Thursday AM November 1st, 2007

Houston's airport director updates activities at city's three airports...Lyondell Chemical and Basell announce post-merger name...GDP expands at 3.9 percent--strongest in one and a-half years...

The director of Houston's Department of Aviation says all three of the city's airports are healthy. Rick Vacar spoke to the Greater Houston Partnership about the role of the airports in the economic prosperity of the region.

"Things are going good out at the airport system, and in terms of additional traffic growth—particularly international—and just continued growth, which is fine, you know, given how some airports have fared over the past several years. Recently, because of demand and because airlines have a little bit of pricing power again, they've been able to get the fares up enough, you know, I think, to cover the jet fuel. Of course, going forward, you know, if it keeps climbing, which it appears that it's going to do, it makes it ever more the challenge." Ed: "Some airports have traffic problems. Do we have anything approaching that here in Houston?" "Well, let me just say this: that we're the most efficient large-hub airport in the U.S. and the reason for that is we have more runways on the ground, and we're actually doing an environmental review to do two more runways, so we'll be keeping the air site capacity well above what's actually necessary. Places like JFK, LaGuardia, Newark airports that are pretty much all built around—they have really no expansion possibilities, so their capacity is what it is."

More than 50 million passengers were served in 2006, contributing more than $24 billion to the region. The airports also handle cargo.

"About six years ago we opened up a new cargo complex, which was, you know, quite a development at the time. It was 20 747-type aircraft parking positions with fuel, and we had three third-party developers that actually built the first 600,000 square feet of warehouse. What that opened up was a lot of opportunity for additional flights to come into Houston, where we could actually handle them properly, and that they could increase the service. And that's exactly what's happened over the last several years. And more recently, just recently we picked up Saudi Cargo, EVA Cargo, China Airlines and some others, and we have more we believe will be coming here. We're also about to open up a perishables facility, which will give us some additional handling capability for things like flowers from South America and the like. Traditionally, Miami's been the airport that's had all the business because at the time it was the closest to South America in particular, but aircraft range now is such that a lot places that weren't earlier hubs for cargo are turning into that, and Houston certainly would have that in its future."

Houston has the fourth-largest multi-airport system in the nation and the sixth-largest in the world.


A new ordinance goes into effect in Houston beginning today that requires a parking plan for valet parking operators who do business on public streets. The plan is for obtaining a city permit. The ordinance increases enforceability and provides for short-term licenses. Operators must submit proof of insurance and occupational license, a parking plan detailing traffic flow and proof of the vehicle storage location for valet customers. A provision also makes the valet company owner directly responsible and citable for offenses committed by company attendants.


The University of Houston is hosting a one-day seminar in the Houston Room of the UH University Center to help veterans trying to start businesses. "Boots to Business" will focus on how to start a business and how to create a business plan, as well as franchising, procurement and financing. The seminar is sponsored by the UH Veterans Services Department, the UH Small Business Development Center and the UH Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.


The Houston Networking News is holding the 2007 Houston Business Expo at the Hyatt Regency Downtown. The event includes a business to business trade show with over 100 companies participating. Speakers include Kirbyjon Caldwell, Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale, Deborah Duncan and Mayor Bill White. HNN was founded in 2003 to provide business professionals with a collective source for networking activities, with over 6,000 member contacts.


Houston-based machine manufacturer Dresser-Rand Group will supply products and services to Spanish oil and gas company Repsol in a deal worth $100 million over the next two years, according to the Houston Business Journal. Dresser-Rand has a $13 million steam turbine project for Repsol's Tarragona, Spain, refinery and two compressor projects worth about $20 million for the Petronor refinery in Bilbao, Spain.


The planned merger of Lyondell Chemical and polyolefin maker Basell will result in one of those Internet-like smashed-together names. The new entity will be called LyondellBasell. Lyondell has a shareholder meeting set for November 20th to vote on the proposed merger with The Netherlands-based Basell and its Delaware subsidiary BIL Acquisition Holdings.


Governor Rick Perry and Secretary of State Phil Wilson are announcing an award of $750,000 through the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to SNR Labs of Richardson for further development of its mobile handset software. It allows wireless devices to work seamlessly between wireless services, including conventional cellular, WiFi and WIMAX networks.


The Commerce Department says the nation's economy was growing briskly in the third quarter. It reports GDP expanded at an annual rate of 3.9 percent, the strongest in one and a-half years, despite the credit crunch and housing market slump. The expansion benefited from increased consumer spending. U.S. businesses were selling more goods abroad and boosted investment at home. The growth rate was stronger than expected. But the housing meltdown was also reflected in the report, with builders dramatically slashing investment in housing projects. An inflation gauge shows "core'' prices--excluding food and energy--rose at a rate of 1.8 percent in the third quarter. That's seen within the comfort zone of the Federal Reserve.


The government says construction spending rebounded in September, despite weakness in the housing market. Strength in commercial building and big government projects more than offset weakness in home building. The Commerce Department says total spending rose 0.3 percent. That marks an improvement from the 0.2 percent drop reported for August and is the best showing since May. The performance was better than analysts expected.


Houston-based anime magazine Newtype USA is celebrating its fifth anniversary. The November issue is a collector's edition with a free DVD containing five anime episodes. The issue also features a 2008 calendar. Newtype USA is the official English-language version of Newtype, Japan's anime and manga magazine.


