Thursday AM October 4th, 2007

ISA EXPO 2007 concludes three-day run at Reliant Center…November convention business to bring $70 million to Houston…Challenger, Gray & Christmas says slumping housing industry accounts for about 37 percent of August job cuts… ISA EXPO 2007 concludes today at Reliant Center. The ISA has received final approval from the American National Standards Institute supporting electronic […]

ISA EXPO 2007 concludes three-day run at Reliant Center…November convention business to bring $70 million to Houston…Challenger, Gray & Christmas says slumping housing industry accounts for about 37 percent of August job cuts…

ISA EXPO 2007 concludes today at Reliant Center. The ISA has received final approval from the American National Standards Institute supporting electronic device interoperability. The standard establishes how information-intelligent devices integrate into control and device management systems. The three-day event for automation and control professionals features a products and services exhibition, technical conferences and continuing education and training programs. Practitioners are taking part from over 70 countries. The technical discussions center on security, wireless and networking, process automation, safety, environmental and quality control and enterprise integration.

The Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau welcomes 16 conventions, trade shows and other events in November. More than 71,875 attendees will spend an estimated $70 million in Houston during the month. Conventions include the annual International Quilt Festival at the George R. Brown Convention Center November 1st through the 4th. The quilt event attracts more than 50,000 delegates, with an economic impact of around $48.7 million. The National Middle School Association holds its 34th annual Conference and Exhibition November 8th through the 10th at the Convention Center. And the first annual Rejuvenate Marketplace is set for November 12th through the 15th at the Hilton Americas-Houston.

Jobs connected to the slumping housing industry accounted for about 37 percent of all job cuts last month. Challenger, Gray & Christmas says there were nearly 72,000 job cuts in September–more than 26,000 of them in areas tied to housing. The consulting firm considers mortgage lenders, construction companies and real estate firms the industries that make up the housing-related sector. Job cuts in September were down more than 28 percent from last year and–so far this year–job cut announcements are down eight percent from the first nine months of 2006.

The outlook for the executive employment market remains positive, according to ExecuNet’s Recruiters Confidence Index. The index dipped in August, but rebounded in September as companies continue to compete aggressively for talent. The September survey of 125 executive recruiters indicates that 60 percent are confident or very confident the executive employment market will improve in the next six months—up from 55 percent a month ago. Some 78 percent expect at least a ten percent increase in the number of assignments received from corporate clients before year’s end. The monthly survey of thousands of executive recruiters was introduced in May 2003.

Growth in the services sector of the economy slowed last month. The Institute for Supply Management says the index gauging the health of non-manufacturing industries came in at 54.8 in September, after registering 55.8 in August. The index hit a 12-month high of 60.7 in June. A reading above 50 indicates economic expansion, while anything below that indicates contraction. The service sector makes up 80 percent of U.S. economic activity and includes industries such as banking, retail, travel, construction, mining and farming.

Nearly 30 percent of airline flights were delayed in August, marking the industry’s second worst on-time performance for August since such record-keeping began. The U.S. Department of Transportation study found the nation’s 20 largest carriers reported flights arriving on-time about 71.7 percent of the time in August. That’s down from nearly 76 percent from the same period last year. Not surprisingly, customer complaints were high in August. They nearly doubled, compared to the same time last year. Houston-based Continental Airlines had an on-time rate of more than 75.2 percent, which was better than most other major carriers. On the bright side, government data found rates of mishandled baggage fell–to about 7.6 reports per 1,000 passengers.

Even a drop in interest rates couldn’t keep the volume of mortgage applications from falling last week. The Mortgage Bankers Association says its weekly application survey shows application volume was down 2.7 percent. The survey provides a snapshot of mortgage lending activity among mortgage bankers, commercial banks and thrifts. The average interest rate for traditional, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages fell to 6.32 percent last week from 6.38 percent the prior week.

