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Thursday August 7th, 2008

Governor's Competitiveness Council makes recommendations to keep Texas economically strong…Houston home market continues slowdown as supply shrinks…Bank of America to comply with agreement signed by merger partner Countrywide Financial to create jobs in Texas…

Governor Rick Perry has accepted his Competitiveness Council’s formal recommendations, which provide guidance to state government and emerging industries on how best to keep Texas at the forefront of the global economy. Perry says Texas must increase the rigor and relevance of schools to best equip students to meet future workplace demands. In November 2007, the governor appointed 29 private sector, education and state agency leaders to create the Governor’s Competitiveness Council. He asked them to recommend ways to enhance the state’s economic footing in emerging industries, and they produced the Council’s Report to the Governor and the Texas 2008 State Energy Plan. The reports outline steps for the state to excel in what it calls the six most rapidly-growing industries in the world: aerospace and defense, advanced technologies and manufacturing, biotechnology and life sciences, energy, information and computer technology and petroleum refining and chemical products. The Energy Plan covers generation, transmission and distribution, energy efficiency and demand response, the retail electric market and governance.

The EPA says a decision on Governor Rick Perry’s request to temporarily waive the federal mandate for ethanol will be announced today. Texas is the nation’s leading cattle producing state. An energy bill passed in December required nine billion gallons of ethanol be blended into gasoline from September 1st to August 31st of next year. Perry in April asked the EPA to drop the renewable fuels standard requirement by half–because ethanol demand is upping corn prices for livestock raisers and driving up food prices. The federal agency delayed its decision last month to finish going through 15,000 comments it received.

Metrostudy says Houston’s new home market continued slowing in the second quarter, according to the Houston Chronicle. The tight credit market and the effect of higher energy prices on budgets pushed quarterly housing starts down 23 per cent, with closings falling 21 percent. Annual closings outpace starts for the fifth quarter in a row. Area builders sold 5,597 more homes than they started over the 12 months that ended in June. The report says the new home market in Houston is balancing strong job growth and a strong local economy with mortgage restraints and competition from foreclosures and the resale market.

Bank of America says it will create jobs in Texas over two years and comply with a state agreement signed by Countrywide Financial. The two firms have merged and the bank has assumed the mortgage company’s job contract. The Texas Enterprise Fund contract was reached in December 2004. It calls for Countrywide to create 7,500 total new jobs in Texas by the end of 2010–in exchange for $20 million in taxpayer money. The fund is overseen by Governor Rick Perry. Countrywide repeatedly has said it plans to fulfill the deal, even after announcing last year it would eliminate up to 12,000 jobs nationwide amid the mortgage industry meltdown. Bank of America on July 1st completed its purchase of Countrywide. Countrywide has been under federal scrutiny and is the target of some lawsuits alleging it misled borrowers.

A unit of Adino Energy is purchasing the North Houston fuel terminal near George Bush Intercontinental Airport, according to the Houston Business Journal. Adino is purchasing the terminal that it currently operates under a lease agreement for $35 million. Houston-based Adino is a subsidiary of Intercontinental Fuels, which distributes and stores diesel and biodiesel fuels.

More than two-thirds of executives say it’s common for their employees to work off site, according to an OfficeTeam survey, as reported in the Houston Business Journal. Some 82 per cent of managers expect the number of employees who work remotely to increase in the next five years. The OfficeTeam report says rising fuel prices are causing people to look for alternatives to lengthy commutes.

Compass Bank’s 585 branches in six states will be known as BBVA Compass next year to reflect its corporate parent, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argenta of Spain. Thomas Graham, executive vice president of corporate communications, said Wednesday the bank is changing its brand, with signs outside the branches to post the new name during the first quarter of 2009. He said the bank was not changing its name, with customer accounts to remain under Compass Bank. The brand change to BBVA Compass was included in the bank’s earnings report this week. Compass, which is headquartered in Birmingham and was acquired by the Spanish financial giant in the past year, operates 585 branches in Texas, Alabama, Florida, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.

ProMexico has selected Houston for its second regional headquarters. The promotional and business agency’s other headquarters is in New York City. ProMexico is part of a new strategy of Mexico’s Ministry of Economy to coordinate development and promotion efforts and activities. The announcement is the result of efforts by the Greater Houston Partnership and Opportunity Houston. The Houston bureau of ProMexico wants to triple foreign direct investment by 2012.

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