Jobless Aid Applications Fall to Five-Year Low

The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits fell by 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 323,000, a five-year low. Layoffs have returned to pre-recession levels, a trend that could lead to more hiring.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average dropped 6,250 to 336,750. That’s the fewest since November 2007, one month before the Great Recession began.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Weekly applications have fallen about 9 percent since November and are now at a level consistent with a healthy economy. The last time weekly applications were lower was in January 2008, when they were 321,000.

Economists were largely encouraged by the decline.

“This is a very positive trend and we should embrace it,” Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets, said in an email to clients.

The job market has also improved over the past six months. Net job gains have averaged 208,000 a month from November through April. That’s up from only 138,000 a month in the previous six months.

Much of the job growth has come from fewer layoffs – not increased hiring. Layoffs fell in January to the lowest level on records dating back 12 years, though they have risen moderately since then. Overall hiring remains far below pre-recession levels and unemployment remains high at 7.5 percent.

Sculpture Returns to Civil Rights Museum

Five months after it was moved out of the National Civil Rights Museum, the 7,000-pound bronze sculpture that was once in the museum’s lobby is back in the museum as it is undergoing a major renovation.

The reinstallation of “Movement to Overcome” began Thursday, May 9, with sculptor Michael Pavlovsky along to watch the process of moving the work he created in 1991.

The entrance is among the areas of the museum that will change in the first major renovation of the facility since its opening in 1991.

The $27 million renovation will update technology in the museum and incorporate long-time exhibits with new areas that will add to the story of the civil rights movement.

The sculpture was moved to an undisclosed location in the city in December as the renovation work began.

The museum has remained open with visitors limited to the museum annex across Mulberry Street and some exhibits from the main museum building incorporated. Visitors have also had access to the balcony where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot during the renovation.

The museum was built on the site of the old Lorraine Motel where King was staying when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Retailers Report Modest Gains for April

Americans spent briskly during the early spring months in the latest sign that they’re encouraged by the economic recovery.

Falling gas prices, a rallying stock market and gains in the job market all fueled Americans’ shopping habits even as cold weather tempered their desire to buy spring fashions.

Revenue at stores open at least a year – an industry measure of a store’s health because it excludes results from stores recently opened and closed – rose 4.7 percent in April compared with the same month a year ago, according to a preliminary tally of 12 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers trade group.

That continues a trend that Americans started in early spring. In March, revenue rose 2.2 percent. And for the combined months of March and April, the figure rose 3.5 percent.

While big chains such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp and Macy’s Inc. don’t report monthly revenue, the stores that do offer economists a snapshot of consumer spending habits. In total, the retailers that report monthly data represent about 6 percent of the $2.4 trillion in U.S. retail industry sales.

Among the big winners for April were Ross Stores Inc. and TJX Cos., which operates TJ Maxx and Marshalls stores. Both companies benefited from Americans’ desire to buy brand-name fashions at discounted prices.

County Pension Fund Hits High Mark

The value of the pension fund that pays benefits to Shelby County retirees in March hit a five-year high.

The portfolio of the county’s retirement defined benefit plan stood at $1.01 billion in March. The last time the value was higher than that was in May 2008.

Also, the fund for each of the first three months of 2013 has surpassed the monthly values for each of the first three months in 2012.

The recent highs in the stock market – plus record-low interest rates – explain the fund’s recent performance. In a low interest rate environment, stocks tend to look more attractive to investors, and they push the market higher.

Bank of Bartlett Continues Profitable Streak

Bank of Bartlett in the first three months of 2013 enjoyed its seventh straight profitable quarter.

The bank’s pre-tax net income in the first quarter was $618,204. For the quarter ended March 31, the bank saw a 39 percent drop in interest expense to $333,690, and a 9 percent decrease in non-interest expense of $3.3 million.

Mortgage-related revenue for the quarter grew to $748,041, an 86 percent increase over the same quarter in 2012.

Bank of Bartlett President Harold Byrd said the bank’s positive earnings reflect the long-term strategic plan the bank put in place several years ago.

