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VOL. 6 | NO. 35 | Saturday, August 24, 2013

Daily Digest

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Opera Memphis Opens Season With Free Shows

Opera Memphis is opening its 2013-2014 season with a month of free opera performances staged at various public venues around Memphis and Shelby County.

The free performances will be presented every day in September, and will lead up to the company’s season-opening production of Rigoletto on Oct. 3 and 5.

Ned Canty, general director of Opera Memphis, said more than $70,000 in national and local grant support helped finance the month of free performances, called 30 Days of Opera. Evolve Trust & Bank is the presenting sponsor for a second year.

“Along with other donor gifts, this funding has helped us reach a five-year high in total giving,” Canty said. “In a decade when opera companies in many other cities – Baltimore, Md.; Rochester, N.Y.; Santa Ana, Calif.; and Hartford, Conn. – have been forced to close, Opera Memphis is doing what Memphis musicians have always done: innovate.”

This season’s financial support is a result of the company’s work in seeking out and applying for grants from national organizations like OPERA America, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Getty Foundation and the Harnisch Foundation, as well as receiving local support from Watkins Uiberall and the Downtown Memphis Commission.

The full calendar will be available after Aug. 31 at www.operamemphis.org.

River Oaks Wine Program Wins Recognition

River Oaks restaurant has received an award for its wine program.

The Award of Excellence was presented to River Oaks in July and published in the August issue of Wine Spectator magazine. River Oaks’ wine list showcases more than 300 selections available by the bottle and more than 75 available by the glass, and it was one of only eight restaurants in Memphis to receive this 2013 restaurant award.

The magazine’s restaurant wine list awards recognize restaurants who offer an appealing and interesting selection of wines that are appropriate to their cuisine offerings.

Huckabee Raising Funds for Alexander Re-Election

Former Arkansas Gov. and Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has joined U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s campaign for re-election in 2014.

Huckabee, who carried Shelby County and Tennessee in the 2008 Republican presidential primary, sent a statewide fundraising letter this week on Alexander’s behalf. The appeal to Tennessee citizens compares Alexander to former President Ronald Reagan.

The Huckabee letter comes the same week that State Rep. Joe Carr announced he will challenge Alexander in the August 2014 Republican Senate primary.

US Unemployment Aid Applications on the Rise

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week after reaching the lowest level in 5.5 years. But the broader trend suggests companies are laying off fewer workers and could step up hiring in the months ahead.

The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for first-time benefits rose 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 336,000 in the week ending Aug. 17. That's up from 323,000 in the previous week, which was the lowest since Jan. 2008.

The four-week average, which smoothes week to week fluctuations, fell by 2,250 to 330,500. That's the sixth straight decline and the lowest for the average since November 2007.

At the depths of the recession in March 2009, applications numbered 670,000.

Applications for unemployment benefits generally reflect layoffs. The four-week average has fallen 5 percent in the past month. The drop suggests employers added nearly 200,000 jobs in August, an improvement from the 162,000 added in July.

The unemployment rate fell to a 4.5-year low of 7.4 percent last month, down from 7.6 percent in June. That's still well above the 5 percent to 6 percent range associated with a normal economy.

The drop in layoffs helps explain why job growth has increased this year to an average of 192,000 net jobs a month, even while overall economic growth has stayed sluggish.

Gauge of Economic Health Rose 0.6 Percent in July

A gauge of the U.S. economy's health rose in July, pointing to stronger growth in the second half of the year.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading indicators increased 0.6 percent last month to a reading of 96.0. The increase followed no change in June and a 0.2 percent increase in May.

The index from the business research group is comprised of several previously released data points and can signal economic conditions over the next three to six months.

The solid gain suggests economic growth is picking up after a weak start. The economy grew at an annual rate of 1.4 percent from January through June. Many economists expect growth could improve to a 2.5 percent rate in the second half of 2013.

The pace of growth measured by the index over the last six months has nearly doubled, "pointing to a gradually strengthening expansion through the end of the year," said Conference Board economist Ataman Ozyildirim.

Raymond James Renovating Office in Downtown Tower

Raymond James is renovating an office near the top of the skyscraper that’s a key fixture of the Downtown Memphis skyline.

