Tuesday AM December 5th, 2006

Harris County utilizing paperless system to maintain real property records...Number of corporate CEOs leaving jobs this year exceeds 2005's record level...Five Houston-area malls extend operating hours for holiday season...

Harris County begins using the paperless Landata e-Recording System from Stewart Titletoday to maintain all real property records, including documents related to real estate sales. Stewart Title will electronically transmit real estate closing documents to the Harris County Clerk's office. Landata's software scans and electronically submits documents to the County Clerk's office, which reviews each document for compliance with recording standards. The documents are then processed through the Landata e-Star cashiering system, and the recorded documents are returned to the submitter within minutes of receipt. The system will lead to savings from decreased costs for return mail postage, document scanning, cashiering functions and document imprinting.


With another month to go, the number of corporate CEOs who have left their jobs this year already exceeds 2005's record level. Challenger, Gray and Christmas, the outplacement firm that tracks such comings and goings, says 113 corporate chiefs headed for the exits in November. That brings the total for 2006 to 1,347--25 more than left during all of last year. And we still have December to factor in. CEO John Challenger says eight of last month's departures were the result of options backdating, bringing the number of CEOs claimed by the growing scandal in the last two months alone to 15.


More companies are embracing a selective approach rather than exclusively relying on a single provider when outsourcing HR technology, according to Watson Wyatt Worldwide. Only eight percent of U.S. companies surveyed consolidated benefits administration and other human resources activities with a single vendor in 2005, with only five percent planned to do so by 2007.


The cost of shipping is going up if you use Fedex. The company says standard list rates for Fedex ground and Fedex home delivery shipments will cost an extra 4.9 percent starting New Year's Day. Fedex also will begin adding other "transportation-related surcharges," such as those for rural or home delivery, to total costs before figuring fuel surcharges on Fedex ground shipments. It announced last month that rates for its Fedex Express shipments in the U.S. and for export will increase by 3.5 percent as of the first of the year. UPS, a major Fedex competitor, is also raising rates next year. List rates are going up 4.9 percent for ground and Air Express shipments.


Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt says his office has begun mailing 1,350,000 property tax bills for 2006. The statements are available online, featuring a link that allows property owners to view a graph displaying the increases in the property values and taxes from 1990 to 2006. Five years of account history is included in the bill.


To accommodate Christmas shoppers, five Houston-area General Growth Properties malls are extending operating hours for the final week of the holiday season. From December 18th through the 23rd, the shopping centers will open at 7 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. On Christmas Eve, stores will open at 7 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. The malls include Baybrook Mall, Deerbrook Mall, First Colony Mall, The Woodlands Mall and Willowbrook Mall.


HomeAid Houston has completed a transitional housing project for Hurricane Katrina survivors in Houston, according to the Houston Business Journal. Wellspring Village on Allum Road has 48 beds featuring six, four-bedroom homes on three acres. David Weekley Homes and Tilson Home Corporation served as building coordinators, donating $475,000 worth of construction management and professional services to the $1.5 million project. Through a $3 million donation by Americquest Mortgage Company and its affiliates, HomeAid has built three hurricane evacuee housing projects along the Gulf Coast.


Continental Airlines and U.S. Helicopter will jointly provide shuttle service between Manhattan and Continental's Newark hub beginning December 18th. Bags can be checked at the Manhattan heliport near Wall Street through to the passenger's final destination. It's an eight-minute flight to the Newark Liberty International Airport.


Continental reports it flew at 80.7 percent capacity in November, compared to 78.7 percent a year ago. The Houston-based air carrier flew seven million revenue passenger miles on 8.7 million available seat miles.


Verizon has expanded its DSL broadband service in Texas, adding upgrades to more than 80 of its network switching centers. By extending the reach of its DSL service within 48 communities, Verizon is now covering Baytown, College Station, Dickinson, Kemah, League City, Santa Fe, Stafford and other communities.


