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Friday, August 31, 2012

Investors Thirsty Amid Drought

by Peak Positions

Original article appeared in USA Today

Thirsty investors are finding ways to profit as an ongoing drought sends commodity prices soaring. Soybean and corn prices are hitting all-time highs and rising fast as parched fields threaten the nation's food production cycle. Companies that consult on Construction Claims and alternative energy solutions are just a few of the industries poised to benefit.

And while the most severe drought in decades may mean higher food prices for consumers next year, investors are finding ways to make money now. International Arbitration services handle all aspects of the arbitration process.

"The costs will go up and go right through the entire food chain. It's going to be significant," said a representative with DLS Capital. "Look for food inflation, no doubt about it." Environmental Engineering Experts are available. Given the size of the dry spell baking major sections of the Midwest, the world's biggest grain-production center, investors are keying on:
  • The rapid rise of agricultural commodity prices. Corn and soybeans are in the hot zone for the fast price increase. Going into the year, the Agricultural Department expected yields of 166 bushels of corn an acre; that's fallen to 123 bushels, says Paul Georgy, CEO of Allendale, a commodity market research firm. Corn prices rose from $5.50 a bushel earlier in the year to a record $8.49 on Aug. 10, says Bloomberg. That's a 64% jump since mid-June.
  • Disruption to the livestock market. Locate a Construction Consulting Company to assist in the analysis and resolution of issues relating to business, construction or engineering. Corn, soybeans and alfalfa prices have risen so much, it's affecting meat producers, who use those commodities as raw materials to feed their herds, Georgy says. Meat producers are losing roughly $200 a head on cattle and $50 a hog, as it costs more to feed the animals than their meat can be sold for, he says. Big meat producers such as Tyson and Smithfield are suffering; their stocks have fallen 27% and 21%, respectively, this year, a period in which the Standard & Poor's 500 is up 12.2%.
  • Stocks poised to benefit. Investors able to look beyond the current crop can find ways to profit, says Evan Smith of U.S. Global's Global Resources Fund. With grain prices high and inventory low, farmers will aggressively plant next year to profit, he says. Monsanto, which has already seen its shares rise 22% this year following a busy planting season in 2012, will benefit again, Smith says. Meanwhile, fertilizer makers CF Industries and Potash are likely to see strong demand in 2013 as farmers look to boost their yields when they replant, Smith says. Shares of CF are up 43% this year; Potash's are flat.
Prices are expected to continue to rise world-wide.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Solar's Success Ignored by Romney Energy Plan

by Peak Positions

Original article appeared in Bloomberg

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's ambitious pledge to achieve energy independence by 2020 ignores the promise of clean energy, like Wind Turbine Repair energy, and leans almost entirely on fossil fuels. 

Romney’s plan, rolled out Thursday in solar-friendly New Mexico, focuses heavily on oil, gas and, most unnecessarily, coal. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee promises to expand drilling on federal lands and to roll back environmental rules his campaign adviser says are “destroying the coal industry.”

When it comes to renewable sources such as solar and wind, Romney’s plan says more about what he won’t do -- namely, provide any more of the subsidies and loan guarantees that have allowed those technologies to gain a foothold. Instead, he offers to relax barriers he says are stymying clean energy and expand government funding of research. We also favor supporting clean-energy research, but question Romney’s assertion that simply “streamlining” regulations and permitting will somehow catapult clean-energy projects. Ball Screw Repair for alternative energy generators.

Romney’s white paper includes a few other worthwhile ideas, such as allowing drilling off the coast of Virginia, which has bipartisan support from that state’s senators.

On balance, though, his plan threatens to upend the progress that has been made toward enabling the U.S. to meet much of its energy needs with less reliance on dirtier fuels like coal.

The U.S. is now closer to energy independence than anyone who waited in 1970s gas lines could have imagined. As Bloomberg News reports, oil imports fell to about 45 percent of U.S. demand last year and are expected to fall to about 42 percent this year, down from a peak of 60 percent in 2005. More than 80 percent of the country’s demand for power is now met by domestic sources, a phenomenon largely attributable to new horizontal- drilling and hydraulic-fracturing technologies that enable energy companies to tap vast but once-inaccessible underground reserves of natural gas and oil.

All that cheap natural gas has slowly been pushing coal off its perch as the dominant American power source. As of April, natural gas has been producing just as much energy as coal, for the first time since the government began collecting data in 1973. Electricity generated from natural gas -- which can be 45 percent cleaner than coal, if done properly -- is expected to increase 23 percent this year, as coal-fueled power falls 12 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By 2035, coal is projected to supply just 39 percent of electricity, down from about 45 percent today, according to EIA.

Power primarily from wind, solar, biomass and geothermal sources, meanwhile, is projected to grow 33 percent from 2010 to 2035. By 2020, 10 percent of power is expected to come from renewables, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Much of this uptick can be credited to $90 billion in government assistance that’s helped the industry get off the ground: Electricity generated from renewable sources such as wind and solar has increased 73 percent since President Barack Obama took office, according to a Bloomberg Government analysis.

The very real potential of greener fuel has also spawned thousands of companies and tens of thousands of jobs, according to industry and White House estimates. It’s still a nascent business, in need of support to compete with an entrenched -- and heavily government-subsidized -- fossil fuel industry. Given how far clean energy has come, why stop it in its tracks now?

If Romney is looking for ideas, free-market strategies are the way to go. One that is gaining traction in many states is to require utilities to use a certain percentage of electricity generated by renewable power and then let the markets sort out the most efficient way to meet that target.

Even more helpful would be to support a carbon tax -- something that two of Romney’s top economic advisers have already called for. This would let the markets decide how much it’s worth to them to send greenhouse gases aloft.