A Fort Worth lawyer who claims landowners haven't been paid their promised lease bonuses—has sued a developer. It's one of the first big lawsuits involving the gas-drilling boom in north Texas. Attorney John Hart says he'll seek class-action status for his lawsuit against developer Leonard Briscoe, Sr., and his company--Glencrest Resources. Hart claims Briscoe told homeowners last year that they'd be paid bonuses within 45 days of signing leases to allow drilling on their land. The lawyer says his client, Pamela Ellis of Fort Worth, still hasn't been paid. Attempts by the Associated Press to reach Briscoe were unsuccessful. Glencrest has filed about 100 mineral-rights leases in Tarrant County, including Fort Worth. Briscoe has said he's signed about 3,000 leases. Hart is seeking to cancel those leases for nonpayment.


A federal judge will let American Airlines proceed with a lawsuit over Google's sale of keyword ads that use the Fort Worth-based airline's trademarked names. U.S. District Judge John H. Mcbryde issued the ruling against Google last week. He gave no explanation for his decision. Google had asked McBryde to throw out the lawsuit American filed in August. The airline complained that Google lets rivals pay to have links to their sites appear when computer users search Google for American trademark terms, such as AAdvantage. American alleged that Google was infringing on its trademarks and deceiving consumers. Google did not immediately comment on the ruling. In the past, Google officials have said their search policy balances the interests of trademark owners and consumers. Two years ago, Google won a similar case filed by insurer Geico. But other companies have continued to file lawsuits against the Internet company over its use of trademark terms in paid searches.

Google is setting up a distribution network for social networking applications. It's a new twist in the Internet search leader's brewing rivalry with rapidly maturing startup Facebook. Google's new social networking platform won't be unveiled until later this week. Google hopes to build a one-stop shop for software developers who create tools that make it easier to share music, pictures, video and other personal interests on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.com. The popularity of these applications, also known as "widgets,'' has grown dramatically since Facebook opened its Web site to accommodate outside developers five months ago.


Two bills that hold a lot of money for Texas are at the center of a partisan fight over federal spending. One measure is about paying for defense. The other bill involves veterans and construction at military bases. Congress hasn't sent any spending bills to President Bush, who's threatening to veto most of them. The Associated Press reports the defense and the veterans military construction spending bills are expected to escape vetoes. But Democratic leaders are considering combining those bills with one that's under a veto threat that pays for labor and health and human services programs. GOP Congressman John Carter, whose district includes Fort Hood, called the Labor-HHS bill a "bloated spending bill.'' U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is the ranking Republican on the appropriations subcommittee that drafts the veterans military construction bill. Hutchison says she thinks Democrats are making a mistake in putting those plans together. Republican Senator John Cornyn has accused Democrats of undertaking a "cynical irresponsible political strategy'' at the expense of U.S. military members and veterans. Democratic Congressman Chet Edwards of Waco chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing veterans and military construction spending. Edwards says he remains extremely confident that they're going to pass the VA-Milcon bill.


A dissident shareholder is seeking four seats on the board of cafeteria operators Luby's. Hedge fund Ramius Capital Group nominated four candidates for the ten-member board after pressing the company to consider a sale of the restaurant chain. Shareholders are scheduled to vote at the annual meeting in Houston in January.


Petroleum supporter Omni Energy Services has agreed to acquire a Texas-based fluid service provider for $11.75 million. Omni said it expected to close on its purchase of Giddings-based B.E.G. Liquid Mud Services during the fourth quarter. The company has about 50 employees. From a base of providing seismic services, Omni has been expanding into other aspects of petroleum support. Omni said it would use working capital to pay $7.75 million and notes to cover the remainder of the purchase price.


A $6.2 billion buyout offer for Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services has been withdrawn by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, according to a published report. The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, says Cerberus has sent a letter to a special ACS board committee. The letter states that the offer is being withdrawn because of the continuation of poor conditions in the debt markets. A Cerberus spokesman tells the Associated Press he couldn't confirm the letter or the decision to pull out of the bid. A telephone message left with an ACS spokesman wasn't immediately returned. Dallas-based ACS competes against larger rivals such as Electronic Data Systems to handle technology services for other companies.


It won't take long to count the votes next week on a plan to help billionaire T. Boone Pickens deliver panhandle water to north Texas communities. Just two people--a Pickens ranch manager and his wife--will cast ballots Tuesday to confirm the creation of a fresh water supply district in Roberts County. Alton Boone, who manages the oilman's Canadian River Valley Ranch, and his wife Lu live within the eight-acre water district and are its only eligible voters. The couple also will vote to seat a five-member board of supervisors--which would include themselves and three Pickens employees. They'll also decide whether to approve $101 million in revenue bonds to acquire rights-of-way through as many as 12 counties for delivering water and wind-generated electricity. The election is the next step in what has been a five-year effort by Pickens and his Mesa Water to market and ship water from the Ogallala Aquifer. Roberts County Commissioners formed the freshwater district in September at the request of landowners in the district--all of whom just recently bought their acreage from Pickens. Under Texas law, voters living on the affected land must ratify the change before it becomes official.


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...