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Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Feynman

As an ominous pool of crude oil slowly makes its way to the shores of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, word comes from Washington that President Obama has appointed a special blue-ribbon commission to conduct an official investigation of the gargantuan oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The president’s action elevates the sinking of BP’s deep-water rig to the status of a once-in-a-decade mega-disaster involving a major equipment malfunction. The blue-ribbon treatment previously was bestowed on the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown in 1979 and the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986. If this commission holds true to the pattern of the previous high-level panels, we can expect a basic ritual to unfold in coming months: A group of pedigreed eggheads (usually including a couple of Nobel laureates) and a few former government officials will conduct a series of public hearings that drill down to the brain-numbing technical minutiae of the disaster. After much cogitation, one of the panel members suddenly will identify a jaw-dropping instance of human error as the primary cause of the catastrophe. Such an epiphany occurred during the investigation of the Challenger disaster. After quietly sitting for weeks listening to officials from NASA claim they couldn’t have prevented the shuttle explosion, which killed seven astronauts, Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman calmly asked for a glass of ice water. As a roomful of astonished spectators watched, Dr. Feynman took a piece of the rubber O-ring gasket NASA used to seal the bottom of its booster rockets and dumped it into the ice water. Ten minutes later, he pulled the frozen gasket out of the water and snapped it in two with his thumb and forefinger. The O-rings were designed to prevent red-hot gases from escaping from the boosters and igniting the shuttle’s huge fuel tank. Unfortunately, they were not designed to function below freezing, and NASA—embarrassed by repeated launch delays—had permitted Challenger to launch on an unusually cold 31-degree day in Florida. Case closed. Based on what we have heard thus far, we suspect the blue-ribbon treatment of the big oil spill will produce similar results. An experimental rig drills more than a mile down into the Gulf of Mexico. It appears to have been equipped with a blowout prevention system that was never tested below a couple of hundred feet. Pressure simulation tests were fudged, etc.  When the inevitable moment of clarity arrives, it probably will bring to mind the title a famous blue-ribbon participant affixed to his memoirs: “Surely You’re Joking, Dr. Feynman.”


Galmont Picks Lexington for Test Center

Galmont Picks Lexington for Test Center

Galmont Consulting is partnering with the University of Kentucky (UK) in Lexington to create a new software testing center. Galmont will hire 90 new, full-time employees in Lexington and plans to form a partnership with the UK’s College of Engineering to hire and train computer science graduates. “Galmont Consulting will be an excellent addition to Lexington’s corporate landscape, bringing 90 new engineering jobs and a $1.3 million investment,” said Gov. Steve Beshear.  “These employment opportunities will also help open the door for our recent graduates from the University of Kentucky’s College of Engineering.  It’s a win-win for everyone.” The company plans to locate its new testing center within a 4,000 square-foot facility, located at 108 Esplanade, which offers room for growth.  The project represents a $1.3 million investment in the Commonwealth.  Average annual wages for the new employees will range from $44,000 to $46,000, exclusive of benefits.  Hiring is expected to begin this summer; all 90 employees will be in place within three years. “We are currently seeing a big swing back in the direction of companies trying to bring some of their outsourced testing activities back to the U.S.,” said Jeri Smith, president of Galmont Consulting.  “Lexington’s close proximity to our headquarters, as well as the volume of quality computer science graduates from the University of Kentucky and other area colleges, will help Galmont better serve our global clientele.” Headquartered in Chicago, IL Galmont Consulting provides software engineering and testing for a variety of clients, including many Fortune 500 companies in the insurance, healthcare and financial industries. “Once again, the brainpower at the University of Kentucky is attracting high-tech jobs to our city,” said Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry.  “This is more evidence that our economic development strategy, partnering with UK and the private sector and focusing on the horse, health care and high-tech sectors, is moving Lexington forward.  With today’s announcement and others, our partnership has now attracted over 2,400 jobs.” “Lexington is proud to welcome Galmont Consulting to our growing technology sector,” said Bob Quick, president and CEO of Commerce Lexington.  “Galmont has the potential to grow very quickly and create many high-paying jobs.  Galmont’s decision to invest in Lexington is a true testament to our quality of life, low cost of doing business, and strong private and public partnerships.” Conversations are ongoing between Galmont Consulting and the UK College of Engineering to form a partnership that will help identify graduating computer science students that could work for the company, testing and delivering software to its global clientele.  A […]


