Thursday AM November 30th, 2006

Commerce Department issues upward revision for GDP...Houston IT recruiting firm predicts healthy jobs and salary outlook...Former Enron executive hired by Canada-based Tesco charged by SEC with Enron violations...

The economy was doing a little better in the most recent quarter, as it turns out. The Commerce Department has issued an upward revision to the third quarter Gross Domestic Product, now put at 2.2 percent. It had previously been put at an annual growth rate of 1.6 percent. In either case, it is the slowest quarterly pace since the end of last year. GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S. It is considered the best barometer of the country's economic fitness.


A Houston IT recruiting firm is compiling its 2006 Hiring Trends and Salary Survey based on responses from executive level IT managers, gauging their outlook for the industry's future. JDA Professional Services President James Del Monte says the survey was inspired by a rapidly increasing demand for IT workers.

"Seventy-seven percent of the respondents anticipated their business increasing over the next year. Twenty percent said it was going to stay the same and only three percent thought it was going to decline. There's more of an emphasis back to full-time permanent employees and away from some of the contingent workers. And what we're finding is that the reason for that is because of the tightness in the marketplace, people are realizing that they want to try to retain those resources longer, so they're bringing them on full-time instead of using consultants or contractors."

The survey also looks at projected salary changes.

"What we're finding is that with full employment right now--virtually all IT workers are working--that as the number of companies that are going to be adding additional resources, it's going to cause a huge churning effect of people just moving from one company to another. And that's due in part to there's not enough new people entering the work force, so in order for one company to have a net gain they're going to have to pull from the existing labor pool. And we're going to see a lot of turnover, which again, we're anticipating salaries having a big increase over the next couple of years because of it."

Del Monte says there's a decrease in available IT workers due to the aging baby-boomer demographic and significantly lower enrollment numbers for technology programs in colleges and universities. The JDA Professional Services survey is being prepared for a January release.


A former Enron executive and accountant hired by Canada-based Tesco has been charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission for abetting Enron's violations of reporting, record-keeping and internal controls provisions. Canada's Financial Post reports that Jerry Kent Castleman was charged on October 12th along with two other former Enron employees, one of whom has settled the charges against her. Because it's a civil case, there is no possibility of a jail sentence if Castleman is convicted. Tesco has offices in Calgary and Houston. Castleman works in the Houston office as vice president of planning and analysis. The SEC seeks an order barring Castleman from serving as an officer or director of a publicly-traded company.


The State Transportation Department is ending a program meant to make roads prettier, safer and historically relevant. Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson notified the Texas Historical Commission and other parties in a letter last week of the agency's decision to cut the statewide transportation enhancement program. He says it's a response to three Federal Highway Administration requests this year for the state to give up more than $305 million promised to Texas. He says the cuts are partly a result of the costs of hurricane response and the continuing war on terrorism. Larry Oaks, executive director of the Historical Commission, criticized the move. He says Congress appropriated funding the program and now transportation officials are cutting it anyway. Spokesman Mark Cross denies that the Transportation Department is opposed to the enhancement program.


Three workers who'd been on strike but crossed the picket line to return to their jobs at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber factory--say they've been harassed. The three, members of United Steelworkers Local 2 members in Ohio went back to work last week. The strike began October 5th. The three allege that some strikers were at their homes, including Thanksgiving Day, and used a bullhorn to criticize them in front of family and neighbors. Some police reports were filed. The strike has involved more than 12,000 steelworkers in the United States and Canada. One of the issues in labor negotiations has been the possible closure of the plant in Tyler, Texas. Goodyear has said it intends to close the plant.


Service Corporation International is acquiring rival funeral home and cemetery operator Alderwoods Group in a $856 million deal. SCI has funeral home and cemetery operations across North America.


Pittsburg-based Linn Energy has relocated its headquarters to Houston on Travis, according to the Houston Business Journal. The move centralizes the company's management as it acquires and develops oil and gas properties.


International Paper announced plans to sell 13 lumber mills--including two in east Texas--for $325 million. The buyer is West Fraser Timber. The move will transfer about 80 workers from IP's Memphis, Tennessee, headquarters to West Fraser, which is based in Vancouver, Canada. Company officials don't expect a net loss of jobs. The mills together employ about 2,200 people, including sites in New Boston and Henderson in Texas. International Paper is working to shed billions of dollars in assets by selling forestland and closing mills, using the proceeds to reduce debt and tighten financial operations.


A professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine's USDA Children's Nutrition Research Center in Houston has received a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Aging. Dr. William Wong will use the grant to help determine if a reduction of calories can increase longevity and decrease the risk of chronic disease, as suggested by previous animal studies.


Continental Airlines has added flight check-in capabilities on its Web site in Spanish. Spanish-speaking passengers can now book flights, check-in online and select seat assignments entirely in Spanish, by clicking the "Espa?ol" button on the main page. Latin American and Caribbean cities comprise more than half of Continental's international destinations.


If you think the holidays are a time to slack off in your efforts for career advancement or change—think again. According to Ford Myers of the executive career consulting firm Career Potential, that's a big mistake. He says this is a time of real opportunity because of lot of your competitors are taking time off from their efforts. Myers points out that many managers have to fill openings early in the year or they may lose the budget for that position. Also, once year-end bonuses are paid, some employees will leave their jobs, creating new vacancies. He says holiday parties are a good opportunity for networking and socializing that can go a long way toward opening career doors.


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