Thursday AM March 22nd, 2007

Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates Houston had fastest-growing job sector in 2006...Texas House budget-writing committee approves $150.1 billion, two-year spending plan...TXU buyout investors ask state legislators to delay intervention...

The Houston area gained more jobs than any other metropolitan area in the nation in 2006, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data shows continued strength in some well-paid industries, with over-the-year growth of 7.1percent in oil and gas extraction, 12.1 percent in oilfield services, 5.9 percent in durable goods manufacturing, 11l1 percent in architectural and engineering services and 7.2 percent in computer systems design. The Greater Houston Partnership said the data validates the board's vision of contributing to the creation of 600,000 new jobs and $60 billion in capital investment by 2015.


The U.S. House has approved a bill that says public housing projects damaged by Hurricane Katrina wouldn't be demolished until there's a replacement plan. The measure also would grant tenants who lived in New Orleans public housing before the 2005 storm the right to return to homes and apartments subsidized by the government. Several hundred thousand Louisiana residents evacuated to Texas after Katrina. The Housing and Urban Development Department and the city's Housing Authority had approved plans to demolish four large public housing complexes and smaller sites in New Orleans. The August 2005 storm left about 7,500 apartments in a condition not considered worth repairing. The demolitions would have made way for an estimated $681 million worth of mixed-income neighborhood construction. The Senate has yet to take up the bill. Also, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee approved legislation strengthening existing tax incentives to builders of affordable rental housing in Katrina-affected areas. The bill would extend for two years, through 2010, the deadline for those units to be inhabited.


The Texas House Budget-Writing Committee approved a proposed $150 billion spending plan for the coming two years. Much of the budget includes growth in public education and health and human services. The proposal now moves to the full House, where it's expected to be debated late next week. Then the Senate gets a crack at it. Overall, the spending plan includes state money and federal money allotted to Texas. The State General Revenue portion of the $150.1 billion plan amounts to $75.5 billion. The overall proposal represents a 3.8 percent increase over the last biennium's budget. It doesn't include $14 billion for school property tax cuts approved as part of a school funding plan last year. That's part of another bill.


Two investors behind the proposed sale of TXU promised to file paperwork with utility regulators ahead of schedule, as they asked state lawmakers to not intervene in the deal. Investors from Fort Worth-based Texas Pacific Group and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts appeared before a House committee to stop a bill passed by the Senate last week that would place the transaction before the Public Utility Commission. Environmental groups praise the $32 billion deal because investors promise to cancel plans to build eight of 11 new coal-fired power plants.


The Texas House has approved legislation repealing a fee on phone bills that funds a technology program that no longer exists. The measure now moves to the Senate. The Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund fee, known as TIF, is levied on telephone service providers and passed on to customers through phone bills. Its original purpose was to pay for a grant program to bring technology to public schools, hospitals and libraries in rural areas. Governor Rick Perry determined in 2003 that the need had been met, but lawmakers continued to reauthorize the fee for both cell phone and land line providers. Almost four years later, the 1.25 percent fee is bringing in an estimated $210 million per year to the state. The sponsor is Representative Joe Straus of San Antonio.


AT&T gave about $500,000 to a private after-school program founded by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger attended a ceremony in San Antonio, where AT&T's philanthropic arm announced the donation to the governor's nonprofit after-school All-Stars program. Schwarzenegger founded the national program in 1992 as a way to provide tutoring services and sports to at-risk middle school students. It has affiliates in 14 cities.


Two Houston companies are among six recipients of $13 million in commercialization grants from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, according to the Houston Business Journal. PLx Pharma was awarded $2 million to continue work with anti-inflammatory drugs. Molecular LogiX has been awarded almost $800,000 to develop a therapeutic cancer treatment.


NASA and the Houston Technology Center have signed an agreement to expand a multi-year partnership, according to the Houston Business Journal. NASA and HTC will collaborate on educational efforts, including providing assistance to the business community on grant proposals, licenses and R&D projects that could be used by NASA.


A new study shows more Houston Independent School District teachers are staying on the job instead of leaving their classrooms for other careers or other school districts. In 2005, some 1,554 of roughly 12,500 teachers left the district. But in 2006, the number leaving dropped nearly 19 percent, to 1,262. HISD recently began a $15 million performance pay program that rewards teachers with bonuses for strong academic performance of students.


Dell is unveiling a new desktop PC targeting first-time and novice computer users in China. Dell said the EC-280 system was developed by engineers at the company's design center in Shanghai and will be available in two configurations. Prices will range from about $223 to $515. Dell spokeswoman Jacqui Zhou says the system will only be available in China. Faced with slackening sales and stiff competition from rivals in the United States, Dell has been aggressively pursuing foreign markets including China and India. The Round Rock-based company says its revenue in China grew by 26 percent in the last fiscal year.


The Harris County Commissioners Court has granted a tax break to Preferred Freezer Services to build a $10.4 million cold storage warehouse in La Porte. The tax abatement will cut the company's county property taxes in half for ten years. The company will employ at least 35 people. Freezer space will be leased to other companies for storing fish and other foods.


Applebee's is closing 24 company-owned restaurants that it says are not meeting performance goals. The big jump for the company, which typically closes one or two restaurants a year, comes as it struggles with declining sales. In addition, a shareholder activist is demanding that Applebee's sell most of the 528 corporate-owned locations. Ten of the restaurants to be closed are in two New England states and the remainder are spread over nine states. Applebee's declined to say which states because officials have just started talking with the affected stores.


American Airlines says it is working to re-establish regional air service to six cities in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri after the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all RegionsAir planes earlier this month. Tennessee-based RegionsAir had operated as American Connection or Continental Connection in seven states. RegionsAir canceled its flights after the FAA had issues with its line check airman certification and training program. American says it is working with Great Lakes Aviation to re-establish service between Lambert Saint Louis International Airport and Burlington, Iowa; Decatur, Marion, Springfield and Quincy, Illinois; and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The Fort Worth-based airline says people whose RegionsAir flights were canceled will be rebooked without penalty or can have full refunds for that portion of their travel.


A man from Oregon whose Enron 401(k) plan lost about $400,000 in 2001 has won a payout of $59 million in Powerball. Dan Gannon worked for Portland General Electric, once an Enron unit. He won a $182 million jackpot over the weekend and claimed it Monday, collecting an after-tax lump sum of $59 million.


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...