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VOL. 10 | NO. 7 | Saturday, March 01, 2014

Daily Digest

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CloseTrak Expanding, Adding Attorneys

CloseTrak LLC, a provider of real estate title and closing services, is in expansion mode.

Attorneys Robin Hogue-Hughes, Kevin Hudson and Stephen Johnson recently joined CloseTrak. The additions come as the Bartlett-based closing and title company expands into East Memphis and Collierville.

CloseTrak is opening its newly renovated offices at Ridgeway Center, 5860 Ridgeway Center Parkway in East Memphis. CloseTrak also recently opened a satellite office in the Law Offices of Mitzi Johnson, at 185 N. Main St., suite 102, in Collierville.

To provide a wider range of services to CloseTrak’s clients, Hudson and Greg Ziskind have formed Hudson Ziskind PLLC, which will also be located in the Ridgeway Center. Hudson Ziskind PLLC will focus on commercial transactions, commercial litigation, construction litigation, landlord-tenant law, probate and estate planning and counseling lenders on structuring secured loan transactions.

Sissy’s Log Cabin to Open in Laurelwood

Arkansas-based retailer Sissy’s Log Cabin is coming to Laurelwood Shopping Center.

The store will move into newly created space between James Davis and Talbots Petites. It will offer custom jewelry design, onsite designer watch and jewelry repair, diamond jewelry, engagement and bridal rings, designer lines and a space designed exclusively for Rolex.

Since 1970, Sissy’s Log Cabin has been a family-owned and operated jewelry store in Arkansas.

Construction will start immediately and the new store should open by late summer.

UTHSC Dean Published in Biomedical Journal

Bernd Meibohm, associate dean for research and graduate programs and professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, had the findings of his latest research published in the February issue of biomedical sciences journal Nature Medicine.

The article, titled “Spectinamides: a new class of semisynthetic antituberculosis agents that overcome native drug efflux,” discussed significant breakthroughs in tuberculosis research.

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that, if not treated properly, can be fatal. Globally, at least one person is infected with TB each second, and someone dies of TB disease every 20 seconds. Approximately one-third of the world’s population is infected with TB, and TB bacteria can become resistant to the medicines used to treat the disease.

The research is a collaborative effort of Meibohm’s research team and investigators Richard Lee of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Anne Lenaerts of Colorado State University and Dr. Erik Böttger of the University of Zurich.

30-Year Mortgage Rate Up to 4.37 Percent

Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages rose for a third straight week as new data showed a surprisingly strong pace of new-home sales last month. Rates still remain near historically low levels.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate for the 30-year loan increased to 4.37 percent from 4.33 percent last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage rose to 3.39 percent from 3.35 percent.

A report Wednesday from the Commerce Department boosted expectations that the spring home buying season will be solid enough to lift the overall economy.

Sales of new homes rebounded in January to the fastest rate in more than five years. The strength in purchases followed a slowdown that had been linked to higher mortgage rates and severe winter weather.

Mortgage rates have risen about a full percentage point since hitting record lows roughly a year ago. The increase was driven by speculation that the Federal Reserve would reduce its $85 billion-a-month bond purchases. Deeming the economy to be gaining strength, the Fed proceeded last month with planned reductions of its bond purchases, which have helped keep long-term interest rates low.

Applications for Jobless Benefits Rise to 348,000

The number of people applying for U.S. unemployment benefits rose 14,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, though the broader trend in applications remained stable.

But the four-week average was unchanged at 338,250, the Labor Department said Thursday. Applications are a rough proxy for layoffs. The average is not far above pre-recession levels, a sign companies are laying off few workers.

Economists said that winter storms two weeks ago may have caused some people to delay submitting their applications until last week, temporarily boosting the figures.

“Other evidence continues to point clearly to reasonably robust labor demand so we very much doubt the underlying trend in claims is picking up,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note to clients.

Applications have been mostly steady in recent weeks, even though hiring faltered in January and February. That suggests employers may be reluctant to add many jobs, but they aren’t worried enough about future growth to step up layoffs.

Nearly 3.5 million people received unemployment aid in the week ending Feb. 8, the latest data available. That’s about 25,000 fewer than the previous week.

Harsh winter weather has chilled hiring in recent months. Employers added just 113,000 jobs in January. That followed a gain of only 75,000 in December. Those figures are about half the monthly pace of the past two years.

Integrity Oncology Receives Recognition

Integrity Oncology Foundation, a part of Baptist Medical Group and a major player in the Baptist Cancer Center, has been recognized by the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative Certification Program, an affiliate of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

The QOPI Certification Program provides a three-year certification for outpatient hematology-oncology practices that meet the highest standards for quality cancer care.