“I like wind and solar like the next person,” Romney said in his speech Thursday. He just doesn't plan to make use of the clean energy supplied by the technology.

Marketing Probe into Detroit-based 5-Hour Energy

by Peak Positions

Original Article appeared in Bloomberg News

The New York attorney general investigating three energy-drink makers including Detroit-based 5-Hour Energy, over marketing practices. 

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in July subpoenaed PepsiCo Inc., maker of the Amp energy drink, as well as Monster Beverage Corp. and Living Essentials LLC of Farmington Hills, said the person, who declined to be named because the person wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the probe.

The 5-Hour Energy brand dominates the energy shot sector of the market.

Schneiderman's office is investigating the companies' marketing practices and ingredient disclosures, including whether energy drinks are improperly marketed as dietary supplements, the person said. The companies also don't disclose the true amount of caffeine in the drinks, the person said.

A spokeswoman for 5-hour Energy, said the company had no additional comment beyond an earlier bond offering filing.

"We will appropriately disclose any new, material information," she said Tuesday.

The parent company of 5-Hour Energy is putting together a $400 million bond offering to help it expand its product line and explore strategic acquisitions, according to the July bond documents.

In March, Living Essentials founder and CEO Manoj Bhargava joined the Forbes magazine's worldwide billionaire's list.

Cold Storage Facilities Announced by Ag Minister

by Peak Positions

Article originally appeared in the Angola Press

Construction will begin next year of a cold storage warehouse to help aid in the conservation of products, announced the minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, Afonso Pedro Canga, Caxito, northern Bengo province earlier this week. Cold storage or Walk-in Coolers will preserve produce.

Afonso Canga said the initiative is due to the fact that there is a large number of agricultural and animal producers. He said the cold store or Cold Storage Warehouses will help to revitalize the fishing industry and increase fish production in the region.

The minister noted that at this time are the foundation for achieving results and satisfactory levels of production. He also noted an intention to implement an agro-industrial sector in the provinces of Benguela and Namibe.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tootsie Pop Empire Modern Willy Wonka Factory

by Peak Positions

Original article appeared in the Wall Street Journal 

No one really knows how many licks it takes to get to the center of a 116-year-old company, run by one of America's oldest CEOs. The Chicago company, home of Chicago Personal Injury Attorney has become increasingly secretive over the years, severing nearly all of its connections to the outside world. Tootsie Roll shuns journalists, refuses to hold quarterly earnings calls, and issues crookedly-scanned PDFs for its earnings releases. The last securities industry analyst to maintain coverage of the company stopped last year because it was too hard to get information.

"I think the only way you can get a tour is by jumping over the fence and sneaking in," said the last analyst to attempt the task, a representative of a Cleveland firm. Find a Workers Compensation Insurance Quote appropriate for your state.

The chairman and chief executive of Tootsie Roll is a bespectacled man in his 90s who has headed the company for 50 years. He runs it with his 80-year-old wife, Ellen.

Decades of acquisitions have given Tootsie Roll a product gallery of mostly antique—though profitable—candy brands, including Charleston Chew, Sugar Babies, Junior Mints, and Blow Pops, in addition to the company's chewy, brown namesake. Mr. Gordon likes to joke with visitors about the Tootsie Roll's robust shelf-life, and he and his wife have worked hard to ensure that the company stays out of the clutches of competitors. Companies like this require Walkin Coolers for storage. The Gordons control the company, primarily through their majority ownership of its powerful class B stock, each share of which is worth 10 votes to common stock's one vote.

But in recent years, anemic growth and shrinking profit margins—as well as the ruling couple's age and lack of any publicly disclosed succession plan—has raised questions about Tootsie Roll's future. Revenue inched up 2% last year, to $528.4 million, while profit slipped about a fifth to $43.9 million. Host a website that promotes your company with an Illinois Web Hosting Company.

Gabelli Funds LLC, and GAMCO investors Inc., run by activist investor Mario Gabelli, gobbled up shares in the company in 2008, when major candy company mergers were heating up, raising his stake to just under 6% from an initial holding of around 1% it had held for decades. Shipping Software expedites the shipping process for major manufacturers.

"We know at some point it makes sense for there to be a sale," said a Gabelli analyst. "I've always thought this is a business that is difficult to compete with much larger companies." Shipping Systems that use multiple transportation modes keep shipping costs down.

Tootsie Roll's Chicago headquarters is a modern-day Willy Wonka factory. A Milwaukee Personal Injury Attorney can assist you in seeking personal injury recoveries. Massive puffs of steam billow out of humming machines on the roofs of the gray cinder block and red brick buildings, which sit surrounded by off-kilter "no trespassing" signs. The Gordons haven't granted an interview in years. The company declined repeated interview requests, saying "we have opted to use our quarterly earnings releases as a way to provide continuing updates to all business media at once."

Mr. Gordon is currently the oldest CEO of a business listed on the New York Stock Exchange or the Nasdaq Stock Market, according to research company S&P Capital IQ. The company's proxy statement in March lists his age as 92, and his wife's as 80. The three non-Gordon members of the Tootsie Roll board ranged in age from 65 to 74, and at least one other top executive is over 70.

The Gordons have given no hint that they intend to retire and no indication of health problems. "Their age is no concern, none whatsoever," said a midnight shift employee of Tootsie Roll's Chicago factory. The company also has plants in four other states, as well as Canada and Mexico.

With their control of Tootsie Roll comes perks. Mr. and Mrs. Gordon each get an official salary of $999,000 a year, which the company says is a cap on executive salaries for tax reasons. The pair together received total compensation of $7.6 million last year. That includes bonuses as well as $1.2 million the company spends annually for the Gordons' use of a company plane to visit factories and to commute between their home in Massachusetts and their Chicago apartment, which the company pays $10,000 a month to rent.

