Wednesday AM June 20th, 2007

Harvest Natural Resources negotiates deal with Venezuelan government...Texas again tops list for employment gains...Recent changes in state law and Harris County regulations will impact mobile food establishment operations...

Houston-based Harvest Natural Resources, like other companies, has been negotiating with the Venezuelan government to retain an exploration and production presence. The Venezuelan National Assembly has approved the formation of mixed company Petrodelta and the award of three fields to the new company. An 80 percent-owned Harvest affiliate will own 40 percent of Petrodelta, while Venezolana del Petroleo will own the remaining 60 percent. Harvest says it has been fighting to preserve the significant value of its Venezuelan business while adapting to the policy changes initiated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

For the second month in a row, Texas tops the list for payroll employment gains in the non-farm sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau's May regional and state employment report says Texas gained 22,700 jobs compared with April, topping Illinois and California. Compared with the same month last year, Texas saw a 0.9 percent drop in unemployment, from five percent to 4.1 percent in May 2007. Nationally, unemployment remains unchanged at 4.5 percent.

Several recent changes in state law and Harris County regulations will have a major impact on mobile food establishment operations, according to Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services. Changes that take effect on September 1st require additional documentation for the application and renewal of mobile food vendor permits. All establishments that prepare food must have a manager trained in food safety on duty during all hours of operation. Mobile food units must now operate within 300 feet of a restroom facility and obtain written proof of permission to use the restroom. The annual permit fee for a mobile food establishment that prepares food is now $250, or $100 for those that do not prepare food. A new state law requires that all mobile food units in Harris County return to an approved commissary in the 24-hour period before each day of operation for cleaning and other services. Another new state law requires written, notarized permission from a property owner to operate their mobile unit on the property.

Houston-based KGen Power has agreed to acquire two energy plants from Complete Energy Holdings of Houston in a $1.3 billion deal, according to the Houston Business Journal. The deal includes a 1,859-megawatt portfolio of two combined cycle facilities in California and Mississippi. The deal increases KGen's total generating capacity by more than 60 percent.

Tigress Software Group has been helping the Iraqi oil industry by consolidating large volumes of exploration and production data in record time. A division of Houston-based Geotrace, the firm assembled, consolidated and catalogued a variety of E&P data, including maps, geophysical and petrophysical information, as well as engineering and production data. The project took three months. The company's David Sullivan says the information is extremely valuable to the Iraqis who didn't know the full value of their assets because much of the data was unorganized because of infrastructure damage and turmoil from war. Geotrace acquired Tigress Software in late 2006.

The partnership of Denver-based Amstar Group and Houston-based Cameron Management has sold the Esperson buildings to Seligman Western Enterprises for an undisclosed sum. The property consists of the Niels and Mellie Esperson buildings on Travis and Walker downtown, acquired in December 2004.

Government lawyers say the chief executive of Whole Foods Market told his board that the purchase of a rival could eliminate the competitor. The feds say John Mackey talked about what would happen if Austin-based Whole Foods bought its leading rival. The feds say Mackey also said that buying Wild Oats Markets would let Whole Foods "avoid nasty price wars'' in several cities where the two compete. Federal Trade Commission lawyers reported the comments in a request this month for a temporary injunction to block Whole Foods from buying Wild Oats. A federal judge approved the request. Whole Foods this week extended its tender offer for Wild Oats through July 20th. Another delay could be coming because a hearing in the lawsuit has been scheduled for July 31st.

Businessman Roger Staubach will step down as chief executive and become executive chairman of the real estate consulting firm he built after his NFL career ended. The Staubach Company announced the change. Details also were unveiled on what the company calls a long-planned recapitalization of the firm that is expected to be complete by June 30th. Staubach has held the titles of chairman and CEO of the Dallas-based company. The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback said he would continue to work full-time. Gregory O'Brien, president of the company's northeast region, will become CEO. The company also announced other promotions and the addition of three executives to its board. Staubach is also on the board of Fort Worth-based AMR—the parent of American Airlines.

HelmsBriscoe is holding its 15th annual Business Conference beginning today at the George R. Brown Convention Center. HB is the world's largest purchaser of group hotel rooms with over 850 associates in 33 countries. The firm books more than 20,000 meetings and events annually, and booked more than 48,000 room nights in Houston alone in 2006. More than 1,600 meeting planners are participating. The conference will bring some $1.5 million to the local economy, according to the Greater Houston Convention and Visitor's Bureau. The group has the power to direct many future meetings to the city.

San Antonio-based AT&T has launched what it says is the first service letting callers share live video between cell phones--during calls. Details came at the Nxtcomm Trade Show. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson says heavy demand for the I-phone shows the much-awaited device will be a game-changer for the telecommunications industry. The new AT&T video share service won't apply to the I-phone, which uses an older network. But the launch adds to the company's momentum as it gears up for the June 29th introduction of the much-anticipated Apple device. Video share was introduced in three markets--Atlanta, Dallas and San Antonio--and will be available elsewhere in late July. It works only on AT&T's 3-G wireless network and requires a video share-capable phone.

AT&T will remove numerous pay phones from various University of Houston campus locations over the next couple of months. The majority of campus payphones, in fact, will be removed, although three locations will still be served. The company says the removal is due to low call volumes, prompted by the ongoing growth of wireless phones, which have significantly impacted the demand of retail pay phone services. Payphones will stay in the Technology Building T2, third floor, the Hilton Hotel lobby and the University Center basement. But they're being removed from several other University Center and Hilton Hotel locations, as well as the Law Library, Agnes Arnold Auditorium, Roy Cullen Buidling, Moores School of Music lounge, Moody Tower lobby, Philip G. Hoffman Hall, College of Optometry, outdoor swimming pool and several locations at the Quadrangle Dorms.

The Williams Bailey law firm has formally changed its name to Williams Kherkher Hart Boundas, and will be known as Williams Kherkher. Founder and managing partner John Eddie Williams, Jr., says the update coincides with expansion in pharmaceutical and commercial litigation.

Houston-based Continental Airlines has the most satisfied customers among U.S. air carriers, according to the latest J.D. Power and Associates 2007 North America Airline Satisfaction Study. Continental is 24 points above second-place Delta Air Lines, and celebrates the second consecutive year it has won the award. Airlines are evaluated in seven areas: reservations, check-in, boarding/deplaning/baggage, aircraft, flight crew, in-flight services and costs and fees.

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