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February/March 2010 – Web Exclusive

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April 16-25 rebate dates

Save The Date for rebates

April could bring substantial rebates for Texans who replace certain older appliances with more energy-efficient models.

Texas has received more than $23 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to establish an Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program, the first of its kind in the state. The Comptroller’s State Energy Conservation Office will administer the program.

The mail-in rebates are for qualifying purchases made during April 16-25, 2010.

Participants must retire an older appliance to receive a mail-in rebate.

Refrigerators, freezers, clothes and dishwashers and water heaters are among the appliances eligible for a rebate. Texas is offering one of the nation’s largest selections of eligible appliances.

Consumers will be able to reserve rebates in advance. Specific instructions, likely including a toll-free number and online reservations, will be made available closer to the program’s launch date in April.

Sign up to receive up-to-date information on this program through the Comptroller’s Texas Powerful Smart site.

(Clint Shields)

Texas Hearts Small Business

Texas ranks third in the nation for friendliness toward small business, according to the Small Business Survival Index 2009. The state ranked seventh in 2008’s index and ninth in 2006.

Generated by the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council), the Small Business Survival Index rates a state’s friendliness to small business based on taxes, regulatory costs, government spending, property rights, health care and energy costs.

The Small Business Survival Index gets at the public policy costs and trends that affect — directly or indirectly — entrepreneurship and small businesses,” says SBE Council Chief Economist Raymond J. Keating, who also wrote the study.

Texas tied for first in the categories measuring state personal and corporate income tax rates and individual capital gains taxes (unsurprisingly, since the state has none of these taxes). The overall top spot in the index went to South Dakota, followed by Nevada. Wyoming and Washington rounded out the top five.

The SBE Council is a nonpartisan, nonprofit small-business advocacy group that works to protect small business and promote entrepreneurship.

(Tracey Lamphere)

Statewide Economy Firming

Activity in the retail, high-tech manufacturing and staffing services is on the rise, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’ “Beige Book” report, released Jan. 13.

The Beige Book, released eight times a year, provides anecdotal insight into regional economic conditions. Retail activity increased thanks to the 2009 holiday season, which looked to be “a reasonable one,” according to the report. Discount stores saw increased sales of electronics and household goods, and department store sales were better than expected.

High-tech manufacturing industry orders grew at a “moderate to strong” pace, fueled in part by increased demand for smart phones and laptops. Inventories remain very lean but at desired levels. The outlook forecasts continued moderate to strong growth over the next six months.

Automobile sales were seen as holding steady, with dealers saying the worst of the downturn has passed, but demand is expected to remain flat in the near term.

Not all areas were firming up. Loan demand continued to be soft, and is not expected to show significant improvement until late 2010. Imports have dropped and exports haven't picked up as expected, according to freight transportation firms. The report indicated that while conditions appeared to be improving in many sectors, improvement is expected to be modest in the short term.

Prices during the period remained subdued, the report states, with legal, staffing and accounting service firms noting pressure from clients to discount fees.

(Tracey Lamphere)

Universal City Goes Green

Universal City, a San Antonio suburb with about 18,600 residents, has become Texas’ first “Green Power Community” through a partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA’s Green Power Community program recognizes cities in which the local government, business and residents collectively buy green power in amounts that meet or exceed EPA’s Green Power Community purchase requirements.

Ten percent of the total electricity consumed in Universal City comes from wind energy. Universal City won its green designation by purchasing more than 3.6 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of wind-generated electricity annually from CPS Energy’s “Windtricity” program.

Several years ago, the city started looking to reduce its dependence on energy sources that affect the environment, says Universal City Mayor John Williams.

“When CPS Energy introduced its Windtricity program, the Universal City Council and staff eagerly embraced it and became a Windtricity partner,” Williams says.

Collaborating with CPS Energy, the city launched a campaign to educate residents and businesses on the benefits of Windtricity. Eventually, 255 residents and seven businesses signed up for the program.

