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Monday AM August 4th, 2008

Construction spending posts 11th decline in 13 months; construction laborers call for program focusing on rebuilding American infrastructure…GM may offer U.S. hourly workers another round of buyout and early retirement offers…


According to figures released last Friday by the Labor Department, the nation’s unemployment rate climbed to a four-year high of 5.7 percent in July, as employers cut 51,000 jobs. That brings the total number of job losses this year to 463,000, according to the government. The latest snapshot shows that employers remain cautious as a lack of credit stunts their expansion plans and willingness to hire. Job losses were largest in areas hit by the housing, credit and financial slumps. Construction companies got rid of 22,000 employees.

Washington, D.C.-based Laborers’ International Union of North America is calling for an aggressive economic stimulus program focused on rebuilding America and creating jobs. The union’s Jacob Hay says the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the basic infrastructure of the United States a near-failing grade due to years of neglect.

"image“Well, we need some immediate action to build America. As people look around, they know they’re stuck in traffic. We’re at the one-year anniversary of the Minnesota bridge collapse. In the Midwest, there was flooding due to levees that were in disrepair. So people know that there’s stuff that needs to be built, and there’s workers out there to build it. For every billion dollars of investing in our infrastructure, 47,500 good jobs can be created. So we have the tools. We just need the political will to make the commitment to building America.”

Hay says such a program wouldn’t be dead-end spending, because there would be something left behind—an improved highway and bridge infrastructure.

image of speaker, click here for audio“You know, there have been times in this country’s history, when we make the commitment to do something, we can get the job done. So we can build America so America works again and create a better economy. Our infrastructure has deteriorated and the economy’s gotten worse. It also, the time is right for a campaign to build America. We want to make sure that presidential candidates, people who are running for Congress and the Senate, know that this is a real issue out there that people care about because they’re spending hours each year stuck in traffic and because people are losing jobs, so it’s, it’s something that we can do something about and we need to get on with the job of building America.”

The government on Friday reported that construction spending in June posted the 11th decline in the past 13 months. The Commerce Department says spending dropped 0.4 percent in June, in line with expectations. Home building posted the 15th straight drop. Builders have continued to cut back on their activity to cope with the severe housing slump and credit crisis. Weakness in housing activity offset strength in other building activity. There was a big increase in building activity for hotels and motels and a number of other commercial building projects.

According to the economic development and tourism marketing firm Development Counsellors International, corporate executives rank Texas’ business climate best in the nation for the fourth consecutive time in the past 12 years. Governor Rick Perry distributed the survey results, which measure the CEO’s perception of a state’s business climate. DCI surveyed 281 executives in charge of site selections, and Texas gained 40.8 per cent of the top votes. They cite a favorable tax climate, workforce cost and availability and a pro-business climate.

GM’s chief financial officer says the automaker might offer its U.S. hourly workers another round of buyout and early retirement offers. Ray Young says a steep decline in demand for GM trucks and SUVs has forced the closure of several North American plants and could lead to additional buyouts. Last month the automaker said it was planning to cut production by 300,000 vehicles. Young says 90 percent of the 19,000 manufacturing workers who signed up for the last round of buyouts have left the company. GM took a $3.3 billion loss in the second quarter to pay for them. GM’s hourly work force has been cut by more than half in recent years as the company’s U.S. market share shrinks. Two years ago, GM had a total of 113,000 hourly workers in the U.S. it now has less than half that.

California’s largest state employees union is suing to block Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s executive order forcing layoffs for thousands of workers. More than 10,000 seasonal, contract and part-time workers are expected to begin receiving pink slips. Schwarzenegger signed the order last Thursday amid a budget stalemate. The lawsuit by the Service Employees International Union argues that laying off workers without notice violates the state constitution and numerous laws, including those governing seniority. The governor is also being challenged by State Controller John Chiang. His office cuts the paychecks for state employees and is refusing to comply with the part of Schwarzenegger’s order related to wages. Schwarzenegger wants up to 200,000 permanent, full-time state workers to get the minimum wage of $6.55 an hour in their paychecks until the budget is passed. They would then be reimbursed.

Chesapeake Energy says it’s buying about 13,000 acres of mineral rights in a natural gas formation that includes part of Texas. The $263 million purchase from Tennessee-based International Paper is expected to close in late August. Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake has made the Haynesville shale, a formation in areas of East Texas and Northwest Louisiana, one of its top priorities. Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon said the company has “just scratched the surface of the potential” of the Haynesville shale. McClendon said that by the end of this year, Chesapeake anticipates using 12 rigs to develop its 450,000 net acres of leasehold in the play. He said that, on average, the company should be able to complete a new Haynesville well every five days.

The engineering consulting subsidiary of KBR has been commissioned for a feasibility study to evaluate current and projected production of crude oil from the Caspian region. According to the Houston Business Journal, Granherne will also evaluate market demand in Europe, conceptual transportation options, financial analysis, facility capacities, economic modeling, capital expenditure and operating expenditure estimates in its Euro-Asian Oil Transportation Corridor study. KBR’s Granherne subsidiary was selected by state oil companies from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland.

The Houston area’s first PetsHotel opened this weekend at the PetsMart on I-45 in Conroe. The 5,000 square-foot location in The Woodlands is one of more than 70 such facilities in nearly 30 states. PetSmart plans nearly 435 PetsHotels in its stores nationwide, and is on track to open 35 new hotels this year alone. The company’s boarding business is the largest and fastest growing in the sector. Stores boasting PetsHotels have seen their revenues jump by nearly 30 percent.

Shell Oil has made a record $100,000 donation to the Houston Technology Center. The non-profit business accelerator will use the funds in its mission to help commercialize emerging technology companies. HTC President and CEO Walter Ulrich says the business incubator has provided guidance and input to more than 1,000 entrepreneurs and more than 200 companies in nine years, helping them raise more than $500 million.

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