Monday, November 30, 2009

Experts: Throttles, not mats, caused Toyota crashes

Amid widening concern over unintended acceleration events, including an Aug. 28 crash near San Diego that killed a California Highway Patrol officer and his family, Toyota has repeatedly pointed to "floor mat entrapment" as the problem.
But accounts from motorists, interviews with auto safety experts and a Los Angeles Times review of thousands of federal traffic safety incident reports point to another potential cause: the electronic throttles that have replaced mechanical systems in recent years.

The Times found that complaints of sudden acceleration in many Toyota and Lexus vehicles shot up almost immediately after the automaker adopted the so-called drive-by-wire system over the past decade. That system uses sensors, microprocessors and electric motors to connect the driver's foot to the engine, rather than a traditional link such as a steel cable.

For some Toyota models, reports of unintended acceleration increased more than fivefold after drive-by-wire systems were adopted, according to the review of thousands of consumer complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said the automaker could not explain the trend. But Toyota has held that electronic control systems, including drive-by-wire, are not to blame.

NHTSA maintains it has not found any electronic defects. "In the high-speed incidents, which are the type of crashes in which death or serious injury is most likely, the only pattern NHTSA has found to explain at least some of them are pedal entrapment by floor mats," a spokeswoman wrote.

Fire Sprinklers Set to Become Standard in New Homes; Group Warns of Inferior CablingToyota discloses U.S. findings on floor-mat safety

Stimulus aid will help farmers repair creeks

Farmers are being offered help to improve damaged creeks in their area, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
A total of $250,000 in Recovery Act funds is available for conservation projects in watersheds that have experienced a significant decline in both the diversity and density of aquatic life.

Goals include reducing sediment, the No. 1 water pollutant in Tennessee, and fencing out cattle that can erode stream banks and taint streams with manure.

The targeted watersheds include the Elk, Upper Duck and Caney Fork (above Center Hill Dam) rivers, Cypress Creek and Shoal Creek. They cover all or parts of 20 counties, including Franklin, Maury and Williamson.

Farmers in these watersheds can apply for up to 90 percent of the cost of projects such as fencing livestock out of streams, installing alternative livestock watering systems, planting native grasses and stabilizing stream banks.

Farmers must agree to maintain the conservation practice for at least 10 years.

"These funds will go a long way in helping farmers in priority areas restore and protect rivers and streams from runoff and sedimentation that affect water quality," Gov. Phil Bredesen said.

Farmers can apply through their county Soil Conservation District through Jan. 8. Applications will be approved by Feb. 5.

For more information, call the Soil Conservation District in the phone directory under county government or TDA Water Resources administrator John McClur kan at 615-837-5305.


Nashville Shores acquired by former Six Flags execsPart 2: Steps to Building a Short Sale Business

Billions in government aid flow to for-profit colleges

RALEIGH, N.C. — Students aren't the only ones benefiting from the billions of new dollars Washington is spending on college aid for the poor.
An Associated Press analysis shows that surging proportions of both low-income students and the recently boosted government money that follows them are ending up at for-profit schools, from local career colleges to giant publicly traded chains such as the University of Phoenix, Kaplan and DeVry.

Last year, the five institutions that received the most federal Pell Grant dollars were all for-profit colleges, collecting more than $1 billion among them. That was 2½ times what those schools hauled in just two years earlier, the AP found, analyzing Department of Education data on disbursements from the Pell program, Washington's main form of college aid to the poor.

This year, the trend is accelerating: In the first quarter after the maximum Pell Grant was increased last July 1, Washington paid out 45 percent more through the program than during the same period a year ago, the AP found. But the amount of dollars heading to for-profit, or "proprietary," schools is up even more — about 67 percent.

Aid unleashed gold rush, critics say

For-profit colleges say the country has little choice but to accept their help to achieve President Barack Obama's goal of getting every American to enroll in some form of education beyond high school. The for-profit schools have space while community colleges are bursting at the seams.

Critics say the increased federal aid has unleashed a new gold rush. They complain that the industry has too many incentives simply to enroll students and tap the spigot from Washington — and not enough to make sure students succeed.

The industry is "an aggressive sales operation that has a voracious appetite for recruiting the poorest students," said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of AACRAO, a group representing admissions officers and registrars at traditional colleges. "The victims here are the students themselves and the taxpayers, who have to pick up the tab."

(2 of 2)

Washington Report: Extending the CreditPay cuts run risk of talent exodus

Trade taxes pump up America's tire prices

DETROIT — Tire prices are inflating.
Tariffs on imports, lower supplies and higher demand from drivers buying winter tires are combining to jack up costs.

Goodyear, the biggest U.S. tiremaker, just raised prices. Other manufacturers probably will follow to offset U.S. tariffs on Chinese-made tires and the rising cost of raw materials such as rubber and oil. KeyBanc analyst Saul Ludwig sees prices up 5 percent to 10 percent by January, the start of a year when Americans are expected to buy about 210 million replacement tires, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association.

President Barack Obama recently slapped a 35 percent tariff on tires after a U.S. union claimed an influx of Chinese imports has cost more than 5,000 U.S. tire workers their jobs since 2004. Those replacement tires account for about 17 percent of the U.S. market, up from 5 percent five years ago.

Lumped together under the tariff are tires made in China by major producers — including Michelin and Pirelli — and tires made by Chinese manufacturers and sold in the U.S. under brand names such as Ling Long and Wanli.

But Chinese-made tires aren't the only ones getting more expensive.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. will raise the price on all consumer replacement tires sold in North America by 6 percent starting Tuesday. The Akron, Ohio-based manufacturer cited raw material costs. Goodyear imports about 2 percent of its tires from China, so the increase also could offset tariffs.

A 6 percent increase would bring the cost of a set of 16-inch Goodyear Ultra Grip snow tires to $432.48, according to online retailer Tire Rack.

Cooper Tire and Rubber Co., based in Findlay, Ohio, has hiked prices across its lineup to recoup the cost of Chinese tariffs. Ludwig expects Cooper to raise prices 5 percent to 10 percent in the first quarter because of raw material costs. A set of Cooper's 16-inch Lifeliner GLS tires, the company's moderately priced line, is about $350.

While all tires meet U.S. safety standards, there can be quality differences.

(2 of 2)

Home Buyer Tax Credit Extended, ExpandedGas prices will continue to rise before leveling off

Pa. family's farm is its past and its future

PHILADELPHIA — When 90-year-old Sam Snipes was a boy in the 1920s, Falls Township, Pa., was a bucolic place with about 2,500 people. Nearly all the land was occupied by farms.
In the ensuing years, some of that fertile soil was covered by a steel mill, a landfill and the communities of Fairless Hills and Levittown. Today, the township population is about 35,000, and only two farms remain.

One of those relics is the 150-acre Snipes farm near Morrisville, Pa. It is hemmed in by housing developments and highways, notably Route 1 — a noisy, garish four-lane commercial corridor.

The din of traffic can be heard from the porch of the homestead, built in 1854. The farm has been in the family since 1808, and forebears came to the area with William Penn.

For decades, Sam and his brother Brad sold produce from the farm and operated a nursery. Five years ago, bowing to competition from big-box stores and chain gardening centers, they shuttered the enterprise.

That would have been a logical time to sell to developers, who have been knocking on the door for years, waving millions. Instead, the task of perpetuating the family farm was assumed by two people with a passion for the past, a vision for the future, and a fervent sense of mission — Jonathan Snipes and Susan Snipes-Wells, the son and daughter of Sam Snipes, and the 10th generation of the family to care for this pastoral oasis.

"People often ask, 'Why don't you sell out?' But I believe we have a larger purpose, and I want to fulfill it," says Snipes, 49, who lives in the family manse.

"Selling land for suburban sprawl is the least creative thing we could do," says Snipes-Wells, 54, who lives in Yardley, Pa. "It's been done many times, and we all know the result. It isn't very interesting."

From the outset, the two knew that running a family farm in this day and age would be difficult. They also knew they wanted to protect the land, keep it open to the public and contribute to the local economy.

Last year, they made their vision concrete by opening a 25-acre "outdoor classroom," the Farm School at Snipes. Its mission: to model and teach sustainable farming while building community and reconnecting people to the land.

(2 of 2)

Washington Report: GFEsPulte’s size gives it cash safety net

Foursquare social networking site's future full of marketing buzz

Hockey fan Alison Groves has been named mayor of the Nashville Predators. She may soon take on additional titles, as well, like mayor of her favorite East Nashville bar or restaurant.
She knows someone else can overthrow her any day now, so she makes sure she carries out her duties: that is, frequenting her favorite hangouts and "checking in" on her mobile phone at a new online site called Foursquare.

