Monday AM February 26th, 2007

Consortium receives grant to train for port-related jobs...Civilian contract workers death toll in Iraq reaches nearly 800...Dallas-based firm to build second biodiesel fuel plant in Clovis, New Mexico...

The Texas Workforce Commission has awarded almost $1 million to a consortium to improve training for port-related jobs. Grant recipients include San Jacinto College and the West Gulf Maritime Association, with support from the Port of Houston Authority, International Longshoreman's Association and the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region. Wade Battles, managing director of the Port of Houston Authority, says business at the port is booming, and that means more hiring and the expansion of worker skill levels.

"This new grant will enable our partner organizations to all work together to provide the technical training necessary to add more than 1,500 skilled workers to the local maritime labor force. This includes a wide variety of high-paying jobs both on the docks and in the warehouses and distribution centers, trained in a wide variety of specific skills. And this will have a tremendous economic impact on our surrounding communities."

Battles says growth at the port is requiring more highly-trained workers.

"The Port of Houston's new Bayport facility alone requires more than 600 new workers, and the opening of this facility has increased the demand for trained workers at Barbours Cut, at the Turning Basin as well as other facilities throughout the region. This grant will provide a more focused and standardized training across the industry with an increased emphasis on technology as well as safety and Homeland Security training."

The grant will fund the training for several hundred new jobs as well as over 1,000 maritime professionals for upgraded jobs. Training began last month and will continue through November.

In a largely invisible cost of the war in Iraq, nearly 800 civilians working under contract to the Pentagon have been killed doing jobs normally handled by the U.S. military. That's according to figures gathered by the Associated Press. Those figures also show more than 3,300 civilian contractors have been hurt doing these jobs. Exactly how many of these employees doing the Pentagon's work are Americans is uncertain. But the casualty figures make it clear that the Pentagon count of more than 3,100 U.S. military dead doesn't tell the whole story. The U.S. has outsourced so many war and reconstruction duties to contractors like Houston-based Halliburton that there are almost as many contractors at 120,000 in the war zone as the 135,000 U.S. troops. The insurgents in Iraq make little if any distinction between the contractors and U.S. troops. The Defense Department issues a press release whenever a soldier or marine dies. But the AP had to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain figures on pre-2006 civilian deaths and injuries from the Labor Department--which tracks workers' compensation claims. By the end of 2006, the Labor Department had quietly recorded 769 deaths and 3,367 injuries serious enough to require four or more days off the job.

Clovis, New Mexico, has landed a second biodiesel fuel plant. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has announced that Dallas-based American Renewable Fuels will build a plant capable of producing 75 million gallons of biodiesel fuel each year. He says the plant will help the United States end its reliance on foreign oil. The new plant will be constructed near another biodiesel fuel plant being developed in Clovis by Ares Corporation of California. Construction on the American renewable fuels plant is expected to begin by August and be up and running next fall. Up to 100 people are expected to be employed during construction. The plant will hire 40 full-time employees when it goes into operation.

ConocoPhillips said its Corocoro Field in Venezuela could start producing oil in mid-2007. That's later than originally expected. The word comes in the Houston-based oil company's annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission. ConocoPhillips is the nation's third-largest integrated oil company. The company says full-fledged production is expected to start in the third quarter of 2008 with the installation of a central processing platform. But it adds that there's "the possibility of production from an interim processing facility in mid-2007.'' The ConocoPhillips offshore field is a joint venture of with state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela and the Italian oil company Eni. Offshore drilling started in mid-2006, and Venezuelan officials said then that initial production would begin in early 2007. ConocoPhillips says the arrival and mooring of the floating storage and offloading vessel and the completion of pipeline infrastructure will come in the first quarter of 2007. The field contains an estimated 500 million barrels of recoverable oil.

The company that makes Land O'Lakes Products and operates dozens of milk plants says it'll take a pass on milk from cloned cows. Dallas-based Dean Foods says "numerous surveys'' show Americans don't want to buy dairy products made from such milk. The Food and Drug Administration has already given preliminary approval to milk and meat from cloned animals. Final approval could come later this year, with the government insisting it's all safe. But Dean Foods says while it respects the FDA, it's concerned about its customers. America's biggest milk company is joining smaller companies like Ben and Jerry's and Organic Value in opposing milk from cloned cows.

San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications posted fourth-quarter earnings down 54 percent from the previous year's quarter. The nation's largest radio station operator's earnings fall come ahead of the planned $19 billion buyout by a group of equity firms. Net income dropped to $211.3 million. Revenue rose 11 percent to $1.94 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial were looking for revenue of $1.89 billion. Two percentage points of the gain came from favorable changes in foreign currency. Outdoor ad revenue grew 13 percent, while radio ad revenue added seven percent. For the year, net income fell 26 percent to $691.5 million. Revenue rose seven percent to $7.07 billion.

Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...