3:54 pm
Wed December 7, 2011

Austin Sales Tax Numbers Indicate Continued Recovery

Photo by Teresa Vieira for KUT News

The monthly sales tax figures are out for November, and they indicate that Austinites spent 6 percent more last month than November 2010. Texas Comptroller Susan Combs’ report says Austin collected $11.2 million in sales tax last month, compared with $10.5 million during the same period last year.

The positive numbers jibe with the improving employment picture in Austin. The latest jobs report showed the local economy added more than 13,000 positions over the last year. But the unemployment rate still rose to 7.1 percent because more people were out looking for work.

Statewide, the sales tax increase was even more dramatic, with revenue climbing by 12 percent last month compared to November 2010. Combs’ office says the state collected $2 billion in sales tax across Texas last month, largely due to growth in the growing oil and natural gas sector.

1:45 pm
Mon December 5, 2011

Gowalla Founders Joining Facebook

Gowalla founders Scott Raymond and Josh Williams are shutting down their three-year-old Austin-based social network. The two and some of their team will be joining Facebook.
PHoto by Ian Crawford/KUT News

A spokesman for Facebook confirms that the founders of Austin-based Gowalla are joining the social networking giant. But, while Josh Williams, Scott Raymond and members of their development team will close the service next month to join Facebook, both sides are quick to point out that the move is not a takeover move by Facebook.

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4:28 pm
Thu December 1, 2011

Chevrolet Will Buy Back Your Volt

A Chevy Volt charging station on display outside the Austin Convention Center during SXSW 2011.
Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Austin was the first city in Texas and among the first in the country to sell Chevrolet’s plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, the Volt. And if you were one of the exclusive few early adopters to buy the car, General Motors wants you to know you can send it back free of charge.  

Why would they make such an offer? It all stems from concerns about burning batteries.

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5:27 pm
Tue November 29, 2011

American Airlines Bankruptcy Might Not Affect Passengers

Photo by caribb

Even though American Airlines’ parent, Forth Worth-based AMR, filed for bankruptcy today, passengers may see no changes in the carrier’s operations.

Every so-called legacy carrier, including United, Delta and Continental, filed for bankruptcy after the 9/11 slump. American did not. The others restructured operations, business deals, employee contracts and benefits, and emerged making money. Not American.

Now, AMR’s new CEO, Tom Horton, says it’s time.  He said in a statement that American’s cost disadvantage compared to competitors is untenable. Plus, the economy, revenue and fuel costs are uncertain and unstable.

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4:09 pm
Tue November 29, 2011

Three Sprouts Locations To Close Next Month

Photo courtesy of Sprouts Farmer's Market

Sprouts Farmers Market is closing three locations in Austin: the stores at 2917 W. Anderson Lane, 2805 Bee Cave Road and 5601 Brodie Lane. All stores will be closed by December 18, a Sprouts spokesperson confirmed.

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11:17 am
Fri November 18, 2011

11,100 More People Employed in Austin Over Past Year

Clarification:  The Texas Workforce Commission says their data shows 11,100 more people were employed in Central Texas over the past year. 13,300 new jobs were created in the same period, according to TWC statistics

More people were employed in Austin last month compared to October 2010 but the unemployment rate rose because more people were looking for work. In the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos area, 858,100 people had jobs in October 2011 compared to 847,000 in the same month last year.

But the jobless rate rose to 7.1 percent in the Austin metro area from 6.9 percent in October 2010 because more people were looking for work, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, which analyzes data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, labor economists caution against putting too much faith in city-level jobless figures because the sample sizes are small. They also suggest comparing year-over year rates instead of tracking month-to-month changes because of statistical fluctuations.