Said to be the Twitter of 2010, the startup social networking site rewards users with points and virtual "mayorships" when they go out drinking, dining or shopping at night and on weekends.

Foursquare became available in Nashville just a week and a half ago, although social butterflies in New York, Atlanta, Austin and other cities have been letting their friends know where they've been mingling through Foursquare since March.

Because Foursquare is location-based, whether you're at a coffee shop or neighborhood antique store, it has the power to revolutionize how businesses market to plugged-in Americans.

"If there's a business I like, I enjoy patronizing it, but I also want to tell people about it," said Groves, an East Nashville 30-year-old who works in sales and support for a marketing firm.

Users are alerted when their friends check in to different places. They can give tips about their dining or shopping experiences and can list their favorite hang-outs. Foursquare also lets users know who else is checked in at a particular hot spot.

In other cities, businesses have started rewarding these "Foursquare mayors" with drink specials and shopping discounts. Some places post photos of their mayors.

Businesses that want to be more assertive about joining the online discussion almost have to promote that they want the Foursquare elite to show up, said Larry De Palma, president and CEO of TDG-Phenix Inc., a Brentwood-based new media consultant for the financial services industry.

(2 of 2)

Internet Stealth Auctions Protect Brand, Generate New Homes SalesNashville business calendar

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Naming rights for Predators arena may be hard sell

As the Nashville Predators hockey club seeks to terminate its naming-rights agreement with Franklin-based Sommet Group, finding a new sponsor for the downtown arena won't be easy, especially in this tough economic environment.
Don Roy, a sports marketing researcher at Middle Tennessee State University, said one of the main stumbling blocks the team faces is that the arena has already gone through two other corporate brand names — Gaylord Entertainment Center and Sommet Center — in just over 10 years.

"There is typically a lag effect that occurs for venue names," Roy said. "A lot of effort and promotion went into branding it as Sommet Center, and you can't turn that off like a light switch."

Just as fans continued to call the arena the GEC (pronounced by locals as "geck") after the name disappeared, so too will people keep calling the facility Sommet. Roy said some companies might view that as dealing with "used goods."

RelatedPredators sue arena sponsor Sommet GroupNashville Predators terminate naming-rights deal with SommetVIDEO: What is Sommet, anyway?

The bigger problem, though, is that naming-rights contracts are usually in place for 10 or more years, and finding a company willing to commit that many years into the future will be a challenge, Roy said.

The 2007 agreement with Sommet, signed under former owner Craig Leopold, was for three years. On Wednesday, the local group that owns the Predators filed a suit in Davidson County saying it will terminate its naming-rights agreement with Sommet Group because the company has stopped making payments on the contract.

The team said it would look for another sponsor at the end of the season. Until then the Metro-owned venue would be called the Nashville Arena, pending approval by the Nashville Sports Authority.

(2 of 2)

Business briefs: Reliant Bank provides ATMs at Sommet CenterInternet Stealth Auctions Protect Brand, Generate New Homes Sales

Black Friday shoppers jam Nashville stores for early-bird sales

More shoppers and perhaps more spending than a year ago dominated early reports from Nashville-area retailers on Black Friday as thousands of shoppers braved the first real cold snap of the year to jostle for much-hyped deals of 50 percent off or more on toys, electronics and clothes.
Stephen Gudan, 19, got in line at a Target store in Franklin at 2:30 a.m. to secure a spot so he could buy a $300 Xbox 360 bundle of goodies that included a $50 Target gift card for himself, among other items.

"I haven't done any Christmas shopping yet," said college student Gudan, who works part-time jobs at a Publix supermarket and Mapco convenience store. "I'm selfish this year."

Many consumers like Gudan said they're still nervous about the economy and will control their spending, but special deals on some big-ticket items brought them to stores to shop for themselves rather than others.

RelatedBlack Friday deals, 'hustle and bustle' drive shoppersWeekend mall hoursBlack Friday is whirlwind shopping day for old palsHoliday Gift Guide 2009Gifts for kidsGifts to make your girlfriend go ga-gaBlack Friday shoppers

Retail analysts said scenes of sizable turnouts around the country indicated that the official start to the Christmas shopping season could very well end up with better results for retailers than last year's subpar sales totals.

"So far, we are seeing that consumers are willing to spend a little more than what was on their intended list," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group Inc. "This is a big gift for retailers. It was missing from the equation last year."

In Music City, shoppers turned out for a wide array of early-morning bargains such as a 32-inch LCD HDTV for $246 at Target or a pair of $20 boots at Belk.

Crowds were large at the Prime Outlets of Lebanon's "Midnight Madness Pajama Jam" opening, with more than 500 people in pajamas lined up for free goody bags, said Ted Omohundro, regional vice president with Prime Retail. A rough head count showed 10 percent higher turnout than last year, he estimated.

(2 of 3)

Real Estate Outlook: Pending Sales RiseRetailers close out best month in year

How to make wise health plan choices

NEW YORK — The holidays may be starting to crowd your to-do list, but one thing you shouldn't let get buried under the tinsel is your health insurance coverage.
Open enrollment period, the annual window when people get to update their health insurance choices, is winding down. The opportunity to change coverage under some employer- and union-sponsored plans has passed, but many will continue to accept updates for a few more weeks.

Medicare participants have until the end of the year to choose or make changes to their Medicare Advantage plans and prescription drug coverage.

Picking from the options available can be confusing. There's an alphabet soup of HMOs, PPOs, HSAs, FSAs and other choices to decipher, so learning the terms is an important first step.

Knowing what sort of care you've used in the past year also is important because that should inform your choices for 2010.

Other factors are the doctors and hospitals you'll have access to. Doctors accept payment from different insurance plans, so if you are considering switching plans, make sure you know if you'll also have to switch doctors, or pay out of pocket for care that isn't covered.

Learn the terms

Most insurance programs offer two kinds of managed care plans: health maintenance organizations, or HMOs, and preferred provider organizations, or PPOs.

HMO premiums tend to be lower, while PPOs typically offer a wider choice of doctors.

In addition, a growing number of companies are trying to contain costs by offering a type of plan that can chop premium payments by nearly 20 percent. But these consumer-directed health plans, or CDHPs, come with a big tradeoff in the form of high deductibles — up to $10,000 a year for a family.

Also growing fast are options like health savings accounts (HSA) and flexible savings accounts (FSA), both of which allow a person, and sometimes an employer, to set aside pretax money for health-related expenses.

Each plan has pros and cons, many of which depend upon the way you and your family use health care. High-deductible plans, for instance, may not be the best choice for those with tight budgets and little savings to tap if there is a medical emergency, or for large families making frequent visits to the pediatrician.

(2 of 2)

Health bill seeks early end-of-life decisionsInternet Stealth Auctions Protect Brand, Generate New Homes Sales

Column: When change is inevitable, it's smart to 'go with the flow'

Constant change at work — in your office, your division, your department. No doubt about it. If change hasn't taken place yet, you fret about when it might occur.
Everyone wants change; but everybody hates it. We all also want to be richer, thinner, smarter, more gifted or athletic than we are now. We just want to be something that we aren't at the moment — better. But none of us enjoys change or getting out of our comfort zone to achieve it.

In today's work environment, we can communicate in one of several ways. We can shut down and deny that new operational procedures will be taking effect; we can "bad-mouth" the management for changing the old procedures; or we can decide to "go with the flow" and put a positive spin on the future.

You may not agree with the changes about to be made, but responding positively will say a lot about your ability to be flexible and contribute to the team.

If you decide to put a positive spin on it, you can look at change as a way to learn something new about yourself. Or just as importantly, you may learn something you need to know about the people in your department.

In any case, now is the time to surround yourself with positive people, at work and in your personal life. Analyze the company you keep. Do you find too many naysayers among your friends and close associates? If so, distance yourself from them; find positive people instead. Listen to positive, motivating tapes. Keep your chin and attitude up.

Read positive blogs; write positive blogs. Give management the benefit of the doubt. Greet people with a smile and direct eye contact.

I once read a proverb that says: "Life and death are in the power of the tongue." It is a good rule to live by at any time, but it's especially true in our climate of change.

How to look the part

Tonya Reiman is a body language expert, and I recently came across her list of all the wrong moves that will turn someone off and ruin a business interaction. Here are some key miscues to remember from her book, The Power of Body Language :

Don't do these things: Scratch your head; bite your lips; stare down at the floor; keep your hands in your pockets; slouch; jiggle your legs; twist your hair; click your pen impulsively; or bite your nails, even briefly.

With competition for job openings getting tighter, you may want to study this list so you can present yourself in the best possible light.

Getting hired or moving ahead is never just about the work product.

