Tuesday AM April 24th, 2007

American Institute of Chemical Engineers continues week-long Houston conference…American Association of University Women Educational Foundation says women lose ground on pay almost as soon as they enter workforce…Houston area places 17th on Inc. magazine’s ranking of hottest large cities for business… The American Institute of Chemical Engineers is hosting its spring national meeting in Houston […]

American Institute of Chemical Engineers continues week-long Houston conference…American Association of University Women Educational Foundation says women lose ground on pay almost as soon as they enter workforce…Houston area places 17th on Inc. magazine’s ranking of hottest large cities for business…

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers is hosting its spring national meeting in Houston at the Hilton Americas through Friday. Thousands of chemical engineers have gathered for the meeting, which is concurrent with the 3rd Global Congress on Process Safety. The process safety participants are looking at hurricane preparation, security standards, as well as lessons learned from the BP Texas City accident.

U.S. Chemical Safety Board member William Wright called on the American Petroleum Institute to revise its draft recommended practices for the use and siting of trailers and portable buildings around hazardous process areas, following the 2005 BP Texas city mishap. Wright spokes at the 22nd Center for Chemical Process Safety International Conference, which is part of the gathering, as is the 41st Loss Prevention Symposium, 9th Process Plant Safety Symposium, 10th Topical Conference on Refinery Processing and 19th Ethylene Producers Conference. Topics include advances in petrochemicals, natural gas utilization and energy processes.

The health of the housing sector will be covered in a couple of reports due this week. The National Association of Realtors releases its figures on sales of previously-owned homes today, and the government has an update on new home sales on Wednesday. At week’s end, the Commerce Department has an advance look at the nation’s gross domestic product for the first three months of the year. In between, reports are scheduled on durable goods orders, oil inventories and initial jobless claims.

A new study says women start losing ground to men on pay almost as soon as they enter the workforce. The American Association of University Women Educational Foundation says one year after college, women are making only 80 percent of their male peers. And after ten years, the study says the gap widens as women make only 69 percent of what men do. The foundation says part of the wage difference is a result of people’s choices, and part is employers’ assumptions about what women will do. Even after controlling factors known to affect earnings—such as hours, occupation, and parenthood–the study found one-quarter of the pay gap remains unexplained. The foundation thinks that portion is sex discrimination.

The Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area placed 17th on Inc. magazine’s annual ranking of the hottest large cities for business, moving up from 31st place last year. Austin-Round Rock was 16th, up from 26th in 2006. Austin is more than triple that of rival high-tech centers like Boston and San Jose. Las Vegas-Paradise, Nevada held the 1st place spot again this year. The magazine’s May issue says Texas cities were the biggest movers on its annual “Business Boomtowns” survey. Dallas was the biggest mover, jumping from 18th to 25th. The McAllen area jumped from 12th to 5th place. Topping the list is St. George, Utah, with an 8.5 percent one-year job growth rate and a 41.8 percent five-year growth rate.

Venture capital investment in U.S.-headquartered companies climbed eight percent in the first quarter, according to the Quarterly Venture Capital Report released by Dow Jones VentureOne and Ernst & Young, reaching $6.96 billion. Texas capital investments increased 17 percent to $280.8 million. Houston saw $72 million in investments during the quarter.

Exporters in the greater Houston area can learn how to tap into support from the Export-Import Bank of the United States in a seminar on May 4th in Sugar Land. Last year the Ex-Im Bank authorized nearly $3.2 billion in support of U.S. small business exports. Attendees will learn about finding international buyers, and will hear about accessing trade information, obtaining capital loans and protecting against the risk of non-payment. This is the 72nd year of Ex-Im Bank’s help in financing the sale of U.S. exports. The symposium is at the headquarters of the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce on Commerce Green Boulevard.

Internet America has signed agreements to acquire the wireless Internet service customers and operating assets of Crosby-based TeleShare Communications Services, as well as of Cuero and Shadownet of Victoria.

