Business

Economics, employment, jobs, real estate, taxes, economic development and incentives, workforce development, IPOs, investment and anything related to business in Austin and the Central Texas counties of Travis, Hays, Caldwell, Bastrop and Williamson

Citing a "lack of business integrity," the Environmental Protection Agency announced it was temporarily suspending the oil giant BP from entering into new contracts with the federal government.

In a press release, the EPA said BP demonstrated the lack of integrity during the Deepwater Horizon "blowout, explosion, oil spill and response." This kind of suspension, the EPA explained, is "standard practice when a responsibility question is raised by action in a criminal case."

There was a "moderate increase" in American consumers' confidence this month, the private Conference Board just reported.

Its widely watched consumer confidence index rose to 73.7 from 73.1 in October. The index is the highest it has been since February 2008, when the economy had just fallen into recession and was headed down.

First, there was the post-Thanksgiving sales spectacle Black Friday and then the online version, Cyber Monday. Now, charitable groups want to start a new holiday tradition — it's called Giving Tuesday and the first one is tomorrow.

It may seem a little surprising that no one came up with the idea before of designating a specific day to help launch the holiday charitable giving season.

flickr.com/photos/declanjewell

Credit card company Visa says it will build a new IT center in Austin, bringing almost 800 jobs to the area within five years.

Texas Governor Rick Perry announced the project this afternoon.

Perry is using $7.9 million dollars from the Texas Enterprise Fund to entice Visa to Austin.

The city will kick in about $1.5 million over 10 years, according to a memo released by the city's Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office.

KUT News

Not since the federal government was doling out $8,000 tax credits to first time homebuyers have home sales surged this much in the Austin area.

In October, 1,960 single-family homes were sold in Austin, according to the Austin Board of Realtors. The 37 percent year-over-year increase was the largest since November 2009.

“We’re very vibrant,” says Austin Board of Realtors chairman Leonard Guerrero, pointing to Austin’s growing population. “

"Twinkies Saved! Hostess, Bakers Union Agree to Mediation, Avoiding Shutdown."

That's the "alert" this hour at CNBC.com.

Reuters has issued this "bulletin":

"US BANKRUPTCY JUDGE SAYS PARTIES AGREE TO MEDIATION ON TUESDAY IN HOSTESS CASE."

And according to The Associated Press:

Tyler Pratt for KUT News

Update: Company spokesperson Tammy Taylor tells KUT News that “Hostess Brands had 230 employees in Texas. All facilities are shut down, with the exception of retail outlets, which will remain open for about a week to sell remaining product in going out of business sales.”

Taylor says that “severance will not be paid at this time” to the laid-off employees; “funds for these amounts are not in the ‘Wind Down’ budget that Hostess lenders approved.”

Original post (1:25 p.m.): It’s the end of Hostess Brands, the Texas-headquartered maker of Twinkies, Wonder Bread and Ding Dongs.  This morning Hostess said it filed a motion in bankruptcy court to request permission to liquidate its assets.

Flickr user Images of Money, bit.ly/LeSsiT

Tens of thousands of Formula 1 fans are making their way to Austin for this weekend’s Grand Prix. Many are from foreign countries.

The Austin Better Business Bureau says business owners should be prepared to accept foreign currency or else they may lose out on some customers.

The BBB says business owners should be aware of ever-changing exchange rates and should talk to their banks about whether they’ll charge extra for depositing foreign currency.

The post-election negotiations over taxes, the economy and the so-called fiscal cliff moved into a new phase this afternoon when President Obama stepped up to a microphone at the White House to lay out his latest thoughts about what needs to be done.

In many ways, this words were echoes from the hard-fought campaign.

www.flickr.com/Jellaluna

There used to be a stigma attached to living at home into one’s twenties and thirties – but not so much these days.

Blame it on rising housing prices, or dwindling employment opportunities for grads – but nowadays, young adults between the ages of 25 to 34 are feeling more comfortable about moving back in with their parents.

According to a recent Pew Research Center report on the so-called “boomerang generation,” three out of 10 young adults have moved back home in recent years, thanks to a weak economy. 

The good news concerning multi-generational households is that it looks like all parties are benefiting from the trend. Of the 2,048 adults surveyed nationwide, 48 percent have reported paying rent to their parents and 89 percent say they help with household expenses, like utilities.

Microsoft Introduces Windows 8, Marking 'New Era'

Oct 25, 2012

Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, put the release of the company's new operating system in dramatic terms: "Windows 8 shatters perceptions of what a PC truly is," he said during an introductory event in New York.

Windows 8, Ballmer said, "marks a new era" for Microsoft.

Apple Announces Smaller, Cheaper Version of iPad

Oct 23, 2012

Update at 1:52 p.m. ET. Introducing iPad Mini:

Philip W. Schiller, the senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple, announced a new, smaller and cheaper version of its popular tablet, just minutes ago in San Jose, Calif.