Schatzie Brunner spent nearly a decade at Turner Broadcasting as talent coordinator for Larry King Live and as a CNN news anchor. Today, she runs her own consulting business. Her Web site is

Companies’ earnings forecast is full of low-ballingCustomer Retention Tips for Today’s Challenging Economy

Ready or not, Santa goes digital this year

For some boys and girls, Santa plans to ditch tradition this year.
Instead of tumbling down a chimney, he will deliver virtual gifts online to tech-savvy children. And rather than write hand-scrawled notes from the North Pole promising toys to all those who have been good, three Nashville-area malls are offering parents a $5.49 service so a suddenly "New Media" Santa Claus can send their little ones customized text messages.

Technology is changing Christmas more than ever these days, even for adults who scour the Internet for deals before heading to the malls or who sign up for e-mail alerts from retailers blasting out information on last-minute sales.

All this digital change makes some traditionalists ill at ease as they fret about whether some aspects of technology might darken the meaning of the Christmas holiday itself.

"Santa to me doesn't seem really tech savvy," said Jessica Turner, a 27-year-old who works in marketing, adding that she wouldn't want her son to get a text message from Santa. "I think tradition really adds to the magic of the season."

Turner said she plans to document her family's Christmas traditions in a carefully crafted scrapbook, and when her son, Elias, is old enough, he'll put out carrots for reindeer, cookies for Santa and write the jolly old gift-giver a personal note.

Quaint. But Santa is evolving with the times, even as some parents try to hold back the electronic buzz.

This year, CoolSprings Galleria, Hickory Hollow and RiverGate malls allow consumers to sign up via their Web sites for Santa's text messages delivered straight to someone's cell phone. The service is provided by a mobile marketing company, Anchor Mobile. It lets users send three text messages from Santa before Christmas Day. An extra 99 cents nets the customer a Christmas Day message, too. (Some of the proceeds aid the March of Dimes.)

"(Kids) want to be communicated with in a way they're used to," said T.J. Kirgin, CEO of Anchor Mobile.

(2 of 3)

Mobile businesses prove popular with Nashville entrepreneurs on the goPart 2: Steps to Building a Short Sale Business

Friday, November 27, 2009

Online retailers likely to see gain

SAN FRANCISCO — Online retailers hope the convenience of the Web, plus discounts and deals, spur still-nervous shoppers to spend more online this holiday season — even as traditional retailers brace for mediocre sales.
Internet analysts at comScore Inc. expect online retail revenue to rise 3 percent to $28.8 billion for the months of November and December. That includes the Web sites of traditional retailers, such as Macy's, but excludes auctions, travel and large corporate purchases.

Meanwhile, U.S. holiday retail sales — excluding online — are expected to drop 1 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation, the largest retail trade group.

Online estimates and data-gathering methods vary, but e-commerce analysts and Web retailers agree: This year can't possibly be as bad as last year, when the shock of the financial meltdown was still fresh for consumers. ComScore charted a 3 percent drop for Web retail that holiday season — the first such decline since it started tracking the category in 2001.

Much of the growth expected in online shopping — which accounts for about 7 percent of overall retail sales, according to Forrester Research — is attributed to one factor in particular: Shopping online is a major time saver. You can sidestep crowds, compare prices and ship gifts anywhere without leaving your couch or taking off your bunny slippers.

Jennifer Lankford, 28, expects to buy gifts on the Web for her young cousins and boyfriend this year, saying she hates waiting in lines.

"I can only spend so much time in stores or in a mall before I need to get out of there," she said.

For Lankford and many other consumers, online shopping is also synonymous with bargains.

Steep discounts and free shipping are expected to be the norm this holiday season.

EBay Inc. is trying to woo customers to its huge online marketplace by focusing on holiday deals that include free shipping and guaranteed returns on new items from sellers.

It also is promoting products that are new but not necessarily the latest and greatest. On billboards in San Francisco, for example, eBay reminds consumers they can save money by buying last year's models.

Perhaps no Web retailer has been as successful at convincing consumers that it has bargains as Amazon, which managed to shrug off the recession last year and reported what it called its "best ever" holiday season. Amazon's fourth-quarter revenue rose 18 percent to $6.7 billion last year.

Paul Ryder, Amazon's vice president of consumer electronics, said that the economy seems more stable now than it did a year ago, when reluctant shoppers caused a bit of retailer panic. "This season is not like that," he said, "but I think every retailer recognizes that customers are watching their pennies."

Retailers close out best month in yearReal Estate Outlook: Pending Sales Rise

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nashville convention center groups take fight to the public

Bellevue resident Jim Pfeiffer was surprised and annoyed by a midafternoon phone call he received last week.
The caller claimed to be working on a survey about Nashville's downtown convention center proposal but kept saying taxes would go up if the $585 million facility were built, said Pfeiffer, a businessman who supports the proposal.

"I said, 'I don't know that,' " Pfeiffer said. "I said, 'This isn't much of an opinion poll, is it?' It was just a push poll. You could tell it was scripted. It reminded me of something we'd sit down in Shoney's and write up in three minutes."

The convention center opposition group Nashville's Priorities acknowledges that it's behind the calls, but denies it is running a misleading poll and disputed Pfeiffer's account.

RelatedConvention center hotel timing is setback for DeanNashville Metro Council may hear convention hall, hotel financing plans separatelyCompany fighting eminent domain claim says it spent years on land planNashville convention hall plan looks solid in revenue studyProperty owner challenges convention center eminent domain caseMusicians Hall of Fame, Nashville landowners fight eminent domainNashville convention center cost paredConvention center would cost $585 million to buildCritic of convention hall coaches concerned citizensNashville commission rejects convention center referendum ideaMetro to acquire Rocketown site, help teen club move a few blocksNashville convention hall backers trust in tourismMDHA wants land lawsuit dismissedNashville sued in convention center eminent domain caseKey convention center property owner sues MDHA

This much is clear: The final battle over the convention center is fully engaged. With a financing plan due from Mayor Karl Dean next week and a final Metro Council vote tentatively scheduled for Jan. 19, both sides of the debate are trying to influence public opinion and, by extension, the council.

Ron Samuels, chairman of the Music City Center Coalition, said his group will keep doing the traditional things it's been doing for some time: speaking to neighborhood and community groups and talking to council members about the importance of the project.

But the coalition could use other communication techniques as well.

"If it's necessary to do advertising, I'm sure we'll find some money and go about that," Samuels said.

Nashville's Priorities has been using new media like Twitter and YouTube to draw attention to problems in the convention business, highlight previous council deliberations and point to various Dean administration statements on the topic.

The group's president, Kevin Sharp, said it also has been advertising in print and online media and is planning a direct mail campaign. It also might go on the radio but won't try to pay for TV ads.

(2 of 2)

Nashville commission rejects convention center referendum ideaWashington Report: GFEs

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Economy's rebound not as strong as first thought

WASHINGTON -- The economy grew at a 2.8 percent pace last quarter, as the recovery got off to a slower start than first thought.
The Commerce Department's new reading on gross domestic product wasn't as energetic as the 3.5 percent growth rate for the July-September period estimated just a month ago.

The main factors behind the downgrade: consumers didn't spend as much, commercial construction was weaker and the nation's trade deficit was more of a drag on growth. Businesses also trimmed more of their stockpiles, another restraining factor.

The new reading on GDP, which measures the value of all goods and services produced in the United States -- from machinery to manicures -- was a tad weaker than the 2.9 percent growth rate economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected.

Still, the good news is that the economy finally started to grow again, after a record four straight losing quarters. The bad news is that the rebound, now and in the months ahead, probably will be lethargic.

The worst recession since the 1930s is very likely over, but the economy's return to good health will take time, Fed officials and economists say.

Growth probably won't be strong enough to quickly drive down the nation's unemployment rate, currently at 10.2 percent. It's only the second time in the post-World War II period that unemployment has topped 10 percent.

Some economists think economic growth will slow to around a 2.5 percent pace in the current quarter, although others say it could clock in at about 3 percent if holiday sales are better than expected.

Most say they think the economy will weaken again next year, with growth at a pace of around 1 percent as the impact of the $787 billion stimulus package fades and consumers keep tightening their belts under the strain of high unemployment and hard-to-get credit.

Much of the economy's return to growth last quarter reflected federal support for spending on homes and cars.

But Tuesday's report shows that some of that spending was a bit less robust than initially thought.

(2 of 3)

Federal aid drives economic growthReal Estate Outlook: Moving Towards Recovery

Border truck program attracts drug smugglers

LAREDO, Texas — A U.S. program that offers trusted trucking companies speedy passage across American borders has begun attracting just the sort of customers who place a premium on avoiding inspections: Mexican drug smugglers.
Most trucks enrolled in the program pause at the border for just 20 seconds before entering the United States. And nine of 10 of them do so without anyone looking at their cargo.