Tissue Maker Invests $1B in Anderson County, SC

Tissue Maker Invests $1B in Anderson County, SC

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is announcing a $1-billion investment in Anderson County, SC by New York-based First Quality Enterprises Incs., a project that should create up to 1,200 jobs. The Great Neck, NY, company will expand operations at an existing Anderson County facility. First Quality, which makes of paper towels, toilet paper, diapers and feminine hygiene products would remodel an existing facility and add buildings, is privately held and has operations in New York, Pennsylvania, California and Georgia, according to Hoovers Inc. The First Quality manufacturing plant expansion has been dubbed “Project Big Water” by local officials in Anderson County, which has been hit hard by the recession, with unemployment rates topping out at 12.5 percent. First Quality filed a stormwater permit with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control last week. It is the only permit from First Quality filed with the agency and it is for construction purposes. Other permits would not be required until later, said Thom Berry, a spokesman with the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control.


CO Gov Orders CEDC to Prove Job Creation

CO Gov Orders CEDC to Prove Job Creation

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter issued an executive order this week directing state agencies to track job creation. The executive order requires the Colorado Economic Development Commission to include information about job-creation activities in its annual report to the state Legislature. Ritter’s order also instructs the commission to prepare a plan to track jobs created from grants, loans and tax credits provided by the commission. According to a report from Bloomberg BusinessWeek, lawmakers are skeptical of claims that Ritter has created thousands of jobs with his new energy economy programs. Lawmakers introduced at least three bills this year that would require proof that new jobs are being created. The bills included the New Energy Jobs Creation Act, the Green Jobs Colorado Training Pilot Program and another key bill, Requirements for Economic Incentives, which Republicans tried to amend to require the governor’s office to conduct a study “of all so-called green jobs” created through tax incentives. Ritter said at a speech last week in Washington, D.C., that his new energy economy is producing results, including 2,500 jobs from Denmark-based Vestas Wind Systems, which made Colorado its North American manufacturing hub, and 700 jobs from SMA Solar, which is opening a manufacturing plant in Colorado this summer, its first outside Germany.


TVA Transmitting 300 MW of Wind Power

TVA Transmitting 300 MW of Wind Power

The winds blowing across the Illinois plains are now powering clean, renewable energy into the Tennessee Valley Authority service region. On May 11, TVA began transmitting to its customers 300 megawatts of renewable wind power received from Iberdrola Renewables Inc.’s Streator Cayuga Ridge wind park in Livingston County, IL. This marks the first delivery under seven contracts TVA recently signed to purchase up to 1,380 megawatts of renewable wind energy from the Midwest. “Activation of this new wind-power source is an important milestone in our plans to expand TVA’s clean and renewable energy options,” said John Trawick, TVA senior vice president of Commercial Operations and Pricing. “We anticipate a long and productive working relationship with Iberdrola Renewables as we continue to grow our alternative energy portfolio.” The Iberdrola Renewables purchase agreement is the largest of TVA’s wind-power contracts, which altogether may provide enough electricity for about 325,000 average-size homes in the TVA service region. “Iberdrola Renewables will begin delivering power to TVA under our largest single power purchase agreement to date,” said Ralph Currey, CEO of Iberdrola Renewables. “TVA is an important new customer for us, and we look forward to supplying clean, renewable energy for years to come.” The next purchased wind addition to the TVA power grid will be 115 megawatts scheduled to arrive this fall from Horizon Wind Energy LLC’s Pioneer Prairie wind farm in Howard and Mitchell counties in Iowa. Because inconsistent and generally lower-speed winds in the Southeast make local wind-power projects less reliable and feasible than in other parts of the nation, TVA is contracting for electricity from wind-energy projects in regions such as the Midwest and Great Plains, where winds are generally stronger and more consistent. The contracts result from a request for proposals in December 2008 to purchase up to 2,000 megawatts of new renewable or clean energy for TVA’s generating system. TVA’s current renewable energy portfolio includes about 4,800 megawatts from hydro, wind, solar and methane sources. In addition, TVA’s nuclear plants contribute 6,900 megawatts of low-or-no-emission electricity to the power grid.


