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Report: Toledo area most vulnerable to automation in employment [The Blade, Toledo, Ohio]

April 05– Apr. 5–It seems safe to predict tractor-trailers will continue hauling the country’s goods across interstate highways in the near future.

Trucking veteran Ed Nagle, however, goes a step further. Even as autonomous vehicle technology advances and shapes the future economy, he expects a human will occupy big-rig driver’s seats for at least a decade to come.

“I tell people, when you’re ready to send your family up in an airplane without a pilot, then people will start to look at the possibility of an 80,000-pound vehicle going down the road unmanned,” said Mr. Nagle, president and CEO at Nagle Companies of Walbridge. “I don’t think we’re going to see that any time soon.”

Automation has for years widely changed the workforce and economy. Companies pursuing efficiency and safety found machines increasingly viable in achieving these goals, often at detriment to workers who lose jobs and income in the process.

The next wave of automation is looming. A recent study predicts it will hit Toledo particularly hard.

The Brookings Institution ranked greater Toledo most vulnerable to automation’s employment effects among the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. While manufacturing and industry were traditionally upended by newer robotization and autonomous systems, Brookings found service-industry jobs, such as fast food work, truck driving, and stock clerking, will be most at risk.

“Automation substitutes for labor,” the report states. “This is the fundamental purpose of workplace technology. If a machine can do a task currently done by humans, it will do it with greater precision, speed, and at a lower cost.”

‘Future of jobs’

The report depicts a striking job outlook. It expects by 2030 that roughly 36 percent of employment nationally will face “medium” automation exposure.

Author Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings, said the so-called “future of jobs” began about 30 years ago. It effectively shifted workers from middle-income jobs like manufacturing to work of lower skill and income, he said.

“You’ve been hard hit. These trends are distinct and vivid, and troublesome for the region, but they’re not the end of the story,” Mr. Muro said.

When determining an occupation’s exposure risk, Mr. Muro and co-authors looked at the number of people employed in the region’s various jobs, considered each task that went into performing a given job, and determined whether an autonomous system or technology could complete those tasks.

By this measure, nearly half of all tasks in Toledo-area jobs are replaceable. Analysts did not calculate estimates on number of jobs themselves likely to be affected.

“This is a metric and a story that is particularly important in the Midwest, there’s no doubt about it, and particularly important for Toledo because of its manufacturing history,” Mr. Muro said.

As technology has become more affordable and capable, traditionally service-industry job tasks are increasingly automated, Mr. Muro said. Nearly 87 percent of tasks needed to prepare fast food, for example, are now replaceable, he said.

The region’s occupations with highest employment levels and most tasks at “high risk” of automation replacement are food preparation and service, waitstaff, truck driving, stocking and order filling, and packaging, according to the report.

The most popular occupations with tasks at “low risk” of such replacement are registered nursing, laborers and freight moving, janitorial and cleaning work, customer service, and general and operations managing.

Finally, the fastest-growing area of “low risk” jobs are personal care aides, petroleum engineers, meeting and event planners, community health workers, and marketing research and marketing specialists.

Workers with a bachelor’s degree are expected to fare much better in the more automated working world. The study suggests communities and employers embrace technology, promote continual education, enable smooth changes at work, and ease challenges for struggling employees.

Mr. Muro named as positives an ability to innovate and grow demand for products. Automation complements labor and also increases the value of each remaining human task.

“Much of what is going to be automated are things that are unpleasant parts of jobs, in theory, as these technologies can free up human power to do more interesting things,” Mr. Muro said.

Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said he believes the Brookings’ study omits two important points.

First, Toledo significantly diversified its economy in recent years. Health-care system ProMedica, for example, is by far the city’s largest employer, he said.

Second, Toledo has a history of embracing automation in a way that helped manufacturing employers succeed, as with Jeep production, he said.

While findings regarding service jobs are concerning, every city in this part of the country should have similar worry. It is not unique to Toledo, he said.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said trade skills development is important. As mayor, Mr. Kapszukiewicz advocates for the HOPE Toledo initiative to raise private funding for education goals.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz referred to the report as a snapshot, not a destiny. Seven years ago, Brookings could not have predicted ProMedica’s growth in Toledo, he said.

