Wednesday AM May 16th, 2007

WBEA stages 10th annual trade show and conference for women business owners...Consumer Price Index up four-tenths of one percent...IRS: Record 77 million taxpayers filed electronically this year...

The Women's Business Enterprise Alliance is holding its 10th annual "EXPO: Connections 2007" at Reliant Center through tomorrow. The trade show and conference for women business owners—open to the public--expects some 1,300 owners, corporate leaders and city and government representatives. Susan Retka is the WBEA's interim executive director.

"The EXPO is about connection women business owners with corporate America, state agencies and city government. We have representatives from large corporations such as ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, HEB Grocery, along with state agencies and the city of Houston. And they have their buyers, they have opportunities and they're looking to match those opportunities with our women business owners. It's a great way for women who have a new business or have a business or are looking to start a business, to see if this type of organization can help them."

The exhibit opens tomorrow, and a luncheon will recognize nominees and winners of corporate and WBE award categories.

"On the 17th you're going to see a lot of business being done--a lot of connections being made. Different corporations looking for WBEs to do business, or women business owners, and also women business owners looking to do business with other women. Just about any industry that you could possibly think of, and even industries that you wouldn't think of, from the small consulting firm--maybe the women business owner who works out of her home--to multi-million dollar companies that do fuel transportation. We have one company that makes crash test dummies for the amusement park industry."

An interactive workshop is set for today, demonstrating how the media can be utilized to help grow your business.

The Labor Department says retail price pressures cooled overall last month despite the persistent rise in gasoline prices. The Consumer Price Index surged four-tenths of one percent, which is below expectations and down from the prior month. The core rate, which excludes food and energy, was up two-tenths. The benchmark reflected falling prices for clothing, airline tickets and tobacco products, helping to restrain underlying inflation. The Federal Reserve has continued to fret about inflation, but has stopped short of boosting interest rates further.

Housing, food and beverages and gasoline are less expensive in the Houston area compared to other major U.S. cities, but that's not the case with apparel, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Bureau of Labor Statistics April Consumer Price Index indicates apparel prices in Houston are up 2.1 percent from last year at this same time, while the national average is down four-tenths of a percent. Food and beverages are up in the Houston area 3.1 percent from last year and the housing index is up 1.5 percent. The cost of gas and electricity is more expensive than the national average, although the cost of gasoline is below the national average. For all items, the Houston April Consumer Price Index is up 1.5 percent. Nationwide, the index is up 2.5 percent.

Mortgage foreclosures are on the rise as borrowers failed to keep up with loan payments. RealtyTrac, an industry research firm, says lenders foreclosed on 62 percent more homes in April than a year ago. That translates to nearly 148,000 foreclosures last month compared with 91,000 in 2006. Foreclosures have been rising due to loans given to people with shaky credit. The National Association of Realtors says existing home sales were down 6.6 percent in the first quarter, compared to a year earlier. The national median single-family home price was put at $212,000, down 1.8 percent from a year ago. The group says the worst of the housing price correction is behind. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia showed an increase in the rate of home sales last quarter compared to only six states showing gains a quarter earlier. The median is a typical market price where half the homes sold for more and half the homes sold for less.

The Texas Workforce Commission says nearly 360,000 Texas employers paying into the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund will receive some $320 million in refunds. The TWC says strong job growth has reduced demands on the unemployment insurance system in Texas. The fund rose above state-mandated levels, prompting the commission to send surplus tax credits to employers averaging $800.

TXU Corporation has agreed to expand its use of wind power from west Texas. That will bring the Dallas-based company's use of renewable energy to five percent of its capacity. TXU's wholesale division has signed a five-year contract for 209 megawatts of power--enough for 60,000 homes—from Ireland-based Airtricity. Airtricity plans to erect 209 wind turbines stretching across 30,000 acres in three counties. The Roscoe Wind Farm is under construction about 45 miles southwest of Abilene. Financial terms weren't disclosed. TXU has capacity to generate about 18,000 megawatts of power--more than half from natural gas and about one-third from coal-fired plants.

Kinder Morgan plans to build a $72 million pipeline to carry natural gas from east Texas markets to markets in Houston and Beaumont. The 58-mile pipeline will connect Kinder Morgan's Tejas system in Houston County to its Texas system in Polk County. CenterPoint Energy Services has signed a long-term agreement to use part of its initial shipping capacity.

The South Texas Project nuclear power plant has selected the Sargent & Lundy engineering firm as special advisers for the plant's proposed expansion, according to the Houston Chronicle. The plant plans to double the reactors to four, enabling it to generate 5,200 megawatts.

Round Rock-based Dell has opened a new plant in Hortolandia, Brazil, near Sao Paulo, and revamped its Contact Center and Software Development Center, both in Rio Grande do Sul. Dell says the new location will reduce shipping times and costs. Dell plans to extend its presence in the Brazilian business market.

The IRS says a record 77 million taxpayers have filed their tax returns electronically this year. Computer filing from home is up about 11 percent from last year. The agency says it expects about 58 percent of all returns to be ''e-filed'' this year. By the way, the average refund this year is $2,255. That's up about 2.5 percent from this time last year.

Kemah-based International American Technologies has changed its name to Hammond Industries, after founder Carl Hammonds, according to the Houston Business Journal. The company will change its ticker on the OTC Bulletin Board to "HMDI." The firm provides fuel additives, fluid-powered technology, fuel treatment products, hydrostatic testing equipment and water-chlorination systems.

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