Friday January 13th, 2006

Greater Houston Partnership reveals ten-year, $30 million job creation vision...Texas gasoline prices continue to climb...Houston teachers to receive higher pay when students improve test scores...

The Greater Houston Partnership has unveiled a plan to create 600,000 jobs over the next decade. Astros owner Drayton McLane will head up Opportunity Houston, to raise $30 million for a marketing campaign to generate leads on businesses to relocate to Houston. 2006 Partnership Board Chairman Chip Carlisle says the region proved itself after Hurricane Katrina.

"Under the extraordinary leadership of Mayor white and Judge Eckels, we opened our arms, our homes, our schools, our hospitals, our neighborhoods, our entire community to those left battered in the storm's aftermath. Our efforts did not go unnoticed. Some people even called us heroes. And if we were, it wasn't because of what we did. It's not because we did anything brave or courageous or superhuman. We just did what we could. Katie Couric said on the Today Show 'Houston, it seems, really is the epicenter of the evacuees, and they're doing a magnificent job of helping these people.' And my favorite is the Dallas Morning News naming the city of Houston as the 2005 'Texan of the Year'."

Carlisle says the ten-year strategic plan is good for business, public policy and for the region.

"It challenges us to become a magnet for domestic employment and for world trade, and it does so by setting concrete targets for the coming decade. Six hundred-thousand new jobs, $60 billion in new capital investment, $225 billion in new foreign trade. It commits the Partnership to working with (the) larger business community to develop high-yield, high-impact projects that firmly establish this region as the preferred location for global business."

The Strategic Plan includes establishing the Houston region as a business magnet, facilitate initiatives establishing the region as a gateway to global markets, maintain the infrastructure setting Houston apart and aggressively pursuing public policy that places Houston in the Top Four U.S. regions for business.


Evidence of the role of Enron in the California power crisis of 2000 and 2001 won't be heard during the fraud and conspiracy trial of company founder Ken Lay and ex-CEO Jeff Skilling. Audio tapes feature Enron traders discussing how they gamed California's power system for high profits when the state was plagued by rolling blackouts and skyrocketing power prices. But U.S. District Judge Sim Lake sided with defense arguments that the inflammatory evidence had no place in the January 30th trial. Skilling faces 35 counts of conspiracy, fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors. Lay faces seven counts of fraud and conspiracy. Both have pleaded not guilty.


Texas gasoline prices at the pumps continue to climb. The weekly AAA Texas gas price survey released today shows the average retail price of self-serve regular climbed this week by nine cents to $2.28 per gallon. The costliest gas continues to be in Dallas, where the average price climbed eight cents to $2.32 per gallon. The cheapest remains in Corpus Christi at $2.22 per gallon--despite the state's biggest increase of 11 cents. Regular self-serve gas is retailing for an average of $2.34 per gallon nationwide--nine cents more than last week. Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says retail gasoline prices have now climbed 15 cents per gallon in the past two weeks in Texas. She says investor speculation continues to fuel price increase for both crude oil and wholesale gasoline. She adds that with crude selling for about $64 a barrel, don't look for gas prices to fall before $2 a gallon anytime soon.


Teachers in Houston will be rewarded with higher pay when their students improve scores on state and national tests. The Houston School Board has voted to give teachers as much as $3,000 in extra merit pay for improved test scores. The program could be expanded to offer as much as $10,000 in merit pay. The plan offers more financial rewards to those who teach the core subjects on standardized tests. Not all educators like the proposal. Some say the plan is unfair because some teachers will be eligible for larger bonuses than others. The teachers' union doesn't approve of the plan, saying it focuses too much on test scores and is too complicated. The Houston school system is the largest to offer such an incentive pay program.


