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Thursday September 15th, 2005

Some New Orleans businesses re-opening; many more continue working from Houston in temporary office space…Rise in unemployment assistance attributed to Hurricane Katrina…Pre-hurricane Consumer Price Index rises slightly… The mayor of New Orleans says businesses will be allowed to re-open starting on Saturday in parts of New Orleans that are dry. These include the city’s Central […]


Some New Orleans businesses re-opening; many more continue working from Houston in temporary office space…Rise in unemployment assistance attributed to Hurricane Katrina…Pre-hurricane Consumer Price Index rises slightly…

The mayor of New Orleans says businesses will be allowed to re-open starting on Saturday in parts of New Orleans that are dry. These include the city’s Central Business District and the French Quarter. Mayor Ray Nagin says a strict dusk-to-dawn curfew will remain in effect. The mayor also announced that some neighborhoods will be re-opened to residents in phases, starting on Monday.

Some business owners have been allowed back in the Central Business District of New Orleans to retrieve vital records or equipment. But many more Louisiana businesses continue working from temporary locations here in Houston. C. B. Richard Ellis/Trion & Gordon has been helping Louisiana clients locate temporary office space and apartments in Houston. Senior Vice President of Business Development Diane Lewter says there’s a lot involved.

Diane Lewter audio 1

Lewter says it’s been amazing to see properties that would never do a six-month lease sending e-mails out saying they’ll make them available. The real estate market in Houston is actually benefiting from these visitors.

Diane Lewter audio 2

It’s not clear how long these companies will need temporary space in Houston, or whether some of them might decide to stay.

Diane Lewter audio 3

Lewter says the human resources department of the Louisiana firms have had their hands full in locating apartments and office space, not to mention locating missing employees.

It is part of the economic toll from Hurricane Katrina. The Labor Department says the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment assistance rose by 71,000 last week. And all but 3,000 of those are estimated to have been linked to Hurricane Katrina. The total number of claims is put at 398,000. The government calls it the biggest increase in new requests for jobless help in nearly a decade. Analysts are bracing for a bigger uptick in claims in the weeks ahead as more requests for help are filed in the hurricane-and-flood ravaged Gulf Coast region.

Online job recruitment activity and related employment opportunities in the Houston area remain unchanged in August–the third consecutive month–according to the Monster Local Employment Index. Monster’s Steve Pogorzelski says there’s little to no change.

Steve Pogorzelski audio 1

Podorzelski says Monster will be watching to see how Hurricane Katrina and the influx of evacuees impacts September’s findings.

Steve Pogorzelski audio 2

Despite the flatness in this index, Pogorzelski says the Houston area’s unemployment has dropped significantly since last year, falling from 6.6 percent to 5.3 percent in July.

The number of Hurricane Katrina refugees staying in 161 shelters in Texas as of Thursday was 19,599 and as many as 373,000 evacuees may be in the state. State officials are basing that projection on the nearly 140,000 heads of households who have registered in Texas for post-hurricane assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The largest numbers living in shelters are in the Astrodome: 1,068; Reliant Center: 2,021; George R. Brown Convention Center: 1,069. There are no evacuees remaining at Reliant Arena. There are 170 evacuees at Reunion Arena and 683 at the Convention Center in Dallas. There are 3,959 evacuees at the former Kelly Air Force Base and other shelters in San Antonio.

Reliant Energy and TXU, the largest power sellers in Texas, have agreed to ease rate increases through the end of the year, softening the impact of Hurricane Katrina on electric bills. The companies say they will not file requests to make up for increased fuel costs until next month. The increases would not go into full effect until January.

The Texas Department of Health has been given $34 million by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services to help prepare for major disasters. The funding was announced by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The money will go towards the Bioterrorism-Hospital Preparedness Program.

Three of four GlobalSantaFe semi-submersible rigs that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina are expected to return to service in the fourth quarter. Most damage to their rigs in the Gulf of Mexico was to mooring systems. The fourth rig also suffered damage to its thruster control system and is expected to resume operations in the first half of 2006.

