Articles

VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: Choosing renovation or new construction a tough decision

Sooner or later, in the life of almost every building owner, there comes a time when a structure has outlived its usefulness in its current condition. A choice between two options must be made. Do we renovate or do we demolish and build something totally new? The answer is by no means easy or automatic. Confronted with these options, an owner must grapple with a host of issues. The following sample is not exhaustive but may prove helpful as a…

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Heating-assistance program on the bubble: Agency urges improvements, questions accounting

The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor has filed a lukewarm response to plans from a pair of local utilities to continue a program intended to reduce gas disconnections in the upcoming heating season. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is weighing whether to continue the 20-month-old “universal service” programs offered by locally based Citizens Gas & Coke Utility and Evansville-based Vectren Corp. The programs are funded by the utilities and ratepayers. They amount to the secondlargest source of funds in…

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INVESTING: Don’t give up on stocks, despite talk of bear market

The S&P 500 on June 1 set a rally high of 1,540. Now, it sits at 1,507. That’s the longest stretch of no forward progress since last summer. So, does that mean anything? There is no shortage of professionals telling us the next bear market is upon us. And with more than a few industries not participating for a while, it might seem the bears have a valid point. Before you pull out the lifeboats, though, there are a few…

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EYE ON THE PIE: Taxes pay for what Hoosiers want

Good people, me included, have been making dumb statements about the property tax mess in Indiana. The problem is that we don’t know enough to talk or write intelligently on the topic. The result is that we can be led by our noses into an even worse mess. “Abolish the property tax!” some demand. Then what? Abolition of the property tax means raising some other taxes or fees, unless government spending on services decreases. The state has been urging counties…

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Landlord handling of water, sewer bills under scrutiny: Utility commission examining charges to see whether owners operate as utilities

State utility regulators are examining whether operators of apartments and trailer parks are hosing tenants with excessive bills for water and sewer service. The inquiry by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission takes aim at decades-old billing practices that include dividing up a complex’s total water and sewer bills among all tenants. The commission said it’s received a handful of complaints over the years alleging rental property owners, or their billing agents, are assessing tenants higher rates than the commission permits…

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Industry takes deep breath over ozone: Tougher EPA standards could force costly emission controls, choke economic growth

Just when the nine-county metro area appeared back in the good graces of the federal government where ozone levels are concerned, the feds want to tighten the standard once more. Manufacturers and other businesses that pump pollutants into the air that combine with sunlight to produce ozone are “apprehensive” about the proposed new rules, said Patrick Bennett, vice president of environmental, energy and infrastructure at the Indiana Manufacturers Association. Businesses in non-attainment counties face possible restrictions on expansion of facilities…

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Union targets IPL over efficiency, customer programs: Is workers’ group taking on utility advocacy role?

A union that’s aggressively sought to organize the city’s janitors unsuccessfully tried to intervene in an Indianapolis Power & Light case before state utility regulators. IPL’s lawyers mopped the floor with the tenacious union-this time, anyway. The Service Employees International Union Local 3 wants IPL to expand its energy-efficiency and low-income customer assistance program, arguing that IPL and other utilities need to do more to help lower-income workers afford service. Attorneys who argue before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission said…

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INVESTING: Rising interest rates not a reason to get defensive

Investors the world over are in an uproar about the increase in U.S. interest rates over the last month. Fundamental guys are screaming that the cost of capital is now prohibitive to further growth. Technical guys are screaming that 25- year support levels were broken and now the floodgates are open to much higher rates. Somewhere a voice of reason needs to be heard. You’ve come to the right place. The fact is that interest rates have been trending higher…

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INVESTING: Utilities finally stumble, but don’t lose faith in them

A go-to trade for the last few years is losing some of its sheen. This market-leading sector offered one of the true gems of investing: market-beating returns without a lot of extra risk. A change in that might send small ripples throughout your portfolio. The utility sector has been one of the few areas that led from the lows in early 2003 right up until a few weeks ago. While home builders dropped out more than a year ago and…

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INVESTING: Outlook bright long term, but look out for potholes

