Tuesday October 18th, 2005

Randalls closing 15 Houston-area outlets...Oil and chemical companies face lawsuit alleging environmental damage at two southeast Harris County sites...Toyota North America president discusses presence in Texas...

Fifteen Randalls outlets in the Houston area will close by year's end, leaving 36 area outlets open. Eleven other Texas stores will close. The nation's third-largest supermarket chain, which owns Randalls and Tom Thumb in Texas, plans to close underperforming stores. The Safeway supermarket chain today reports lower third-quarter profits blamed mostly on its troublesome Texas operations. The firm has taken a pre-tax impairment charge of almost $55 million on those stores. Safeway plans to remodel its remaining Texas operations into what it calls a "lifestyle'' program. It says it expects a fourth-quarter charge of $59 million. As a result, the third-quarter profit fell 23 percent to $122.5 million. The supermarket chain reported third-quarter sales increased by 7.3 percent to $8.95 billon.


Major oil and chemical companies face a federal lawsuit by Texas and the U. S. government alleging environmental damage at two chemical company sites in southeast Harris County. The lawsuit filed yesterday seeks an unspecified amount for damages to natural resources caused by hazardous waste dumping at Brio Refining and Dixie Oil Processors, both Superfund sites near Friendswood. The lawsuit also seeks to hold the companies liable for future damages and to pay restoration, replacement or acquisition of natural resources damaged by pollutants released from the sites. Named as defendants are BP Amoco Chemical, Chevron, Fina Oil and Chemical, Dow Chemical, Union Carbide, Lyondell Chemical, Allied Waste Industries, GE Petrochemicals, HNH Holdings Limited, Huntsman, Pharmacia and Rohm and Hass.


The president and CEO of Toyota North America says his firm sees Texas as a growing center for emerging technologies. Hideaki Otaka told the Greater Houston Partnership that their new manufacturing facility under construction in San Antonio means jobs, and could lead to more Toyota plants.

Hideaki Otaka audio 1

At least 21 new businesses are entering San Antonio as suppliers of parts and materials for the new Toyota truck plant, possibly bringing an additional 2,000 jobs to the city. And through Toyota's marketing partner Gulf States Toyota, further investments are planned in Houston.

Hideaki Otaka audio 2

The company is investing $40 million to build a 58-acre rail yard to support the San Antonio manufacturing facility.

Hideaki Otaka audio 3

Construction on the Toyota industrial park on San Antonio's south side will be completed by next fall. The company is currently screening applicants for 1,800 assembly line jobs.


The HCA hospital chain says it will invest $517 million to build a hospital in Pearland and upgrade its ten other Houston-area hospitals over the next three years. The initiative is expected to add about 400 jobs and 340 hospital beds to the area. A medical office building is under construction in Pearland. The 60-bed Pearland Regional Medical Center will be constructed at Shadow Creek Parkway and Texas 288. A new cardiac unit is planned for the Clear Lake Regional Medical Center.


There could be more gas pump shock ahead. The head of the Energy Information Administration says we could see even more fuel price hikes if Hurricane Wilma hits energy installations still trying to recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Guy Caruso told a Senate hearing that a further supply disruption could produce a "substantial increase in prices.'' Ten percent of the nation's refining capacity remains down because of damage caused by Katrina and Rita, making prices extremely vulnerable.


Texas is getting more than $32.6 million in federal money to help Jefferson County recover from Hurricane Rita. U. S. Senator John Cornyn today announced the funding will be released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Cornyn says the money will be used to reimburse Jefferson County for the cost of debris removal. Rita made landfall September 24th near Sabine Pass. The Beaumont-Port Arthur areas were hard hit by flooding, downed trees and electrical outages. Cornyn has visited the region three times since Rita slammed the area. He also says more Rita recovery funds are on the way.


The 2nd annual Texas Title Expo is set for Thursday at the Sheraton Hotel Brookhollow on North Loop West. The free expo will feature over 30 exhibitors and sponsors from the title insurance and real estate services industry. Breakout sessions and panel discussions will look at the changing Texas title industry, investment in title agencies by real estate professionals, Texas Department of Insurance licensing requirements and Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act compliance.


NewQuest Properties has sold 36 retail and office properties--mostly in the greater Houston metropolitan area--to a venture affiliated with Inland American Real Estate Trust for about $442 million. The properties include the Cypress Town Center and Eldridge Town Center in Houston and the Tomball Town Center and Cy Fair Town Center. It also involves Cinemark movie theaters in Houston, Webster and Pearland, as well as several 24 Hour Fitness health clubs.


Houston-based ENGlobal has formed an alliance with Yokogawa Corporation of America to jointly develop and provide services to the energy industry. Yokogawa provides automation and control equipment. ENGlobal becomes on of Yokogawa's suppliers of general engineering services, including instrumentation and electrical, mechanical, structural and other engineering support.


Office products retailer Staples has paid $7.4 million to settle a false-claims lawsuit over the sale of foreign-made goods to the feds. The Justice Department says Staples allegedly to the government merchandise made in such countries as China and Taiwan without reciprocal trade deals with the United States. Companies are required by their contracts with the General Services Administration to refrain from selling those goods to the government. Safina Office Products of Houston and company executives Edward Wilder and Robert Hsi Chou Lee first raised the claims and are entitled to share in the settlements under the False Claims Law. The settlement brings to nearly $22 million the money paid to the government by Staples and chief domestic rivals Officemax and Office Depot.


A Sino Swearingen jet, the first partially manufactured in an eastern panhandle plant, landed at the eastern West Virginia Regional Airport so that employees could see what they helped build. Sino Swearingen office manager Pam Cusic says that all employees had the opportunity yesterday to look inside the plane, which is fully assembled and furnished in a plant in San Antonio. Employees who construct wing sections for the Sino Swearingen SJ-302 seven-person jet wanted to see the plane's wings, while those who work on the fuselages were more interested in that section. Sino Swearingen was incorporated in 1999 as a joint venture between Swearingen Aircraft Corporation of San Antonio and Sino Aerospace Investment Corporation of Taiwan. The company has said it hopes to build 96 jets a year by 2007.


Fort Stockton's economic development director says as repairs continue along the old South Orient Railroad Line, more freight trains should begin rolling along the track. The line stretches 391 miles from the San Angelo junction near Coleman to Presidio. After South Orient closed the line in 1998, the state bought it and leased it to Mexican company Texas-Pacifico Transportation Limited. An official with the railroad was in San Angelo today to ask local officials to support track repairs by writing their elected officials and asking for financial help. The Texas-Pacifico line cuts through several West Texas counties, including Irion, Reagan, Upton, Pecos, Brewster and Presidio. The line connects with Dallas to the east and runs to the western Mexico port of Topolobampo.


Just like boutique wineries and microbreweries before them, a new wave of small craft distilleries is taking root in the United States. A decade ago, there were 15. Now there are 66. One of the biggest success stories so far is Tito's Handmade Vodka, made in Austin and now sold in 45 states. Tito Beveridge was an early pioneer when he incorporated in 1995 and sold his first case of vodka two years later. This year, he expects to sell more than 100-100,000 cases of Tito's Handmade Vodka. Taste testers this week are helping two brothers from Maine pick the final formula for their new vodka. Donnie and Lee Thibodeau are turning humble spuds grown by their father into premium vodka. At nearly $32 a bottle, their distillery is hoping Cold River Vodka will be top shelf. The final version could hit store shelves in New England next month.


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