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2:31 pm
Thu November 17, 2011

Austin-based Coin Marketer to Pay $5 Million in Restitution

The Texas Attorney General's office and an Austin coin marketing company have agreed to settle a lawsuit, charging the company with making false claims in their advertisements. The company will pay out $5 million in restitution.
Photo by kevin dooley

An Austin-based coin marketer agreed to pay out at total of $5 million in restitution to customers to settle a lawsuit filed by the Texas Attorney General's office. State attorneys charged that U.S. Money Reserve making of false claims in their commercials, in violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

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2:45 pm
Tue November 15, 2011

Formula 1 Track Construction 'Suspended Immediately'

Photo Courtesy of Full Throttle Productions

UPDATE 5:15 p.m.: The race organizer, Full Throttle Productions, released a statement via email late Tuesday afternoon: “After years of effort in getting F1 to Austin, Full Throttle Productions and city, county and state officials have done all we could. It is the responsibility of Circuit of the Americas to bring it across the finish line. For the sake of everyone, we are hopeful that they can reach an agreement with Formula 1.”

A contract dispute between race promoters and circuit officials has led to the immediate suspension of construction on the Circuit of the Americas racetrack in southeastern Travis County.  In a statement issued this afternoon, Circuit of the Americas officials said construction will not continue “until a contract assuring the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix will be held at Circuit of The Americas in 2012 is complete.”

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12:15 pm
Tue November 15, 2011

Texas Official Taps the Brakes on Formula 1 Racing

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

State Comptroller Susan Combs, who's been way out in front promoting Formula 1 racing as an economic draw for Austin and Central Texas, says she's concerned about plans to hold races in New Jersey, because more events in other states could diminish the economic advantages of holding races in Texas. And she said, via written statement, that the state will do more economic analysis before it spends any money on the races.

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4:47 pm
Wed November 9, 2011

Austinites and Texans Spending More, Sales Tax Numbers Show

Photo by Teresa Vieira for KUT News

The amount of sales tax collected by the government is often viewed as an indicator of how well the economy is doing. If that’s true, Austin’s economy is doing a lot better this year than it was in 2010.  

Sales tax receipts in the Capitol City were up 4 percent last month, compared to October of last year, according to the latest figures released by the State Comptroller’s office. Austinites paid $13 million in sales tax last month. In October 2010, the number was about $12.5 million.

Statewide, sales tax figures were up 16 percent in October 2011 compared to last year.

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2:37 pm
Fri November 4, 2011

Bee Cave Businessman Gets 17 Years For Ponzi Scheme

Kurt Barton
Photo by Triton Financial

Ponzi schemes are in the news today, and it’s not just because Gov. Perry is blasting Social Security or Bernie Madoff’s wife is on a book tour. No, this time it’s because a Bee Cave business man has been sentenced to 17 years behind bars for operating a $75 million Ponzi scheme that employed Heisman Trophy-winning football players to help promote it.

Kurt Barton of Triton Financial was found guilty in August of 39 counts of fraud. His investors included family members and people who attended his church, and Barton used the money to pay for a costly lifestyle that included a luxury box at University of Texas football games, YNN reported.

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3:47 pm
Fri October 28, 2011

What Does HP's Decision To Keep PC Business Mean For Dell?

Photo by Gerard Stolk vers la Toussaint

Dell’s hopes of regaining the throne of the world’s largest maker of personal computers have been dashed, at least temporarily. Hewlett-Packard says it will no longer spin off its $40 billion PC division.

"The decision was actually very straightforward," HP CEO Meg Whitman said, according to the Wall Street Journal.  The newspaper says HP realized separating its PC division would have cost about $1.5 billion, much more than initial estimates of $300 million to $400 million.

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real estate
1:42 pm
Tue October 18, 2011

Buy Richard Garriott’s Home For $4 Million

Richard Garriott is selling his "manor" in northwest Austin.
Photo by GDC Europe

Video game mogul and noted space tourist Richard Garriott is selling his Hill Country home in northwest Austin.

The $4.1 million "manor" is described as “captivating and magical” in this RE/MAX listing.

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4:59 pm
Mon October 17, 2011

Pipeline Powerhouse? Kinder Morgan To Buy El Paso

Originally published on Mon October 17, 2011 4:46 pm

Texas-based energy company Kinder Morgan plans to buy El Paso Corp. in a $20.7 billion deal that's expected to create America's largest natural gas pipeline operator.