The company, which had its real estate officials in town in recent days as it moves toward a decision on its Downtown lease that expires in two years, has pulled a permit for work that’s described as “renovation of office” on the 20th floor of the 21-story tower, according to The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com.

The dollar amount listed on the permit is $65,000. The contractor is listed as B&B Specialty Contractors Inc.

A Raymond James spokesman could not be reached for comment.

City Council Approves Civil Service Referendum

The Memphis City Council approved Tuesday, Aug. 20, a 2014 city referendum on a charter change that would change the city’s civil service board system.

Part of the proposal by council member Kemp Conrad is aimed at better staffing the review board, which decides employee appeals, to hear a current backlog of cases and resolve them more quickly. Under another change in the proposal, employees could be cited for – and appeal – performance issues, in addition to violations of policies.

The administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. withdrew its ordinance to create the position of “revenue manager” within the city’s division of finance as the council prepared to vote Tuesday on its third and final reading. Some on the council, as well as council attorney Allan Wade, questioned why the administration couldn’t simply create the position without council approval.

“I don’t think we ever saw Dick Hackett do this,” Wade said, referring to the former mayor.

Among other action, the council approved a Corrections Corp. of America residential re-entry center at 3420 Old Getwell Road at Holman Road.

It also approved the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division plan to have Brookfield Infrastructure Fund II manage $20 million for the utility’s retirement and pension fund.

And the council approved on third and final reading a long-delayed ordinance that prohibits city employees from pension “double dipping” by continuing to collect a city pension if they go back to the work for the city or another local government.

The council also approved the $30 million budget for the Main Street to Main Street Connector project that outlines how and when state, federal, local and private funding will be spent.

Biggers to Coordinate ‘Smart on Crime’ Plan

Assistant U.S. Attorney C. David Biggers Jr. will coordinate prevention and re-entry programs within the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton appointed Biggers Tuesday, Aug. 20, just a week after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder outlined initiatives that call on federal prosecutors to rethink the criminal charges they file against defendants, particularly in drug cases that have mandatory minimum sentences. Holder outlined the initiatives in a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual convention in San Francisco.

Each federal prosecutor’s office across the country will have its own plan and coordinator. Biggers is a career prosecutor who previously served as the U.S. Attorney’s office representative to the Drug Court program in Birmingham, Ala.

Shelby County Gets Head Start Grant

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen says Shelby County has been awarded a $3.6 million federal grant to support projects that get children ready to start school.

In a Tuesday news release, Cohen said the grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will support Head Start projects that promote school readiness of children from birth until the age of 5 by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development.

The grant completes the current year’s funding for a total of more than $23 million.

Head Start is a federal program that provides health, nutrition, social services and other services to needy children and their families.

Shelby County Head Start provides these services to more than 3,000 children.

Comptroller of Currency Ends Paragon Oversight

Paragon National Bank has shown enough progress to be able to end a special oversight arrangement the bank had with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

The agreement, which was dissolved Aug. 14, had been in place since September 2008.

Measures taken by the bank to address key items defined within the OCC agreement include, according to the bank, drastically reducing the level of problem assets, improving the concentration risk management program, developing procedures and policies to identify and control non-accruing loans, and maintaining an adequate allowance for losses.

Indie Memphis Presents Southern Circuit Film Tour

Indie Memphis is rounding out this year’s programming with the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers.

The series, sponsored by the Department of Communications at The University of Memphis, will present six independent feature and documentary films through April. Each will have the filmmaker in attendance for a post-screening conversation with the audience.

All screenings will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Malco’s Studio on the Square. Tickets are $8 each, with a $2 discount available for seniors. Admission is free for Indie Memphis members and for students with valid IDs.

Cannon Wright Blount Acquires Wormser Firm

Memphis-based accounting firm Cannon Wright Blount has acquired The Wormser Firm, effective Aug. 1.

All Wormser Firm employees have moved to Cannon Wright Blount’s office at 756 Ridge Lake Blvd. and will maintain their roles within the firm.

This is the fourth acquisition for Cannon Wright Blount since its founding in 1994.

US Home Sales Reach Highest Level Since 2009

For the first time since 2009, previously occupied U.S. homes are selling at a pace associated with a healthy market.

