Thursday AM June 21st, 2007

HISD board to consider teacher pay raises...ExxonMobil Chemical plans Florida facility to make material that improves tire durability...J. Ray McDermott joins Fluor-led consortium constructing drilling and gas production platform off Trinidad...

Teachers in the Houston Independent School District would get an average pay raise of 5.7 percent this year—their second pay raise in a row—under a proposal to be reviewed by the school board this morning. Pay raises would range from at least three percent to 12.7 percent, with an average of 5.7 percent under the budget plan. Also being considered is an increase in funding for schools—up to $214 per student from last year, based on a formula that gives schools extra dollars if they have more at risk or limited English students. The board will also review proposals to name a new school for former Secretary of Education Rod Paige. The board will vote on the $1.5 billion budget after a public hearing next Monday evening. The new budget goes into effect July 1st.


ExxonMobil Chemical plans to build a new facility at its Florida location to manufacture specialty elastomers and nylon. Start-up is slated for early 2008. The Pensacola plant would make material used to improve the quality of automobile tire inner liners, improving performance and durability by reducing air permeability. The company's Web site says the tires will weight less because less raw material is used. Houston-based ExxonMobil Chemical expects to commercialize the technology later this year. It expanded its Baytown plant to double production capacity.


Orion Ethanol of Pratt, Kansas, says it plans to merge with a Texas-based renewable energy company. Orion began in Pratt, where it's building an ethanol plant. It says it plans to merge with Greenhunter in Grapevine, Texas, and move its headquarters to that Dallas-Fort Worth suburb. The companies said that the stock-for-stock transaction is valued at nearly $150 million. It's still subject to federal regulator approval. Orion currently is completing construction of Pratt's Gateway Ethanol, a 55-million gallon plant that should be online in August. Gateway will begin taking local grain during fall harvest. Orion also is considering building a plant in Wellington, Kansas.


Tecton Energy has merged with SouthView Energy, according to the Houston Business Journal. Corporate offices will be in Houston and Calgary, Canada. Tecton controls more than 350,000 acres of producing, development and exploratory property throughout the United States and western Canada.


Houston-based J. Ray McDermott is joining a Fluor-led consortium planning to build a drilling and gas production platform off the coast of Trinidad, according to the Houston Business Journal. Irving-based Fluor says construction is expected to begin this fall, with the first gas production by the end of 2008. Fluor will handle project management, design and fabrication of the platform, and the McDermott International subsidiary will design and fabricate the platform jacket, as well as transport and install the jacket and topsides.


Foreign companies that trade on U.S. exchanges may soon have an easier time reporting their financial results. The Securities and Exchange Commission has tentatively approved eliminating a requirement for foreign companies to "reconcile'' their financial results with U.S. standards called Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Foreign companies, which already use International Financial Reporting Standards, complain that the SEC requirement is burdensome and expensive. However, some analysts say eliminating the reconciliation requirement would make it harder for investors to evaluate companies' financial results and compare them. The change, which is subject to a public comment period, would apply to 2008 annual reports, which are submitted in early 2009.


Wal-Mart says it will begin to sell prepaid Visa debit cards that don't require the user to have a credit check or bank account. The world's largest retailer has been looking to expand financial services offerings, particularly for millions of consumers who don't have bank accounts or carry plastic. Wal-Mart is also planning to add hundreds of in-store centers to focus on the financial products it already offers, including payroll check cashing and money transfers. The number of what it calls ''MoneyCenters'' will rise from about 255 now to about 1,000 by the end of 2008. Wal-Mart says the reloadable prepaid Visa card, dubbed the Wal-Mart MoneyCard, will be offered in a partnership with a unit of General Electric and card provider Green Dot.


An Austin Cleantech Forum event this evening focuses on the economic opportunities of solar programs, comparing it with the industry in Germany, Japan and California. A member of the German Parliament and president of the European Association for Renewable Energy will speak, as well as solar manufacturers and equity analysts. The University of Texas Bureau for Business Research will unveil its solar study called "Opportunity on the Horizon: Photovoltaics in Texas."


The Omni Hotel has broken ground at Four Riverway in the Galleria area for its expanded ballroom and spa, slated for completion in the summer of 2008. And Houston-based American Liberty Hospitality has broken ground on a new Hilton Garden Inn at I-10 and Dairy Ashford Road, set for completion in August 2008.


Triple Net Properties has sold 1401 Enclave Parkway to Parkway Properties Office Fund, according to the Houston Business Journal. The six-story office building in west Houston was purchased by California-based T REIT in December 2003.


A Houston-based company has begun renovations at the site of the former Mississippi beef plant near Oakland, Mississippi. Windsor Quality Food Company bought the plant Friday from Community Bank. Windsor President and CEO Greg Geib says if the renovations for food production go well, the plant would open early next year. Windsor manufactures and markets specialty frozen foods at ten other U.S. plants in the U.S. It expects to employ 150 to 200 people after the first round of renovations to the northern Mississippi plant. Eventually, it's expected to employ up to 400 people after six to eight production lines are running. The Oakland plant closed in August 2004, three months after it opened, because of failed equipment and a lack of operating capital. The 140,000-square-foot plant employed 400 workers and cost the state of Mississippi at least $55 million. Two people, including former plant owner Richard N. Hall, Jr., have pleaded guilty to charges related to its failure.


Finding video to watch on the Internet could become more like watching TV. An Internet video company backed by media mogul Michael Eisner is introducing software that will allow viewers to find and watch Web video the same way they choose TV programs. While Web video sites such as Joost, Metacafe, YouTube and others offer videos hosted on their own sites, VEOH Networks will serve like an online digital recorder. It'll surf the net for everything from two-minute user-generated videos to the latest episodes of "Desperate Housewives."

When you buy one of the eagerly-awaited iPhones when it ships next week, you'll be able to play YouTube videos on it. Apple says about 10,000 YouTube videos will be available for the launch and that YouTube will be recoding the rest of its videos into the format used by the iPhone. They are expected to be ready by this fall. YouTube videos are already available on the Apple TV device, a small computer that connects to a TV.


Albertson's announced plans to sell 23 of its Oklahoma grocery stores to four different retailers by the end of July. Albertson's also plans to sell its Fort Worth distribution center to Associated Wholesale Grocers. It's a cost-cutting move by the subsidiary of Minneapolis-based Supervalu. Terms of the sales weren't disclosed. Albertson's has more than 47,000 associates in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.


Gatorade and Powerade account for 99 percent of the market for so-called sports drinks. The concoctions are touted as replacing key elements that the body sweats out during hard exercise. But candy and beverage giant Cadbury Schweppes thinks there's room for another player. Cadbury--whose U.S. arm is based in Plano--is launching a new drink with a twist--it contains protein. Company officials claim protein increases an athlete's endurance by nearly one-third over the other brands. Cadbury is targeting retailers such as 7-Eleven, Target, Kroger, Safeway and GNC Vitamin Stores. But Dr. Bob Murray with the Gatorade Sports Science Institute says his research hasn't shown any benefit from adding protein to a drink used during exercise. Murray says it could even upset the stomach and cause dehydration because of "negative taste issues.''


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