The Walgreen drugstore chain says it’ll triple the number of U.S. cities with its drugstore-based health clinics by the end of the year. Take care health systems is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Deerfield, Illinois based drug store chain. It says it plans to open up to 100 more clinics in nine new markets, including Houston. The company was acquired by Walgreen in May and has 63 clinics in four cities. The company is on pace to operate 400 clinics inside Walgreens stores by the end of next year. The expansion comes as the fast-growing quick care clinic industry is booming. The industry trade group convenient care association says it expects that 700 of the quick clinics will be in operation at the end of the year. That’s nearly twice as many as were operating this spring.

The chief executive of Greyhound Lines resigned on the same day control of the Dallas-based bus operator shifted to a Scottish company. Stephen Gorman had been Greyhound’s president and CEO since 2003. He’s been succeeded by Dave Leach, who’d been Greyhound’s chief operating officer. The company gave no explanation for the change. Leach is a 21-year veteran with Greyhound and its Canadian affiliate. He was named chief operating officer last year and directed customer service, driver operations, maintenance and other duties. Greyhound had been a division of Illinois-based Laidlaw International until Monday, when FirstGroup took over Laidlaw to complete a $3.6 billion acquisition. First Group is the largest surface-transportation company in the United Kingdom. A first group spokeswoman says Greyhound will remain based in Dallas and won’t be combined with FirstGroup’s other operating units.

Whole Foods has closed the sale of 35 Henry’s and Sun Harvest stores that it picked up in the acquisition of rival organic food grocer Wild Oats. Austin-based Whole Foods said proceeds of the sale to a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based Smart & Final were $166 million. The Henry’s stores are located in California, and the Sun Harvest stores are in Texas. The sale also included a distribution center in Riverside, California. Whole Foods acquired 74 Wild Oats and Capers stores in the $565 million purchase of Wild Oats, which closed August 31st. Whole Foods said it intends to close nine stores and relocate eight others to existing Whole Foods sites in development.

Allstate has asked a judge for a permanent injunction to block efforts by state regulators to roll back a recent homeowners’ insurance rate increase, according to the Houston Chronicle. The insurer began charging the higher rates in August—a 5.9 percent hike with an average 2.1 percent on top of that for homeowners in some coastal counties, including Harris County. Allstate says it needs the increase to maintain the capital required to pay claims in a catastrophe.

Dallas-based Hillwood has purchased the 3,827-acre Sienna Plantation South property in Fort Bend County to build a 7,000-home community, according to the Houston Business Journal. Plans also include 300 acres for retail and commercial use and 100 acres for schools and churches. More than 1,000 acres are being set aside for parks and open spaces. The project is part of the 10,500-acre Sienna Plantation development in Missouri City. Hillwood’s site is south of the Sienna Plantation Country Club between the Brazos River and FM 521.

Houston port workers will be enrolling in the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Worker Identification Credential program next month. Houston is one of 11 ports taking part in the program. Port workers, longshoremen, truckers and others will pay a credential fee of $132.50, including the cost of threat assessment, program management, card production and issuance. The credential is good for five years.

Energy Resource Technology has sold a 30 percent interest in three Gulf of Mexico oilfields off the coast of Louisiana to Sojitz Deepwater for $40 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. The sale includes the conversion of the Helix Producer I, which Helix plans to use as a redeployable floating production unit.

Work is about half finished on a ten-mile-long pipeline that will help New Mexico resolve its Pecos River water debt with Texas. That’s according to the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. The $12 million pipeline is about 15 miles northwest of Carlsbad. Officials say the pipeline should be finished by December. The pipeline is designed to deliver about 20,000 gallons of water per minute from 13 wells to Brantley Dam. The commission says the project will help augment the Pecos River flow by about 15,750 acre-feet a year. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water. The project is one of several actions New Mexico has had to take to make up an estimated 10,000-acre-feet-a-year Pecos River water deficit to Texas.

The buyout firm organized by sports team owner Tom Hicks says it raised $552 million in an initial public stock offering. Hicks Acquisition Company one says it’ll acquire or invest in non-energy companies based in North America. The company said that it sold more than 55 million shares, including over-allotments to the underwriters, at $10 each. The acquisition firm also sold seven million warrants at $1 each to an affiliate of another Hicks firm, Hicks Holdings. Hicks owns the Texas Rangers baseball team and the Dallas Stars hockey club.

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