FEMA is being accused of exposing the government to significant waste in the awarding of Hurricane Katrina contracts. A report from the Inspector General’s Office of Homeland Security says FEMA gave $3.6 billion worth of contracts to companies with poor credit histories and bad paperwork. Specifically, the Inspector General looked at 36 trailer contracts designated for small and local businesses in the region hit. The report says the bidding process was haphazard. Some small business owners complained they were unfairly shut out. One company got a contract even though it has no offices in Louisiana or Mississippi. FEMA disagrees that taxpayers were at risk, and says it was comfortable with the financial viability of the bidders, based partly on past performance.

The same food safety net that couldn’t catch poisoned pet food ingredients from China has a much bigger hole. Billions of dollars’ worth of foreign ingredients that Americans eat in everything from salad dressing to ice cream get virtually no attention from overwhelmed inspectors. That’s what the Associated Press has discovered in reviewing federal trade and food data. Well before contaminated shipments from China killed 16 cats and dogs and sickened thousands more, government food safety task forces worried about the potential human threat. That’s because ingredients are hard to quarantine and can go virtually everywhere in a range of brand products. Because these oils, spices, flours, gums and the like haven’t been blamed for killing humans, it’s buyer beware. And as the pet deaths showed, that system is far from secure. Meanwhile, the ingredient trade is booming, particularly since 2001, when the September 11th attacks focused attention on the security of the nation’s food supply.

Governor Rick Perry pledged to bring water, sewer service and other improvements to impoverished rural areas near El Paso. Perry toured two colonias, which are remote and unincorporated communities along the Mexican border. Most usually lack basic utilities. Perry is backing legislation allowing counties to govern colonias. Perry said he will continue pushing for local officials to use federal grants to bring running water and sewer services to the communities, which have sprung up in the desert areas just east of El Paso. Some Colonias are more than 20 years old, and residents have never had running water. Perry has said improving living conditions in colonias and providing better access to education needs to be a priority for the state. He’s pledged to support state legislation that would give counties the power to make local laws governing colonias.

A Port Arthur company is working to allay public concerns about its contract with the U.S. army to incinerate chemical waste from the deadly VX nerve agent. Veolia Environmental Services will hold an open house to explain the project and give people a tour of its facilities. The company received its first shipments of VX Hydrolysate last week in trucks from Indiana’s Newport Chemical Depot, where the VX was destroyed in chemical reactors. Earlier this month, the army finalized a $49 million contract for Veolia to incinerate about two million gallons of the chemical waste over the next three years. A Veolia official says the project presents no public risk. But a local group plans to meet to organize a protest against the disposal project. Critics cite the dangers of the material and its transportation. The army contends the waste material is no more dangerous than other hazardous wastes shipped each day across the nation.

Laredo and Webb County officials say they’ve decided to drop competing lawsuits and intend to cooperate in building a new bridge spanning the Rio Grande. Plans for a fifth Laredo bridge connecting the Texas City with Nuevo Laredo in Mexico stalled as the two local governments developed competing proposals. They also filed lawsuits to hamper each other’s projects. But a new slate of local leaders elected last year on a platform of cooperation say they’ll work together to push the bridge plans forward. Webb County Judge Danny Valdez says dropping the lawsuits is the first step to resolving the issue. The idea is to build a bridge for noncommercial traffic to help reduce congestion for motorists crossing the border.

Kimberly-Clark Corporation said its first-quarter profit rose 64 percent on strong sales growth and cost-cutting efforts. The Irving-based maker of Kleenex tissue and Huggies diapers earned $452 million the three months ended March 31st. Revenue rose eight percent to $4.39 billion as sales volume grew three percent amid improved selling prices and product mix.

Most Americans over 40 can probably recall a commercial jingle from the late 1970s that told them, “Be a Pepper, drink Dr Pepper.” Now, the Plano-based maker of Dr Pepper is again turning to music to help sell soda–but in a way that shows how both music and advertising have changed in a generation. Dr Pepper is paying to have a pop punk band live and work in a transparent bubble on New York’s touristy Pier 54 for 20 days. Cameras will record the members of the band as they write and record a new CD. The bubble will be loaded with cameras so fans can watch the band online around the clock. Plans also call for MTV to produce four half-hour shows, although network officials won’t be pinned down on which of its channels will air the episodes. The idea for the promotion started at one of Dr Pepper’s advertising agencies, MediaEdge-CIA. The agency folks knew people at MTV, and soon Dr Pepper executives were going over a list of up-and-coming bands.

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