“The report speaks to the need for Toledo to be concerned about its future, and I get it. I’m concerned about our future,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “But what I choose to look at it is as a guidepost for the way we need to diversify what we do in this town, to make sure we’re ready to win the future.”

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles employed 2,289 people in 2010 and 6,802 in 2018 at its Toledo Assembly and Toledo Machining plants.

In a statement, company spokesman Jodi Tinson said automation has been part of FCA operations for decades, with both robots and humans playing an important role.

“Robots are often better-suited for jobs that require exacting precision or could compromise the safety of the operator,” she said. “On the other side, humans are equally as important in providing specialized skills that robots lack, like problem-solving, critical thinking, or complex dexterity.”

A driver’s seat and steering wheel

In addition to running a Walbridge-based trucking firm, Mr. Nagle advocates for state legislation in the trucking profession as well.

Truck manufacturers are still designing vehicles for 10 years from now with a driver’s seat and steering wheel, Mr. Nagle said. The industry may implement additional automation, or perhaps shift the driver’s role to more of an autopilot, but machines cannot yet resolve a number of issues, Mr. Nagle said.

He questioned their ability to navigate snow and freezing rain, or a deer suddenly jumping in front of the truck. Workers are still needed to back in the vehicle.

“There are so many holistic issues involved in the trucking industry that need to be considered, more than just the technical aspect of designing a truck that can drive itself,” Mr. Nagle said.

Dennis Earl, president of UAW Local 14, recalled there were about 4,500 hourly workers when he joined General Motors’ Toledo Transmission plant in 1984. That number is closer to 1,400 now, he said.

Outsourcing led to most of this reduction, but some of it resulted from automation, Mr. Earl said.

“Change is coming. We need to capture that, and be good stewards of that. We can’t just go, ‘I wish it were the past,’ ” Mr. Earl said.

For industries facing new automation exposure, Mr. Earl suggested a renewed focus on exceptional customer service and training. He expressed concern about the general future of work, as some will not be skilled to perform jobs such as servicing high-tech machines.

“How do we provide meaningful employment for people that want it, but aren’t capable?” he said.

In a company statement, spokesman Kevin Nadrowski said General Motor’s greatest asset is its people.

GM’s strategic use of automation in our manufacturing plants is primarily focused on supporting our operators in work assignments that have been identified as difficult, dirty, or dangerous,” it reads. “While there typically are efficiencies associated with the usage of automation, our primary focus is not to displace people.”

Kevin Garvey, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 75, sees rising technology and eCommerce as rapidly changing the grocery business. His group resents 32,000 workers, primarily in retail with some employed in packing and packaging.

Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods Market in 2017 spurred this transition. Changes include customers’ handheld scanners and increased online grocery orders. The latter of which bypasses traditional brick-and-mortar stores, Mr. Garvey said.

Kroger added the service to its Perrysburg store and others last year.

A benefit is these innovations present an opportunity to organize a new group of technical workers, Mr. Garvey said.

But the economy is based on continued consumption, which requires people having money to spend, Mr. Garvey said. It’s also a challenge for communities to retain a larger tax base with less service industry work, he said.

“My concern is, what are we going to do with the masses of people when these perceived entry-level positions are no longer there? It’s like finding someone who pumps your gas for you,” Mr. Garvey said, referring to full-service stations of the past.

At a recent OhioMeansJobs Lucas County job fair, applicants made their in-person pitch at various company stands. Adient, Courtyard by Marriott, FedEx, and Taco Bell were among those on site.

Bruce Fraser, a city leader for Taco Bell, said increased kiosk and mobile delivery technology brings the benefit of more access for customers.

Still, some patrons actually refuse to order by kiosk, mistakenly believing those machines take away jobs, Mr. Fraser said. In fact, the business invests more in labor to make food as a result of such automation, he said.

“People eat when they can, especially [with] busy schedules or if they have meetings,” Mr. Fraser said of changes over the years. “We offer delivery, and kiosks, and all these things to help support that and add that access for everybody so that it’s easier. But we’re not doing it by cutting hours.”

Lucas County stays on top of automation trends in preparing a workforce ready for anything, said Tonia Saunders, county Workforce Development Board executive director.