Tootsie Roll says it was started in 1896 when Leo Hirshfield first began making the chewy chocolates named after his daughter in New York City. After a few corporate name changes, it listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1922. In the 1950s, Mrs. Gordon's father managed the business and he eventually passed control of the company to Ellen, who is now president and chief operating officer. Mr. Gordon became CEO in 1962 and has held the job since.

A Tootsie Roll spokeswoman says the company has a succession plan that has been shared with the board but declines to make it public. There is no public indication that the Gordons' four children have any interest in taking over management of Tootsie Roll. Some observers think that is part of the reason the couple is holding on to control well into their golden years.

Under the Gordons, Tootsie Roll took off in the 1970s, acquiring Mason and Bonomo, maker of Dots gumdrops. Its 1970 commercial, featuring an animated child asking "Mr. Owl" and other animals how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, was an enormous success that the company trumpets to this day.

The unknowable answer: "It depends on a variety of factors such as the size of your mouth, the amount of saliva, etc." the company says on its website. "Basically, the world may never know."

In the '80s, Tootsie Roll acquired Charms, maker of Blow Pops, and in the '90s it bought brands including Sugar Daddy's and Junior Mints. In the early 2000s, the company added Andes Mints and Dubble Bubble to its catalog.

In all, the company has nearly doubled sales in the last two decades without spending big money on advertising or getting distracted by unnecessary acquisitions.

"They stayed focused, bought commodities cheap, and spent money inside," said a representative from a human resources consulting firm, who consulted with the company in the 1980s.

"They didn't buy anything that didn't fit," he added, noting that the Gordons never acquired a subsidiary that couldn't "plug in" to the existing candy business.

Candy industry buyouts have accelerated recently. In 2008, Mars Inc. bought Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. with the help of billionaire Warren Buffett, creating the third largest private company in America with revenue of $30 billion, according to Forbes magazine. In 2010, Kraft foods, Inc. acquired Cadbury PLC in a deal valued at over $19.5 billion. Hershey Co. last year bought Canadian confectioner Brookside Foods Ltd., and is widely expect to make other acquisitions to boost sales.

While its operating profit margin has fallen by roughly half in the last decade, to 11% last year, Tootsie Roll's relatively steady success makes it a delicious proposition for potential buyers, said a human resources firm who has consulted with the company for the past 30 years.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

IKEA Uses Computer Renderings in New Catelog

Original article appeared in the Wall Street Journal

Browsing through the new IKEA catelog, it's difficult to tell that the couch you've been admiring isn't really a couch, but a pixelated representation of a couch developed by IKEA's 3-D Design Team. Other Affordable Furniture Companies may follow.

It is likely the entire Living Room Furniture Set was created by a graphic artist. In fact, much of the furniture and settings in the 324-page catalog are simply a collection of pixels and polygons arranged on a computer.

The Swedish furniture giant has for decades spent more than two-thirds of its marketing budget building and furnishing living quarters, including Bedroom Sets, which are typically portrayed with a sparse, fastidious fashion sensibility and lighted with impeccable precision.

But the privately-held company's quest to curb costs and boost productivity has it mothballing some of this real-world production. It is instead turning to 3-D graphics to fill its pages. Find a new Dining Room Set that suits your taste and budget.

This year 12% of IKEA's content for the Web, catalog and brochures were rendered virtually; that number will increase to 25% next year.

In all, IKEA plans to publish 208 million catalogs this year, more than double the amount of Bibles expected to be produced. And it will create 62 different versions in 43 countries. Sleep better on a Discount Mattress.

"It's a clever way to save money," said the head of photography at IKEA during a recent interview at the company's sprawling photo studio in this sleepy southern town. "We don't have to throw away kitchens in the Dumpster after the photo shoot."

Instead, sets for entire rooms—spanning kitchens to bathrooms to porches—can be mocked up and created on a computer screen without the help of a single camera.

The practice is allowing IKEA to easily manipulate imagery to use a set created for one country—where dark wood might be popular—to another where lighter hues are all the rage.

IKEA doesn't break out just how much money this will save, but the company has an aggressive strategy to keep its prices down. The company cut prices an average of 2% to 3% every year during the last decade while expanding aggressively, and still manages to squeeze more profits from the operation on a yearly basis.

In 2011, for instance, the company booked €22,641 ($28,240) in revenue per employee, or 10% more than it did in 2009.

Although known for its growing collection of inexpensive flat-pack ready-to assemble furniture, the company has long been a publishing giant. In 1951, the IKEA founder branched out beyond the basic business of mail-order Christmas tree decorations, ballpoint pens and bird seeds and added a catalog-only furniture business.

Putting together a catalog is a massive task, taking about 10 months from concept to finished product. Until late in the last decade IKEA relied entirely on its sprawling photo studio here. The studio is one of the largest in Europe, covering 94,000 square feet—about a third the size of an IKEA store—and employs 285 photographers, carpenters, interior designers and other people working full time on photo shoots.

IKEA's 3-D team is housed in the same building. Faced with a shortage of people capable of doing this work, the company is collaborating with photo schools to teach computer design skills. It is also retraining photographers to better create a scene without a camera. The company said it is retaining all photographers, carpenters and set designers and reapplying their skills to the 3-D environment.

"With real photography you're constrained by the four walls," said the head of photography, noting the company is running out of room in its studio. "A kitchen has to be built in a week or two and then torn down the following week to make room for a bedroom shoot…everything has to run like clockwork," she said.