"So, what can you do with an iPad mini that can't do with an iPad?" Schiller asked. "You can hold it in one hand."

The iPad mini is as thin as a pencil, weighs 0.68 pounds and has a 7.9 inch screen, Schiller said. The iPad has a 9.7 inch screen.

Mark Dewey for KUT News

It sounds like the setup to a joke: “AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile walk into a bar …”

But it’s no laughing matter. Despite the fact that each company devotes itself almost entirely to beating the other two in the highly-competitive mobile market, the three companies have created a new “mobile payment” venture – Isis – that launched today in Austin.

Mobile payments, also called  “digital wallets,” allow purchasers to buy products and services using a phone-based app at the point of sale, instead of with credit cards, cash, or checks.

Merchants that accept Isis payments are a mix of big-box retailers, fast food restaurants, department stores, and local merchants.

flickr.com/sarahbelle1

The unemployment rate in Texas saw its biggest one-month drop in nearly two decades in September.

Statewide, the jobless rate fell from 7.1 percent in August to 6.8 percent in September. That was the result of an additional 21,000 jobs.

Here in Austin, the unemployment rate fell from 5.9 percent to 5.3 percent. That rate doesn’t account for seasonal changes in employment. Still, Texas Workforce Commission spokesperson Lisa Givens says the Austin area added 3,000 jobs last month, largely in fields including education, health services and government jobs.

http://bit.ly/Qv3vtb

Computer chipmaker AMD announced this afternoon that it’s laying off 15 percent of its workforce. 

AMD is based in Silicon Valley, but employs about 25,000 people at its southwest Austin campus. The company says poor earnings and falling sales have forced cost-cutting measures.  

Analysts say AMD has suffered from an overall slowdown in computer sales as consumers have switched to tablets and smartphones—the same trend that has hurt Austin-based Dell.  Hans Mosesmann is an investment analyst specializing in semiconductors. He says that while AMD is slimming down today to be smaller and more flexible, the company may soon be hiring again.

Saying that "we have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format," editor Tina Brown announced this morning that Newsweek's Dec. 31 issue will be its last print edition.

Going forward, she said:

"Newsweek will expand its rapidly growing tablet and online presence, as well as its successful global partnerships and events business.

Almost every day we hear about out-of-town tech companies opening branch offices in Austin.  

What does that mean? Could the next Facebook, Google, or Apple start and grow in Austin? Will Austin even be the next Silicon Valley? Or are we a "tech colony," a place where global companies can find a ready supply of highly-trained tech workers who will work for less than workers in California or New York?

Salaries are lower here, even for tech specialist in high demand, and although Austin is often billed as a "lower cost of living" area, it may not seem that way to those facing high (and rising) rent, home prices, and property taxes.

In Silicon Valley, researcher and writer Vivek Wadhwa studies competitiveness as an academic discipline.  He says he’s pessimistic about the tech future of many U.S. cities and regions, but not Austin. He says Austin has done everything right and should continue to grow. More than advantages like Texas' favorable tax climate, the stream of patents spinning out of UT, or ample investment capital, he says it’s the human capital that gives Austin an advantage.  

Lithium Technologies

It's no secret that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have changed the way companies interact with their consumers.

Corporations and small businesses alike need to have a plan for handling customer interactions via the internet  – at least that's what one Austin startup believes. And a big technology company is buying into the idea.

Lithium Technologies, a California-based company, announced it acquired Austin startup Social Dynamx this week.

Social Dynamx was founded last year by a group of Austin software industry experts as the “industry’s first purpose-built social customer care platform.” That's a fancy way of saying Social Dynamx’s technology assists companies in monitoring conversations via social media sites in order to respond fittingly to customers' comments or complaints.

Jillian Schantz Patrick for KUT News

Travis County Commissioners voted four to one this morning in favor of providing economic incentives to HID Global. The company makes ID cards and key-card readers.

HID Global is looking at building a manufacturing and distribution center in Northeast Austin. It would create more than 270 jobs over 10 years. In return, the county would give the company at least a 40 percent discount on county taxes over that time.

County Commissioner Ron Davis represents the area including Northeast Austin.

“I just think it’s overall a big deal all across the community and I think it’s a win, win, win, win, win, win-type situation for all of us," said Davis. 

Saying that the global economic recovery "has suffered new setbacks, and uncertainty weighs heavily on the outlook," the International Monetary Fund today warned that the probability of "recession in advanced economies and a serious slowdown in emerging market and developing economies" next year have gone up.

The fund said its research indicates the risk of those things occurring in 2013 "has risen to about 17 percent, up from about 4 percent in April 2012."

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