Houston-based Infovine has launched a Web site to help locate people who were separated from family, friends and business associates after Hurricane Katrina. The site provides Internet resources to match and locate those scattered during the evacuation of the Gulf Coast region. A user can build a search query on a person by first, middle, last or maiden name, date of birth, home town, county/parish, state or phone numbers. Some 27,500 evacuees have been listed on the site since its launch on September 7th.

A major satellite TV provider is adding a channel dedicated solely to providing information related to Hurricane Katrina. Colorado-based Echostar Communications says the Katrina Information Network will be offered free of charge to Dish Network subscribers as the Gulf Coast rebuilds. Flying Colors Broadcasts of Washington developed the network–which will broadcast regular updates, as well as information like telephone numbers and a survivors’ list. Echostar is also working with San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications to transmit that company’s FM radio signals roughly 75 miles, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to New Orleans. Tens of thousands of Katrina refugees ended up in Texas.

Texas could be in luck if federal lawmakers approve a Hurricane Katrina relief package that helps states by paying all Medicaid and child health care program costs. A bipartisan group of U. S. senators introduced the measure. It ensures that no state will see a decrease in their federal Medicaid dollars in 2006. Texas was set to lose an estimated $38 million next year without the emergency step. The measure also will allow affected states to access a portion of the temporary assistance for needy families contingency fund reserved for financial crises.

Retail prices in the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria area rose seven-tenths of a percent during July and August, as measured by the Consumer Price Indexcompiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U. S. Department of Labor. The transportation component advanced 3.5 percent because of motor fuel prices, with gasoline costs surging 16.5 percent in those months. Food and beverage costs increased 0.6 percent, and higher ticket prices added one percent to the cost of recreation.

Civil fraud charges have been filed against Massachusetts-based Biopure, its former chief executive and two others over a synthetic blood product. The Securities and Exchange Commission says the company made misleading statements about efforts to win Food and Drug Administration approval of its product. The complaint filed in Boston names Biopure, former Vice President Howard Richman of Houston, former CEO Thomas Moore and current General Counsel Jane Kober of Bellport, New York. A Biopure lawyer says the firm will seek dismissal of the complaint. The SEC says the alleged fraud took place between April and December of 2003. Hemopure, derived from cow’s blood, would be used to treat acutely anemic adult patients undergoing orthopedic surgery.

State officials say an El Paso company has agreed to stop mislabeling tainted food as being for human consumption. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today announced the judgment against food distributor Yvon Belliard–owner of Milky Way Traders (now Via Lactis). A judge last November granted a restraining order halting shipments to Mexico of what state officials believed was contaminated baby formula. Authorities say the matter involved shipping contaminated formula, which is only suitable to feed to animals, into Mexico to companies that produce food for humans. Abbott says the company agreed to stop mislabeling items and to operate according to Texas food and drug laws. The company also must pay $7,000 in civil penalties, plus investigative and legal fees.

A New Jersey judge hearing a Vioxx product liability suit threatened to declare a mistrial today. The judge says Merck’s lead attorney violated pretrial instructions barring comments about lawyers in front of the jury. The judge says Diane Sullivan made repeated negative references to lawyers in her opening statement. In her opening, Sullivan made reference to the plaintiff being surrounded by lawyers. The plaintiff claims Vioxx caused his heart attack. Testimony was delayed today while the judge considers whether Merck can admit into evidence a key 2005 memo from a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee. A jury in Texas last month, in the first Vioxx case to go to trial, sided with a widow who claimed the drug contributed to her husband’s death. Merck is appealing that $253 million verdict.

Movie-rental giant Blockbuster continues to take small steps toward a rollout of online video on demand in the United Kingdom. Rival Netflix plans a small-scale test in the U. S. this year. Dallas-based Blockbuster last week demonstrated an online video service at a trade show in Europe. The company has completed a test involving about 5,000 British households, but officials downplay talk of service in the very near future. Netflix plans to test video on demand this year–but won’t say when, where or how many households will get the set-top boxes they could use to order movies instantly. Video on demand has long been touted as a touch-button technology that could make movie rental stores obsolete. But video on demand has been hindered by questions about technology, cost and the lack of recently-released movies.

Two Houston companies have been honored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Bastion Technologies was named as NASA’s Subcontractor of the Year, and Barrios Technology was named NASA’s Woman-Owned Business of the Year.

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