Sales jumped 6.5 percent in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.4 million, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday. Over the past 12 months, sales have surged 17.2 percent. The trend shows that housing remains a driving force for the economy even as mortgage rates have risen from record lows.

Buyers have been purchasing previously occupied homes at an annual pace above 5 million for three straight months. The last time that happened was in 2007. Sales are above the 3.45 million pace of July 2010, the low point after the housing bubble burst. Analysts think a healthy pace is roughly between 5 and 5.5 million.

Buyers last month weren’t dissuaded by higher long-term mortgage rates, which have jumped, on average, a full percentage point since early May.

Civil Rights Museum to Commemorate March

The National Civil Rights Museum is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington with a concert.

The museum says the free concert is scheduled to take place Aug. 28 at the museum’s outdoor courtyard.

The concert will include performances by “American Idol” contestants Alexis Grace, Keia Johnson and Trump Tight, who are from Memphis.

Representatives from the political, educational and religious communities also are expected to speak.

The museum says the concert is inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and the people who attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963.

Brookings’ ‘Welcome Home’ Show Planned for Aug. 31

The last time David Brookings played a show in Memphis, it was 2009, the same year he was working as a tour guide at Sun Studio.

That was also the same year late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs took a private tour of the studio and offered Brookings a job at iTunes. Now, four years later, Brookings will be back in Memphis this month and will play a show while he’s in town.

He will be at the Poplar Lounge Aug. 31 with special guests Chris Wilhite and Bryan Dease.

Brookings worked at Sun from 2003 to 2009. He moved to the San Francisco Bay area in the fall of 2009.

He still writes songs and has a sixth album due out in September.

Commission, Attorney Meet in Closed Session

Shelby County Commissioners met Monday, Aug. 19, in a closed-door executive session with attorney Lori Patterson, who, along with attorney Leo Bearman, represents the commission in the federal court lawsuit over the schools merger and the formation of suburban school districts.

Patterson would not comment after the hour-long session. Friday is the deadline set by U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays for all sides in the case to submit their positions on what is left for him to decide in the part of the case that deals with the suburban school districts.

The filings will determine whether all sides agree on whether to pursue a remaining claim involving the Tennessee Constitution and a federal claim in which the commission alleges the suburban school districts would violate the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause through a racial “resegregation” of public schools in Shelby County.

In other action, the commission approved a new 50-year lease with the Shelby County Health Care Corp. for the operation of The Regional Medical Center at Memphis, as well as a companion resolution authorizing up to $35 million in new market tax credit-based financing the corporation has worked out to fund renovation work on its facilities.

EmergeMemphis to Host HACKmemphis Event

An event for technologists, developers, makers, hackers and other members of the tech community is happening next month.

HACKmemphis 2013 will be Sept. 14 and 15. The goal is to bring together tech communities to develop hardware and software projects in Memphis.

The gathering will happen at EmergeMemphis, 516 Tennessee St. Visit www.hackmemphis.com for more information.

Tennessee Legislator to Challenge Alexander

Sen. Lamar Alexander’s efforts to ward off a primary challenge from the right fell short Tuesday with Tennessee state Rep. Joe Carr’s announcement that he will mount a tea party challenge for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.

Carr, a Murfreesboro business consultant, told WTN-FM host Ralph Bristol that he decided to abandon his challenge to embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais to instead take on Alexander because he considers the senator “the most liberal member of the delegation from Tennessee.”

DesJarlais, a Jasper physician, is considered vulnerable because of revelations of past infidelities with patients and once having encouraged his wife and a lover to seek abortions.

In response to the switch to campaign against Alexander, Carr’s top campaign strategists, Chip Saltsman, resigned.

“It is because of Lamar Alexander that people like you have the honor of serving in the majority of the state legislature,” Saltsman said in his resignation letter to Carr.

Meanwhile, Alexander is one of Tennessee’s most seasoned politicians. He is a former two-term governor who twice ran for president, served as U.S. secretary of education and as president of the University of Tennessee.

He also had $3.1 million in the bank for his re-election effort through the first half of the year.

