Wednesday AM October 10th, 2007

Houston technology start-ups awarded more than $3.86 million in grants from Texas Emerging Technology Fund...Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urges Congress to pass three Latin American free trade agreements...UAW threatens strike against Chrysler if agreement isn't reached by this morning...

The Houston Technology Center hosted its fourth annual showcase at the Hyatt downtown, with Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson announcing the latest winners of the state's Emerging Technology Fund. ThromboVision, Bellicum Pharmaceuticals, Visualase and Laser Tissue Welding are receiving more than $3.86 million in grants from the fund. Wilson says those who decide the winners look at the companies through the eyes of the investor.

"Right, we have to view this as the market would view it. You know, is it good technology? iS it disruptive? Do they have a good management team? Is it something that we think would benefit the state, that it's commercially viable, and it's ready to get to market to see what can we do? And this is kind of ‘what can we do to make this successful in our state, and they do take an investor approach. You have to take that approach because there's public money and there needs to be accountability in the system. And we think the process that we've put in place creates that accountability."

Secretary of State Wilson says nominees for the Emerging Technology Fund first come from regional suggestions.

"The local Regional Center of Innovation and Commercialization—the RCIC—has four slots per quarter here in Houston. The local board says ‘we really like these four. These are the best four technologies that are out there that fit the vision of innovative, disruptive, commercially viable, have a management team, have a university tie'—you have all these criteria they have to go through. And they submit their four slots to the 17-member statewide board. The statewide board is comprised of venture capitalists, technologists, entrepreneurs, academicians, economic development professionals. And then we'll start our own due diligence, as any investor would. Because it is public money, we have a higher threshold of due diligence."

The HTC event featured over 50 exhibitors displaying new technology.


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is urging Congress to pass three Latin American free trade agreements. Rice says if the agreements are defeated, it would send a "loud and clear'' signal that "the United States cannot be trusted to keep its promises.'' She also says it would prove a setback for the leaders of Peru, Panama and Colombia as they work to strengthen democracy in their countries. The Bush administration has been trying to jump-start its stalled trade agenda as the nation's trade deficits have soared to record highs. The deal with Peru and a separate free trade agreement with Panama are given good chances of passage by Congress this year. But passage of the agreement with Colombia is seen as less likely because of concerns about human rights there.


The threat of a strike looms over contract negotiations between Chrysler and the United Auto Workers union. The union says workers will walk off the job if an agreement isn't reached by Wednesday morning. Analysts say retiree health care costs and job security could be the most divisive issues. Chrysler is looking to cut costs, and analysts say the company isn't necessarily going to agree to the same concessions that gm agreed to in its talks with the union. Chrysler pays its workers the most in wages and benefits among the Detroit automakers. And analysts say job security could be a tough issue because the company is considering cutting some models. Experts say a short strike may not do much damage, as Chrysler has enough inventory to continue selling most of its vehicles. Plus, five plants were already scheduled to shut down temporarily during the next two weeks. Several industry analysts say that Chrysler's needs are different than GM's, so it requires a different deal with cost cuts in different places. The UAW went on strike for nearly two days last month before coming to a tentative agreement with GM on September 26th. Workers with the nation's largest automaker are expected to wrap voting on the agreement by Wednesday. The union normally settles with one U.S. automaker and then uses that deal as a pattern for an agreement with the other two.


The makers of Miller and Coors beers are coming together for a new joint venture. Molson Coors Brewing Company and Sabmiller announced the new company will be called MillerCoors. Officials say the joint venture will allow the companies to better compete with larger brewers, like industry leader Anheuser-Busch. Miller has a brewery in Fort Worth that employs about 800 employees. Sabmiller will own 58 percent of the new company and Molson Coors 42 percent. Both will have equal voting interests. The vice chairman of Molson Coors will become the new company's chairman, and Molson Coors' chief executive will be the CEO. The CEO of Miller will become president and chief commercial officer. The companies say the final approval of the deal is expected by the end of the year.


Regional support is growing for the Illinois bid for a cutting-edge, coal-powered plant known as FutureGen. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell announced his state is solidly behind Illinois in the competition with Texas for the plant. Pennsylvania officials say having the plant in the midwest could make it easier to replicate the technology in their state. The $1.5 billion project will minimize air pollution by storing emissions underground. Developers are considering sites in Mattoon and Tuscola, as well as two in Texas. A decision is expected by year's end. Illinois is offering $82 million worth of incentives to FutureGen's developers. The package also protects the project from liability due to accidents.


AT&T's agreed to buy spectrum licenses from Aloha Partners for about $2.5 billion. That would expand the San Antonio-based telecommunication provider's ability to deliver wireless voice, data and video services. The deal would add 12 megahertz of spectrum at the 700 megahertz frequency and affects 196 million people in 281 markets. It also boosts AT&T's presence in 72 of the top 100 metropolitan areas. The company expects to close the purchase in six to nine months, pending regulatory approval. AT&T's the exclusive carrier for Apple's iPhone. It's been aggressively expanding its wireless network in recent years.


The government says consumers reliant on heating oil to fend off the winter chill will be hit hardest by a price increase this season. The Energy Information Administration predicts that heating oil costs will be up 16 percent from a year ago. The fuel is used by 7 percent of American households, mostly in the northeast. The cost of heating a home with natural gas, used by the majority of households, is predicted to be up six percent over last year. Electricity, used by about a third of U.S. homes, is seen costing two percent more. At the same time, the government is predicting warmer weather for much of the country this winter.


Irving-based Kimberly-Clark says it'll raise prices next year on such products as Kleenex tissues and Huggies diapers to offset higher raw material and energy costs. The company says that, starting February 3rd, it'll boost prices by four to seven percent on Huggies diapers and swim pants, pull-ups training pants, Goodnites youth pants, Cottonelle and Scott bathroom tissue, and Scott and Viva paper towels. Kimberly-Clark sells more than $4 billion of those items annually in the United States, about one-fourth of the company's total revenue. Kimberly-Clark has faced higher costs for pulp and other raw materials, although it has offset the effect by boosting sales and cutting other costs. It has also been helped by the weak U.S. dollar, which makes Kimberly-Clark products cheaper overseas. In recent years, Kimberly-Clark has been locked in price wars with rival Procter & Gamble for dominance in the diaper market.


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...