agreed to keep AT&T's network operations center and other facilities in New Jersey. Many of the AT&T facilities are at or near its headquarters in Bedminster.

Online job recruitment remains level in Houston, according to career and recruitment resource Monster Worldwide. The monthly index benchmarks employment trends by occupation and measures online job recruitment activity and related employment opportunities. Monster North America President Steve Pogorzelski says Houston is one of five markets with unchanged job levels.

Steve Pogorzelski audio 1

Monster's regional indexes are relatively new.

Steve Pogorzelski audio 2

Pogorzelski says job-posting statistics can paint a picture about trends.

Steve Pogorzelski audio 3

The Monster Employment Index measures online job postings in the 28 largest markets, based on a real-time review of millions of employer job opportunities culled from more than 1,500 Web sites.

The Job Board Group has rolled out a local online job board, according to the Houston Business Journal. give users access to job posting assistance and free resume posting, acting as a resource center with tips on resume writing. The site offers a database of salary ranges for particular positions.

A Brazoria County jury is deciding if Merck put profits before patients. The jurors have spent more than a month hearing testimony about Vioxx. A widow is suing the New Jersey pharmaceutical company, saying it denied the painkiller had risks and deceived the public about the dangers for the past decade. Her late husband used Vioxx. The woman's lawyer told jurors before closing that Merck "ought to tell us the good, the bad and the ugly.'' A company lawyer, however, asked if it would "make sense'' for Merck to knowingly produce deadly drugs. The plaintiff's lawyer is asking for tens of millions in dollars in damages. It's the first of thousands of lawsuits over the painkiller to go to trial.

State Parks and Wildlife are watching for any ill effects from a sulfuric acid spill in a Houston-area bayou after a barge ran aground this week. The Coast Guard says about 126,000 gallons of acid have been taken off a sinking barge that ran aground in Chocolate Bayou, just south of Houston. No injuries were reported. The cause of the accident is being sought. The barge was moved about one-quarter mile to open up the bayou and make it easier to remove the acid. The barge was carrying 425,000 gallons of acid when it grounded on the bayou banks Monday evening. The extent of the spill and its effect on the environment are still being determined. The direction and density of the acid plume is being tracked through the use of water samples.

The Houston City Council awarded a duty-free concessionaire contract for George Bush Intercontinental Airport to The Nuance Group Houston, despite a pending lawsuit filed by the previous operator, Branch/McGowen Ventures. The lawsuit, filed in Harris County District Court, accuses the city and the Houston Airport System of fraud and breach of contract. In January, an airport selection committee rejected the bid by Branch/McGowen in favor of a deal with Nuance. Branch/McGowen is a partnership that includes ex-Houston City Councilman Ernest McGowen, Sr.

Houston-based Pogo Producing has closed the $820 million sale of its Thailand assets to PTTEP Offshore Investment Co. Ltd. and Mitsui Oil Exploration Co. Ltd., with proceeds earmarked toward Pogo's pending acquisition of Northrock Resources Ltd. Northrock is a Canadian subsidiary of Unocal.

McDermott International has been awarded work by Saudi Aramco to provide fabrication and installation services for oil field developments in Saudi Arabia. The work includes five wellhead jackets, five drill decks and three scrappers, as well as offshore installation of 13 miles of subsea pipelines and associated equipment.

Houston-based Smith International is acquiring Tubular Technology of Lafayette, Louisiana, according to the Houston Business Journal. Tubular provides products and technical services used in the installation of corrosion-resistant alloy tubular products, as well as products and services used during the completion-phase of oil and gas well operations. Tubular will be integrated into its services unit.

Stewart Title has formed a partnership with the National Association of Real Estate Brokers to promote minority home ownership. Stewart and NAREB will utilize education, counseling and programs designed to simplify the homebuying process. According to the U. S. Census Bureau, home ownership rates for African-American and Latino households are 25 percent less than the rates for non-minority households.

One of the world's busiest airports has received a $4 million federal grant to build perimeter taxiways. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport plans to use the money to increase runway safety. The taxiways around the airport will allow planes to avoiding having to stop and wait for a chance to cross an active runway. The airport describes the system as "ribbons of concrete'' that will circle DFW's airfield and seven runways. The taxiways will enable aircraft to go around active runways, rather than having to cross them. The project is expected to be completed by 2008. DFW is the world's third busiest airport, offering nearly 2,000 flights each day.

YMCA headquarters is staying in Chicago--and not moving to Texas. The not-for-profit organization had been considering a relocation after making its home in Chicago for 24 years. But YMCA officials today said they've decided to stay in Chicago, choosing the windy city over runner-up Dallas. The organization also announced plans to build a new building in Chicago's South Loop to house offices, exhibits and a state-of-the-art training center for YMCA staff around the country. The city has offered $9.5 million to help build the center as part of an incentive package to keep the "Y'' in Chicago.

A magistrate in Sherman has approved a Texas credit union's plan to convert to a mutual savings bank. That's despite a regulator's objection to the way a mailing to credit union members was folded. The ruling now goes next to a federal judge in Sherman. Members of Plano-based Community Credit Union voted in June to convert to a mutual savings bank, which would let the institution sell shares to members and outside investors. But the National Credit Union Administration refused to certify the vote. It said an election mailing to credit union members was folded so that voters saw management's pro-conversion argument first. The credit union sued the agency. The magistrate ruled that the regulator never told the credit union how to fold the mailing.

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