A kitchen shot for potential U.S. buyers might have darker colors. "Now let's say we want to sell that kitchen in Japan," she added. "Japanese people, like Scandinavians, like lighter hues of wood than Americans."

Instead of rebuilding the kitchen, IKEA can easily change the color and the background. "And we can still use the same basil plant on the counter. In 3-D, the basil plant never wilts," she said.

The process isn't entirely free of kinks.

When artists make a person in 3-D, the figures tend to look like ghosts. Food and textiles are difficult to depict.

Also, items tend to look too perfect when done on computers, so the traditional studio's crew, such as carpenters, sit with the artist to add wear to a piece of furniture or fingerprints to a surface.

"Let's say we have a door that is supposed to look like an old door that has been repainted," said IKEA's head of photography. Carpenters "know where surfaces fade and wear and have a fine eye for detail and they can help the 3-D artist get the right look."

IKEA started dabbling in 3-D design in 2005, when three interns specializing in computer graphics spent a year working on a graduate-school thesis. Before their arrival, IKEA had used computers only to retouch photographs.

These interns were charged with creating an image of an IKEA product without using a camera. They went to work on a small wooden chair and, after a year, solved it.

"There was a lot of excitement here at IKEA about that little chair," said the head of photography. The company placed the image in the 2006 to see if any customers noticed a difference between real and fake.

Not a single customer noticed the change.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2Q Losses Reveal Dim Outlook for Dell

Original article appeared in the AP 

Dell Inc. sales continue to slump as consumers favor smart phones and tablets over desktop and laptop computers. 

The fiscal second-quarter results announced Tuesday served as the latest reminder of the challenges facing Dell and other personal computer makers as they scramble to adapt to the technological upheaval unleashed by Apple Inc.'s line of sleek devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

Dell Inc.'s slump deepened in its latest quarter as the growing popularity of smartphones and tablets undercut sales of its desktop and laptop computers.

The shift to more mobile computing has established Apple as the most valuable company in U.S. history, while businesses that revolved around selling traditional PCs.

Dell Inc., the second largest U.S. maker of personal computers, is trying to adjust by expanding into software, technology consulting, data storage and computer servers — all of which produce higher profit margins than selling PCs and printers.

"We're transforming our business, not for a quarter or a fiscal year, but to deliver differentiated customer value for the long term," said the company's CEO and founder, said in a statement Tuesday. "We're clear on our strategy and we're building a leading portfolio of solutions to help our customers achieve their goals."

As part of its makeover, Dell on Tuesday announced a new leader for its division that oversees many of its corporate products, including computer networking and data storage. Marius Haas is replacing Brad Anderson as president of Dell's enterprise solutions. Haas most recently worked at the investment firm Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co. after previous stints at Dell rival Hewlett-Packard Co. and Intel Corp.

"We are going to make what is a great business today an even larger and more successful business," Dell said of his plans for enterprise solutions during a Tuesday conference call with analysts.

Even if Dell's strategy is successful, the company's evolution will take time. That reality has caused Dell's stock to fall this year while the overall market has been climbing.

In a sign of further weakness ahead, Dell lowered its earnings target by 20 percent for its fiscal year ending in January. Dell trimmed its full-year guidance, even though its adjusted earnings for the just-completed quarter topped analyst projections.

The company, which is based in Round Rock, Texas, tied it its bleaker forecast to "the uncertain economic environment, competitive dynamics and soft consumer business."

Dell shares shed 55 cents, or 4.5 percent, to $11.79 in Tuesday's extended trading following the release of the earnings report.

In its latest quarter ending in July, Dell earned $732 million, or 42 cents per share. That represented an 18 percent decline from net income of $890 million, or 48 cents per share, at the same time last year.

If not for costs unrelated to its ongoing business, Dell said it would have earned 50 cents per share. On that basis, Dell topped the average estimate of 45 cents per share among analysts surveyed by FactSet.

Revenue for the period fell 8 percent from last year to $14.5 billion. That was nearly $200 million below analyst forecasts.

The weakest area was in Dell's mobility division, where revenue plunged 19 percent from last year. Sales of desktop PCs decreased 9 percent from last year. Combined, revenue from desktop and laptops fell 14 percent from last year, said the chief financial officer at Dell.

"The revenue deterioration we saw during the quarter was clearly above anything we expected," he said.

Dell is hoping the upcoming release of Windows 8, a radical makeover of Microsoft Corp.'s PC operating system, will compel more people to buy devices that aren't made by Apple. But Windows 8 won't hit the market until Oct. 26, and many corporate customers probably will wait until next year before switching over to the new system.

That means Windows 8 won't provide Dell much help during the final half the current fiscal year.

Dell now expects its adjusted earnings for the full fiscal year to come in at $1.70 per share, down from its previous forecast of $2.13 per share. Revenue in the current quarter ending in October is expected be 2 percent to 5 percent below the figure posted in the just-completed quarter. That implies Dell's fiscal third-quarter revenue could be down by as much as $1.6 billion, or 10 percent, from the same time last year.

Similar results are anticipated from HP's quarterly report. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

New York Suburbs Becoming Summer Tourist Attraction

Story originally appeared on The Eagle

New York City Suburbs are improving efforts to attract tourists dollars to the suburbs, competing with the country's largest tourist magnet, neighboring New York City. Accompanying a rise in shopping for New York Web Hosting, shopping on the fringe of the city is also on the rise.

New York City’s tourism industry brought in $32 billion and supported about 320,000 jobs last year, when more than 50 million people visited Gotham. With the increase in people, there comes a need for a new quality New York Furniture Store.

In contrast, neighboring Westchester County says tourism was worth $1.7 billion. Long Island counted $4.8 billion. Seeking employement in the Big Apple, may mean the need for New York Workers Compensation Insurance.