Pair of Health Groups Team Up for Happy Hour

Healthy Habits is partnering with Get Fresh Memphis to host a “healthy happy hour” at 732 E. Brookhaven Circle later this month.

The event, which will be from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. May 22, is called Fit and Fresh and will invite current Healthy Habits and Get Fresh Memphis clients, media and other health-conscious Memphians to enjoy samples of popular Get Fresh Memphis menu items, sip on complimentary wine and tour the Healthy Habits personal training studio.

Attendees will be eligible for special offers from both companies the night of the event.

Healthy Habits provides customized fitness and weight-loss programs in a private environment with certified personal trainers. Get Fresh Memphis offers nutritious vegetarian and vegan meals for people on the go.

Council OKs Apartments, Golf Driving Range

Memphis City Council members approved Tuesday, May 7, a golf driving range on Summer Avenue north of Sycamore View Road, a 240-unit apartment complex on 19.3 acres at Lenow and Dexter roads and a 69-unit apartment complex on the northern side of Shelby Farms Park to the west of Germantown Parkway.

The council also approved a women’s resource center by Neighborhood Christian Center at 3028 Carnes Avenue.

Passing on the first of three readings were ordinance proposals to set the city property tax rate and the operating budget that amounted to fill-in-the-blank resolutions at this point. The council’s budget committee continued to hold hearings on the budget earlier Tuesday.

Also approved on the first of three readings was an ordinance by council member Kemp Conrad to eliminate pension “double dipping.”

The proposal specifically bans city employees who retire and get a city government pension from being rehired by city government and then getting paid for their work as well as continuing to receive their pension payments.

Conrad’s proposal would also require that retired city employees who go to work for any other local government entity would have their pension payment from the city reduced by whatever amount they made when working for the other government entity.

The council also reconsidered its rejection last month of $99,312 for sewer repairs at the Cedar Creek Sewer Extension in an area of Shelby County that is in the Memphis annexation reserve area. City Council attorney Allan Wade advised the council that there could be legal complications if it didn’t approve the item.

With the reconsideration the council approved the sewer extension.

Outside Group Sends Warning to the Fed

The Federal Advisory Council, a group of bankers that includes First Horizon National Corp. chairman and CEO Bryan Jordan and which advises the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, is concerned about several specific areas of the economy.

According to the Bloomberg news service, which obtained some of the group’s recent meeting minutes, the council has warned of a bubble being inflated by farmland prices as well as its concern over growth in student loan debt.

Jordan is the top executive at the Memphis-based parent company of First Tennessee Bank. The council, made up of 12 bankers, meets quarterly to advise the central bank.

In the council’s Feb. 3 meeting, according to Bloomberg, the council said that a run-up in student loan debt has parallels to the housing crisis.

MAAR Reports April Home Sales for Metro Area

The local residential real estate market continues to show signs of improvement, according to recent sales figures.

Memphis-area home sales for April rose 18.3 percent compared to April 2012, with 1,386 total sales recorded by the Memphis Area Association of Realtors.

Sales increased 19 percent from March and the average sales price rose 5.8 percent to $135,104 from last April.

MAAR also reported a 20.6 percent increase in year-to-year sales volume, with sales through April hitting $612.3 million, up from $507.6 million through April 2012. Sales volume in April totaled $187.3 million, up 25 percent from $149.7 million in April 2012.

Dunavant Logistics Group Opens Southwestern Office

Memphis-based Dunavant Logistics Group said it has hired Jim Lange to run a new Phoenix office as director of business development.

Lange will be responsible for expanding all of the company’s shipping and supply chain management activities throughout the Southwest, California and Pacific Northwest.

He will focus on the growing international demand for agricultural commodities. Lange said expanding consumer markets in Asia and the Middle East have led to a boom in demand for U.S. agricultural exports.

ServiceMaster Clean Expands to N.Y., Atlanta

The ServiceMaster Clean division of Memphis-based ServiceMaster Co. has expanded into Atlanta and Syracuse, N.Y., with new franchise agreements announced this week.