“One of the things that we really want to put in front of job seekers are career-path opportunities, and jobs that have living wages,” Ms. Saunders said.

Programs are also in place for daycare, transportation, mental health, and substance abuse, she said.

Kathryn Hopkins, a job fair attendee, said she believes automation will supplement — not replace — the office work she wishes to do, and even create new jobs she could possibly obtain.

“You’re going to need someone to fix that machine when it doesn’t work. You’re going to need someone to replace that machine when it does stop working,” she said.

First Published April 5, 2019, 8:00am

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(c)2019 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

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Keller Kissam: Dominion merger brings stability [The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, S.C.]

April 01– Apr. 1South Carolina Electric and Gas customers will officially become Dominion Energy customers April 15 in a changeover utility officials say will be seamless.

“We are trying as best as we can to make it as concise, consistent a changeover as we can,” Calhoun County native and Dominion Energy South Carolina President of Electric Operations Keller Kissam told The Times and Democrat.

Kissam — who is responsible for distribution operations, transmission operations and non-nuclear generations for Dominion — says there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes during the merger. He cited changing company logos and branding from SCE&G to Dominion, as well as having to remark all pipelines with the new company name.

“It takes a while to cycle through all of that,” said Kissam, formerly chief operating officer and president of generation, transmission and distribution for SCE&G.

Earlier this year, Dominion purchased SCANA, the parent company of SCE&G for about $14.6 billion. Dominion South Carolina is a business unit under Virginia-based Dominion Energy.

The combined company will deliver energy to approximately 6.5 million regulated customer accounts and have an electric generating portfolio of about 31,400 megawatts and 93,600 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines.

It also will have a natural gas pipeline network totaling 106,400 miles and operate one of the nation’s largest natural gas storage systems with 1 trillion cubic feet of capacity.

Kissam joined Dominion Energy South Carolina spokeswoman Rhonda Maree O’Banion as part of the company’s tour across Dominion’s service area in an effort to dispel confusion and uncertainty on the part of employees and customers about the impact of the merger.

“All of the stuff won’t happen overnight,” O’Banion said. “Some of it will be a very phased approach.”

Of particular note, O’Banion and Kissam said customers can expect to see visual changes from billing materials to Dominion Energy bucket trucks in their neighborhoods, but “the ease and accessibility of doing business transactions online won’t change.”

“They won’t have to learn new contact information or new phone numbers,” O’Banion said. “That will be seamless. If anything it will become easier and more user friendly.”

O’Banion and Kissam said they particularly want customers to know what to expect during the transition in light of frequent scams that can surround any such change.

“We need to keep our customers safe,” Kissam said. “Every employee will have a badge with their picture on it, their name on it. We encourage our customers to challenge those employees to give us proof.”

O’Banion encourages customers to ask for a photo identification of any individual presenting himself or herself as a Dominion employee.

O’Banion wants customers to beware of anyone saying power is about to be cut off if money is not sent to a particular number.

“That is not the way we do business,” she said.

The merger comes following SCE&G’s abandoning construction of new reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in the summer of 2017 after the bankruptcy of contractor Westinghouse.

SCANA and Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s state-owned utility, had spent about $9 billion on the project, which now is idle. Thousands lost their jobs in the failure, and state and federal authorities are investigating the matter.

In its initial proposal to purchase SCANA, Dominion said it would give a one-time $1,000 rebate to SCE&G customers as a cornerstone of the offer. The utility also planned rate cuts but said it would continue to charge customers for the failed nuclear project in Fairfield County over a 20-year period.

A public relations campaign by Dominion tried to sell the offer, but the General Assembly wanted rate cuts to eliminate ratepayers’ charges for the nuclear debt.

Dominion changed positions after legislative action was upheld as legal.

Eliminating the $1,000 rebate checks, Dominion instead agreed to a temporary 15 percent cut for all customers as set by legislators. The legislative action reduced the typical monthly bill about $22. Under the cash payment plan, customers’ monthly bills would have risen by more than $10 a month above the temporary rate.

The plan was approved by the Public Service Commission and the merger went forward.