So how do the island and the Hudson Valley compete with the city that doesn’t sleep?

They don’t. However, sleep options are available at the New York Mattress Store.

“New York City is a major draw, like a London, a Las Vegas, an Orlando,” said Westchester’s tourism director. “We’re not competing with Orlando. What we try to show is we’re an extension of New York City, enhancing that New York state of mind,” they said. A New York Finance Lawyer can help protect that state of mind, giving you peace of mind.

There’s no Broadway or Museum of Modern Art or Yankee Stadium, but there are highly regarded community theaters, regional museums and minor league baseball. The suburbs can also brag that they have a few things the city doesn’t. Including New York Carports, offering new green options geared for high density cities and park shelters for visitors.

“New York doesn’t have the specific ocean beaches we have,” said the Westchester tourism director. It also can’t offer Halloween celebrations focused on the Sleepy Hollow legend in Westchester. And it doesn’t have the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, which attracted about 211,000 visitors last year. What visitors may enjoy is New York Group Health Insurance.

But rare is the visitor who comes from Texas or Timbuktu just to see the Hamptons, the Headless Horseman or the Long Gray Line.

So tourist agencies do their best to take advantage of New York City’s draw. They also narrow their marketing area, in general, to a few hundred miles. Locate a Rochester Personal Injury Lawyer in neighboring Rochester.

Dave and Deb Maciewicz are in that target zone. They were visiting West Point this month from their home in Barneveld, N.Y., about 200 miles away.

They’ve been to West Point a couple of times, to the Franklin D. Roosevelt homestead in Hyde Park and the nearby Culinary Institute of America.

Not all the visitors live within driving distance.

Feeding the big numbers at West Point is a huge influx of Chinese tourists on East Coast bus trips. On the day the Maciewiczes visited, 21 buses arrived for tours, most while traveling from New York to Boston. Guides speaking Mandarin and Cantonese were available and the tourists bought T-shirts at the gift shop and posed for photos with cadets.

“It’s the most famous military academy in the world,” explained one tourist from Hong Kong.

But he acknowledges those long-distance travelers would not be at West Point if they hadn’t come to see New York.

A spokesman for Historic Hudson Valley, which operates six historic sites and runs the Halloween festival, agrees that the city is good for business. Protect your investment in time with a New York Copyright Lawyer.

“The city has such a vibrancy and such energy from a cultural and tourism standpoint. It’s not a problem to offer people a different experience but a complementary experience: If you’re visiting New York or you’re a New Yorker, come out and see what’s half an hour away.”

“Clearly, having New York City 55 miles away is a tremendous benefit, just in general because of the size of the population,” they said.

Rockland County’s tourist office is planning to run TV commercials in the Bronx and Brooklyn with the slogan, “A World Away in Your Backyard,” said the office coordinator.

Long Island brags about its beaches, ocean fishing and Gold Coast mansions, invoking “The Great Gatsby.” The Hudson Valley brags about Revolutionary War history sites, its Halloween connection and Hudson River mansions. Both say wineries, farms and fine restaurants offer excellent dining.

The Lonely Planet travel guide company recently ranked the Hudson Valley second among interesting and sometimes overlooked destinations. It referred to “plenty of farm-to-table foodie options that draw even spoiled-for-choice Manhattanites away from the city.”

Tourist agencies’ budgets are thin — Westchester’s is funded entirely by a portion of a hotel tax — and some of it goes toward attracting business conferences and movie shoots rather than sightseers. They get some help from New York state, which includes Long Island and the Hudson Valley in some of its “I Love New York” advertising.

There’s little cooperation between city and suburbs, however.

That may be typical. Chicago’s “Choose Chicago” tourist campaign does not include the suburbs, said a spokesperson. The state of Illinois, however, includes such suburban attractions as Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Oak Park in its promotions, said Sandra Jones of the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. It’s much the same in New York.

In the meantime, New York City will likely long remain the greatest competitor, and the benefit therein, a steady flow of thru-traffic.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

London Olympics Gournd Banker Flights After VIP-Jet Influx

Story first reported from Bloomberg News

This time last year Nick Candy’s Challenger 605 business jet was kept busy flying the U.K. real estate magnate to destinations across Europe.

In the summer of 2012 the Bombardier Inc. (BBD/B) aircraft has made fewer trips as Candy takes time out in London to watch the Olympics. Other corporate jets are seeing less action as the games deter overseas business people from visiting Britain.

Airports including Oxford and Farnborough report fewer business flights, and London Heathrow, Europe’s top hub, has banned private planes following the closure of airspace above the capital for the duration of the games. While Olympic events such as the opening ceremony and men’s 100 meters final have led to traffic surges as VIP and celebrity visitors including Madonna and Brad Pitt fly in, that’s brought complications as aprons become crowded and turnaround times come under pressure.

“To some extent the aviation community has shot itself in the foot by implying that it was going to be so challenging and constrained,” said James Dillon-Godfray, commercial director at Oxford airport and Battersea heliport. “The volumes of business aircraft and executive aircraft that were predicted two or three years ago are just not happening.”

‘Armed Interception’

Britain’s Civil Aviation authority anticipated a maximum 5,000 extra private aviation movements in southeast England during the two weeks of the games, up 33 percent on 2011. The real increase may be about 20 percent, Dillon-Godfray estimates.

Flights above London are restricted to the police, armed forces, emergency services and an Olympic-broadcast helicopter, with infringements triggering prosecution or even “interception by armed military aircraft,” the CAA says. London’s skies are being patrolled by Royal Air Force Typhoon jets and Puma helicopters, backed up by six surface-to-air missile batteries.