But among the small fraction of trucks that are inspected, authorities have found multiple loads of contraband, including eight tons of marijuana seized during one week in April. Some experts now question whether the program makes sense at a time when drug traffickers are willing to do almost anything to smuggle their shipments into the U.S.

More than half of all U.S. imports now come from companies in the program, called the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, or C-TPAT. Mexican trucking companies make up only 6 percent of global membership in the system, but they account for half of its 71 security violations during the past two years.

Participants kept secret

The trusted-shipper system "just tells the bad guys who to target," said Dave McIntyre, former director of the Integrative Center for Homeland Security at Texas A&M University.

The program works like this: Participating companies agree to adopt certain security measures in exchange for fast entry into the U.S.

They must put their employees through background checks, fence in their facilities and track their trucks. They also are asked to work with subcontractors who also have been certified under the program, which is run by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

The government keeps the list of participants secret, citing national security and trade secrets. But some of the 9,500 companies who are part of the system advertise their membership to drum up business, making them targets for smugglers, who can then threaten drivers or offer them bribes, critics say.

Mexican trucking companies face higher scrutiny than others. They get a full customs inspection every year, instead of every three years like other participating companies.

(2 of 2)

Investor Report: Fannie Mae’s PRPMobile businesses prove popular with Nashville entrepreneurs on the go

Psychiatric Solutions expands services to military

Psychiatric Solutions Inc. has launched a program to expand behavioral health services for members of the military and their families.
The Franklin-based psychiatric hospitals operator has designated eight of its facilities nationwide as PSI Patriot Support Centers. The program involves working with commanders at military installations to tailor services to specific needs in their areas including treating post-traumatic stress disorders, depression and other problems.

The initial centers are in Jacksonville, N.C.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Hopkinsville, Ky.; San Antonio, Texas; Las Vegas; Santa Teresa, N.M.; Petersburg, Va.; and Louisville, Ky.


Investor Report: Fannie Mae’s PRPMore stores accept food stamps

Monday, November 23, 2009

Nashville protesters want to rein in Fed & Tennessee Valley Corridor Fall Partnership Event, Nov. 22-23, Embassy Suites, Murfreesboro, 1200 Conference Center Blvd.,
The Career Transition Support Group, 6:30 p.m., Nov. 23, Brentwood United Methodist Church, 309 Franklin Road. 615-477-5651. Free.


Membership luncheon, Williamson County-Franklin Chamber of Commerce; speaker: Rick Wallace on health-care reform; 11:30 a.m.. Tuesday, Nov. 24; Cool Springs Conference Center, 700 Cool Springs Blvd. E., Franklin. 615-794-1225. $23 members, $30 others.

New business workshop for those encountering business-related taxes for the first time, hosted by the Tennessee Department of Revenue, 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 24, 1321 Murfreesboro Pike, eighth floor. Free.


The Career Transition Support Group meeting, topic is "sales skills for the job-search," 6:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 30, Brentwood United Methodist Church, 309 Franklin Road, Brentwood. 615-477-5651. Free.

College financial planning workshop, hosted by ABS Financial Group, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 1, 4811 Lebanon Pike, Room 102. 615-883-8828. Free.

"Inside info on being a marketer" presentation by Dan Prince of Prince Market Research, Nashville chapter of the American Marketing Association event, 11:30 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 2, Hilton Garden Inn, 1715 Broadway.

The Murfreesboro Career Network meeting, 8 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 2, Integrity House, 2316 Armory Drive, Murfreesboro. 615-477-5651. Free.

The Career Transition Support Group meeting, topic is "negotiating salary and benefits," 6:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 7, Brentwood United Methodist Church, 309 Franklin Road, Brentwood. 615-477-5651. Free.

How to Start a Small Business workshop, hosted by Volunteer State Community College's Tennessee Small Business Development Center, 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8, Betty Gibson Hall, Room 107C, of Vol State annex next to campus on Gap Boulevard in Gallatin. Free.

Information session on master of business administration, professional master of business administration and master of accountancy programs at Lipscomb University, 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 8, Bennett Campus Center, conference suite 180. 615-966-5968.

The Murfreesboro Career Network meeting, 8 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 9, Integrity House, 2316 Armory Drive, Murfreesboro. 615-477-5651. Free.

Ethics & Compliance 2010, CPE seminar, hosted by Vaco, 8-10 a.m., Tuesday, Dec. 15, Embassy Suites in Cool Springs, 820 Crescent Centre Drive.

Nashville Business CalendarPart 2: Steps to Building a Short Sale Business

Nashville Business Calendar & Tennessee Valley Corridor Fall Partnership Event, Nov. 22-23, Embassy Suites, Murfreesboro, 1200 Conference Center Blvd.,
The Career Transition Support Group, 6:30 p.m., Nov. 23, Brentwood United Methodist Church, 309 Franklin Road. 615-477-5651. Free.


Membership luncheon, Williamson County-Franklin Chamber of Commerce; speaker: Rick Wallace on health-care reform; 11:30 a.m.. Tuesday, Nov. 24; Cool Springs Conference Center, 700 Cool Springs Blvd. E., Franklin. 615-794-1225. $23 members, $30 others.

New business workshop for those encountering business-related taxes for the first time, hosted by the Tennessee Department of Revenue, 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 24, 1321 Murfreesboro Pike, eighth floor. Free.


The Career Transition Support Group meeting, topic is "sales skills for the job-search," 6:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 30, Brentwood United Methodist Church, 309 Franklin Road, Brentwood. 615-477-5651. Free.

College financial planning workshop, hosted by ABS Financial Group, 6:30-7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 1, 4811 Lebanon Pike, Room 102. 615-883-8828. Free.

"Inside info on being a marketer" presentation by Dan Prince of Prince Market Research, Nashville chapter of the American Marketing Association event, 11:30 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 2, Hilton Garden Inn, 1715 Broadway.

The Murfreesboro Career Network meeting, 8 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 2, Integrity House, 2316 Armory Drive, Murfreesboro. 615-477-5651. Free.

The Career Transition Support Group meeting, topic is "negotiating salary and benefits," 6:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 7, Brentwood United Methodist Church, 309 Franklin Road, Brentwood. 615-477-5651. Free.

How to Start a Small Business workshop, hosted by Volunteer State Community College's Tennessee Small Business Development Center, 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8, Betty Gibson Hall, Room 107C, of Vol State annex next to campus on Gap Boulevard in Gallatin. Free.

Information session on master of business administration, professional master of business administration and master of accountancy programs at Lipscomb University, 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 8, Bennett Campus Center, conference suite 180. 615-966-5968.

The Murfreesboro Career Network meeting, 8 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 9, Integrity House, 2316 Armory Drive, Murfreesboro. 615-477-5651. Free.

Ethics & Compliance 2010, CPE seminar, hosted by Vaco, 8-10 a.m., Tuesday, Dec. 15, Embassy Suites in Cool Springs, 820 Crescent Centre Drive.

Part 2: Steps to Building a Short Sale BusinessNashville business calendar

Bredesen's TN budget options are grim

Now the difficult decisions begin.
State officials have suggested releasing nonviolent felons and closing group homes for children. They've called for increases in tuition at state universities and caps on benefits within the state's medical insurance system.

But as Gov. Phil Bredesen and his advisers draw up their budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2010, it's uncertain how many of the dramatic measures described in hearings last week actually will be implemented.

"It's a difficult situation," he said. "I'm obviously going to try to mitigate the worst effects of this and move forward."

RelatedTN budget cuts could close longtime institution for people with severe disabilitiesTN state parks could cut jobs, close amenities to meet budget reductionsTN could release 4,000 prisoners to cut costsDatabase: State salary information for 2009

State officials have said the government may need to trim as much as $1.5 billion from the $29 billion spending plan the state legislature passed in June. Since that budget was passed, tax receipts have continued to fall. Meanwhile, the federal stimulus program will run its course next year, after spending nearly $5 billion in the state.

Bredesen has been asked to cut as much as 9 percent from budgets. Most agencies presented their proposals last week at a series of budget hearings, including the following:

• Releasing as many as 4,000 nonviolent felons from Tennessee's prisons and local jails, which would save the Department of Correction about $53 million.

• Placing caps on TennCare coverage, such as limiting recipients to 15 lab tests and 15 outpatient procedures a year, to save about $380 million.

• Closing the Clover Bottom Development Center, cutting $36 million from the Division of Intellectual Disabilities Services budget.

• Downsizing youth development centers and closing several group homes, which would reduce the Department of Children's Services budget by $76 million.

• Increasing tuition at state universities by as much as 5 percent.

