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Friday AM June 29th, 2007

KBR chosen as one of three logistics support providers for overseas military contracts…Apple’s iPhone arrives in retail outlets…Winner of Ace Hardware’s Dream Ace contest opens his prize today–his new store–on Spring Cypress Road… KBR’s government and infrastructure unit has been chosen as one of three logistics support providers to the military deployed in the Middle […]

KBR chosen as one of three logistics support providers for overseas military contracts…Apple’s iPhone arrives in retail outlets…Winner of Ace Hardware’s Dream Ace contest opens his prize today–his new store–on Spring Cypress Road…

KBR’s government and infrastructure unit has been chosen as one of three logistics support providers to the military deployed in the Middle East in a new ten-year contract valued at up to $150 billion. The former Halliburton subsidiary was selected by the Army Sustainment Command, along with Fort Worth-based DynCorp International and Fluor International of Greenville, South Carolina to supply support services. Each of the three will have an opportunity to bid for work as the Army assigns various tasks. KBR has provided 50,000 employees and subcontractors to cook millions of meals, deliver mail, wash laundry and transport supplies and equipment for the military in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries. At least 105 KBR workers and contractors have been killed and another 655 injured while operating in those countries.

The most eagerly awaited cell phone ever is upon us today. But should you resist the iPhone’s breathless hype? Unless you’re already standing in line outside an Apple or AT&T store–or are prepared to mug one of the first customers to come out after the 6 p.m. launch–the answer will have to be “let me think about it for a week or two.” The level of hype and demand for Apple’s iPhone is reminiscent of the debut of the PlayStation Three game console in November, when minor riots broke out at some electronics stores. However, e-Bay prices for resold PS-3s quickly fell, and two months later the console was in ample supply. Apparently, much of the initial demand came from people who weren’t really interested in getting them for themselves–but counted on being able to sell them to people who were. The device is a radical design with a 3.5-inch glass screen and very few buttons. The iPhone differs by being designed to be touched with the fingertips rather than a stylus. That makes it a greater departure from the PC experience. The iPhone does e-mail, Web browsing, music and videos. It comes in two models–a $499, four-gigabyte version and a $599, eight-gigabyte variety. It requires a two-year contract with San Antonio-based AT&T, the exclusive service provider.

The iPhone has already unleashed a cottage industry of touch-screen protectors, leather hip carriers and car adapters. A notoriously tight-lipped Apple kept many partners in the dark on precise specifications. To compensate, many cribbed size and weight specifications from Apple’s Web site, then created models out of wood, cardboard or plastic. The Associated Press reports those companies shipped models to Apple for advice on whether headset and other outlets were placed correctly. Digital Lifestyle Outfitters will have two cases available at stores operated by San Antonio-based AT&T, which is an iPhone partner. Case-Mate began making cases at its factory in China after receiving final specs from AT&T on May 22nd.

The winner of Ace Hardware’s Dream Ace contest “opens” his prize today. Gower Talley of Canby, Oregon, won the nationwide contest, winning a newly-built Ace Hardware store, which opens today on Spring Cypress Road. The retired Oregon National Guardsman moved to Houston to run the new operation. The prize store includes opening stock inventory, fixtures, d?cor and technology needed to operate the store. This is the Illinois retailer’s seventh store to open in Houston in the past two years. Three additional Houston outlets are planned.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration is conducting applicant screenings in Arlington for general and electrical positions in Dallas, San Antonio and cities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and New Mexico. The screening will be held July 9th and 10th at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Avenue H. MSHA is a federal agency charged with inspection of mining operations nationwide for adherence to regulations designed to protect the safety and health of working miners.

In a sign of a firm job market, the Labor Department says new applications for jobless benefits dropped by 13,000 last week. That takes the level to 313,000 unemployment claims, a bit stronger than economists were expecting. Even as the economy faltered earlier this year, the job market has generally held up. That’s despite the problems in the housing market.

The economy grew at an annual pace of just seven-tenths of one percent in the first quarter. That word from the Commerce Department marks the slightest upward revision in the gross domestic product from the previously reported rise of six-tenths. It’s the slowest pace in four years. Some businesses were putting the brakes on spending amid uncertainty about the housing slump. Analysts think the first quarter will turn out to have been the weakest of the year. GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S.

Long-term mortgage rates are lower for a second straight week. Freddie Mac says the average for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dipped to 6.67 percent from 6.69 percent the week before. A year ago it averaged 6.78 percent. The 15-year loan, often used in refinancing, was down three basis points–to 6.34 percent. It averaged 6.43 percent a year ago.

Tetra Technologies is forming a master limited partnership to place most of its Compressco subsidiary assets, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Woodlands-based firm acquired Oklahoma-based Compressco in 2004.

Houston-based Petris Technology has acquired the software and support assets of Production Access, according to the Houston Business Journal. Petris says most of the more than 20 employees from Houston-based Production Access will join Petris.