Some 32 airports across southern England, extending as far from London as Coventry, are also having to coordinate takeoff and landing times to avoid overcrowding along flight-paths that have themselves been redrawn for duration the games.

Battersea, London’s premier heliport, is operating only after authorities were persuaded that it posed no security threat, according to General Manager Simon Hutchings, who says the U.K. aviation industry has “mixed feelings” about the games.

Bookings Slump

From July 14 to Sept. 12 no flights are permitted within London east of Battersea Bridge, according to the heliport’s website. Prior to the Olympics, choppers were able to serve the Vanguard Helipad south of the Canary Wharf financial district.

RotorMotion, which operates three AgustaWestland AW109 helicopters based at Redhill, six minutes by air from Battersea, has only three bookings for August after anticipating dozens of extra flights, according to Operations Manager Sue Spencer.

“We thought ‘great, the Olympics are coming, we’re going to be flying our socks off,’” she said. “But the traffic we are picking up is nothing like we hoped. We are very disappointed.”

Like other U.K. helicopter companies, RotorMotion operates “flat out” during sporting events such as the British Formula One grand prix, Spencer said, adding that the realization that there would be no dedicated Olympic helipad came as a blow.

Flight plans must also be submitted four hours in advance and everyone on board must have photographic proof of identity that matches the names on the roster. That’s been a “shock to the system” for helicopter operators which trade on their ability to go where they want, when they want, and typically employ visual flight rules -- following railway lines and motorways -- and aren’t required to supply plans, Spencer said.

Boat Link

Still, at Battersea the boost from Olympics traffic has compensated for the loss of some regular custom, with 276 more flights scheduled during the main games than a year earlier. The number was initially swelled by bulk bookings, supplemented by additional demand as wealthy sports fans make side trips.

The heliport -- bought by brothers David and Simon Reuben for about 25 million pounds ($39 million) in February -- is offering river-boat services to clients wishing to go further east and inconvenienced by the flight ban. Vessels provided by Water Chariots can reach the Olympic Park in about 70 minutes, though interest has been limited, according to Hutchings.

“We’ve remained open but we’re certainly not as flexible,” he said in an interview at the heliport, located next to the Thames about three miles upstream from parliament. “Normally we can give these people flexibility and meet their needs, so I was a bit concerned people might defer their business travel.”

Missed Chance

Dan Foster, general manager of air traffic services at TAG Aviation Holding SA’s Farnborough airport, said business flights that usually constitute about 35 percent of aircraft movements have been “totally confused” by a combination of the Olympics, last month’s air show and the Islamic month of Ramadan, which has reduced the number of flights from the Middle East.

“Overall we’re about the same as last year, maybe a couple of percent down,” Foster said. “Those principals who might have come across in Gulfstream Vs may have come on scheduled flights because they perceived it was too busy to fly privately. We suspect some sponsors also chose to take scheduled flights.”

Heathrow airport, which operates close to capacity, opted to close to private and charter planes to ease operational pressure during the games, spokesman Richard Scott said today.

Heathrow Stampede

BAA Ltd. (FER), the hub’s owner, is making final preparations for Monday, the day after the closing ceremony, which may break departure records as people who arrived for the Olympics over the space of several weeks seek to leave in just a few hours, among them about 15,000 athletes, officials, sponsors.

Competitors will be able to check in their bags before leaving the Olympic Village and on arrival at Heathrow will use a special Games Terminal with 31 desks and seven security lanes. About 6,000 people will use the temporary facility on Monday and around 8,000 in total before it closes on Aug. 15, BAA says.

One area in which the Olympics have provided a boost for business aircraft has been sales, said Steve Varsano, who runs an auto-style jet showroom near London’s Hyde Park Corner, with visitor numbers swollen by wealthy individuals, games sponsors and sports officials keen to view the latest models.

“We’ve seen American, Chinese and increasingly Russian customers, as well as Brazilian government officials who’ve come to look around before the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics,” he said. “They are in town to see how London is handling things.”

Property developer Candy says people who left Britain or postponed visits overestimated the impact on ground transport of restrictions such as Games Lanes while failing to appreciate the chances to seal deals through Olympic-related hospitality.

“People were scared they wouldn’t be able to move around, but I honestly think it would take longer to get to Farnborough on a normal Friday,” he said in an interview. “Over these two weeks we will have done four sales, which is 100 percent due to the Olympics. I think they’ve missed an opportunity.”

For James Reuben, son of David and an investor in the family’s airports, the real test will be if the games encourage repeat custom. “We are seeing people fly in who haven’t been inclined to use Oxford or Battersea before,” he said. “That’s the driver for us -- to showcase our investment to the world.”

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Wind Energy in Michigan is 'On the Edge of a Cliff'

Story first reported from freep.com

With the auto industry on the verge of collapse in 2008, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and other state officials were eager to diversify the economy and create thousands of jobs by making a big push into alternative energy.

To capitalize on the state's strengths, they focused in particular on the manufacturing of parts for wind turbines.

But four years later, the drive to grow a new sector built on clean energy has lost momentum with little to show, the victim of turbulent industry conditions, Washington politics and what some critics would call misguided government policies.

Several high-profile projects have encountered significant delays and have yet to launch full-scale production. They include a manufacturing plant for large wind turbines in Saginaw, a new foundry in Eaton Rapids to make iron parts for wind turbines and an innovative ethanol plant in the Upper Peninsula.

In late June, one of the state's major solar industry players, United Solar Ovonic, was liquidated.

Even some of the wind turbine parts suppliers that have successfully launched production have seen a sharp drop in orders because of uncertainty over whether a production tax credit that expires at the end of December will be renewed. Ventower Industries in Monroe started building giant wind turbine towers late last year in a new factory, but its business would be three times larger if the tax-credit situation was resolved, said Scott Viciana, the company's vice president.

