Wednesday AM October 11th, 2006

Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau welcomes 21 conventions in November...Venezuela seeks more taxes from Harvest Natural Resources...Houston Katrina/Rita Relief Fund funds to help evacuee students meet Texas standards...

The Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau will welcome 21 conventions, trade shows and other events in November. GHCVB President and CEO Jordy Tollett says more than 73,230 registered attendees will spend an estimated $71.3 million in Houston during the month. The International Quilt Festival is set for November 2nd through the 5th at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The Psychonomic Society, which promotes the communication of scientific research in psychology, will hold its annual conference at the Hilton Americas November 17th and 18th. The Subsea Tieback Conference & Exhibition will be held November 25th through December 1st at the George R. Brown Convention Center.


The Venezuela tax agency says Houston-based Harvest Natural Resources owes Venezuela $15.6 million for 2005. Harvest Natural has also been assessed $56 million in back taxes from 2001 to 2004. Venezuela forced Harvest Natural to convert is operations to a joint venture earlier this year.


BP cut operations at its Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska after a power outage caused by high winds. In fact, not a drop of oil is flowing in the 800 miles of Trans-Alaska Pipeline. It's shut because of a technical problem. Operators say they lost the communications system that would let them remotely close valves if there's a spill. Under the rules, there has to be a shutdown until that's repaired, or until they get staff out to the valves. Floods from heavy rains are thought to have knocked out fiber optic communications lines along a highway. Prudhoe Bay was partially shut in August by BP when a leak was discovered in a corroded transit line.


Money from the Houston Katrina/Rita Relief Fund will be spent on helping evacuee students in Houston meet Texas school standards. A donation of $3.9 million from the fund is to be recognized by the Houston Independent School District school board this week. The money will pay for intensive extra instruction after school and on weekends in math and reading for students at 11 HISD schools which took in the largest number of evacuees.


The Department of Labor has approved a $1.7 million grant for the Texas Workforce Commission to help El Paso and Hudspeth county clean up and recover from recent flooding. The money will be used for a project to provide temporary jobs to assist with cleanup and recovery, as well as projects that provide food, clothing, shelter and other assistance for flood victims.


A Houston janitor who's story has been told by co-workers with the Service Employees International Union is a finalist for Glamour magazine's annual "Woman of the Year" contest. Ercilia Sandoval, a mother of two, was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, but doesn't receive health insurance from her $5.25-an-hour job. Sandoval is a member of her union bargaining committee. She's featured on the magazine's Web site. Negotiations over a contract in Houston, which would affect 5,300 janitors and their families, are in the final stages. The janitors have voted to authorize a strike, if necessary.


A former executive convicted of embezzling millions from Patterson-UTI Energy has been sentenced to 25 years in prison. A federal judge in Lubbock sentenced 36-year-old Jonathan D. Nelson over the bogus invoice scheme. The former chief financial officer was accused of taking more than $77 million from the second-largest land-based oil and gas drilling rig fleet in North America. Authorities say Nelson bought an airplane, an airfield, a ranch, a truck stop, homes and vehicles. Nelson also was fined $200,000. He was ordered to pay restitution of about $77 million--minus the money recouped from the sale of assets Nelson had purchased with the stolen funds. Nelson in April pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and aiding and abetting and one count of engaging in monetary transactions derived from specified unlawful activity and aiding and abetting. He could have received 30 years in prison. Nelson also faces a Securities and Exchange Commission civil lawsuit.


A forum on seismic exploration and production was staged Tuesday at the University of Houston by the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America. Petroleum industry experts from BP, Hess, ConocoPhillips and WesternGeco discussed the status and challenges for seismic exploration and production. This is the first of six technical forums to define the program and direct funding to address issues relevant to the petroleum industry.


Tellepsen Builders has been awarded $340 million in projects around the Texas Medical Center, according to the Houston Business Journal. The projects include the Texas Children's Neurosurgery Research Institute, a professional office complex with clinic space, a parking garage and work for the Baylor College of Medicine. Tellepsen has been working on the Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center Heart & Vascular Institute.


Duke Realty Corporation is acquiring more than 100 acres of industrial land in north and northwest Houston. The company plans to develop Westland Business Park, south of Highway 290 at the West Road/Eldrige Parkway exit, and Houston Intercontinental Trade Center, off Kenswick Drive. Duke Realty plans to attract companies needing distribution or light manufacturing centers in Houston.


Eastman Chemical is selling its polyethylene business to Houston-based Westlake Chemical for $255 million in cash. The sale includes Eastman's polyethylene business and epolene polymer business and related assets. One of those assets is a 200-mile ethylene pipeline from Mont Belvieu to Eastman's three polyethylene plants in Longview. The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2006. Kingsport, Tennesee-based Eastman says the unit generated about $680 million in revenue last year. Polyethylene is a polymer of ethylene and is used in plastic utensils, shower curtains and wire insulation, among other applications. About 400 employees work in Eastman's polyethylene and epolene operations. Some 255 are expected to remain with Eastman and continue producing polyethylene for Westlake.


Dallas-based golf resort operator Clubcorp said today it's agreed to sell nearly 170 clubs to KSL Capital Partners. Clubcorp also says it'll sell its Pinehurst, North Carolina golf club to the family of company founder Robert Dedman. The deals are valued at a total of $1.8 billion. Clubcorp said the sales are expected to close by year end. KSL Capital Partners is a private equity firm that invests in travel and leisure businesses. Its management company, KSL Resorts, manages the San Diego's Hotel Del Coronado; the La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, California; and Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa in Rancho Mirage, California. The Dedman family controls about two-thirds of the stock of privately held Clubcorp. It had annual revenue last year of over $1 billion and has 18,000 employees and nearly 200,000 member households.


Nearly 400 IBM employees from the Hardware Development Division are looking for new jobs within the company or face being laid off. It's part of realignment by New York-based IBM. Those employees work with the group that develops servers and microchips for IBM systems sold globally. Spokesman Jeff Couture says some employees already have found new jobs at IBM. He says many have moved into a position where they're working more closely with clients or in development of new business opportunities. Depending on how many workers find new positions at IBM, the company's Austin plant could take the biggest hit--with about 100 layoffs. Employees were notified of the change in September. They received a follow-up notice last week and have until early November to find new positions. IBM has about 130,000 employees nationwide.


Dallas officials are asking residents and business owners to voluntarily conserve water in response to an 18-month drought that's taking a toll on city reservoirs. The city enacted stage one of its drought contingency plan, joining its neighbors in the North Texas Municipal Water District that are working to cope with low reservoirs. Residents are asked to limit lawn watering to two specific days of the week. They're also asked to voluntarily reduce pool filling, car washing, filling of ornamental fountains, and watering of parks and golf courses. The measures also requests that restaurants and hotels not serve water or replace linens unless customers ask for the service. Assistant City Manager Ramon Miguez says the water shortage is a concern but not a crisis at this point.


Houston's SugarHill Recording Studios celebrates its 65th year in the recording business this month. The studio helped launch the careers of Freddy Fender, George Jones, The Big Bopper, Lightnin' Hopkins and the Sir Douglas Quintet. Other successful musical acts who have recorded at SugarHill include the 13th Floor Elevators, Bubble Puppy, an early version of ZZ Top called the Moving Sidewalks, B. J. Thomas, Asleep at the Wheel, and even Willie Nelson and Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman. Tracks have been recorded there by Todd Rundgren, Ted Nugent, Lucinda Williams, Destiny's Child and Beyonce, Clay Walker and Ricky Nelson, among others. With the massive rise in home recording, the studio has changed its course to include radio shows and other services.


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