Tuesday AM August 22nd, 2006

Texas-based independent oil and gas producers make moves in Alaska... Texas places second in Forbes list of the best states for business... St. Joseph Medical Center now run as for-profit medical facility, after purchase by Hospital Partners of America...

Most major refiners have suffered from the shut-down of a major Alaska pipeline. At least one is positive about its decision to avoid relying solely on the Alaskan North Slope for crude oil. Independent refiner Tesoro's decision two years ago to seek suppliers elsewhere paid off last week. The San Antonio-based company watched nearly 200,000 barrels go offline when BP scaled back Prudhoe Bay operations because of pipeline leaks and corrosion. Tesoro is among the refiners with the least exposure to production that could ultimately curtailed. Tesoro chief economist Lynn Westfall says a couple of years ago this would have been significant for the company--it could have been "real bad.'' But Westfall says now the situation is more of a timing and logistics issue in getting the crude. Analysts don't expect a meaningful impact on refiners that can get oil from other sources, such as the Middle East, West Africa and Asia. Tesoro is among eight refineries with at least one facility along the West Coast or Alaska that draws from the Alaskan North Slope.

Houston oil and gas independent Escopeta Oil has become the first independent oil firm in history to receive a waiver from the Department of Homeland Security to use a foreign flag vessel to move a jack-up drilling rig, according to the Houston Business Journal. A Chinese-owned vessel will move the rig from Port Arthur to the Cook Inlet of Alaska to start drilling by early next year. The 1934 Jones Act requires that U.S. vessels by used in transporting cargo or passengers between U.S. ports.


Texas came in second in a Forbes magazine list of the best states for business. Virginia is ranked first. Louisiana finished last. The Forbes list is based on a combination of scores for business costs, labor, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life. The top five are Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Utah and Colorado. The bottom five are Maine, Alaska, Mississippi, West Virginia--and Louisiana.


St. Joseph Medical Center is now being run as a for-profit medical facility, after its purchase by Hospital Partners of America. HPA is a privately-held healthcare company that operates general acute care hospitals in partnership with physicians. HPA Vice President of Texas Operations and CEO Phil Robinson says his company is very aware of the hospital's legacy.

"Yes, and I think that we're very mindful of the history and respectful of what the founders did here and what the sisters did and what Christus did. It's admirable, and I tell you what, they let us come on site prior to the sale, which hardly ever happens. But I think it speaks to the character of the Christus folks. They were great, and you know, they care a lot about this hospital. They want this hospital to be successful. They want us to be successful. We're very mindful of the tradition and respectful of the traditions, and we will continue, you know, hopefully in the same tradition."

The most obvious change is the transition from non-profit to for-profit status.

"You know, I've done both in my career, and there's not that much difference, really. I think, you know, I think probably the biggest difference is just that we're more focused on operations and operational excellence, you know, really understanding the business, understanding the market, understanding the numbers. And I think that's probably the biggest difference. It's not really, at the line employee level, it's pretty much the same. It doesn't feel that different, you know, and certainly I don't think you walk into a hospital and say it's for profit or not for profit."

St. Joseph will continue its tradition as Houston's first teaching, maternity and emergency care hospital.

Governor Rick Perry announced he'll appoint a task force to study rising property appraisals--what he calls a "silent tax." Perry, during a stop in Dallas, wants the report in time for the 2007 legislative session, which begins in January. Perry says rising appraisals make it harder for people to own homes. The task force will be led by lawyer Tom Pauken, who's a former Reagan administration official. Pauken says the group would hold hearings throughout the state in the coming weeks.


U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas received the "Spirit of Enterprise" award in Houston from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for his record on economic growth and job expansion. Senator Cornyn says Texas gained 15,700 new jobs in July, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics--the fourth-largest jump in the nation. Cornyn is a member of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee and the Joint Economic Committee.


The Texas Workforce Commission online job-matching system has facilitated 500,000 hires since launching in June, 2004. The site has logged over 34 million hits. The TWC credits the state's business-friendly environment. The Web site is provided at no cost to users, and matches employers of all sizes and types with job seekers. It's funded by federal and state tax dollars.


Houston-based Willbros Group has closed the sale of its Venezuelan businesses, as it ceases operations in that country. The Houston Business Journal reports the sale yields no gain or loss on disposal. The transaction includes a marine yard and offices, marine equipment and the company's interest in a water injection services project.


Houston-based Irvine Team is now heading construction of the >STRONG>Memorial Hermann Heart and Vascular Institute. It's part of Irvine Team's acquisition deal with Century Development, which includes the Institute already under construction in the Texas Medical Center. The eight-story facility, expected to be completed by the summer of 2008, will have two underground levels of parking, catheterization labs, diagnostic facilities, advanced imaging on patient floors and a pharmacy.


A joint venture between Houston-based Halliburton subsidiary KBR and JGC of Japan will provide engineering, procurement and construction management services to Qatar Shell GTL for a gas-to-liquids project in Qatar. The project includes development of an onshore gas-to-liquids plant.


Mexican Restaurants has acquired Mission Burritos in a $725,000 deal, according to the Houston Business Journal. Mission Burritos first opened in 1995 on West Alabama. Mexican Restaurants operates 80 Mexican restaurants, including Casa Ole, Monterey's Tex Mex Caf?, Monterey's Little Mexico, La Senorita and Tortuga Mexican Kitchen, and employs more than 3,000 employees in four states.

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The Dinerstein Companies has completed the acquisition of Southwest Freeway property near Weslayan, according to the Houston Business Journal, and will begin construction of a 309-unit apartment complex. The land purchase includes the Comfort Inns site from Greenway Plaza Hospitality and office buildings site from Tiburon Corporation. Dinerstein will spend up to $50 million to construct two buildings of luxury mid-rise apartments, to be complete by early 2008.


Analysts say Dell still has the ingredients for success--but desperately needs some adjustments. It wasn't too long ago when Dell was riding high on the success of its patented direct-sales model to consumers and businesses. The Round Rock computer maker boldly predicted it would soon swell from $50 billion in revenue to $80 billion. But then the PC market slowed, profits tumbled and share prices took a hit. Complaints began to mount about its customer service. Then came last week. Dell issued the largest electronics recall in U.S. history, reported dismal second-quarter earnings and acknowledged a probe by federal investigators for unspecified accounting issues. Analysts say there weren't enough details to know if the probe is cause for concern. So what happens next to the squeaky-clean company built on efficiency, the one that used to inspire fear in competitors with its low prices and sheer size? It still has the ingredients for success, analysts said, but desperately needs some adjustments.


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