According to Dr. Stephen B. Edge, director of the Baptist Cancer Center, certification by the ASCO QOPI program is a key component in helping to assure high-quality cancer care. Edge added that this national program, first proposed by Dr. Joseph Simone, who later became Baptist’s first Cancer Center director, sets high standards for demonstrating and maintaining quality.

Tenn. Bill to Protect Outdoorsmen From Drones

A proposal that would prohibit the use of drones to conduct video surveillance of outdoorsmen in Tennessee without their permission has passed the Senate.

The measure, sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville, was unanimously approved 31-0 on Thursday.

Bell says his legislation would be added to the state’s current law that protects hunters or fisherman from harassment. He said the law should be updated as technology changes.

The companion bill is scheduled to be heard next Tuesday in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Last year, the Tennessee General Assembly passed and the governor signed a measure to ban most warrantless surveillance by unmanned drones in Tennessee.

Tenn. Rep. Mike Turner Won’t Seek Re-Election

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner says he will not seek re-election.

Turner told members of the House of Representatives on Thursday that he will retire at the end of the year after serving 14 years in District 51, which covers the areas of Old Hickory, Madison, east Nashville, downtown Nashville and Germantown.

Turner has served as caucus chairman since 2009.

Last month, Democratic State Rep. Charles Curtiss stepped down after serving for 19 years. Curtiss announced in October that he wouldn’t run again for his District 43 seat that includes Grundy, Warren and White counties.

Paragon Wants Switch to State Charter

Paragon National Bank has taken the initial steps toward switching from being a nationally chartered bank to one with a state charter.

A change to a state charter would have no effect on Paragon customers or day-to-day operations, according to the bank. Paragon CEO Robert Shaw suggested it’s more about preferring a different regulator.

In a statement released about the move, Shaw explained that a state charter gives Paragon two advantages – a regulator based in Tennessee “who fully understands our market,” and “a level playing field with our peer institutions, virtually all of whom are state-chartered.”

Paragon also has announced its intent to form a holding company to own the bank. The official name of the holding company will be Paragon Financial Solutions, and will be regulated by the Federal Reserve. The holding company’s only investment would be Paragon National Bank, and it would have the same board members as that of Paragon National Bank.

IMC Cos. Expands Mid-Atlantic Footprint

Memphis-based IMC Cos. has acquired the marine drayage division of Norfolk, Va.-based D.D. Jones Transfer and Warehouse Co.

D.D. Jones is a family of distinct logistics companies serving the Norfolk port community and shippers in the larger Mid-Atlantic region since 1928. The company provides distribution, warehousing, trucking and transportation, and specializes in serving high-volume shippers.

As part of the acquisition, IMC will add 50 drivers and equipment from D.D. Jones, including 31 trucks and 27 trailers.

The transportation and logistics operation, team members and equipment from D.D. Jones will be folded into the current operation of Norfolk-based Atlantic Intermodal Services, a member of the IMC Cos. family of brands.

Mark George, chairman of IMC Cos., said the addition of D.D. Jones would help IMC strengthen its position in the region.

“This acquisition was highly strategic in nature,” said George.

St. Jude Awarded Grant for Autoimmune Work

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has been awarded $393,750 in grant funding to aid work related to autoimmune and inflammatory conditions.

The grant comes through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

For more than 60 years, NAID research has led to new therapies, vaccines, diagnostic tests and other technologies that have improved the health of people in the United States and around the world.

Hackett to Address Fundraising Professionals

The Association of Fundraising Professionals will host its monthly luncheon meeting Tuesday, March 6, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Children’s Museum of Memphis, 2525 Central Ave.

Dick Hackett, CEO of the Children’s Museum and former mayor of Memphis, will be the featured speaker. Hackett will present “Success Breeds Success,” highlighting how leaders across all sectors of the economy can work together to improve the community and its institutions and organizations.

The event is open to both AFP members and nonmembers. Cost is $20 for members and $25 for nonmembers. Visit afpmemphis.org to register.

Fairview Middle School Renamed

Fairview Middle School will be renamed Maxine Smith STEAM Academy when it debuts in August as an optional school.

Shelby County Schools board members unanimously approved the name change Tuesday, Feb. 25, in honor of the late Memphis City Schools board member, NAACP executive secretary and civil rights icon.

The school at Central Avenue and East Parkway is to become an optional school with a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics – or STEAM – curriculum.