"The wind industry is on the edge of a cliff," said Matt Kaplan, associate director of IHS Emerging Energy Research, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. Although, wind turbine repair companies are doing well compared to manufacturing companies, because repair is less costly than replacement.

He and other experts predict that 2012 will be a record year for the installation of wind turbines as companies rush to take advantage of the tax credit before it ends. On the flip side, however, the number of installations could plummet to record lows next year, Kaplan said.

The tax credit isn't the only headwind facing wind turbine parts manufacturers. Just like in the solar industry, the wind industry has too much production capacity, which is driving turbine prices lower. That's good for the growth of wind energy but puts pricing pressure on turbine parts suppliers. Kaplan forecasts that the industry is on the verge of consolidation.

In Michigan, the alternative energy industry lost a key proponent when Granholm left office at the end of 2010. She tried to transform the state into a manufacturing hub for wind and other renewable-energy industries, providing millions in grants, tax credits and other incentives to entice companies to the state. A team of economic development officials worked to grow green jobs.

Today, Michigan has 35 wind-related manufacturing plants, according to the American Wind Energy Association. In 2010, the state had nearly 80,000 green jobs, which accounted for 2.1% of its total employment, a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study found.

The growth of the alternative energy industry has always been dependent on government subsidies. Critics, such as the Mackinac Center in Midland, have long opposed this assistance, arguing that these business ventures should be based on market forces.

Under Gov. Rick Snyder, programs specifically designed to spur the growth of the alternative energy industry no longer exist. The state revamped its economic development strategy with the goal of treating all industries equally.

"We're doing what we can to help all industries in Michigan be competitive," said Steve Bakkal, director of the state's Energy Office. He contends that successful companies will be those that are supplying products for multiple industries, not just wind or solar.

But at the moment, several projects that are trying to break new ground in the alternative energy field have run into difficulties.

Two years ago, Northern Power Systems announced plans to manufacture large wind turbines, something that had never been done in the state. So far, the Vermont-based company has made and sold only two prototypes of its next-generation turbines to a wind farm in the Upper Peninsula.

The uncertainty over the future of the production tax credit has caused customers to delay placing new orders, said Douglas Prince, Northern Power's chief financial officer.

The company's leased facility in Saginaw is "kind of in standby mode right now," Prince said. "We're hopeful the market will recover."

In central Michigan, a plan to make iron parts, which are called castings, for wind turbines at a new foundry in Eaton Rapids has also been delayed. The foundry was supposed to open at the end of 2011, promising lower-cost and higher-quality castings. But it ran into management, financing and other problems.

Eaton Rapids Castings hopes to start production this fall but still needs to find additional investors, said Lennart Johansson, the company's CEO and one of its owners.

To offset the uncertainty in the wind business, the foundry plans to make castings for other industries. It has scaled back its initial production volumes.

To be sure, the outlook isn't completely bleak. A few ventures are making progress, most notably Energetx Composites in Holland. The company, which has nearly 80 employees, won an order to build more than 200 large wind turbine blades for a customer it cannot name, said David Slikkers, Energetx's chairman.

He and other family members saw blade manufacturing as a natural fit because they have been building boats for decades as the owners of S2 Yachts. "We have been composite fabricators for 50 years," Slikkers said.

And near the Port of Monroe, Ventower expects to have built 15 towers for large wind turbines by this fall. It occupies a new factory on a former industrial landfill and has hired 53 employees. But the industry slowdown caused by the tax credit situation is holding back its growth.

"I would have orders booked through the bulk of next year if the tax credit was not an issue," Viciana said.

More Details: Hitting a Green Wall

Here are some of the high-profile alternative-energy business ventures in the state that have shut down or run into significant delays:

* Northern Power Systems' large wind turbine plant: The Saginaw plant has yet to launch production and is operating with a skeleton crew.

* Eaton Rapids Castings: Foundry to make iron parts for large wind turbines in Eaton Rapids has been delayed. It is still trying to get financing.

* United Solar Ovonic: The maker of solar roofing materials filed for bankruptcy in February and sold its assets at the end of June.

* Mascoma's cellulosic ethanol plant near Kinross in the Upper Peninsula: Groundbreaking was supposed to occur this summer. The company says construction will start at year's end after engineering design work is completed, contracts are awarded and financing is finalized.

* Astraeus Wind Energy: In 2010, company announced plans to make spar caps for wind turbine blades in Port Huron. It is still in the testing phase.

* Danotek Motion Technologies: Was supposed to start making generators for large wind turbines last year. The company says production will begin this fall in Canton. It has 28 employees, down from 45 at the end of 2010.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Street Fight: Food Trucks vs. Restaurants

Story first reported from  WSJ.com

A street fight is brewing between gourmet food-truck vendors and restaurants—not over the grub, but how it's sold.

Under pressure to protect local food businesses from mounting competition, cities across the country -- including Chicago, Boston, New York and Sunnyvale, Calif. -- are putting the brakes on a rising tide of food-truck vendors. Sarah Needleman has details on The News Hub.

Under pressure to protect bricks-and-mortar restaurants from increased competition, several big cities are starting to apply the brakes on a rising tide of food-truck vendors with fully loaded kitchens.

Boston, Chicago, St. Louis and Seattle are among the cities enacting laws that restrict where food trucks can serve customers in proximity to their rivals and for how long. Some food-truck operators argue that they shouldn't be punished for offering an innovative service, especially since many cities already allow restaurants to open up alongside one another.

"The rules are unfair," says Amy Le, owner of Duck N Roll, a food truck in Chicago serving Asian-style cuisine that includes short ribs and mango lychee.

