Tuesday AM July 3rd, 2007

Texas Workforce Commission replaces traditional paper unemployment checks with debit cards...Reddy Ice to be purchased by GSO Capital Partners for $1.1 billion...Trolleys to offer free service around The Woodlands Town Center starting July 5th...

The Texas Workforce Commission has launched Unemployment Insurance debit cards to replace traditional paper unemployment checks. The agency's Diane Rath explains that unemployment insurance cards work like other debit cards.

"It is a reloadable debit card, and in Texas once you've filed for unemployment benefits, which can be done either using a call center or online--and about a third of our calls come in online so we can process it at the customer's convenience—we then check to see if you do qualify, and if you meet eligibility requirements you will then receive a debit card in the mail, and you will call the 1-800 number to activate the card, and then after two weeks your funds will be deposited on the debit card and you'll be able to start using it right away. No longer will you have to wait for two or three days for the check to come in the mail. If mail's late, checks are stolen, or problems come up. So it's much more customer-friendly, and they can access any place they want to."

The state will save money by distributing unemployment insurance payments electronically rather than by mail.

"We're really excited, because the savings are going to be about a half-million dollars a year from printing checks and the postage. And we will be able to reinvest those savings, both in security measures, better technology, and most importantly, better service to our employers and our job seekers. It's a big state, and very importantly, between the administrative savings and the convenience to customers, we think other programs will follow suit. If fact, at the Workforce Commission we've already authorized another program transitioning to using debit cards for payment to vendors."

Rath says streamlining the unemployment insurance process can help make work search the main focus. She says Texas employers are continuing to add jobs at a record pace, helping claimants re-enter the work force quickly.


AT&T says subscribers to its higher speed broadband services will have free access to its Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the country. Subscribers who get the company's Pro, Elite and FastAccess can use any of the company's 10,000 hotspots located in airports, coffee shops, McDonald's restaurants and Barnes and Noble Bookstores for free. Those with lower tier services can add unlimited Wi-Fi access for a $1.99 per month. Connections at AT&T Wi-Fi hot spots for nonsubscribers run $7.99 per day. Nationwide, 12.9 million customers subscribe to AT&T broadband services, though spokesman Fletcher Cook says the company does not break out how many are paying for the costlier faster services.

AT&T is collecting old cell phones at their stores in Houston for a program that recycles used cell phones, using the proceeds to buy prepaid phone cards for soldiers overseas. Cell Phones for Soldiers was started by two Massachusetts teenagers who arranged for AT&T to donate more than 30,000 phone cards and arranged for the program to buy phone cards at volume discount. All 1,800 AT&T-owned wireless stores nationwide will be collecting used phones for the program.


A House proposal to increase gas mileage standards for new passenger vehicles to at least 32 miles per gallon by 2022 has picked up some heavyweight support. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is backing the plan, calling it a more reasonable approach than a Senate plan approved last month. That proposal would demand 35 MPG for new vehicles by 2018. The alliance represents General Motors, Ford, Toyota and DaimlerChrysler. Environmental groups are backing the Senate's approach to the standards, which have been unchanged for the past two decades, saying the reforms could help reduce gas consumption and pollutants that contribute to global warming.


CB&I has signed an agreement with Los Angeles-based Rentech to convert the Rentech Energy Midwest Corporation facility from natural gas to a gasification-based fertilizer and ultra-clean synthetic fuels facility. The Woodlands-based CB&I will perform engineering and design services for Phase 1 of the conversion, which is set for completion by 2010.


Stafford-based Open Spirit is opening a new office in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, to support the Middle East/Africa region. The independent software company has expanded its UK office, which supports Europe, Libya and the CIS countries. The firm recently moved its corporate headquarters to a new facility with twice the square footage on Sugar Grove Boulevard in Stafford.


Reddy Ice Holdings, which makes and sells packaged ice, says it has agreed to be purchased by investment company GSO Capital Partners for $1.1 billion. Reddy Ice shareholders will get $31.25 a share. That's a premium of ten percent over the stock's closing price on Friday. The deal is seen closing by the end of the year. Dallas-based Reddy Ice says it is the largest manufacturer and distributor of packaged ice in the U.S.


The Town Center Improvement District says trolleys will be offering free service to destinations around The Woodlands Town Center starting July 5th. Three trolleys will make daily runs between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. from the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, Market Street and The Woodlands Mall. Each trolley can accommodate up to 35 passengers. It's a two-year pilot project between the district and the Houston-Galveston Area Council.


Tenet Healthcare has completed the sale of two Pennsylvania hospitals for about $25.5 million. The hospitals are among 13 the Dallas-based company is selling. Solis Healthcare in April agreed to buy Roxborough Memorial Hospital, a 137-bed facility in Philadelphia, and 153-bed Warminster Hospital in Warminster, Pennsylvania. Solis Healthcare was formed in Philadelphia by investors Robert Souaid and Jack Donnelly. Donnelly is the chief executive of Roxborough Memorial Hospital. Two California hospitals--in Encino and Tarzana--remain on the market.

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