The deal would more than double the size of Kinder Morgan's existing pipeline network to 80,000 miles. The company's pipelines in Texas, the Midwest and the Rocky Mountains will be joined to El Paso's vast network which stretches from the Gulf Coast east to New England and west to California.

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3:44 pm
Mon October 17, 2011

Halliburton Earnings Reflect Gas Drilling Boom

Halliburton's offices in Houston
Photo by WhisperToMe

In an indication of how aggressively energy companies are pursuing underground natural gas, Halliburton is reporting a record breaking quarter, largely based on growth in its North American operations.  

For the first time ever, Halliburton’s operating income in North America exceeded $1 billion. The company said that was mainly because of strong activity in shale rock formations like the Eagle Ford in South Texas and the Bakken region in North Dakota and Montana. Halliburton also cited strong activity in the Permian Basin of West Texas.

North America has been experiencing an onshore drilling boom, as companies race to exploit hydraulic fracturing technology, commonly referred to as “fracking”. It involves pumping large amounts of liquid thousands of feet underground to fracture shale rock formations and release natural gas or oil.

Oil field service companies like Halliburton are “like the people that sold the picks and shovels during the gold rush in California,” Houston-based investment banker Allen Brooks told Bloomberg News in June.

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2:12 pm
Mon October 17, 2011

Central Market Could Shift to Smaller Stores

Central Market, H-E-B's gourmet grocery store chain, is looking at smaller spaces for future locations.
Photo by gisele13

Central Market is going to start experimenting with smaller stores, as it struggles to find retail space in prime locations. The H-E-B-owned gourmet grocery store chain is opening a new location in Dallas next year that is 30,000-square feet, about half the size of its existing stores, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

"I would estimate if the right locations were available for a smaller size footprint, I think we could find several more locations in the Metroplex,” Central Market senior vice president Stephen Butt told the newspaper.

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1:23 pm
Mon October 17, 2011

Fraud Charges In Jonestown Wind Energy Project

Photo by NinjaWil

A wind energy project in Jonestown is on hold after Charlie Malouff Jr., the founder of CM Energies and a former staffer at the state comptroller's office, Mary Jo Woodall, were arrested amid fraud allegations.

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12:03 pm
Mon October 17, 2011

No Lowes Closures Planned In Texas

Photo by hawaii

Fear not, Austinites who shop at Lowes. You will still have somewhere to buy that $300 artificial Christmas tree this year without having to visit Home Depot, Target, Wal-Mart or some other large retail chain.

Lowes is closing 20 “underperforming stores” across 15 states and laying off 1,950 people. But none of the locations is in Texas, according to a news release from Lowes. The home improvement chain has 14 stores between Round Rock and New Braunfels.

The move to scale back operations comes after Home Depot, Lowe’s main competitor, reported a 16 percent jump in earnings while Lowes reported no growth, the AP reported.  Bloomberg News says the company will provide fired employees with pay and benefits for 60 to 90 days. 

1:39 pm
Thu October 6, 2011

Austin Technologist Remembers Steve Jobs

Photo courtesy of Apple


Austin resident Andrew Heller has worked in the technology industry for decades, and was personal friends with Steve Jobs. Heller says Steve visited Austin occasionally. Heller also spent many years in California.

KUT News caught up with Heller and asked him about his late friend.

KUT News: First of all Mr. Heller, our condolences.

Andrew Heller: I think we all were hoping that we’d get one more Christmas with Steve. I wanted to get my son out to see him again. My youngest is named after Steve.

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4:40 pm
Wed October 5, 2011

Hay Shortage Frazzles Texas Horse Owners

One of Stephanie Reed's horses in Dale, Texas
Photo by Emily Donahue, KUT News

The drought is causing severe shortages of hay across Texas, and that’s making life difficult for people who own horses.

If you can even find someone to sell you hay, you’ll probably have to pay through the nose for it. Stephanie Reed has a few horses in Dale, Texas.

“In 2010, it was still a little high, but the average cost for a round bale of hay was $45 to $50 dollars,” Reed said. “Today, I am paying between $125 and $150.”

It’s just one of the many economic consequences of the worst single-year drought in Texas history.

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