Ongoing process

Several more such proposals will be presented today at hearings on the budgets for six agencies, including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities and the Department of Transportation.

Not all of the proposals will go into the budget that Bredesen plans to present to the legislature by Feb. 1.

Bredesen said his advisers will begin meeting immediately to start writing his administration's budget.

He declined to say which ideas he is likely to approve, but he also said that the cuts would be spread throughout the government.

"I've certainly heard things here that I thought were sensible to do, and others I said, 'I'm not going to do that. I'm going to find some way to avoid doing that,' " Bredesen said.

"You need to ask everybody to take a hit."

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report. Chas Sisk can be reached at 615-259-8283 or

Column: While state scrimps, legislators get per diem raiseWashington Report: Extending the Credit

Vince Young's stock is rising

Last year, nobody wanted a No. 10 Titans jersey.

"I had a ton of Vince Young jerseys, and I couldn't give them away," said Tony Minchey, owner of the Tennessee Sports Fan, which specializes in college, NFL and NHL merchandise at Opry Mills.

He slashed prices from $75 to $29.99 and eventually sold the 200 or so he had in stock by putting them on clearance.

This year, he didn't even bother ordering any.

But after Young reclaimed the starting quarterback job earlier this month and led the Tennessee Titans on a three-game winning streak, demand is coming back on the eve of the former University of Texas athlete's homecoming of sorts versus the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football.

Sports marketing experts say Young is making strides in a bid to regain his lost marketing luster. The trick is to keep winning. Leading the Titans to the NFL playoffs and snagging a couple of national magazine covers wouldn't hurt either.

"After three weeks, I think it's too early to say the brand is back," said Don Roy, associate professor of marketing and a sports marketing researcher at Middle Tennessee State University. "Vince will have to be the starting quarterback for the Titans consistently and perform at a high level for him to be relevant as an endorser on a national level."

At least one sports marketing expert thinks the fourth-year pro can propel himself into becoming one of the NFL's most marketable quarterbacks in as little as a year and a half.

"A strong second half and a really strong 2010 performance at playoff caliber, sure, he could be hawking razor blades," said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director for San Francisco-based Baker Street Advertising.

(2 of 4)

Jackson Kayak tops industry sales in six short yearsReal Estate Outlook: Just Right Housing

Pulte's size gives it cash safety net

For the homebuilding industry, the past two years have been a disaster. The largest homebuilder in the Nashville area, Pulte, has lost money for three straight years, and overall home-building permits here are less than half of levels seen two years ago.

Yet, Pulte keeps on building speculative homes without buyers. It has 2,000 lots ready for construction, and it's planning to buy more next year.

It's a business model that is vastly different from those of smaller homebuilders, many of whom have gone bankrupt in the worst housing crisis in decades. In fact, real estate analysts say the largest homebuilders in the Nashville area probably will come out of this recession stronger than most for a variety of reasons that trump the prospects of smaller operators.

The bottom line is: The bigger companies have better access to credit and are sticking through hard times long enough to buy land at low prices and position themselves for a market turnaround.

"Yes, we would like to buy land here in Nashville,'' said Charlie Coleman, Pulte division president in Nashville, who recently arrived from Dallas to lead the local office.

Pulte bought Centex Corp. last year in a deal worth $1.3 billion, which made it one of the largest homebuilders in the nation and the largest in the Nashville area.

"We certainly are looking to grow the business here in Nashville in 2010,'' Coleman said.

In a grassy subdivision off Nolensville Pike near Concord Road, construction crews are putting up insulation and finishing touches on a series of speculative town homes and single-family homes in Concord Place, all priced from $160,000 to $215,000.

Pulte's vice president of sales and marketing, Andy Pfeifer, said the company generally builds about 20 percent of its homes as speculative, meaning without buyers, so that the builder will have an inventory of move-in ready homes to show.

Most banks are refusing to finance speculative construction at all, which has left a number of other builders in trouble. In fact, many banks still refuse to finance the purchase of land.

(2 of 3)

Fire Sprinklers Set to Become Standard in New Homes; Group Warns of Inferior CablingMiddle Tennessee business bankruptcies

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Stocks decline in early morning trading

NEW YORK -- Stocks fell sharply in early trading Thursday following the lead of overseas markets and as the dollar strengthened.
Major indexes dropped more than 1 percent, including the Dow Jones industrials, which tumbled 130 points.

Investors showed little deference to a new report on weekly unemployment claims that was in line with expectations.

The Labor Department said the number of newly laid off workers seeking unemployment benefits for the first time was unchanged last week at 505,000, matching economists' expectations.

Unemployment has been one of the market's biggest ongoing concerns. Consumers worried about their jobs have cut back on spending, which has slowed the recovery. Investors are looking for any signs that shoppers are more likely to start spending again, especially as the crucial holiday shopping season approaches.

A report on leading economic indicators due out at 10 a.m. EST could provide stronger signs of a potential recovery.

The market's early slide follows a slight dip in stocks on Wednesday and heavy selling of shares overseas.

Asian markets fell amid fresh worries about the financial sector as Japan's biggest bank, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, said it plans to raise $11.2 billion to shore up its balance sheet. European markets were also lower.

As markets overseas fell, the dollar rose, hurting commodities and energy and materials stocks.

The Dow fell 130.67, or 1.3 percent, to 10,295.64. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 16.74, or 1.5 percent, to 1,093.06, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 36.63, or 1.7 percent, to 2,156.51.

Analyst says recovery in worksReal Estate Outlook: Pending Sales Rise

Gibson Guitar CEO leaves rainforest group after Nashville raid

Gibson Guitar Corp.'s top executive will take a leave of absence from the board of the Rainforest Alliance, an environmental group, in the wake of a federal search for banned wood products at the instrument maker's Nashville factory, officials said Wednesday.
Henry Juszkiewicz, Gibson's CEO and chairman, won't rejoin the board until the investigation ends, the alliance said in a statement.

Federal officials searched the plant Tuesday. An affidavit sought by the U.S. Attorney's Office here that might shed more light on the investigation hasn't been unsealed in federal court.

Some exotic hardwoods traditionally used in making premium guitars have been banned from commercial trade because of environmental concerns under a recently revised federal law known as the Lacey Act. Trading in banned woods from endangered rain forests is a federal offense, punishable by civil and criminal penalties or the seizure of property.

RelatedGibson Guitar plant in Nashville raided by fedsMusicians who play Gibson guitars

After the federal search, Juszkiewicz called the alliance and offered to take a leave of absence "to avoid conflict or distraction," said President Tensie Whelan. "It's very difficult to know what's happening at this point," Whelan added. "Our hope indeed is there will be no violations of the Lacey Act."

Juszkiewicz has been on the group's board for more than 15 years and has taken a lead role in urging the music instrument industry to use sustainable wood products, the group said.

The federal inquiry raised some eyebrows.

"I think it shows the reach of the Lacey Act, and nobody is immune from its prohibitions," said James Goldberg, Washington-based counsel for NAMM, a trade group that represents music equipment distributors, retailers and instrument makers. "Even if you think you know your suppliers, you may (still) have a problem."

Gibson did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Wendy Lee can be reached at 615-259-8092 or

Real Estate Outlook: Just Right HousingNashville business calendar

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Coalition urges U.S. to invest in electric cars

WASHINGTON — A group of businessmen on Monday launched a new coalition to urge the federal government to make a major investment in electric transportation, pointing to electric cars as the best way to confront the nation's dependence on imported oil.
Top executives with more than a dozen companies, including Nissan Motor Co., Fedex Corp., electric utility PG&E Corp. and battery developers A123 Systems Inc. and Johnson Controls-Saft, announced the formation of the Electrification Coalition to lay the groundwork for millions of electric cars to reach U.S. highways.

Issuing a lengthy plan to electrify the nation's fleet, the coalition urged Congress to pass a series of tax credits and loan guarantees to bring 14 million electric cars to the road by 2020 and more than 100 million by 2030. The group envisions a network of electric vehicles in six to eight cities in the short term and an expansion across the U.S., making 75 percent of all vehicle miles traveled powered by electricity by 2040.

"There's no pie-in-the-sky here," said Frederick W. Smith, FedEx's chairman, president and CEO. "It's simply a matter of organization, a matter of will and a matter of execution."

Participants acknowledged that the proposals would be expensive and would require a major commitment from Congress. The group's blueprint would cost more than $120 billion over eight years and promote tax credits for the installation of advanced batteries, loan guarantees for the retooling of plants, and tax credits for public charging stations and home equipment.

"Ultimately the consumer will make the judgment about where this country goes, but from the standpoint of public policy we can set the stage for it," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who joined the group for its announcement.

