The State of Texas: April 21, 2015
Tweet of the Day
There’s more information on the Blue Bell recall below, but here’s a serving size (too soon?) of the disappointment and, um, unreliable information fans of Blue Bell ice cream have been faced with in the past week:
— Darrin Lion, PMP (@LionDarrin) April 21, 2015
The Texas Curse – Another day, another sign that the Texas Miracle is losing some of its spunk. Although the state has the lowest unemployment rate it’s had in eight years, the tea leaves (or oil splotches) aren’t pretty. “For the first time in more than four years, Texas experienced net job loss,” writes the Houston Press. The news comes from a report on March’s job numbers, or losses thereof, totalling about 25,000. In its maybe-this-is-the-beginning-of-the-end assessment, the Press notes that “less than 3,000 of the jobs lost in March were lost from the oil industry.” That’s not to say the energy industry isn’t laying people off. “Halliburton Co. has been engaging in much more serious layoffs than they initially planned on back in February,” according to the Dallas Observer, “about 9,000 employees actually laid off in the past two quarters.” It was probably all too good to be true, as the largest oil-field company, Houston-based Schlumberger is learning, with its 11,000-count layoff last week. For a look at how the international oil trade is affecting business, The Dallas Business Journal had a local economist break it all down. His definitive conclusion? “[The] future of oil-and-gas industry in Texas is uncertain.” So if you’ve got a job right now, try to keep it. And if you’ve got investments in oil, it might be time to, like, diversify.
Reading the Fine Print – Politicians are really starting to give all those no-bid contracts a second look, after that whole 21CT incident. “[Representative] John Kuempel, chairman of the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee, launched an official inquiry into contracting practices at 11 state agencies [yesterday],” according to the Texas Tribune. Apart from everyone’s favorite no-bidder, the Health and Human Services Commission, Kuempel is also digging into “the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Education Agency, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Information Resources, the Employees Retirement System, the Teacher Retirement System, the Texas Facilities Commission, the Department of Agriculture, the General Land Office, and the Department of Housing and Community Affairs.” Kuempel said, “The House is going to find out how pervasive these irregularities are,” which is possibly something none of us are truly prepared for, unless you’re a Democrat (in which case, you expect Texas to be corrupt). If the DPS contracts are any indication, however, there will be plenty of “irregularities.” Digging into the fine print, the Austin American-Statesman found that a private contractor’s “public information work went beyond fact sheets,” producing special briefings and developing media talking points among other detailed duties. It puts into question the testimony that “Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw [gave] a House committee that his agency never paid ‘a dime’ for ‘information operations,’” especially since a “side-by-side comparison of ALIS and DPS statements reveals strikingly similar ideas and wording.”
Black Bell – Will Blue Bell’s brand loyalty be able to survive this crisis? For the past few weeks, it’s been nothing but assurances from the company that the whole listeria thing was a one-time deal and that they had it all taken care of. Now, it seems, that’s not entirely the case. Last night, the Brenham-based company issued a recall not just for ice cream made in Oklahoma, or for the Texas market, but all of the Blue Bell, everywhere. As the Houston Chronicle notes, the nationwide recall is the “most sweeping development to plague the Texas business icon since a recall last month, the first in the company’s 108-year history.” The voluntary recall occurred after an “‘enhanced sampling program’ that found half-gallon containers of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream produced on March 17 and March 27 contained the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.” In other words, “the company had several positive tests for listeria in different plants.” And if that’s not enough to scare you into eating sorbet for the rest of your life, “company officials said they ‘cannot say with certainty’ how listeria was introduced into their plants.” No matter how it happened, Blue Bell is now promising to do a lot better job at sanitizing its equipment. So should you get your Blue Bell back by summer, it’ll have been tested and cleaned more times than a labratory beaker.