The Atlanta territory becomes a third for the existing franchise group ServiceMaster Facilities Maintenance. And the Syracuse territory is a new ServiceMaster Janitorial territory.

Commission Votes Down Grant Funding

The Shelby County Commission voted down Monday, May 6, a $368,372 federal-through-state grant to the county Community Services division.

The grant from the Tennessee Department of Human Services was specifically for emergency assistance with rent and mortgage payments as well as uniform and food vouchers, gas cards and bus passes for those at or below the poverty level locally.

The body also voted down accepting a $225,000 federal grant to be used for a bus transit and workplace study that is part of the county’s “Greenprint” initiative.

In other action, the commission approved a new five-year lease for Butcher Shop of Cordova LLC on county-owned property by Agricenter International at 107 Germantown Parkway. The initial term rent is $18,812.50 a month or $225,750 a year.

The commission also approved a 240-unit apartment complex by Regency Homebuilders LLC at Lenow and Dexter roads as well as a gravel pit by Memphis Stone and Gravel Co. at 10750 Pleasant Ridge Road.

And the commission delayed for two weeks approval of $1.3 million in federal funding from the FBI and a $3.2 million contract for a new Sheriff’s Department firing range. Commissioners wanted to hear more about who might use the range and had questions Monday about whether the Memphis Police Department would be among those using the range.

BankTennessee Teams With Raymond James

BankTennessee now has a relationship with Raymond James Financial Services Inc. that will allow the bank to now offer investment and wealth management services to its customers.

The bank is working with David Lofton to help investors navigate myriad investment options available to them. His recommendations run the gamut from financial planning to comprehensive portfolio management.

Lofton joined Raymond James in 2004 after seven years with Morgan Keegan. He’s a graduate of the University of Memphis.

Founded in 1934, BankTennessee is based in Collierville and has full-service retail banking offices in Collierville, East Memphis, Downtown Memphis, Germantown, Ripley, and Lebanon in Middle Tennessee.

The Daily News Claims 11 Green Eyeshade Awards

The Daily News and The Memphis News claimed 11 Green Eyeshade Journalism Awards in the annual regional competition whose 2012 winners were announced Wednesday, May 8.

Sports commentary and sports reporting in The Memphis News by Don Wade claimed two first place awards in the 63rd annual Green Eyeshade Awards for the 11-state Southeastern region of the Society of Professional Journalists that includes Tennessee.

Wade’s commentary and reporting portfolios covered the local sports scene from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Memphis Redbirds to University of Memphis athletics.

Graphic designer and illustrator Emily Morrow earned top honors for a portfolio of cover illustrations for The Memphis News including a cover story on the state of green initiatives in Memphis and a chess game illustration for a cover story on the schools merger.

A portfolio of 2012 editorials from The Memphis News finished second in the editorial writing category among non-daily newspapers in the region.

Sarah Baker’s portfolio of features including an Oct. 18 story on a group of women with real estate and banking backgrounds who formed a singing group placed second in the region for feature reporting at small daily newspapers.

The Memphis News placed second in public affairs reporting that included a wide range of articles from reporter Bill Dries on topics from the Occupy Memphis movement to high air fares at Memphis International Airport to coverage of the local schools merger.

Dries also placed second in politics reporting in the region for his stories for the weekly on the 2012 elections in Memphis and Shelby County.

Reporter Andy Meek’s coverage of Robert J. Pera, the new owner of the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team, placed third in technology reporting. The Nov. 12 cover story in The Memphis News chronicled Pera’s career as founder of Ubiquiti Networks Inc.

Baker’s June 4 story in The Daily News on homebuyers and Realtors using online tools for home searches placed third among all dailies in the region for technology reporting.

And portfolios of sports and feature photographs from photographer Lance Murphey placed third for the region in the feature photography and sports photography categories among all newspapers.

Jan-Pro Memphis Office Honored With Award

The Memphis office of Jan-Pro, an internationally ranked leader in the commercial cleaning industry, has been honored with the company’s 2013 Founders Award.

