Thursday AM September 27th, 2007

Houston economy rates as seventh largest...Offshore helicopter firm settles Nigerian bribery case...Energy & Clean Technology Venture Forum gets underway at Rice University...

Houston's economy ranked as the seventh largest in the United States according to 2005 figures released by the U.S. Department of Commerce. City goods and services totaled $255 billion—up from $230 billion in 2001. That puts Houston behind the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which had a GDP of $285 billion that year. New York City is in first place with a $974 billion GDP. The survey looked at each city's share of the Gross Domestic Product.


A company that provides helicopter transport services for offshore oil drillers has settled a case in which regulators alleged bribes were paid to officials in Nigeria. The Securities and Exchange Commission said the Bristow Group neither admitted nor denied the charges--but agreed to stop violating federal anti-bribery laws. The Houston-based company will not pay a penalty. The SEC found that in 2003 and 2004, a Nigerian affiliate of Bristow Group made improper payments of at least $423,000 to government officials--in exchange for employment tax cuts. The agency says two Bristow affiliates also underreported their expatriate payroll expenses in Nigeria.


Movie Gallery is closing six Houston-area underperforming stores, as it closes 520 stores nationwide. The stores closing include two on Westheimer, one on Memorial, one on Fondren and one each in Sugar Land and Pearland.


The Rice Alliance Energy & Clean Technology Venture Forum gets underway at Rice University today. Senior business executives will discuss global energy challenges and the role of technology in meeting those challenges. Topics include the investment climate and trends in emerging energy technology and clean technology companies. Some 60 companies will be presenting, in the areas of seismic, drilling and production, environmental, solar, power generation and energy efficiency. The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship has assisted in the launch of more than 205 new technology companies since 1999. The forum is being held at McNair Hall at the Jones Graduate School on Main.


For the first time, the offshore oil and gas conference DeepGulf will be held outside of Houston, according to the Houston Business Journal. Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy will host the technical conference and exhibitions from December 5th through the 7th at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside.


Texas is fifth for August job gains, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, gaining 10,400 jobs. California led the nation by adding 21,000 jobs last month. Texas has the largest gain for the year, so far. The state also has one of the largest month-over-month unemployment rates decreases, with August unemployment falling by 0.2 percent.


St. Luke's Episcopal Health System and Texas Children's Hospital have jointly purchased 22 acres of land in The Woodlands in a $14 million transaction. The property is adjacent to the 40-acre St. Luke's campus in The Woodlands. Meanwhile, St. Luke's says it plans to sell the 28-story O'Quinn Medical Tower, formerly known as the St. Luke's Medical Tower on Fannin. The hospital system plans to lease back four floors.


The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is number 40 on the AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50 list. Categories considered include recruiting practices, workplace culture, continued opportunities, benefits, retiree work opportunities, organization statistics and innovative practices. Number one on the list is Wisconsin-based S.C. Johnson & Son—makers of Shout!, Windex and Scrubbing Bubbles. Winners are featured in the November-December issue of AARP The Magazine.


Commercial airlines oppose a government recommendation that the industry set time limits for removing passengers from delayed planes. The Transportation Department's inspector general recommends airlines define extended delays, set a time limit for deplaning passengers and publicize those policies. But the head of the Air Transport Association said such deadlines would do more harm than good. James May says imposing an arbitrary time frame for deplaning will have numerous unintended consequences that could increase cancellations and cause even greater delays. May's testimony was for a U.S. House Subcommittee on Aviation hearing. A U.S. Senate subcommittee plans a hearing Thursday. Executives from Fort Worth-based American Airlines, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and Houston-based Continental Airlines are slated to testify.


American Airlines has presented its pilots' union with a contract proposal. The proposal wouldn't raise the rates of pay for pilots, but would let them increase their income by flying more hours. It was outlined in a meeting between the airline and union negotiators on Monday. It comes a week before the allied pilot association is set to lay out a revised contract proposal of its own. A spokesman for the pilots' union said that they're looking at it. An American spokeswoman says the proposal addresses a number of areas that pilots had identified as important to them. The proposal includes letting them raise their pay by flying 82 hours a month, compared with the current ceiling of 78 hours.


Goliad County's Uranium Research and Advisory Committee says there are funds in Goliad County to fight a uranium mining application by Uranium Energy Corporation. Goliad County officials, business leaders and landowners say water, ground, air quality and property values would suffer.


Suez Energy Resources has signed a contract to provide the City of Dallas with about 90 percent of its electricity needs through 2008. The Houston retail energy merchant says about half will come from renewable energy resources. The company will supply energy to the city's largest usage loads, such as office buildings, the convention center, street and traffic signs and water utilities.


Chicago Bridge & Iron has three new contracts worth a total of $140 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. Two are for the engineering, procurement and fabrication of sulfur recovery complexes at refineries in California and Texas. The Woodlands-based CB&I will also design and build a storage tank for a petrochemical project expansion in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.


Work on the assembly line at an International Truck & Engine plant in Springfield, Ohio, will be suspended Monday--in case employees go on strike. Company spokesman Roy Wiley says the work will be shifted to plants in Texas and Mexico. The Warrenville, Illinois,-based company wants to ensure an uninterrupted supply of trucks to its customers. Wiley says the shutdown will be in effect until workers ratify a new contract. A total of 768 employees represented by the United Auto Workers will be affected by the shutdown. The plant produces medium-duty trucks. Wiley says employees who make the cabs and work in the paint shop won't be affected.


Another signal of economic weakness comes from the industrial sector. Demand for big-ticket manufactured goods plunged well below economists expectations, dropping by the largest amount in seven months. While analysts foresaw a 3.5 percent drop, the Commerce Department reports orders fell by nearly five percent in August. Economists are expressing concern that it's a sign that a sickly housing market is tainting the economy at large. And they say the downturn in durable goods--everything from commercial jetliners to home appliances--is raising the risk of a full blown recession. Some economists put the chances as high as 50-50.


Sterling Bancshares is purchasing ten bank branches in the Dallas-Fort Worth area from First Horizon National. The ten branches will grow Sterling's footprint in the Metroplex from seven to 17, following the transaction.


Dell founder Michael Dell says the computer company will become the first in the industry to become carbon neutral by 2008. Dell told the Associated Press that it was 1992 when he first asked his engineers to design and build a personal computer made exclusively of recyclable materials. He says he's been interested ever since in ways to make his Round Rock-based computer company more environmentally friendly. So for every pound of greenhouse gas used to make, transport and sell computers, dell will offset it through renewable energy, more efficient management of electric use and other methods. Dell says it saved $1.8 million in electricity bills in the past year just by turning off equipment at night--when it's not being used. Dell has lost market share to Hewlett-Packard, and continues to deal with a federal accounting probe.


The Rotary Club of Houston honors Jim and Linda McIngvale with its 46th annual Rotary Distinguished Citizen of the Year Award this evening at the Westin Oaks. Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife will serve with Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza as honorary co-chairs of the event. McIngvale worked with the former president to raise funds for the Houston Tsunami Relief Fund and the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. Last year's recipient was former Secretary of State James Baker III.


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