Nissan President and CEO Carlos Ghosn said the auto industry was working quickly to develop zero-emissions cars in response to concerns about oil security, tighter emissions requirements in the United States and elsewhere and a public thirst for alternative vehicles not tied to petroleum.

Fire Sprinklers Set to Become Standard in New Homes; Group Warns of Inferior CablingNissan to offer commercial line in 2010

Analyst says recovery in works

John Augustine, the chief investment strategist with Fifth Third Bank, came to town on Monday, whispering the "R" word, but thankfully this time he was referring to recovery and not recession.
"So far, it's been an extraordinarily good year for investors to rebuild; we got lucky," said Augustine, making an appearance at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel from his home base of Cincinnati. Augustine spoke at a luncheon to about 200 invited clients of Fifth Third Bank on a day in which the stock market's Dow Jones industrial average rose more than 136 points to close at 10,406.96.

Here's what Augustine expects to see in 2010 from Wall Street, the car industry, the job market, interest rates and exports.

Wall Street vs. overseas

The Dow should stay above 10,000, although next year may bring a bit more volatility to daily trading, especially if Congress continues to wrestle with health-care reform and a financial industry regulatory bill.

Expect a big winner in stocks to be emerging markets — a sector that's up about 75 percent this year as growth in Asia and other overseas markets beats results in the United States.

Investors may want to wait for a pullback in overseas stocks and mutual funds before jumping in and buying at this point, but demographic trends look solid, Augustine said.

"There are 7 billion people on the planet today, and one of every six people lives in Asia and is between the ages of 18 and 34. Compare that to the 78 million baby boomers here. About 95 percent of the world's consumers are outside the USA," he said.

Large-cap U.S. companies that export goods are another category likely to show gains as they take advantage of growth abroad and more middle-class consumers in emerging nations. "We're pushing between 25 percent and 30 percent of our equity portfo-lios overseas right now, seeking growth," Augustine said.

Unemployment, interest

Next year, expect 10 percent unemployment to linger amid increasing pressure on the federal government to fix it with corporate tax credits to boost hiring, or the government may decide to hire directly on its own.

(2 of 2)

Extended Tax Credit for HomeBuyers and HomeownersRetailers close out best month in year

Millions of Americans may have to repay tax credit

WASHINGTON — More than 15 million taxpayers may owe the government $250 or more because of how the IRS last spring set up President Barack Obama's tax break that was designed to help consumers spend the U.S. economy out of recession.
Individuals with more than one job and married couples in which both spouses work may have to repay the government $400, either through a smaller tax refund or a larger tax bill, according to a report released Monday by the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration. Social Security recipients who also earn taxable wages may have to repay $250.

The tax credit, which is supposed to pay individuals up to $400 and couples up to $800, was Obama's signature tax break in the massive stimulus package enacted in February. The credit has increased weekly paychecks for 95 percent of working families, giving them cash to help boost consumer spending during the worst economic recession in decades.

Workers concerned about whether they are withholding enough taxes can use a calculator on the IRS Web site to find the appropriate amount that should be withheld.

Taxpayers can adjust their withholding by filing a new W-4 form with their employer. But with only a month and a half remaining in the 2009 tax year, it's getting late to make adjustments.

Most workers started receiving the credit through small increases in their paychecks in April. The tax credit was made available through new tax withholding tables issued by the Internal Revenue Service.

The withholding tables, however, do not take into account several common categories of taxpayers. And that could force some people to repay what the government gave them.

For example, a worker with two jobs gets a $400 boost in pay at each job, for a total of $800. That worker, however, only is eligible for a maximum credit of $400, so the remaining $400 will have to be paid back at tax time — either through a smaller refund or a payment to the IRS.

The IRS recognized there could be a similar problem for married couples if both spouses work, so it adjusted the withholding tables. The fix, however, was imperfect.

(2 of 2)

Nashville home sales rise for first time in 3 yearsWashington Report: Extending the Credit

Monday, November 16, 2009

Health bill foes pursue economic study

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and an assortment of national business groups opposed to President Barack Obama's health-care reform efforts are collecting money to finance an economic study that could be used to portray the legislation as a job-killer and threat to the nation's economy, according to an e-mail solicitation from a top chamber official.
The e-mail, written by the chamber's senior health policy manager and obtained by The Washington Post , proposes spending $50,000 to hire a "respected economist" to study the impact that health-care legislation, which is expected to come to the Senate floor this week, would have on jobs and the economy.

Step two, according to the e-mail, appears to assume the outcome of the economic review: "The economist will then circulate a sign-on letter to hundreds of other economists saying that the bill will kill jobs and hurt the economy. We will then be able to use this open letter to produce advertisements, and as a powerful lobbying and grass-roots document."

James Gelfand, the e-mail's author, confirmed its authenticity in a brief telephone conversation Sunday evening. He said the campaign against Democratic health legislation would be launched only "if that's what it found," but he declined to comment further and referred questions to a chamber spokesman.

The behind-the-scenes effort by the business groups to influence the legislative debate is part of an intensifying series of attacks by the opponents of Democratic health-care plans.

Obama has said he wants a final bill on his desk by the end of the year, leaving opponents little time to raise new objections as the legislation marches forward.

The chamber and the White House have been at odds for months, with the group opposing Democratic efforts on both health legislation and climate change, two of Obama's priorities. Chamber officials have also charged the administration with pressuring some member companies to quit the group.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is expected to unveil by Tuesday a bill assembled from the several measures passed in Senate committees the past several months. A House measure passed by a slim margin.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Republican leader, on Sunday called for a delay in the Senate's consideration of the legislation. On Fox News Sunday , he said he and his 99 colleagues should have time to thoroughly review the massive bill.

Past studies questioned

The proposed economic study by the chamber is the latest example of attempts by advocates and opponents of health-care reform to influence the debate with economic studies. Foes have later questioned some such studies' authenticity.

In mid-October, as the Senate Finance Committee was drafting its health bill, the insurance industry released a study suggesting the bill would dramatically raise the cost of insurance.

Reform advocates said the study by America's Health Insurance Plans did not consider all of the relevant information.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the firm retained by AHIP, later said it had not considered some parts of the proposals that might affect the cost of insurance.

Extended Tax Credit for HomeBuyers and HomeownersHealth bill seeks early end-of-life decisions

Mommy bloggers criticized for being cozy with companies

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — On most days, Andrea Deckard can be found in her home office, digging through stacks of coupons and grocery receipts for money-saving tips and recipes that she can share with readers of her Mommy-Snacks blog.
That is, when the stay-at-home mom isn't being wined and dined by giant food companies.

Earlier this year, Frito-Lay flew her to Los Angeles to meet celebrities like model Brooke Burke and former Spice Girl Melanie Brown while pitching her on its latest snack ad campaign.

More recently, Nestle paid to put her and 16 other so-called "mommy bloggers" — and one daddy blogger — up at a posh Southern California hotel, treated them to a private show at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, and sent packages of frozen Omaha Steaks to their families while they were away learning all about the company's latest product lines.

In return, Deckard and her virtual sisterhood filed Twitter posts raving about Nestle's canned pumpkin, Wonka candy and Juicy Juice drinks.

"People have accused us of being corporate shills," said Deckard, a Monroe, Ohio, mother of three whose junkets have also included a free trip to Frito-Lay's Texas headquarters. Deckard, noting that she is up front with her readers about such trips, said they are educational for her and her fans, and "just fun."

Besides, she added, "it's not like I sold my soul for a chocolate bar."

Others aren't so sure. As food companies big and small scramble to woo parents-turned-bloggers, nutrition activists worry that the food industry is funding an advertising campaign for its products without consumers realizing it.

"This is very shrewd marketing," said Barbara Moore, chief executive of Shape Up America, an obesity-fighting nonprofit group. "The expectation that the industry players have is that people they are wining and dining will write about their products positively."

Free-flowing wine and buffet tables laden with crudites are now common features of a company-sponsored function for bloggers. Some companies are even offering free kitchen appliances, vacations, groceries and enough fruity snacks to feed a neighborhood worth of kids.

(2 of 2)

More stores accept food stampsExtended Tax Credit for HomeBuyers and Homeowners

Metro will tap Earth's crust to help keep homes comfy

Nashville has its share of temperature swings, with wintertime lows below freezing and summertime highs in the triple digits. But just beneath the Earth's surface, the temperature never changes, remaining an even 55 degrees.
The Metro Development and Housing Agency plans to tap into that steadiness. The public housing agency has received a $1.8 million federal stimulus grant to install geothermal units in two developments for the elderly and disabled, a project that could improve living conditions and cut heating costs by as much as 70 percent.

The grant is part of a nationwide study of geothermal technology by the Department of Energy.