Chevron has delayed the installation of its new $3.5 billion Tahiti oil and gas platform in the Gulf of Mexico to deal with defective mooring shackles, according to the Houston Chronicle. The shackles, which will connect mooring lines to Tahiti’s steel spar hull as well as anchors on the seafloor, will be remanufactured. The deepwater platform had been slated to begin pumping by mid-2008.

French Quarter VIII has finalized its purchase of the 20-story Del Lago resort and conference center on Lake Conroe. French Quarter will invest more than $100 million in acquiring and renovating the resort, resulting in more than 400 new jobs. A total of 445 all-suite rooms are planned, and the facility will have a gourmet restaurant, expanded meeting space and event facilities, a redesigned golf course, an ice skating rink, a marina, a spa complex and a swimming pool complex.

Efforts by Willacy County to seize 1,500 acres on South Padre Island to build a ferry landing have come to an end. The Nature Conservancy says it has donated the land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Willacy County had wanted to seize the preserve through eminent domain so it could build a ferry landing and bring in tourists to the island. County officials say seizing the land would allow the public better access to the barrier island from Port Mansfield via boat. Currently, visitors must drive 25 miles up the coast from South Padre Island to reach it. But conservancy officials feared the ferry landing would bring an influx of beachgoers that would threaten the island’s wildlife. Conservancy officials say the preserve’s donation basically ends any efforts by Willacy County to seize the land.

Honda drove off with honors in four vehicle segments in a J.D. Power customer satisfaction survey of U.S. drivers–more than any other automaker. The newly redesigned CRV small crossover sport utility vehicle, Ridgeline truck and Odyssey minivan all topped their segments, while the subcompact fit tied with Toyota’s Yaris for a top spot. Mercedes-Benz and BMW had three models each atop the premium segments. The Mercedes mid-size E-class car and large S-class car scored big, while its GL-class tied for a top spot with the Cadillac Escalade EXT in a segment that includes large luxury SUVs and crossovers. BMW’s 3-series and 6-series cars and X-5 midsize crossover SUV all received top rankings. General Motors, Ford, Nissan and Volkswagen each had two vehicles atop the rankings, which were divided into 19 segments.

Houston-based FMC Technologies has a new four-year, $40 million contract with Island Offshore for a second riserless light well intervention system for Norway’s Statoil. FMC Technologies has also been given a $166 million contract to supply subsea systems for Norsk Hydro’s Ormen Lange Southern Field Development in the Norwegian North Sea.

The U.S. Supreme Court has abandoned a nearly century-old ban on manufacturers and retailers setting price floors for products. The case involves retailers like Kay’s Kloset in Lewisville, Texas. Kay’s Kloset had lowered its prices below an agreed-upon minimum with manufacturer Leegin Creative Leather Products. Officials say Leegin cut off its shipments to the family-owned business when Phil and Kay Smith refused to raise their prices. The Smiths successfully sued Leegin, which appealed, in a case involving the Brighton brand. Justices said agreements on minimum prices are legal if they promote competition. The ruling means that accusations of minimum pricing deals will be evaluated case by case. It was back in 1911 that the high court declared that minimum pricing agreements violate federal antitrust law.

A Houston lawyer and two now-ex-employees of the Hartford Financial Services Group have been indicted in an alleged bribes-and-kickbacks scheme. The feds accuse Warren Todd Hoeffner of paying more than $3 million in bribes to the two company employees. Authorities allege that in exchange, the pair recommended to the Hartford that it settle claims and lawsuits brought by Hoeffner’s clients–mainly in silica cases. Hoeffner, Rachel Rossow of Redding, Connecticut, and John Prestage of Newington, Connecticut, face a 14-count indictment. The unsealed document charges them with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. Hoeffner was arraigned and ordered released on bond. Rossow and Prestage were in court in Connecticut. They’re expected to be arraigned soon in Houston. The conspiracy, wire fraud and mail fraud charges are the most serious counts, each carrying up to 20 years in prison.

The Texas-based developer of a Wolf Creek, Colorado, ski village wants a judge to permit a road to link its project to the Wolf Creek ski area. That’s despite activists’ objections that the U.S. Forest Service didn’t adequately assess the road’s environmental impact. The Leavell-McCombs joint venture is plans to develop the Village at Wolf Creek at the bottom of the Wolf Creek ski area in southwest Colorado. It filed briefs Monday asking a federal judge to allow it to extend a road to their private land. But work has been on hold since last year, when the judge approved a preliminary injunction sought by two environmental groups suing to stop the development. Most of the restrictions in the injunction expired June 15th. The judge is considering a federal magistrate’s recommendation that the injunction be extended until the case is heard in court. But Leavell-McCombs insists that any environmental damage from the road can be fully restored. A partner in the development company is San Antonio billionaire “Red” McCombs–co-founder of Clear Channel Communications.

Protiviti has been recognized as a leader in risk consulting services by Forrester Research in its June report. Forrester evaluated the independent business and technology risk consulting and internal audit service provider on targeted breadth of services, expertise and thought leadership. Evaluations were made on strategy, value proposition, risk specialties, risk organization and process design, account management, global capabilities and reach, integration with other service offerings and intellectual property.