Affiliated Computer Services said it's won a two-year, $230 million contract extension to process Medicaid claims for the state of Texas. The Dallas-based information technology contractor says its deal with the State Health and Human Services Commission began in January 2004 and is now extended through August 2009. ACS is partnered with Bermuda-based partner Accenture. Together, they help the commission with relations with medical providers authorizing procedures. They also run call centers that deal with almost three million Texans who have Medicaid health coverage. ACS administers government health programs and says it is the nation's largest manager of government pharmacy benefits programs, operating in 25 states.


Natural Resources Partners has completed the purchase of nearly 25,000 acres in Boone County, West Virginia. The Southern West Virginia property contains more than 80 million tons of coal reserves, as well as natural gas and timber. Houston based NRP paid $110 million for the property owned by D.D. Shepard, which adjoins land NRP already owns. NRP expects the property to generate approximately $2 million in revenue this month. Next year, NRP is looking for $20 million in royalties from coal and more than $2 million from gas and other fees. Peabody Energy leases the coal reserves and Dominion Exploration and Production leases the gas reserves. NRP's operational base is in Huntington, West Virginia.


El Paso Corporation subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline has put two natural gas pipeline extensions into service in the northeast. The $39 million Northeast ConneXion NY/NJ Expansion project will help meet growing energy demand in the New York and New Jersey areas. Public Service Electric & Gas will have the option of withdrawing greater volumes of natural gas from market area storage and transport additional gas.


Natural gas provider Atmos Energy Corporation said it plans to issue 5.5 million shares of common stock to pay down debt. The Dallas-based utility says underwriters will get options to buy up to 825-,000 additional shares. The company disclosed its plans in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs will manage the offering, and co-managers include Banc of America Securities, J.P. Morgan and Merrill Lynch. Atmos says it would cancel appearances planned this week at two analyst conferences.


Millions of Americans are waiting to see if the outgoing Republican Congress revives tax breaks that expired 11 months ago. Lawmakers will make one more try when they return next week to wrap up their work for the year. Businesses could be big losers if Congress fails to renew the research and development tax credit. Teachers could lose their $250 deduction for books and supplies they pay for out of their own pocket. Residents of Teas, as well as Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming will miss out on an average $1,500 deduction for state and local sales taxes. The IRS has included a note in its forms that legislation was pending at the time of printing.


Willie Nelson played in the "Austin City Limits'' pilot in 1974. When the long-running Public Television music show unveils its new Austin studio in 2010, Nelson will be a co-owner. Nelson and nephew Freddy Fletcher will be partners in the studio and night club project with majority owner Austin-based Stratus Properties. Stratus will build the space as part of a $225 million project. The development also will include a 35-story tower with 200 luxury condos atop a 250 room W Hotel, a new home for the Austin Children's Museum and shops and restaurants. The $15 million, 2,000-seat venue will unofficially be called Austin City Limits Studio Theater. It'll serve as a soundstage about 40 nights a year when KLRU's "Austin City Limits'' tapes. It's transform into a musically diverse house of blues-style club on other nights. Groundbreaking for the development is scheduled for next summer.


The National Cancer Institute has awarded the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center an $11 million grant to lead a genetic study on the causes and risk factors of adult and pediatric malignant primary brain tumors. Researchers hope to uncover genetic information that may lead to improved treatment and prevention strategies.


A Big Spring native has embarked on a project in his old hometown to restore a 15-story hotel built in the 1930s. The settles hotel is said to have once been the tallest building between Fort Worth and El Paso. G. Brint Ryan, founder of the Dallas-based tax consulting firm Ryan and Company, says he's secured more than $10 million to restore the 76-year-old building. It's been vacant since the early 1980s. Ryan recently purchased it from the city of Big Spring. Mayor Russ McEwen says the hotel restoration would be a major boost to downtown revitalization efforts in Big Spring, which is about 240 miles west of Fort Worth. He says voters passed a $9.2 million bond issue last month that will lead to improved streets, sidewalks and landscaping downtown.


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