“I’m overwhelmed with the community’s commitment to the purchase of renewable energy,” says Williams. “It took less than one year to fulfill the requirements to become a Green Power Community. It is impressive to know that so many people understand the need for clean energy and can come together so quickly to make it a reality.”

(Karen Hudgins)

John Williams
Universal City Mayor

Home Repair Help for Ike Victims

Galveston County homeowners whose homes were destroyed or damaged by 2008’s Hurricane Ike can apply for federal funds to rebuild through a nearly $100 million program.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is providing the funds through Community Development Block Grants to be administered by the Galveston County Housing Recovery Program. The funds will cover repairs, rehabilitation and new construction for low- and moderate-income homeowners as defined by HUD.

Hurricane Ike struck the Texas coast near Galveston Sept. 13, 2008, causing an estimated $13 billion in losses and resulting in about 815,000 insurance claims, according to the Texas Department of Insurance.

Galveston County has opened three intake centers in Bacliff, Galveston and Bolivar to help applicants apply for housing repair or rebuilding assistance. Information and applications are available online or by calling (877) 221-8215.

Residents of the city of Galveston can apply at the Galveston City Recovers site.

(Karen Hudgins)

Holiday Survey Results

For Fiscal Notes readers, the spirit of giving triumphed over economic worries last Christmas – but not by much!

In the December/January issue of FN, we asked you to fill out a quick online survey about your holiday spending. Sixty-eight of you responded, giving us a snapshot of how our readers managed their money during the biggest retail frenzy of the year.

Thirty-eight of the 68 who responded (nearly 56 percent) said they spent as much as or more than they did last year. Thirty spent less – or much less. Most who spent less cited the economy, limited funds and a desire to save money as their reasons.

The poll results also reflect the increasing popularity of online shopping, with 28 respondents (41 percent) making at least half of their Christmas purchases online. Six readers said they did 90 percent or more of their shopping online.

Unsurprisingly, many respondents used credit cards to make some holiday purchases. But more than three-quarters of those said they plan to pay the debt off immediately. And since charity begins at home, two-thirds of the respondents (46) said they took advantage of holiday sales or discounts to make non-gift purchases for themselves or their families.

As for the broader economy, views were modestly optimistic, with 27 (40 percent) seeing conditions as better than they were a year ago and 19 (28 percent) viewing them as worse.

(Bruce Wright)

All Grown Up

Four Texas suburbs are among the nation’s top nine high-growth areas,says the Little Rock, Ark.-based Gadberry Group, a provider of demographic and site location data. It ranked Atascocita and Katy, both near Houston, second and fifth respectively. Dallas-area suburbs Mansfield and Wylie ranked seventh and eighth.

The Gadberry Group uses census block groups to determine population growth. The areas include city limits and parts of the surrounding area. Katy, for instance, has a city population of about 14,000, but the area included in Gadberry’s report includes about 60,000 people.

The list as a whole showed an average household growth of 170 percent from 2000 to 2009, compared with the 2008 list average of 267 percent. Since 2000, the number of Atascocita households has risen by 108 percent, from 11,475 to 23,917, while its average household income has grown from $79,054 to $99,272. Hispanic households in the community represented the fastest-growing segment of its population, at 278 percent.

Katy has added 15,699 households since 2000.

Katy Mayor Don Elder Jr. credits the energy sector and the medical industry for spurring growth. In addition to Memorial Hermann and Christus St. Catherine’s, the city is adding the $220 million Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus and a $300 million Methodist Hospital this year.

“Businesses like this corridor,” Elder says of the city’s location on Interstate 10, 30 miles west of downtown Houston. “We’re still a community and people like that.

“Another thing that we have going for us is our schools,” he says. The 181-square-mile school district serves about 60,000 students and has earned a reputation as an academic and athletic powerhouse.

(Tracey Lamphere)

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