A less than stellar holiday season? The government says retail sales rose seven-tenths of one percent last month, coming in below forecasts. Excluding automobile sales, the increase reported by the Commerce Department was a modest two-tenths of one percent. That is also short of expectations, suggesting the holiday shopping season was just so-so. The numbers may raise questions of whether rising energy costs, coupled with a cooling housing sector, are putting the consumer on the defensive. Spending will be among the key factors watched closely by the Federal Reserve as it weighs whether to increase interest rates further. It has another policy-setting session at the end of this month and has been seen hiking benchmark rates once again.


A leading Democrat in the Senate says America must learn to live with the outsourcing of jobs because it's a global fact of life. Max Baucus insists a majority of Democrats agree with him, despite the party's longstanding opposition to American companies shipping jobs overseas. Baucus is the top Democrat on the powerful Finance Committee. The Montana Senator told the Associated Press during a tour in India that the U.S. "must work harder to better retrain our people, rather than resist outsourcing.'' Critics say outsourcing puts skilled people out of work just so big companies can save money. Supporters argue that it actually creates jobs by helping companies grow faster.


The Justice Department has filed a class-action lawsuit against American Airlines, alleging it illegally denied benefits to pilots serving in National Guard and reserve units. The department said last night that it filed the lawsuit in a Dallas federal court on behalf of three Naval Reserve and Air National Guard pilots. Officials said it was the first time they'd filed a class-action case charging an employer with violating a 1994 federal law. That law protects employees who leave their jobs temporarily to serve in military units. The government contends that Fort Worth-based American performed a 2001 audit and cut benefits of pilots who took leave for military service. But it didn't reduce benefits of pilots who took other types of leave. American Airlines declined to comment on specifics of the lawsuit.


Southwest Airlines is adding five flights from New Orleans to Dallas, Houston and Orlando. Starting March 17th, the carrier is adding three flights between New Orleans and Houston's Hobby Airport, one between New Orleans and Orlando and one between New Orleans and Dallas. And Southwest says adding flights isn't the only way it's supporting the Crescent City. Next month it'll become one of the first corporations to plan a major meeting in New Orleans. Nearly 300 employees will attend an annual three-day marketing conference and community outreach effort. The airline once operated more than 50 flights a day to and from New Orleans, but sharply cut service after Hurricane Katrina.


Atlas Pipeline Holdings, a unit of Atlas America Incorporated, says it will go public in an initial public offering. Atlas says it expects the IPO to generate proceeds of as much as $103 million. Atlas Pipeline Holdings owns a nearly 13 percent limited partner interest in Atlas Pipeline Partners. That company has a 3,300 mile natural-gas gathering network across New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas. Its parent, Atlas America, of Moon Township, Pennsylvania, was spun off from its former parent, Resource America Incorporated of Philadelphia, last summer. The proceeds from the offering will go to Atlas America.


An environmental group wants state officials to repeal changes approved to a wastewater discharge permit held by a closed Lufkin paper mill. Efforts to reopen the Abitibi Consolidated Mill has ignited the opposition of the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club. It filed a motion this week to overturn the permit changes approved in December by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The commission has until early next month to grant or overrule the group's motion. Then the Sierra Club has the option of appealing the permit approval in state district court. Some bass fishermen, residents and business owners say they're concerned the paper mill's waste could pollute the Angelina River and Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The Sierra Club cites concerns over the dissolved oxygen levels available to water life and the amount of aluminum discharged. Abitibi Consolidated has said waterways would be protected by one of the most restrictive discharge permits in the south. It's said the mill would use advanced environmental controls.


Sanderson Farms will build a poultry-processing plant and hatchery in Waco that's expected to employ about 1,300 people. The Laurel, Mississippi-based poultry processor will get $500,000 from the Texas Enterprise Fund, which is used to promote economic development. Sanderson Farms will begin construction this spring, and operations will begin in May of 2007. Employment should hit its peak within a year of the opening. The plans include a 170,000-square-foot chicken-processing plant and a 65,000-square-foot hatchery built on about 300 acres next to the Texas State Technical College.


The number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. increased by three this week to 1,467. Baker Hughes in Houston reports that one year ago the rig count was 1,258. Texas is down eight rigs.


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