Three weeks after she launched the business last fall, she received a ticket from local law enforcement for doing business about 150 feet from a wine bar—50 feet within the city's limit for how close food trucks can park outside of retail food establishments.

Ms. Le says she later had to spend nearly a full day in court to find out what the violation would cost her—about $300—and that she lost an estimated $600 to $700 in sales as a result.

"The 200-foot buffer prohibits me from competing," says Ms. Le, 32 years old, who also opposes a new rule requiring food trucks to install global-positioning devices so the city can track their whereabouts. "It is a free market. Let the consumers decide when and where they want to eat."

Tom Alexander, a spokesman for the city of Chicago, says the new ordinance "is a workable compromise" that includes the addition of 60 free parking spaces in high-traffic areas for food trucks. "[It] reflects everybody's interests," he says.

Gourmet food-truck operators say another problem is that in many cities they are still relegated to antiquated rules intended for ice-cream, hot-dog and other traditional mobile vendors with smaller and less complex menus.

New Orleans, for example, requires mobile food vendors to change locations after 45 minutes in one spot, among other restrictions.

"It's not a feasible amount of time for this business model," says 31-year-old Rachel Billow, who last year co-founded La Cocinita, a food truck that serves Latin American cuisine such as plantains and arepas. "It takes about a half-hour to set up."

Ms. Billow says she and her business partner, Venezuelan chef Benoit Angulo, started La Cocinita after several years of working in the restaurant industry. They invested $50,000 in start-up costs, an amount that included $12,000 in modifications to their vehicle to satisfy the city's fire code, she adds.

Revving Up

Thinking of starting a food-truck business? Here's how to avoid biting off more than you can chew:

1. Shop around. Food trucks outfitted with fully loaded kitchens range in price from about $50,000 to $250,000, depending on whether the vehicle is new or used, as well as the type of cooking equipment installed.

2. Know the rules. Cities have different laws regulating where and for how long food trucks can park on public streets and even private property.

3. Become legal. Cities commonly require food-truck vendors to obtain permits and licenses for varying fees before they can do business. These may also need to be renewed annually.

4. Create a budget. In addition to cooking supplies, regular expenses typically include fuel, parking and truck-maintenance fees.

5. Use social media. Once you get started, let customers know where you'll be by posting your location on Twitter and Facebook.

Danielle Viguerie, communications director for New Orleans City Council member Stacy Head, says the city is currently looking into adopting more progressive laws for regulating gourmet food trucks.

Truck operators say being able to stay in one spot for several hours also is important because they typically post their locations every day on their Twitter and Facebook pages.

"Even if we have to move once, people are going to complain they can't find us," says Skip Stellhorn, who runs Pollo Fritto, a fried-chicken truck that began operating throughout the San Francisco Bay area in January.

Restaurant owners may be concerned for good reason. In Boston, there are now 38 food trucks in operation, up from 17 a year ago and about six in 2010. St. Louis currently has 29 food trucks, up from 14 last year and zero in 2010. Meanwhile, inquiries about food-truck permits in Sacramento, Calif., now average three to four a week, compared with just one a month a year ago.

Established restaurants say the influx of food trucks is eating away at their bottom lines.

"They come during our busiest hours and park in front of us," says Camy Silva, co-owner of El Gaucho Luca's Café in downtown Las Vegas, where legislators are considering an ordinance that would prevent food trucks from parking for more than four hours a day on a public street within 300 feet of a retail food establishment.

Ms. Silva says she supports the proposed ordinance because she wants to protect her five-employee establishment from the food trucks, as they often undercut her in price. Her restaurant charges about $8 for a hamburger, twice as much as the food trucks.

"We spend a lot on advertising and promotions to bring people downtown, and the food trucks benefit from that," adds her husband and business partner, Pablo Silva.

Gavin Coleman, general manager of the Dubliner, his family's Irish pub and restaurant in Washington, D.C., says food trucks don't just compete with him for foot traffic. They also occupy a long stretch of parking spots where his customers look to park their vehicles. And they play loud music that he fears is a disturbance to patrons who dine on his outdoor patio.

"Businesses pick locations and business models around certain peak times," says Mr. Coleman. "Food trucks can poach that business and then pick up and leave."

Two or three times a week, a fleet of food trucks—as many as 17—pull up alongside a busy road roughly 75 feet from his establishment, creating a transient food court for lunch seekers, Mr. Coleman says. Three years ago there were none.

Officials in Washington, D.C., are considering an ordinance that would restrict where food trucks can operate and require them to make arrangements for trash removal. Andrew Kline, spokesperson for the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, says the trade group supports the proposal. He says restaurants in Washington pay about $60 to $70 a square foot for prime locations, while food trucks pay parking rates that equal about just $12 a square foot.

"We support anybody's right to compete in the marketplace, but we think food trucks should do so fairly and on an even playing field," says Mr. Kline.

To be sure, not all cities have been successful at regulating food trucks. Last year, El Paso, Texas, was forced to overturn a 2009 ordinance prohibiting food trucks from doing business within 1,000 feet of retail food establishments after being sued by four local food-truck vendors.

The case also resulted in the removal of an ordinance that only allowed food trucks to do business when hailed by customers and to remain parked only for as long as customers were being served.

"Economic protectionism is not a legitimate governmental interest," says Bert Gall, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a national nonprofit law firm based in Arlington, Va., which represented the plaintiffs.

Bruce Parsons, a spokesman for El Paso's health department, says the case reflects the interests of the city's growing food-truck community.

"It is a much more acceptable ordinance now to the mobile vendors," he says. "There are lots of them. Food trucks are very popular here."

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