"Residents are going to get a quality HVAC (heating, ventilation and cooling) system, which they hadn't had," said Phil Ryan, the agency's executive director. "And obviously this is going to reduce the carbon footprint, which has not just been MDHA management's goal but also one of Nashville's goals for some time."

The grant is part of a $338 million package of DOE awards made late last month to study geothermal energy. A total of 123 projects were funded, including a group of 37 projects that will look specifically at the best ways to heat and cool buildings using the natural temperature of the Earth's crust.

The project calls for MDHA to install geothermal heat pumps in 183 cottages for the elderly in the Gernert Studios and Edgefield Manor developments.

These cottages' current heating systems basically work by using electricity to heat electrical coils that raise the temperature. In January, this would require expending enough energy to bring the temperature up about 44 degrees from the average low air temperature of 28 degrees.

The geothermal heat pumps work by circulating water through pipe loops to a depth of more than 200 feet underground, where the temperature always hovers around 55 degrees, and back up to the surface. The water naturally heats the air around it, which means the system only has to expend enough energy to raise the temperature an additional 17 degrees to heat the room.

(2 of 2)

Real Estate Outlook: Case-Shiller IndexMiddle Tennessee business bankruptcies

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More stores accept food stamps

From dollar stores to drugstores, more shops than ever accept food stamps, a trend fueled by rising unemployment and other economic hardships that have increased the percentage of food sales tied to government assistance.
The diverse mix of retailers comes at a time when the number of people getting the food subsidy is the highest it's ever been, including many consumers on the program for the first time.

Boosted by stimulus funds, the amount of food stamp dollars pouring into Tennessee stores each month surged to nearly $160 million in September, up 60 percent over a year ago, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

Food stamp benefits "are a much more important part of the revenue of food stores now than in any time of the history of the program," according to Kevin Concannon, undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for food, nutrition and consumer services.

And in a time of a down economy, most stores don't want to give up that sort of market share, he said.

"A lot of people in the neighborhood asked us to accept them," said Yaseen Titi, an owner of the Sannabill Bakery, a small market and Middle Eastern bakery on East Thompson Lane. The shop opened in April and, driven by customer demand, began accepting food stamps a few months later.

Now, sales tied to food stamps make up about 40 percent of the business at the store where fresh-made pita bread is a specialty.

There were 1.17 million people in the state getting food stamps in September — a 22 percent increase from a year ago — with roughly one of every six Tennesseans now in the program.

Buying power draws shops

Half of all those getting food stamps are children, and about 40 percent of households on the program include a working adult, which underscores how the program acts as a safety net for many working families, too, and not just the unemployed, Concannon said.

(2 of 4)

Real Estate Outlook: Pending Sales RiseTennessee retailers link sales to charitable giving

Middle Tennessee business bankruptcies

Springfield, Mo. (Debtor's assets in Gallatin, Tenn.)

Assets: $3.56 million

Liabilities: $2.26 million

SOURCE: U.S. Bankruptcy Court

Investor Report: Investment Buying TipsMiddle Tennessee business bankruptcies

Nashville People in Business

Walter C. Miller received the Irving Waugh Award of Excellence from the Country Music Association. Miller was recognized for 40 years of work with the CMA Awards as producer, executive producer and now consulting producer.
Christopher Hammond is vice president for Gen Cap America Inc., a private equity firm. Hammond had been a principal with Calvert Street Capital Partners.

Health care

Dr. Mike Pagnani was elected to active membership in the Society of American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons. Pagnani is director of the Nashville Knee and Shoulder Center.


Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP announced the following attorneys made the Mid-South Super Lawyers 2009 list:

Stephen T. Braun, Michael D. Brent, Ann Peldo Cargile, J. Greer Cummings Jr., Joseph W. Gibbs, John B. Hardcastle Jr., E. Berry Holt III, Samuel D. Lipshie, Matthew C. Lonergan, William L. Norton III, Robert S. Patterson, David K. Taylor, J. Thomas Trent Jr., Thor Y. Urness, Richard E. Warren Jr. and Robert E. Wood.

Christopher C. Puri was named to the Mid-South Rising Stars 2009 list.

Gullet Sanford Robinson & Martin PLLC announced these attorneys on the Mid-South Super Lawyers 2009 list:

Rhea Bucy, bankruptcy and creditor/debtor rights

George Crawford Jr., business and corporate

Tom Forrester, bankruptcy and creditor/debtor rights

Wes Turner, real estate

Bass, Berry & Sims PLC announced:

R. Dale Grimes is North America regional vice chairman for the antitrust, competition and trade practices group for Lex Mundi. Grimes is part of Bass Berry & Sims' antitrust and trade practices group.

Angela Humphreys is North America regional vice chairwoman for the health-care industries practice group for Lex Mundi.

Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC announced the following new attorneys:

Caldwell G. Collins is an associate in the litigation department. Collins was a judicial clerk for U.S. Magistrate Judge Audrey G. Fleissig.

Nicole E. Jumper is an associate in the business technology and corporate/mergers and acquisitions groups. Jumper is a recent University of Tennessee College of Law graduate.

(2 of 3)

Nashville People in BusinessInvestor Report: Have We Finally Hit Bottom?

Ed Hardy's expertise led Great American Country to gains

Ed Hardy, president of the Great American Country TV Network, has done pretty well for himself for a longtime radio guy who jumped at the chance to run a TV operation.
Hardy has been at the helm of GAC, owned by publicly traded Scripps Networks Interactive, for five years. During that time, the feisty network has played catch-up with Nashville-based Country Music Television, its chief competitor in country music videos and related programming.

GAC has managed to double its number of cable subscribers to nearly 60 million viewers since Scripps assumed ownership, and its advertising revenues appear to be weathering the U.S. recession with some sales gains.

Operating from studios directly on Music Row at 49 Music Square W., GAC fittingly spent a six-figure sum turning a former music recording studio there into a modern TV studio and production facility. Hardy discussed the past five years and what's ahead with Tennessean Business Editor Randy McClain.

Your background was in radio before you joined GAC in 2004. What brought you to a TV job?

I had worked for Scripps in the radio business; they had radio stations for a number of years. And I was actually recruited by them to run a country music radio station in Portland, Ore., in 1984. I was with Scripps for almost 10 years, I guess.

Ken Lowe, who was head of the radio division at the time, is now the CEO of Scripps Networks Interactive. I had always kept in touch with him even after I had started my own radio group.

When they decided they were going to buy GAC, Great American Country TV, Ken and I talked. He said: "We don't have a lot of people with experience in the country music business … would you be interested coming in to help us in the transition?" I initially came on as a consultant, and then they offered me the job to become the president of the TV network.

It was a great fit for me because I was able to take all the experience that I had in country radio and put it to a new use.

(2 of 4)

Station Inn is out of place, but still at home, in GulchReal Estate Outlook: Case-Shiller Index

NBC sale to Comcast is TV sea change

NEW YORK — Eight decades after pioneering the concept of broadcasting, NBC is on the verge of a startling move that illustrates broadcast television's decline.
Cable TV operator Comcast Corp. is expected to buy a controlling stake in NBC Universal, perhaps as early as this week, bringing the network of Johnny Carson, Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Hope, Milton Berle and Tom Brokaw under the corporate control of the company that owns the Golf Channel and E! Entertainment Television.

"This is highly symbolic," said Tim Brooks, who worked at NBC for 20 years and now writes books on television history.

Starting today, Vivendi SA has an option to sell its 20 percent stake in NBC Universal. Majority owner General Electric Co. is expected to buy it and then sell a 51 percent stake of the entire NBC Universal unit to Comcast, which serves about a quarter of the nation's subscription TV households.

Broadcast people, the folks who remember when television was ABC, CBS, NBC and little else, used to look down upon cable.

The idea of broadcast TV was implied in the name; the networks tried to reach the broadest possible audience. For cable it's important to do something specific and do it well, and the audience doesn't need to be as large.

NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker recognizes this. Cable properties such as USA, SyFy, CNBC and The Weather Channel mean more to NBC Universal's bottom line than staggering NBC, fourth place in the ratings.

And those cable properties — more than the flagship "Peacock" network — were the draw for Comcast. By owning more content, Comcast hedges its bets as mainly a distributor of shows in case viewers ditch their cable TV subscriptions and migrate to the Internet, mobile devices or a platform that has yet to emerge.

In a sense, NBC would become a pioneer again, as it seeks to stay relevant amid intensifying audience fragmentation.

The beginnings

NBC was established as the nation's first radio network in 1926. Its parent company, the Radio Corporation of America, made radios and realized the best way to get people to buy them was to make sure there were interesting things to listen to.