Baptist Recognized for Sales, Customer Service

Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., and Stephanie Clark, Baptist’s system director of customer experience, each won third place in the eighth annual Stevie Awards for Sales and Customer Service.

Baptist earned its award in the Customer Service Innovations category. Clark won her award in the Customer Service Leader of the Year category.

More than 1,500 nominations from organizations of all sizes and in virtually every industry were evaluated in this year’s competition, an increase of 36 percent from a year ago.

Tennessee Bar Releases Handbook for Seniors

The Tennessee Bar Association has released a handbook to help the state’s senior citizens better understand things like federal and state benefits and new health care laws.

The Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors was released on Monday and is available for free downloading at the bar association website. Printed and electronic copies on flash drives also are available from the bar association while supplies last.

Some of the specific issues addressed by the handbook include applying for benefits, understanding tax and housing laws, protecting pensions and retirement accounts, preparing wills and powers of attorney, and selecting assisted living facilities or home health care providers.

The bar association is offering presentations on the handbook across the state. More information is available at tba.org.

US Bank Earnings Rise 17 Percent

U.S. banks’ earnings rose 17 percent in the October-December quarter from a year earlier, as losses on loans fell to a seven-year low and banks set aside less to cover losses as well as legal costs.

The data provides fresh evidence of the banking industry’s sustained recovery more than five years after the financial crisis struck. Still, the government says banks continue to have difficulty increasing revenues, and are relying on setting aside less for loan losses to boost earnings.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reported Wednesday that the banking industry earned $40.3 billion in the final quarter of 2013, up from $34.4 billion in the same period in 2012.

For all of 2013, bank earnings increased 9.6 percent to what the agency calls a record annual level of $154.7 billion. It exceeded the previous record earnings of $145.2 billion in 2006.

The number of banks on the FDIC’s “problem” list fell to 467 in the final quarter of 2013 from 515 in the third quarter.

Banks’ losses on loans dropped 36.7 percent to $11.7 billion, the lowest level for a fourth quarter since 2006, the FDIC said. The largest decline came in home mortgages, which posted a 57.7 percent drop in losses.

FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg said the latest results showed “a continuation of the recovery in the banking industry.” At the same time, he said, the industry still faces challenges including only modest growth in lending, narrow profit margins and a decline in mortgage refinancing business as long-term interest rates have risen.

Commission Defeats Residency Referendum

A proposed August referendum for dropping residency requirements for county government jobs and Shelby County Schools jobs was voted down by the Shelby County Commission Monday, Feb. 24, on the first of three readings.

The proposal by Commissioner Terry Roland would put to voters the idea of dropping any residency requirement in the county charter. The requirement covers not only Shelby County government employees but Shelby County Schools employees. It became an issue during last year’s schools merger because Memphis City Schools did not have a similar residency requirement.

Under recent commission rules, if an ordinance fails on first and/or second reading it still advances to third reading.

In other action Monday, the commission approved a resolution urging the Shelby County Schools board to re-evaluate any school closings plan that includes Westhaven Elementary in Southwest Memphis.

Clothes Mentor Sets Opening Date

Clothes Mentor will open a Cordova location at the Commons at Dexter Lake March 20.

The women’s resale store chain based in Minnesota, which also has stores in Nashville and Clarksville, is leasing 5,000 square feet at 1717 N. Germantown Parkway, suite 101.

Clothes Mentor offers women’s apparel, shoes, purses and accessories for as much as 70 percent below store prices. The store began buying women’s gently used and new clothes Jan. 20.

Clothes Mentor will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Consumer Confidence Dips Slightly in February

U.S. consumer confidence fell slightly in February over concerns about the near-term outlook for business conditions and jobs.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its confidence index dipped to 78.1 this month, down from 79.4 in January.

“Consumers believe the economy has improved, but they do not foresee it gaining considerable momentum in the months ahead,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board.

Consumer sentiment is closely watched for indications about how it will impact consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.

Views about current conditions increased for the fourth consecutive month and now stand at the highest level in almost six years. But the index that tracks consumer expectations dipped slightly, pulling the overall reading down.

Amna Asaf, an economist at Capital Economics, said the small decline in February likely reflected the bad weather that much of the country has had to endure this winter. She said it also could have been a delayed reaction to the tumble the stock market took in January. But with the stock market now rebounding, she predicted confidence will rise as well.

“The improving fundamentals suggest that a rebound (in confidence) is just around the corner,” she said.

Tucker Tapped to Lead Economic Club

The Economic Club of Memphis has a new executive director.