VA Region Gets $41.5 Million in Stimulus Bonds

VA Region Gets $41.5 Million in Stimulus Bonds

Prince George’s County in Virginia has been awarded $41.5 million in stimulus recovery bond financing for private economic development projects and is looking for private developers and bankers with projects in need of the funds. Part of the Recovery Zone Facility Bond program, the financing extends tax-exempt status to private development activities, targeting areas with declines in employment. The bonds aim to allow businesses to borrow at lower costs with fewer use restrictions. The Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp. will hold a pre-application information session for businesses interested in the tax-exempt bonds May 18.


Dubuque Wins Federal Economic Development Award

Dubuque Wins Federal Economic Development Award

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce John Fernandez presented city officials in Dubuque, IA today with the highest national award for economic development excellence. The Iowa city was awarded the 2009 Economic Development Administration’s Excellence in Economic Development in Historic Preservation-led Strategies citation for the redevelopment of the Roshek Building as a new home for IBM’s Global Information Technology Service Delivery Center. Mayor Roy Buol accepted the award in the lobby of the historic Roshek Building. The $100-million IBM project also received an Honorable Mention in Business Facilities’ 2009 Economic Development of the Year awards. The new IT center is expected to create up to 1,300 high-tech jobs by the end of 2010. It will generate an estimated $189 million in direct economic impact and more than $70 million in direct personal income (wages). “[IBM’s choice of Dubuque] is one more sign that people around the country are discovering what we have known all along—that with our highly skilled workforce, inviting business climate and quality of life, Iowa is a great place for business,” said Iowa Gov. John Culver. Working together, the Governor’s Office, the Iowa Department of Economic Development, the City of Dubuque, Dubuque Initiatives, and the Greater Dubuque Development Corp. reached an agreement with IBM on a 10-year lease to occupy the historic Roshek Building in downtown Dubuque. IBM plans to upgrade the building with energy-efficient technology to make it a green facility. “We selected Dubuque for our new delivery center based on several criteria, including strong positive public-partnership within the city, its competitive business model, and the talent and skills that Iowa has to offer,” said Mike Daniels, senior vice president, IBM Global Technology Services. According to Mayor Buol, Dubuque’s sustainability initiative played an important role in IBM’s selection of the Iowa site. “The adaptive reuse of a historic structure in the heart of our downtown illustrates our shared commitment to sustainable development, historic preservation and community revitalization,” Buol said. The IBM announcement followed the addition by Microsoft of a large server farm in West Des Moines and Google’s $600-million data center in Council Bluffs.


Pennies From Heaven

They’re cleaning up another mess on Wall Street today, but this time it’s not Goldman Sachs’ fault. The center of the financial universe served up another heart-attack special yesterday, but the usual suspects were blameless. That’s not to say that a Himalayan-sized mountain range of debt in Greece, Portugal and Spain is no longer casting a shadow over the global recovery. The Euro-contagion and its evil twin, the chronic (and still not cured) malady of synthetic collateralized debt obligations, still may kill the patient. But, for one day at least, the world was treated to a comedy of errors that had even the most jaded economists slapping their foreheads in amazement. Think Fellini meets the Marx Brothers (Groucho, not Karl). Here’s what apparently happened: At approximately 2:42 p.m. on Thursday, a trader manning one of the futures exchange desktops issued a sell order on a contract worth $16 million. Instead of hitting the “M” tab on his keyboard, the poor fellow—who forevermore will be known as “The Fat-Fingered Trader”—hit the “B” button. That’s B as in Billion. The overly computerized market reacted instantly. Within five minutes, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped nearly 1,000 points, wiping out more than 9 percent of equity, the equivalent of the combined GDPs of….well, Greece, Portugal and Spain. Some individual stocks went into jaw-dropping minute-by-minute gyrations: Boston Beer Co., parent of Sam Adams beer, lost 100 percent of its value. Also plunging all the way down to zero was Accenture PLC, formerly touted by Tiger Woods. Here’s our favorite: auction house Sotheby’s saw its shares inexplicably skyrocket to $100,000 a pop, the same price it reportedly was asking for an autographed Michael Jordan jersey on Thursday afternoon. The late Brewer-Patriot Sam Adams could not be reached for comment. Presumably he was pleased that beer-lovers were suddenly granted a revolutionary discount on his namesake. We have it on good authority that Woods interrupted his tee shot at the Players PGA tournament and declared “It wasn’t me!” Jordan is said to have grumbled that his jersey “is worth a lot more than 100 Gs, man.” Watching the turmoil on Wall Street during a live broadcast on MSNBC, TV trading guru and Vladimir Lenin doppleganger Jim Kramer started hyperventilating and screamed “Buy, Buy, Buy!” to anyone within shouting distance. Red-faced stock exchange managers wisely called a halt to the action at 2:47 p.m. When trading resumed a few minutes later, the meltdown was over and all of the affected stocks suddenly sprang back to their early-morning values. Perhaps […]