“They got a lot of criticism for it,” Kissam said.

O’Banion said while there was some customer concern about Dominion’s change from rebate checks to rate cuts, call volume of complaints was a “small fraction” of the utility’s customer base. Kissam estimates the utility received about 30 complaint calls.

“It would not be anywhere near the top concern,” O’Banion said, explaining that Dominion has made an effort through media outreach to dispel the concerns. “People are understanding it better and that it is better for the long term.”

Dominion can ask for a rate increase for its base costs of generating and distributing power at the start of 2021. SCE&G customers haven’t seen the base costs for power increase since 2012, even though there were several rate hikes to pay for the failed nuclear plants.

Kissam said the change and transition have been challenging for both customers and employees.

He compared it to the movie “Jaws” where Roy Scheider first sees the shark come out of the water and turns to the ship’s captain Quint and says, “We are going to need a bigger boat.”

SCANA and SCE&G needed a bigger boat, he said.

“Everything is pointing in the right direction,” he said. “It is bittersweet. The average employee has been in our company for 19 years. Our employees have been through a heck of a roller coaster ride.”

“They invested in the company,” he said. “Look what our stock did. It got down to the 30s. You start to panic a little bit about that.”

“That is the greatest thing Dominion has brought and that is stability for our employees and an opportunity to move forward hopefully toward a brighter future,” Kissam said.

As the merger becomes official on April 15, Kissam says he is ready to move on.

“My sincere hope and prayer every day is that we go back to being a utility and provide safe, reliable and resilient energy,” Kissam said, adding he is ready for the utility to receive “no more headlines.”

“We want to finish up customer education and go about our business being that silent servant in our communities of electricity, gas and from a philanthropic standpoint.”

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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(c)2019 The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, S.C.)

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Despite rising gas prices, Americans planning to hit the road this summer [The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan.]

April 01– Apr. 1Gas prices keep on rising this spring, but many Americans aren’t letting that stop them from making plans for road trips this summer.

With gas prices last last week sitting at a national average of $2.67 a gallon, up about 50 cents from where they were a couple of months ago, 1 in 3 Americans are still planning to take vacations by car, van or motor home this summer, says AAA Kansas.

According to GasBuddy.com, Topeka’s prices for a gallon of unleaded fuel on Monday morning ranged from $2.43 to $2.55 a gallon, about 24 cents below the national average.

Gas prices are expected to continue to rise to a national average of around $2.75 a gallon before leveling off, AAA says. While higher than the sub-$2 a gallon prices many were paying just a few short weeks ago, the projected high price this summer still would be nearly 20 cents below last spring’s high of $2.92.

Cheaper crude oil prices have helped to keep pump prices lower this winter, said AAA spokeswoman Jeanette Casselano in a news release.

Most areas of the country aren’t expected to see prices in the $3-per-gallon range as they did in May 2018. However, motorists on the West Coast and in the Rockies region likely will see prices reach or exceeded $3 per gallon.

While the first few months of this year ushered in national gas price averages that were at times as much as 35-cents cheaper than a year ago, pump price since the middle of March have been mostly similar to prices at this time a year ago. The national gas price average late last week was four-cents more expensive than a year ago, according to AAA

“Historically, early spring triggers an increase in pump prices due to an increase in demand as Americans put the winter blues behind them and drive more,” Casselano said. “Another factor pumping up the price is the switch-over to summer-blend gasoline, which is more expensive for refiners to produce,”

Gas prices in Kansas and other Midwestern states have been significantly below the national average much of the past few months.

Kansas gas prices have registered 15 to 25 cents less than the national average throughout the spring, and that will most likely continue,” said AAA Kansas spokesman Shawn Steward. “Motorists in the Sunflower State often enjoy average gas prices that are in the top 10 cheapest in the country, allowing road trips that don’t break the bank.”

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EDITORIAL: Protect state’s coastline against drilling proposal [The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.]

March 28– Mar. 28–When considering a proposal for offshore drilling along the coasts of Washington and other states, the Trump administration should pay heed to the notion of state’s rights. It is, after all, a time-honored philosophy of Republicans.