(2 of 3)

Sell Short, Get $1,500 in Closing CostsAT&T launches Internet phone in Nashville area

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mortgage aid requests soar

PLANO, Texas — Shontaye Edwards spends her day in a gray cubicle at a Bank of America call center in this Dallas suburb. On the other end of the phone line are homeowners — tense, exasperated and looking for help.
They often call with questions about the Obama administration's plan to help borrowers modify their mortgages, but many simply don't qualify. They make too much money, or too little. They have too much debt. They don't actually live in the home.

"I do get attached at times," Edwards said during a momentary break in the office where she and about 350 colleagues sit under flat-screen displays showing how long callers have been kept on hold. "But at the same time ... we have to go by the procedures."

Since February, when President Barack Obama announced a lofty goal of limiting foreclosures by modifying up to 4 million loans over three years, the administration's program has been riddled with problems.

Banks couldn't hire and train employees fast enough to keep up with the crush of people who wanted to take advantage of the help. Documents were lost. The government kept changing the rules.

For the industry, the transformation has been tremendous.

Before the housing crisis, mortgage servicing companies had collections departments that mainly tried to wring payments from tardy borrowers. Now the same departments, augmented with thousands of new employees, are engaged in the far more complex task of figuring out whether millions of borrowers qualify for help.

Bank of America, which collects payments on more loans than any other mortgage company, has lagged its competitors in the percentage of troubled borrowers it has signed up.

The steady rise in unemployment has made the problem even worse. Bank of America is now getting about 100,000 calls a day from troubled homeowners, up from about 60,000 at the start of the year.

Government officials insist the program is on track. "We're reaching borrowers at a scale that has not been done by any other modification program," said Michael Barr, an assistant treasury secretary.

(2 of 4)

Investor Report: Fannie Mae’s PRPBank errors often cause mortgage aid rejections

Nashville People in Business

Mike Sontag is chair of the American Cancer Society's Nationwide Gift Planning Advisory Council. Sontag is a member at Bass Berry & Sims PLC in Nashville.
Jeff McCall is vice president of Ingram Content Group Inc.'s Ingram International and National Accounts. McCall started in 2002 as vice president of sales at Ingram Book Co.

Nashville home sales rise for first time in 3 yearsInternational Investors Like U.S. Real Estate, Shouldn’t You?

Business briefs: Reliant Bank provides ATMs at Sommet Center

Reliant Bank, in a bid to promote its expansion in Davidson County, has signed a multi-year agreement with the Nashville Predators hockey club to provide ATMs at Sommet Center.
Three of the machines will be located on the arena's main level, with a fourth targeted for use on the upper level, the bank said. The bank has nearly $400 million in assets. Sommet Center ATMs are its first off-site money machines.

"This gives us a way to get our name in front of 1.3 million attendees at Sommet Center events on an annual basis, including the Predators games, concerts and other attractions," said DeVan Ard, Reliant's president and CEO.


Bernard Madoff allegedly paid off workers

NEW YORK — Two former employees for Bernard Madoff programmed an old IBM computer to generate false records that concealed the crooked financier's massive Ponzi scheme and were given hush money when they threatened to stop lying, federal prosecutors said Friday.

Madoff gave orders to pay the pair "whatever they wanted to keep them happy," a criminal complaint said.

The computer programmers, Jerome O'Hara, of Malverne, N.Y., and George Perez, of East Brunswick, N.J., were arrested at dawn Friday at their homes on charges that included conspiracy and falsifying records.


People in BusinessPart 2: Steps to Building a Short Sale Business

Dollar General shares up in the first day of trading

Dollar General, the Goodlettsville-based discount retailer, went to market on Wall Street on Friday and saw its shares rise 8 percent in the first day of trading.
The stock, publicly traded for the first time in two years, closed on the New York Stock Exchange at $22.73 a share, up $1.73 on the day.

Still, that performance finished a distant second to a rival retail IPO, or initial public offering, of stock from teen retail chain rue21.

Its shares soared nearly 28 percent and closed at $24.30, up $5.30 per share on its first day out of the Wall Street gate.

"The retailers who've done successful IPOs all have had a bit of a recessionary angle," said Nick Einhorn, a research analyst at Renaissance Capital LLC, pointing to Dollar General and rue21.

The rue21 offering of about 6.77 million shares was priced at $19 to start.

Rue21 said it expects to receive net proceeds of about $29.2 million, which it will use to repay part of its borrowings as well as for working capital and other purposes. It has 502 stores in 43 states, and focuses on trendy apparel for teens at moderate prices.


Dollar General may go public next weekHome Buyer Tax Credit Extended, Expanded

Friday, November 13, 2009

GM's new Cruze, Regal models may make or break GM

DETROIT — Two General Motors cars due in showrooms next year must be hits to help the automaker turn around sales and pay back its big debt to U.S. taxpayers.
The Buick Regal midsize sedan and Chevrolet Cruze compact, both sold in key segments of the U.S. car market, face stiff competition and other obstacles to success.

GM rolled out the Regal on Thursday in Los Angeles, and it's counting on the sleek-looking sedan to claw out a new market for the once-stodgy Buick, now the official brand of bingo night at the senior center.

Buick has been absent from the tough midsize market since 2004, while the Cruze was recently put on hold because GM wasn't happy with how it drove.

Executives have high hopes that the Regal, much of it designed by GM's Opel engineers in Ruesselsheim, Germany, can help bring younger buyers to Buick, crucial to the brand's long-term growth. Currently the median age of a Buick customer is around 68, but GM is targeting new models for those in their 40s and 50s, said Craig Bierley, Buick's product marketing director.

"Clearly having a midsize entry is absolutely critical for us," Bierley said.

Buick sales this year are down 33 percent compared with last year, worse than the overall U.S. market, which is off 25 percent.

Midsize cars like Toyota's Camry, the perennial sales leader, are attractive to young families and baby boomers who are downsizing their vehicles. They typically can haul five people and have decent trunk space. Also, several entries get well over 30 mpg on the highway, making them the default buy for those who need space but are concerned about the return of $4-per-gallon gasoline.

This year, the midsize segment is the biggest part of the U.S. car market, making up 47 percent of sales. Camry dominates the segment with 294,000 sales.

GM has no margin for error with the Regal or any other new vehicle, said David Koehler, a clinical marketing professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"Their success in the future is riding on these new launches," he said.

(2 of 2)

Real Estate Outlook: Sales Stats and RatesNissan to offer commercial line in 2010

Obama calls for jobs forum next month

WASHINGTON — With economic and political concerns rising as the unemployment rate has broken double digits, President Barack Obama announced Thursday that he will hold a high-level forum at the White House next month to try to find new ways to reverse the job loss.
"Even though we've slowed the loss of jobs ... the economic growth that we've seen has not yet led to the job growth that we desperately need," Obama said.

"Given the magnitude of the economic turmoil that we've experienced, employers are reluctant to hire," he said. "Meanwhile, millions of Americans — our friends, our neighbors, our family members — are desperately searching for jobs. This is one of the great challenges that remain in our economy, a challenge that my administration is absolutely determined to meet."

Obama made the comments at the White House shortly before departing for a trip to Asia during which economic growth and job creation will be major issues, particularly with the Chinese. He said he would push Asian and Pacific countries to open their markets further to U.S. exports.

Unemployment nationwide spiked in October to 10.2 percent, the highest level in 26 years.

Next month, Obama said he would gather chief executives, small-business owners, economists, labor leaders and others to discuss ways to create jobs and grow the economy. He said he did not want to act rashly, particularly given the soaring budget deficit, but would be open to "any demonstrably good idea."

"We all know that there are limits to what government can and should do, even during such difficult times," Obama said. "But we have an obligation to consider every additional, responsible step that we can to encourage and accelerate job creation in this country."

Obama administration officials have stressed that the pace of job loss has slowed considerably since January, when the economy lost 741,000 jobs — the number of jobs lost last month was 190,000 — and job growth traditionally lags economic growth. That economic growth has returned, with the gross domestic product expanding at an annualized rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter of this year after four consecutive quarters of contraction.

Jobless claims fall

Earlier Thursday, the Labor Department reported that initial claims for unemployment benefits fell by 12,000 to 502,000 last week, continuing the trend of moderating job losses. But administration officials and Democratic lawmakers are increasingly concerned as unemployment continues growing heading into a mid-term election year in 2010. Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey were defeated in elections last week amid voter concern about the economy.

Congress recently approved additional unemployment benefits, particularly for those without jobs in hard-hit states, and extending and expanding a tax credit for the purchase of homes that many give credit for helping boost the real estate market. Obama made a point of signing the bill on Friday after the Labor Department reported the October unemployment rate.

Real Estate Outlook: Mixed SignalsJobless rate dips in most of Tennessee