Phoenix Packaging to Open HQ in Virginia

Phoenix Packaging to Open HQ in Virginia

Phoenix Packaging Operations, LLC, a subsidiary of Phoenix Packaging Group, will invest more than $20 million to establish its first U.S. operation in Pulaski County, VA. The company will manufacture thermoformed rigid plastic packaging for customers in the U.S., and also establish its North American headquarters in Pulaski. The project will create 240 new jobs. Virginia successfully competed against Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. “This manufacturing and U.S. headquarters operation is tremendous news for the New River Valley and Virginia. Phoenix Packaging is an international company that produces the packaging for many major companies and household names. I applaud everyone involved in winning a highly competitive project that involves a significant investment and 240 new jobs for the Commonwealth,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said in announcing the project. Phoenix Packaging Group, is a family owned Latin American manufacturer of plastic packaging and food service disposable products, with sales in more than 30 countries. Customers include Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Keurig, Van Houtte, Agro-Farma, General Mills, Sturm Foods and Colgate, for products such as ice cream and other dairy products, margarine, desserts, and soaps, as well as single-serve products such as yogurt and coffee. “Phoenix Packaging chose the Commonwealth of Virginia to be the home of its U.S. operations after analyzing more than 40 possible locations in six states from the standpoint of geographical location, availability of qualified workforce, energy costs and state and local incentives, among others,” said Alberto Peisach, president and CEO, Phoenix Packaging Operations. “We found that state and local authorities in Virginia were seriously committed to helping new companies set up their manufacturing facilities and bring in high-paying jobs. The state government’s proactive attitude in finding ways to meet our needs, and their flexibility in creating a program to help us find and train the right workforce, was far more forward-thinking than any competing states. With three major higher education institutions in the area, and the government officials’ unwavering interest in creating jobs, Pulaski County was hard to beat.” The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Pulaski County and the New River Valley Economic Development Alliance to secure the project for Virginia. Gov. McDonnell approved an $850,000 grant from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund to assist Pulaski County with the project. The Virginia Department of Business Assistance will provide training assistance through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program. The company is eligible to receive rail access funding from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. The company also is eligible to participate in the Virginia Enterprise […]


O’Malley Named BIO Governor of the Year

O’Malley Named BIO Governor of the Year

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) announced its selection of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley as Governor of the Year this week in recognition of his leadership and support of the biosciences industry. Gov. O’Malley received the award during the Wednesday Keynote Luncheon at the 2010 BIO International Convention in Chicago, IL. “Governor O’Malley has done an exemplary job enhancing and expanding Maryland’s stature as one of the nation’s most vibrant biotech clusters. His funding and support of biotech tax credits is a model for federal legislation that supports critical early-stage capital formation. His leadership in this field will continue to benefit his state, in terms of jobs and innovation, for years to come,” said Jim Greenwood, President and CEO of BIO. “The Governor has done an exemplary job in expanding Maryland’s traditional role as a home to innovation,” said Renée M. Winsky, Chief Executive Officer of the Technology Council of Maryland.  “He has defined himself as a national leader in terms of building the framework for a business environment that is conducive to expansive and collaborative research institutions.  His leadership has led to significant growth of major research parks and attracted more than 50 bioscience companies in the last two years.” Governor O’Malley launched his Maryland BIO 2020 Initiative at the 2008 BIO International Convention in San Diego. The initiative pledges more than $1.3 billion in biotechnology investment over a ten year period. Highlights of the plan include the establishment of the Maryland Biotechnology Center, growing Maryland’s technology incubator network, increasing technology transfer, increasing intellectual property valuation and protection services, and funding increases for numerous biotech-related incentives and programs.