Laurie Tucker, former senior vice president of marketing for FedEx Services, has been tapped by the club’s board and started Feb. 27.

Tucker at FedEx led rebranding initiatives and critical go-to-market strategies including “positioning the company as a powerhouse in e-commerce through automation and online solutions,” according to the club.

She also serves on the board for Iron Mountain Inc., the University of Memphis board of visitors, the Fogelman College of Business and Economics executive advisory board and the Blues Foundation. She also has co-founded Calade Partners, a strategy and marketing consultancy.

St. George’s Moves Toward Service Goal

Past the halfway mark for the current school year, St. George’s Independent School students, their families and the school’s staff continue toward a goal of 1 million service minutes this school year.

The effort began in August during the school’s in-service faculty training day, when faculty and staff joined fourth and ninth graders in their annual work packing meals for the needy.

Outreach International received the more than 20,000 meals for distribution.

St. George’s does not have a community service requirement for graduation. School leaders say it’s designed to put an emphasis on meaningful contributions instead of hours toward a goal.

Trustee Not Accepting American Express

The Shelby County Trustee isn’t accepting payments this tax season made with American Express.

Because of ongoing negotiations between a third-party vendor and American Express, the trustee’s office said it isn’t yet able to process property tax payments using American Express. The reason the trustee’s office is spreading this news is that 2013 tax bills and brochures indicated the office would be able to accept American Express in anticipation of an agreement being signed.

In a statement, county trustee David Lenoir said, “We regret the confusion and inconvenience for Shelby County taxpayers who had planned to make their payments using American Express and have learned they cannot. We made a mistake and I’m sorry. We anticipate having an agreement with American Express in the future but don’t have a firm date at this time.”

Taxpayers can make payments using Visa, Discover and MasterCard credit cards, as well as paper checks, e-checks and cash.

MLGW Board Offers Streetlight Fee Changes

The Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division board is sending to the Memphis City Council a new rate structure for streetlight service fees that would keep apartment and residential non-apartment rates the same, while setting a new single rate for commercial properties large and small.

The existing rates distinguish between small and large commercial properties based on their frontage. The rate for small commercial properties is $6.48 a month, and for large it is $19.07 a month.

The utility board proposed setting a single commercial rate of $8.65 a month while keeping the apartment unit rate at $1.08 a month and the residential non-apartment rate at $4.32.

The recommendation goes to the council next month for approval.

The rate change was prompted by calls by some council members for exemptions in areas that don’t have streetlights and for planned unit developments that pay for their own streetlights. Other council members said the purpose of the fees is to pay for streetlights used by citizens no matter where they might live. They argued there should be no exemptions.

The rates must generate $12.9 million in revenue to pay the cost of the equipment and the electricity used.

Nonprofit Excellence Conference Set for May 1

The ninth annual Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence conference will be held Thursday, May 1, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Temple Israel, 1375 E. Massey Road.

The keynote speaker for this year’s event, themed “The Dynamic Power of Networks,” will be Anasuya Sengupta, vice president of grantmaking at the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco.

Early bird registration (by April 1) is $99 for members. After April 1, members pay $120. Nonmembers and walk-up registrants pay $160. College students with valid ID cost $50.

For more information, call 684-6605 or email info@npexcellence.org.

Memphis Makes Final Health Enrollment Push

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. is turning to soul music, a network of churches and staff at local emergency rooms to urge more African-Americans to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

March 31 is the last day of open enrollment for getting Obamacare for 2014. Wharton, speaking on a conference call arranged by the White House, said the city is making a coordinated final push to get people to enroll in a health plan before the deadline.

Pastors are talking to their congregations, and emergency room workers are telling uninsured patients about new insurance options. A new ad campaign featuring a reworked version of the Teddy Pendergrass soul hit “Come Go With Me” will urge people to get enrolled. Wharton says 88,000 Memphians lack insurance.

UTHSC Doctor Wins Grant for Diabetes Study

Dr. Karen C. Johnson, professor and interim chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Tennessee Science Health Center, has received $1.6 million to fund the observational phase of a national diabetes study.

The Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) Study, funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, began in 2001 to examine whether weight loss and increased physical activity would prevent cardiovascular events in those with type 2 diabetes.

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 55 55 13,385
MORTGAGES 73 73 17,422
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 32 32 3,423
BUILDING PERMITS 623 623 31,553
BANKRUPTCIES 66 66 12,761
BUSINESS LICENSES 11 11 4,608
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 153 153 19,610
MARRIAGE LICENSES 44 44 4,104

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