But rather than risk the wrath of opponents, the administration is quietly trying to weaken a decades-old law that empowers states to slow or prevent drilling off their coasts. The U.S. Commerce Department is seeking to “streamline” a review process granted under the Coastal Zone Management Act, reducing the power of states to control what happens beyond their shores.

Last year, then-Interior Department head Ryan Zinke announced plans to sell leases allowing for drilling in federal waters along most of the U.S. coastline. This drew a sharp rebuke from Congressional representatives, governors and legislatures in most affected states, including Washington.

As Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a message echoed by others: “Offshore oil and gas development poses a direct threat to Washington state jobs in coastal communities. … The Washington coast economy relies on healthy, sustainable oceans which support fisheries, seafood processing, recreation, shipbuilding, trade, transportation, and tourism.”

Offshore drilling is regarded as anathema to most residents in the Pacific Northwest, which helps explain why the practice has not existed here since the 1960s. Opposition has been buoyed by the 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act, which gives states a voice when industry development affects their waters, even beyond the state’s 3-mile jurisdiction. The Los Angeles Times explains: “In practice, this means that activity in federal waters that would otherwise not be open to extensive public scrutiny can be subjected to hearings and local environmental impact assessments.”

Notably, part of the impetus for the law was a 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif. The spill, originating at an offshore drilling platform, released up to 100,000 barrels of crude oil and bespoiled the coast while devastating marine life. It remains the third-largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Under the law, states can demand modifications to development that could affect their coastlines. According to a 2016 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, states end up approving more than 90 percent of proposals following negotiations that avoid costly and time-consuming legal challenges.

Now the administration is attempting to undermine that power at the same time it is hoping the Senate approves the nomination of David Bernhardt — a former oil industry lobbyist — as secretary of the Interior.

Overall, the issue reveals the Trump administration’s priorities. As Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said last year, the action “demonstrates exactly what this administration stands for: Big Oil and the relentless pursuit of profit, no matter what it may mean for our environment, public health, economy, or the many, many people who want their pristine coasts preserved.”

That includes the people of Washington, who recognize that our coast is essential to the state’s culture and is more valuable than what might be lying beneath the Pacific Ocean. Selling drilling rights to private interests would undermine the shared stake we have in our coastal waters, and crippling the Coastal Zone Management Act would ignore the concept of state’s rights.

This Washington should demand better from the other Washington.

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California gas prices spike after refinery problems [San Francisco Chronicle]

March 28– Mar. 28–Gas prices in California and the Bay Area have jumped following the temporary shutdown of the Valero refinery in Benicia.

The average price of gas in California was $3.54 per gallon on Wednesday — nearly a dollar higher than the national average of $2.67 per gallon, according to AAA. California gas prices saw a weekly increase of 17 cents a gallon.

The Valero refinery was temporarily shut down Sunday after an issue at the refinery caused the release of particles of petroleum coke, a byproduct of the oil-refining process.

That shutdown, along with problems at a Phillips 66 refinery in Carson (Los Angeles County), have caused gas prices in the state to spike, according to AAA Northern California spokesman Michael Blasky.

“The reason prices jump so quickly when one or two refineries have issues is California has more environmental regulations on fuel,” Blasky said. Gasoline in California has to get extra refining to meet extra environmental and quality regulations, but that means the state cannot easily import fuel when its refineries have problems.

Prices in the city of San Francisco averaged $3.79 per gallon Wednesday, according to AAA.

A fire broke out this month at a crude processing unit of the Phillips 66 Los Angeles Refinery in Carson, according to Phillips 66 spokesman Dennis Nuss. The unit remains shut while the company investigates and makes repairs, but the rest of the Carson and nearby Wilmington facilities are operating.

“We do not want to speculate on how long the crude unit will be down or what impact this would have on the market; however, we are working to ensure that we will meet our contractual supply obligations,” Nuss said.

Valero referred a request for comment to a notification it provided to the city of Benicia on Tuesday. The statement cited, in part, a problem with a flue gas scrubber on Saturday, which led to emissions of small particles and carbon monoxide. As the problem worsened, Valero decided to shut down the refinery’s processing units.

“When you have an unexpected refinery outage, it is cause for concern,” said Dan McTeague, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com. “It’s not so much that prices have gone up or will go up, it’s a question of how long they’ll be offline, and we have kind of an indefinite time.”

