Tuesday AM June 26th, 2007

ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil reportedly reject Venezuelan terms to stay...Texas and Massachusetts chosen for wind technology testing centers...Outplacement firm survey shows nearly 80 percent of companies plan continued hiring...

Irving-based ExxonMobil and Houston-based ConocoPhillips have reportedly rejected a deal to stay in multibillion-dollar projects being nationalized by Venezuela, according to Reuters. The Venezuelan government says four other companies—California-based Chevron, Norway's Statoil, the UK's BP and France's Total plan to sign an accord that will keep them in the Orinoco oil reserve. President Hugo Chavez decreed Tuesday as a deadline for foreign oil companies to accept terms for the government to take a majority stake in four heavy-crude upgrading projects valued at above $30 billion. Chavez has also been nationalizing U.S. companies' assets in the telecommunications and electricity sectors.


Massachusetts and Texas have been chosen to receive federal support to build wind technology testing centers. The projects--at $20 million each--are backed by public colleges. Each project will receive up to $2 million from the Energy Department to test equipment to develop large-scale wind blade testing centers. In Texas, the Lone Star Wind Alliance, which proposes a test facility in Ingleside. The Massachusetts project involves building a center along Boston Harbor. Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson says the Ingleside center and the state's breezy climate should make Texas attractive to companies that build the blades.

"It's actually the blades. They put the blades under load and, you know, test their resistance to, you know, adverse conditions. The problem has been the blade test facility currently located up in Colorado has a limit to the size of the blades. You know, they needed something that's bigger. They needed something near a port, and of course we've got space there in Ingleside. BP has generously donated the land. The governor has made money available in the Emerging Technology Fund. Of course, the legislature made it a contingent appropriation, too, should we be the victor, so that's real positive."

Assistant Energy Secretary Andy Karsner says the new centers could test blades up to 330 feet long. Patterson says this facility will be just a natural extension of the state's energy business.

"This test facility down there in Ingleside near Corpus is a really positive development. You know, we've been in the energy business for a hundred years, and this is the energy business. It's kind of new energy, and it's part of my interest in Texas not only being the leader as far as installed wind power capacity, which is pushing 3,000 megawatts, but I want us to be the leader in manufacturing, testing, assembly—all of the above."

The testing group includes several colleges in Texas, as well as Montana State University, Stanford University, New Mexico State University, Old Dominion University, as well as the Houston Advanced Research Center, BP, Dow, Huntsman, and Shell Wind.


A new survey shows that nearly 80 percent of companies plan to match or increase the pace of hiring established in the first six months of the year--the result of expectations of an economic rebound. However, there may be a problem: a lack of skilled workers. The survey by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas says 69 percent of companies are having trouble finding certain workers. Among the categories of workers mentioned as being in short supply are administrative staff, sales professionals, purchasing agents, operations managers, marketing specialists, electrical engineers, mechanics and machinists. Companies, meanwhile are acting to remedy the situation. Thirty percent of human resource executives surveyed by Challenger say their firms have increased salaries. Several also indicate that they introduced or increased sign-on bonuses to attract workers.


Texas manufacturing activity slowed this month, but still remains positive, according to the Houston Business Journal. The latest Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey from the Federal Reserve in Dallas indicates a decline in the general business activity level index to 10.8 from 20.9 in May. Since peaking in February, the index decline for the fourth straight month. The raw materials price index dropped, as well as the finished goods prices index. More manufacturers are expecting increases in the prices of finished goods and raw materials.


The Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority is considering proposals for up to $5 million in additional construction work at the Bayport Container and Cruise Terminal. The commission will also discuss up to $1.6 million for maintenance dredging of Woodhouse and Sims Bayou berthing areas at its meeting this morning, as well as more than $70,000 in port security improvements.


Petrohawk Energy is selling its Gulf Coast division to refocus on developing and expanding its mid-continent natural gas activities, according to the Houston Business Journal. Petrohawk is also forming HK Energy Partners to manage some properties.


The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is distributing $4 million in grant funding to retrofit or replace rich-burn compressor engines used in the oil industry to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides. The money is to reimburse some of the capital costs of installing a NOx reduction system—up to 75 percent if installation and emission reductions are verified before August 1st.


The president of the United Auto Workers is crediting General Motors for helping reach a tentative wage concession deal for Delphi. But Ron Gettelfinger said in an interview with WJR radio in Detroit that Delphi's leaders are interested in dragging out the bankruptcy and turning the auto supplier into a foreign company. He would not offer details of the agreement that was signed late last week. Delphi plans to sell four plans and close or consolidate into other facilities several other plants--including one in Wichita Falls, Texas. Union members were expected to hear details beginning on the deal that requires their approval as well as from a bankruptcy judge in New York.


The Federal Reserve says as many as 28 million people in the U.S. are staying away from traditional financial institutions. It's because of mistrust, cultural and language barriers or belief that after bills are paid there'll be nothing left. Seeing a business opportunity from all the billions of dollars, banks are trying to draw in these potential customers. So, too, are check-cashing businesses and retailers, including Wal-Mart. Many people, however, still resist, preferring to remain in the financial shadows. They tend to be minority, low income and young. The Fed says about one in 12 families does not have a bank account. The number is higher for the poorest--nearly a quarter of families earning less than $18,900 shy away from financial institutions.


Americans gave nearly $300 billion to charitable causes last year. That set a new record and bested the 2005 total that had been boosted by a surge in aid to victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and the Asian tsunami. According to an annual report by the Giving USA Foundation at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy, donors contributed an estimated $295.02 billion in 2006, a one percent increase when adjusted for inflation. That's up from $283.05 billion in 2005. Excluding donations for disaster relief, the total rose 3.2 percent, inflation-adjusted. The foundation says giving historically tracks the health of the overall economy, with the rise amounting to about one-third the rise in the stock market.


Home-accessories retailer Pier 1 Imports is shutting down its online business and closing more stores. But analysts say the company's turnaround is showing results. Retailers rushed online during the 1990s and early 2000s, viewing the Internet as an important complement to--or even a replacement for--its stores. A few, like J.C. Penney , racked up big sales online, but not Pier 1. Chief Executive Alex W. Smith announced he's pulling the plug on Internet sales by the end of August. The company also is closing more stores as part of a $150 million cost-cutting campaign. Twenty-four are clearance stores shutting by July 31st and 33 are Pier 1 Kids stores closing by October 31st. That will raise total closings in 2007 to about 100 stores, up from an earlier target of 60. Analyst Laura Champine, with Morgan Keegan, says closing the Internet business "seems fairly radical.'' But Smith said the Internet sales aren't big and weren't likely to become significant in the short term.


Houston-based Blackhawk Management has been named as Subcontractor of the Year in a five-state region by the Small Business Administration. Woman-owned Blackhawk is a strategic contractor to NASA and the Department of Defense. Blackhawk has 240 employees operating nine sites is the U.S., Iraq and Afghanistan.


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...