Bull markets can take many forms, depending on the investor’s perspective. Terms like secular and cyclical get thrown around, along with more obscure references to Kondratief Waves and Fibonacci sequences. I know day traders who think a bull market lasts only two hours. Then there’s Warren Buffett, who still has a few positions he bought in 1974. I remember cruising around Indianapolis eight years ago looking for a home so my family could move from Florida and seeing gas at…

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VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: Infrastructure is costly to improve, but costlier to ignore

A recent article in Strategy+business magazine estimated that “the world’s urban infrastructure needs a $41 trillion makeover” between now and 2030. The article explained that $41 trillion is roughly equivalent to the “2006 market capitalization of all shares held in all stock markets in the world.” Some experts think that “new technology” will be the answer, and it may be when nanotechnology takes over the world. For now, however, the trend usually reinforces the trend, and we do the same…

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INVESTING: Big caps are back and best place for big 2007 gains

As this rally labors on, one point I brought up a few times in January is becoming clear. I expected that the small-cap stocks, which put on a powerful era of outperformance from 1999 until 2006, would cede their leadership to the bigger companies in America. A seven-year cycle of better returns is typical of the smaller stocks, and that ended last May. For the rest of 2006, things were about equal, and now the evidence is staring us right…

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Commentary: A plea for bio-focused policies:

Commentary A plea for bio-focused policies On April 2, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act and can be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. While the ruling acknowledges the obvious, it offers a compelling rationale for Indiana elected officials to create an economic development strategy that leverages Hoosier intellectual capital and one of the state’s greatest assets, our farmland. With the scope of the twin challenges…

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INVESTING: Google’s been outbidding Microsoft; is it overpaying?

Google hasn’t been around for even 10 years, yet it has the world’s wealthiest man and his company playing defense practically on their home court. In many cases, great defenses wins titles (our own Colts defense proved invaluable during this past season’s Super Bowl run) but the jury is out on whether Microsoft can successfully keep Google in check during this battle of technology heavyweights. The real action began in late 2005 when Google paid $1 billion for a 5-percent…

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Winning bidder plans mixed-use project: Plan for state-owned parcel would add new neighbors for Bourbon Street Distillery, Musicians’ Repair & Sales

The winning bidder for a prime piece of state-owned land on the west side of downtown hopes to break ground later this year on a residential and retail complex. The project would replace a shabby parking lot on a triangle-shaped block that is now anchored by The Bourbon Street Distillery and Musicians’ Repair & Sales. The U-shaped, 0.75-acre property at 340 N. Capitol Ave. touches Indiana Avenue, Capitol Avenue and Vermont Street. The development likely would include condos above a…

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INVESTING: Don’t plunge into the market rally, but buy in the dips

Americans spend a ton of money on health care. (The fact that most of that money is not their own is the leading problem with our health care system.) You would think that, with all the spending, pharmaceutical stocks would be a gold mine. Even though the sector has been the leading performer over the last 100 years, good drug stocks have been hard to find so far this century. But eight years after hitting their peaks, something might be…

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Software firm finally making name for itself: Fusion quietly becomes giant in local tech industry

Doug Brown might not know how to name a company, but he sure knows how to grow one. CEO Brown, 46, co-founded Fusion Alliance Inc. in 1994 along with Tim Shaw, who is no longer active in the firm. The company has since blossomed into the Indianapolis-area’s’s largest software developer, with 196 staff and contract software engineers and programmers. Much of the growth coincides with the decision in 2000 to rechristen the northwest-side company from its original and less glamorous…

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Snowstorm meant long hours, extra bucks for some: Plowing works as a side gig, but no one’s getting rich

When the snow started flying during central Indiana’s impressive winter storm this month, some residents bought bread and eggs and hunkered down to wait out the white stuff. Others tuned up their trucks and revved their snow blowers in hopes of seeing a lot of green. Many area city and town officials had private contractors on their speed dial-reinforcements who would help clear the foot of snow that fell in the Indianapolis area Feb. 13-14. The workers ranged from a…

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