AAA has estimated that the refinery issues would cause a price increase of 15 to 25 cents per gallon in California.

“Because our market is so constrained and so isolated … as soon as you see reports of a production slowdown, that affects wholesale prices almost overnight,” Blasky said.

Gas prices are also rising nationally, as is typical during the lead-up to the summer travel season. But this week’s price spike in California is “definitely” related to the refineries’ production problems, Blasky said. Hawaii usually has higher gas prices than California, he added — but that’s not true this week.

The Valero refinery also had issues with a unit called the Fluid Coker on March 11, which led to dark plumes being emitted from the refinery.

Benicia residents weren’t satisfied with Valero’s response to the problem.

“There’s been a lot of talk on various social media sites and a lot of disappointment in the community about being exposed, and continuing the question of why did it take so long to shut the refinery down?” Mayor Elizabeth Patterson said. “The question seems simple on the face, that you had this emission going on for almost two weeks. … It wasn’t until it got worse during the weekend that it got shut down.”

Andrés Soto, a Benicia resident and the Richmond community organizer for Communities for a Better Environment, said he could see black smoke from the refinery for about a week before it was shut down, adding that Valero did not respond quickly enough.

“I am not aware of any safe levels of breathing in pet (petroleum) coke. I would challenge the refinery plant manager in that trail of steam and pet coke to take a deep breath and say he feels good,” Soto said. “The history of this refinery’s treatment of the people of Benicia is to keep them uninformed for as long as possible and then to tell them they know best, because, after all, they’re a ‘gold star refiner,’ which is what they always try to hide behind. But they definitely waited too long to notify people of the real risks.”

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued 12 violations to Valero in the past week for visible emissions and public nuisance. Eight were issued before Valero shut down the refinery, and four were issued after, according to agency public information officer Ralph Borrmann.

Sophia Kunthara is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: sophia.kunthara@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @SophiaKunthara

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Trying to Build a Successful Small Business? Look Past Niches and Fill Gaps Instead

Filling gaps as a business growth strategy

Like the countless number of stars in the night sky or grains of sand on a beach, there are an infinite number of ways to build a small business. The challenge for you, the entrepreneur, is to identify the strategy that best fits your personality and company and follow it through to a successful conclusion.

One of the most popular and well-known strategies, of course, is to find an unfilled niche in the marketplace and make it your specialty. Many a well-known entrepreneur has followed this path to profits and success. It’s not the only strategy out there. Today, we’re going to look at another strategy you may want to pursue.

Even the best and brightest entrepreneurs seldom achieve success all on their own. Somewhere along the line they had some kind of help or a business partnership that enabled them to overcome a difficult challenge or allowed them to make a breakthrough. Every company, no matter the size, has a gap they need assistance with in filling. One way to guide your small business to ultimate success is to identify that gap, make a partnership and contract to fill it.

Bill Gates is certainly one of the most successful small business entrepreneurs of all time. His company, Microsoft, has products found on virtually every computer and electronic device in the world. But as big as the company is today, it started quite small. What started it on the road to its current level of dominance is the strategy it used to get going. Gates didn’t start out with Windows 10 or MS Office. No, he started by filling larger organizations’ gaps. Gates built relationships with these larger computing companies, learned they had areas where they needed help, gained their trust and provided a valued service and expertise. In Gates’ particular case, it was providing software for computing giant IBM.

At the time, IBM was THE world’s computing giant. There was IBM, and then there was everyone else. To think that IBM had any kind of computing or programming need that they couldn’t fill on their own seemed laughable. Yet Gates took the chance, asked the questions and built the crucial trust-based relationships that enabled him and his fledgling Microsoft to be the company, would fill the gaps in IBM’s personal computer business. Without taking advantage of that opportunity and those relationships, the world of computing might look far different today.  

To achieve success, then, is to constantly be thinking of partnerships. Think of partnerships not that can just benefit you, but of partnerships where both sides can aid one another. Yes, Gates received valuable work, contacts and references he later turned into a multi-billion-dollar corporation. But Gates also learned things from IBM and, in turn, IBM learned some things from him. Their partnership was a two-way street. When you have a relationship and a partnership like that, no gap is too large to overcome. 