Carr said he expects it will take more than $5 million to defeat Alexander, including independent expenditures. He had about $275,000 on hand from his House race through the middle of the year.

Terminix Acquires Canadian Company

Memphis-based pest and termite control provider Terminix, a division of The ServiceMaster Co., has entered the Canadian pest control market by acquiring substantially all the assets of Toronto-based Magical Pest Control.

Terminix’s Toronto operations will provide commercial and residential pest control services under the Magical Pest Control name.

Terminix president Larry Pruitt said Magical’s focus on customer-centric service and innovation, as well as its commitment to team members, made for a perfect match as the company begins to establish the Terminix footprint in Canada.

Memphis Startups Join Statewide ‘Demo Day’

Four startups from Memphis will take part in Tennessee’s first-ever statewide “demo day,” being organized by LaunchTN on Aug. 27.

The four companies are Mobilizer, Screwpulp, Health & Bliss and View Medical. During the event in Nashville, 20 companies – all graduates from Tennessee’s nine startup accelerators – will make pitches, and 10 will go on to participate in The TENN, the state’s first master accelerator program, sponsored by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation.

After demo day, The TENN companies will leave for a statewide bus tour and will meet with leaders of Tennessee’s top corporations as well as leading angel and venture capital investors from the state. During the master accelerator program, the members of The TENN will fly to California and the East Coast to network with venture capitalists and angel investors.

State Tourism Chief Honored Nationally

Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker has been chosen 2013 State Tourism Director of the Year. The honor was expected to be announced Monday by the U.S. Travel Association’s National Council of State Tourism Directors at a luncheon in Richmond, Va.

The award is made annually to the state tourism director who contributes to successfully raising the profile of their state as a travel and tourism destination, selecting the individual exhibiting the most impressive achievements.

Whitaker was reappointed to her post at the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development by Gov. Bill Haslam in January 2011. She served in the same capacity through both terms of Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration.

Learning of the coming honor, entertainer Dolly Parton said Whitaker is one of the best friends Tennessee tourism has ever had.

RE/MAX Holdings Files IPO Plans

RE/MAX Holdings Inc. filed plans Monday to take the real estate brokerage firm public and raise up to $100 million.

The company, based in Denver, has not determined the timing, price or number of shares to be offered.

The maximum value of the offering was set for the purpose of calculating the registration fee.

It plans to list its stock on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “RMAX.”

RE/MAX, founded in 1973, is a franchisor of real estate brokerage services. It recruits agents and sell franchises and franchising rights to those who want to operate under the RE/MAX brand.

The company has more than 90,000 agents and 6,300 offices around the world but gets the bulk of its revenue from the U.S.

In 2012, the company reported net income of $18 million on revenue of $143.7 million.

RE/MAX said that it plans to use the proceeds from the offering to acquire two franchisees that it currently manages, which will give it back the regional RE/MAX franchise rights that those businesses hold in the Southwest and Central Atlantic regions of the U.S.

Morgan Stanley, BofA Merrill Lynch and J.P. Morgan will act as joint book-running managers for the offering.

Following the offering, shareholders will own all the Class A common stock in RE/MAX. Its existing owners, RIHI and private equity firm Weston Presidio, will hold all of its Class B stock.

Fire Museum to Update Programs, Exhibits

The Fire Museum of Memphis is launching a list of upgrades to its educational programs and fire prevention and life safety exhibits in celebration of the museum’s 15-year anniversary.

It’s a result of grants the museum has received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Plough Foundation.

The museum was awarded two grants by FEMA – one for $197,245 and one for $481,740, which is the third-largest FEMA fire prevention grant ever awarded to a museum – and a grant for $250,000 from the Plough Foundation.

The museum is using the money to update existing exhibits, including the Fire Safety House, the Maze, the Juvenile Fire Setter exhibit, the Smoke Detector and Carbon Monoxide Detector exhibit, the Family Meeting Place exhibit and the FedEx Fire Room.

The museum also plans to install several new exhibits and to enhance the fire safety and prevention education curriculum used at the museum and by firefighters visiting schools across the region.

PROPERTY SALES 68 162 2,781
MORTGAGES 60 97 1,880
BUILDING PERMITS 148 769 6,470
BANKRUPTCIES 61 172 1,149