In Memphis, the Jan-Pro office is locally owned and operated by Trudi and Ed Pierami. They’ve led local operations to steady growth along with mentoring franchisees in their office and in the organization as a whole, and Jan-Pro International president and CEO Rich Kissane said they are the epitome of the ideal owners.

The Jan-Pro Founders Award is given annually to the office that best exemplifies strong leadership, dedication to customer service and top performance.

UTHSC College of Nursing Honors Outstanding Grads

More than 200 alumni, students and friends of the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center gathered on Friday to honor two alums.

Patricia Cunningham, an associate professor and UTHSC faculty member since 1992 received the outstanding alumna award, while Susan Jacob, who recently retired as interim dean of the college after more than nine years at UTHSC and a nursing career that spans more than four decades, received the most supportive alumna award.

Arts Commission Reinstates Arts Build Communities

The Tennessee Arts Commission has reinstated its popular Arts Build Communities grant program.

Through the program, the commission seeks to build communities by nurturing artists, arts organizations and arts supporters. Awards range from $500 to $2,000 and may be used for a variety of arts projects. Any projects that use ABC funds must be open to the general public.

Applications are available at beginning May 31. They must be submitted online by July 1.

Prior to submitting an application, organizations should discuss the project proposal with a Tennessee Arts Commission representative.

Medtronic Launches Two Implanted Heart Devices

Medtronic has put two new implantable heart devices on the market after receiving approval from federal regulators.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of the Viva heart resynchronization devices and Evera implantable cardioverter defibrillators. Cardiac resynchronization therapy devices are used to treat heart failure and implantable defibrillators are used to treat rapid heartbeats.

The devices have longer battery life and can last up to 11 years, and they also contain new technology to reduce unnecessary shocks to patients, the company said.

The Viva products can reduce the rate of hospitalizations for heart failure in the first year after they are implanted, and Medtronic said the devices are able to continuously adapt to the patient’s needs and preserve normal heart rhythms.

Saint Francis Earns Tenet Circle of Excellence

Saint Francis Hospital-Memphis said it has received Tenet’s 2013 Circle of Excellence Award.

The 519-bed Memphis hospital is one of nine Tenet Healthcare Corp.-owned hospitals recognized for superior quality care, service excellence and operational performance. Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare operates 49 hospitals and 124 outpatient centers in the U.S.

“I am proud to recognize them with this prestigious award as it recognizes Saint Francis as a preferred hospital for patients to receive care, for physicians to practice medicine and for employees to work,” Britt Reynolds, Tenet’s president of hospital operations said in a statement.

Moore Tech Sets Enrollment Record

William R. Moore College of Technology has begun its spring trimester with the highest enrollment in the history of the Memphis college.

Seventy-eight students are registered for day classes and 168 for night programs, for a total of 246 students. That’s a 14 percent increase over the recent winter trimester and a 31 percent increase over the spring trimester last year.

The 74-year-old nonprofit and private vocational college is at 1200 Poplar Ave.

Survey: US Service Firms Grew More Slowly in April

A survey of U.S. service firms says the sector expanded at a slower pace in April than March, as companies reported less business activity and couldn’t raise prices.

The Institute for Supply Management said Friday that its index of non-manufacturing activity fell to 53.1 in April from 54.4 in March. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

The report measures growth in industries that cover 90 percent of the work force, including retail, construction, health care and financial services.

The decline in the index suggests some service companies may be starting to see less consumer demand, in part because of higher Social Security taxes.

April’s weakness was largely because of a steep drop in a measure of prices. That index dropped from 55.9 in March to 51.2 last month. Nearly 70 percent of firms surveyed said they did not change their prices last month, while 10 percent lowered them.

A measure of business activity also declined. Still, a gauge of new orders was mostly unchanged and businesses stepped up restocking, a sign that they expect consumer spending to pick up.

Growth in the service industry depends largely on consumers, whose spending drives roughly 70 percent of economic activity. Americans boosted their spending from January through March at the fastest pace in more than two years, despite the increase in Social Security taxes that kicked in on Jan. 1.

But other indicators suggest the tax increase is starting to catch up with consumers.

Retail spending fell in March by the most in nine months.