AG’s office can proceed with lawsuit against gas drillers [Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, Pa.]

March 26– Mar. 26–The state Attorney General’s office can proceed with a lawsuit filed on behalf of landowners it alleges were cheated out of royalties by two natural gras drillers, a state appeals court ruled.

In a 6-1 ruling, the state Commonwealth Court upheld a judge’s ruling that denied motions filed by Chesapeake Energy Inc. and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. that sought to dismiss the case. The court did dismiss one of two counts that sought damages for violations of antitrust laws.

The lawsuit, filed in Bradford County Court in 2015, alleges Chesapeake and Anadarko violated Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law by engaging in various unlawful conduct, including misrepresenting how much money landowners would receive for allowing the companies to extract natural gas beneath their properties through Marcellus Shale drilling.

The suit also alleges the companies violated antitrust laws by agreeing not to compete against each other, which reduced competition and allowed them to keep royalty payments artificially low.

The attorney general’s office was prompted to act after receiving complaints from landowners who say the companies improperly deducted post-production costs from their royalty checks. The fees were so high that landowners sometimes received nothing.

Attorneys for Chesapeake and Anadarko argued the unfair trade practices claim should be dismissed because the law protects only consumers who purchase goods. The landowners in essence sell the natural gas extracted from their properties to the companies, therefore the law does not apply to firms, they said.

Bradford County Senior Judge Kenneth D. Brown rejected the claims in 2017, finding that the law protects any type of trade or commerce, not just the purchase of goods.

The majority of the Commonwealth Court affirmed the ruling, finding that lease agreements fall under the trade and commerce protections of the unfair trade practices law.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Anne E. Covey said the majority’s ruling misconstrues the definition of trade and commerce in a manner that’s inconsistent with the legislature’s intent, which is to protect consumers.

“The majority holds that … a consumer protection statute intended to bolster consumers’ bargaining powers, can authorize legal action against a purchaser,” Covey said.

The majority opinion does overturn a portion of Brown’s ruling regarding the antitrust allegations. It dismissed one count that alleged the companies engaged in “market sharing agreements” to reduce competition, finding that type of activity is not covered under existing law. It let stand a claim the companies violated antitrust laws by engaging in unfair or deceptive practices, however.

Gordon Pennoyer, spokesman for Chesapeake, said it intends to ask the state Supreme Court to hear an appeal of the ruling.

Pennoyer noted Chesapeake has reached settlements resolving the “vast majority” of lawsuits landowners filed against it regarding royalty disputes. The attorney general’s case has interfered with those settlements, he said.

“Chesapeake will continue to pursue resolution of this matter with the attorney general so that our royalty owners can enjoy the benefits of those settlements and choose their royalty formula going forward,” he said in an email.

Attempts to reach John Christiansen, spokesman for Anadarko, were unsuccessful.

Contact the writer: tbesecker@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9137; @tmbeseckerTT on Twitter

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Gas prices on the rise [The Cullman Times, Ala.]

March 26– Mar. 26–Higher gas prices are settling in for spring break week, along with another round of work along Interstate 65.

And near the end of summer, the new Alabama gas tax hike will pile on for the ride.

The average price of a gallon of gasoline in Alabama is $2.36 per gallon, which is up nearly 6 cents from last week and 23 cents from last month. The average price per gallon in Cullman County was $2.39.

Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, said the higher price is directly linked to higher oil prices and refinery efforts to produce cleaner, more expensive gasoline.

GasBuddy price reports show the cheapest station in Alabama was priced at $2.10 per gallon Monday, while the most expensive was $2.78/, a difference of 68 cents per gallon. The cheapest price in the entire country Monday $1.12 per gallon, with the most expensive standing at $5.04.

The national average price of gasoline has risen 6.5 cents per gallon in the last week, averaging $2.62 per gallon. The national average is up 22.2 cents per gallon from a month ago, yet stands 2.1 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.

Alabama’s gas tax hike begins Sept. 1, which will tack on an additional 6 cents. Whether gas prices will decline or continue to rise is uncertain. The tax will reach 10 cents in two years.

