The all-important consumer sector remains a bright spot for the economy. The government says consumers boosted their borrowing in March at the fastest pace in four months. That suggests they're still resilient in the face of rising energy prices and a painful housing slump. The Federal Reserve report shows that consumer credit increased at a brisk annual rate of 6.7 percent in March, up sharply from February's 2.8 percent growth rate. It's the biggest increase since November. Consumer spending is indispensable to a healthy economy. The economy grew at an anemic 1.3 percent pace in the January-to-March quarter, the weakest rate in four years. It was fallout from the housing slump and belt-tightening by businesses. Consumers, however, managed to spend modestly, an important factor in keeping the economy moving ahead.
The Houston Business Journal is planning an event next week for what publisher John Beddow calls "a celebration of capitalism and free enterprise." Beddow says events include a rock concert at the Wortham Center on Thursday, May 17th, called "Battle of the Business Bands."
"These are rock'n'roll cover bands that just happen to have a lot of business people either playing in the band or running the band or conducting the band, or—first time that I think this has ever been done here in Houston. And it's part of our celebration of free enterprise and business. The band I'm most familiar with is called "Complete Wrecks," and that's Terry Andrus, the CEO of a company called Complete RX, which is a company that manages hospital pharmacies."
Six bands are slated to perform. Beddow says next week's events are designed to celebrate entrepreneurs in Houston who make the city happen.
"Kicking off Wednesday morning will be an Economic Development forum. Later that day is a 'Best Places to Work' forum, and we're bringing in James Harter, who's a behavioral scientist with the Gallup organization. Thursday morning we're having an energy forum with Porter and Hedges. That evening, of course, is 'Battle of the Business Bands.' Friday we're having a celebration of the best CFOs in Houston. 'Celebrate Enterprise' concludes at the Alley Theater Friday night for the world premiere of 'Treasure Island'."
Information about "Celebrate Enterprise" is in the current Houston Business Journal.
Computer maker Dell has agreed to work with Microsoft and Novell in an alliance to make the Windows operating system and the Linux system work together easier. Novell had entered the partnership with Microsoft last November. Microsoft then said it would allow corporate customers to license Windows as part of a package that includes support for Novell's Suse Linux platform. Now, Round Rock-based Dell has agreed to buy Suse Linux certificates from Microsoft. It also agrees to set up a services and marketing program aimed at getting users of open-source operating platforms to switch to the new Suse Linux. Dell is the first major computer maker to align itself with the Microsoft-Novell collaboration. Susan Heystee is vice president and general manager of Global Strategic Alliances at Novell. She says Dell's participation recognizes the primacy of the Windows and Linux systems, and that customers want them to work better together to run their computers.
Electronic Data Systems said it's won an eight-year, $1 billion contract to manage computer systems and applications for European retail and tourism group Karstadtquelle. EDS will take responsibility for Karstadtquelle's information technology subsidiary. That subsidiary will be used to create an EDS retail service center in Germany. The subsidiary has about 700 employees. Plano-based EDS said the contract will reduce costs for Karstadtquelle and strengthen the EDS position in the European retail market. The agreement covers technology services for Karstadt's Department Stores in Germany and the international mail-order businesses of its Primondo unit. EDS will also manage third-party contracts for the company's communications network. EDS said it will manage and provide support for more than 15,000 desktop and notebook computers, PDSs and other devices.
Crown Castle International has purchased the 1220 August Building between San Felipe and Woodway in the Galleria area, according to the Houston Chronicle. Crown Castle is one of the biggest owners of phone towers in the United States, managing more than 22,000 wireless communications sites, as well as 1,300 in Australia.
Sterling Bancshares is acquiring MBM Advisors, a Houston-based investment advisory and pension administration/consulting firm. The Houston Business Journal says the company will operate as a subsidiary of Sterling Bank.
Houston-based Synthesis Energy Systems and Yima Coal Industry Group are establishing a joint venture company for a new integrated coal gasification to methanol to DME plant in Henan Province, China. Synthesis is a coal gasification company involved in conversion of low-cost fuels into clean energy and chemical products. Yima is a Chinese integrated coal company. The plant will convert low-quality, high-ash coals into a clean gaseous mixture called synthesis gas, to be used as a feedstock for the production of methanol, used in the manufacture of plastics, paints and construction materials. The methanol in this application will be used to produce dimethly ether—an alternative to liquified petroleum gas. Liquid natural gas, diesel and gasoline.
Two new family entertainment venues are set to open in Houston, according to the Houston Business Journal. Dallas-based iT'Z will open on Tomball Parkway near Highway 249 and FM 1960. It will feature more than 150 video games, bowling, indoor amusement rides and a retail outlet with a variety of foods. And The Main Event opens its second Houston location on Magnolia in Webster on May 9th. It will feature 28 lanes of bowling, billiards, laser tag, an arcade with over 100 games, glow-in-the-dark golf, a caf? and two bars.
Texas is among a dozen states competing to host a federal research lab full of killer germs like anthrax and avian flu. The states are bidding for a proposed 520,000-square-foot national bio- and agro-defense facility that will cost at least $450 million to build. It will replace an aging, smaller lab at Plum Island, New York. San Antonio is offering three sites that officials will visit. A visit is planned Wednesday to a College Station site offered by Texas A&M. The Homeland Security Department facility promises at least 300 lab-related jobs, and more in construction. The government says it will take into account offers of roads, cheap water supplies and discounted utilities as bait. Some residents, however, don't think the lab is such a great idea in their back yards. Opponents in Mississippi have posted "no bio-lab'' signs. And at a public meeting in Kansas residents voiced concerns about lab safety, road congestion and the project's potential to make the area a terror risk.
The latest U.S. technology use survey suggests untapped potential for business and counters the notion that the more gadgets people have, the more they are likely to embrace technology. The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 31 percent of Americans are elite users, 20 percent are moderate users and the remainder have little or no usage of the Internet or cell phones. Pew Associate Director John Horrigan says 25 percent of elites are so-called "lackluster veterans.'' They use older technology, aren't thrilled by it and could represent potential for companies that design something to capture their interest. "Mobile Centrics'' are moderate users of technology who find it burdensome and represent an opportunity for mobile companies with premium services once faster wireless networks become available. Only 15 percent have neither a cell phone nor an Internet connection.