Revenue from the tax will go primarily to road and bridge projects. Each 1 cent increase is estimated to be worth $32 million in new revenue, with the complete 10-cent increase expected to raise more than $300 million.

“Excess inventory of winter gasoline paved the way for deep discounts in some states after the holidays, and now with the transition to cleaner, more expensive summer gasoline underway, supply has tightened, and those previous deep discounts have vaporized,” DeHaan said. “The news doesn’t get much better either: motorists can expect the jumps at the pump to continue into April, and perhaps even lasting up to Memorial Day, when the transition to summer gasoline and refinery maintenance have generally wrapped up.”

OPEC countries along with Russia have continued to limit output in an effort to boost prices, which have recently risen to a four-month high, just shy of $59 per barrel. Ongoing turmoil in Venezuela is also playing a role in rising oil prices, thanks to a near country-wide electricity outage that curbed the country’s ability to export crude oil, according to GasBuddy.

With prices ticking up, motorists will also see a new round of work along Interstate 65 this week.

The Alabama Department of Transportation reported there will be nighttime, single-lane closures on Interstate 65 northbound north of Exit 291 (Alabama 91 near Colony) in Cullman County beginning about 6 p.m. Wednesday for concrete placement.

Also, on Thursday, the contractor will be repairing asphalt between the Blount County line and Exit 305 (County Road 222 in Good Hope). Motorists can expect single-lane closures northbound and southbound during the day.

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(c)2019 The Cullman Times (Cullman, Ala.)

Visit The Cullman Times (Cullman, Ala.) at www.cullmantimes.com

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Routine agenda for county [The Woodward News, Okla.]

March 23– Mar. 23–Woodward County Commissioners weekly meeting is scheduled for Monday at 10 a.m.

The short 16 item agenda includes monthly jail reports, transferring funds, financing quotes and opening of a sealed bid.

Commissioners will consider the county cash fund estimate of needs and request for appropriations for March.

Monthly reports for the months of December 2018, January and February 2019 will be considered for the county jail. Commissioners will discuss possibly transferring funds to sheriff’s accounts.

Financing quotes for two trucks from Brunker’s Truck Sales Inc. off of state contract for District 2 will be considered.

Due to non-usage, commissioners will also discuss possibly removing the pay phone from the front lobby of the courthouse.

A sealed six month bid for gyp rock will be opened.

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(c)2019 The Woodward News (Woodward, Okla.)

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GM to invest $300M, add 400 jobs to create new electric vehicle at Michigan plant [MLive.com, Walker, Mich.]

March 22– Mar. 22ORION TOWNSHIP, Mich. — General Motors will invest $300 million in its Orion Township assembly plant, a move that will create 400 new jobs in suburban Detroit.

The decision announced by the auto manufacturer on Friday was made to produce a new Chevrolet electric vehicle designed and engineered off an advanced version of the existing Chevrolet Bolt EV already produced at the plant.

“We are excited to bring these jobs and this investment to the U.S.,” said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra during an announcement at the plant with employees, elected officials and community leaders.

“This new Chevrolet electric vehicle is another positive step toward our commitment to an all-electric future. GM will continue to invest in our U.S. operations where we see opportunities for growth.”

Initially slated to be produced outside the United States, GM pivoted and brought production of the new vehicle to Michigan because the Orion plant currently builds the Bolt EV.

Moving production to a U.S. manufacturing plant also supports the rules of origin provisions in the proposed United States, Mexico and Canada Agreement, according to a news release.

It’s the latest commitment GM has made in Michigan. GM is in the process of adding 1,000 jobs at the Flint Truck Assembly Plant and new investments at the Lansing Delta Township Assembly Plant and Romulus Propulsion Plant.

It also recently revealed the all-new Cadillac CT5 to be produced at the Lansing Grand River Assembly Plant.

In addition to the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the Orion Assembly plant currently builds the Chevrolet Sonic and the Cruise AV test vehicles.

It currently employs about 880 hourly and 130 salaried employees. Including the new investment, GM has invested nearly $1 billion at Orion Assembly since 2009, according to the company.

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(c)2019 MLive.com, Walker, Mich.

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