www.charlestondailymail.com Business http://www.charlestondailymail.com Daily Mail feed en-us Copyright 2014, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers Car dealer isn't afraid to steer ads in a new direction http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141218/DM06/141219205 DM06 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141218/DM06/141219205 Thu, 18 Dec 2014 19:17:34 -0500 By Zack Harold Most car commercials follow the same formula.

They usually feature a car cruising on a darkened highway or lumbering down a dirt road, or driving at breakneck speeds through suspiciously pedestrian-free city streets.

If you've seen one you have, more or less, seen them all.

But then there are Dutch Miller's commercials. Sometimes the cars barely show up.

One recent ad for the local dealership chain begins with company president Chris Miller speaking directly to the camera.

"Here at Dutch Miller we can't afford singing sensation Michael McDonald for an endorsement, but we can afford local singer Mitch McDonald," he says.

The camera then cuts to Miller sitting at a keyboard, wearing a gray wig with a goatee glued to his face. He then begins a bad imitation of McDonald, singing Kia-themed parodies of his songs: "What a Kia Owner Believes," "Kia Keeps You Running" and "You Don't Own Me (But I'm Your Kia)."

It is Miller's favorite ad, and he has recorded dozens by this point.

"There's 30 or 40 minutes of footage and half of it is me laughing," he said.

Not everybody is laughing.

The dealership puts many of its commercials on YouTube. And while many of the comments are positive ... well, some of them are not.

"So, do you really pay some ad agency real money for crap like this?" wrote commenter Stephen Gaylock. "I completely stopped listening to local Charleston-Huntington radio 20 years ago because of idiotic and annoying ads like this. I'd hate to miss local TV news, but it's a decision I'm prepared to make."

Commenter Keith Muncey was even less sparing in his criticism.

"I hate your commercials almost as much as that crappy (Goldy Auto) commercial. Please make a normal commercial. Idiot," he wrote.

Miller is well aware his commercials - and his sense of humor - rub some people the wrong way. He's OK with that.

"Our commercials are divisive. There are some people that think they're hysterical. There are some people that hate it," he said.

But love them or hate them, people are talking.

"When people see a car wreck on the highway, they slow down and rubberneck," he said.

Miller has made his name in the car business, but he got his first job in the newspaper industry.

When he was 10 years old, he asked his dad for a pair of Air Jordan basketball shoes.

"When he found out they were $120, he told me to get a job," Miller said.

So Miller got a paper route delivering Huntington's Herald-Dispatch. He said the experience taught him some valuable lessons about dealing with the public.

"People try to stiff you. You learn a lot about people and character," he said.

As he got older, Miller began helping out around his family's dealerships. His grandfather, Dutch Miller, started the business in 1963 when he bought out a Chevrolet dealership in Huntington.

Miller's father, Matt, eventually took over the business. He added Hyundais to the Huntington dealership and, in 1997, added a Kia dealership in Barboursville.

After high school, he attended Denison University, a private liberal arts college near Columbus, Ohio, where he majored in economics.

He didn't go straight back into the car business after college, however. For a while he made his living singing in blues bands.

Miller said his bar tabs eventually equaled his paychecks, so he realized he needed a steady gig.

He got a job as a salesman at Midwestern Auto Group in Dublin, Ohio, in 2002. After a year, he decided to come back to West Virginia ... and the family business.

Even though he was being hired by his father, Miller had to interview for the job just like anyone else. His dad even brought in a consultant to make sure he did not give his son any special treatment.

Miller got the job, of course. He took over the used cars operation at the Huntington dealership and, not long after, became general manager of new car sales.

About 2006, he began thinking about how to set the Dutch Miller dealerships apart from others in the region.

That's how the commercials began. At first, it was just Miller and his crew dressing up in goofy costumes for their 30-minute infomercials.

"I found out the more fun I had, the more I laughed while making this commercial, the better business we did," he said.

In 2009, Miller asked to take over the Kia lot in Barboursville.

It was a bold move. The dealership was flagging, thanks in part to management techniques but also the economic downturn that blasted the auto industry nationwide.

So why would Miller board a sinking ship?

"I wanted a challenge," he said. "I wanted to see what pressure was like."

He replaced the general manager and, before long, turned the business into one of the top-selling Kia dealerships in the country.

One secret to that success was Dutch Miller Kia's ads, which were inescapable on local television channels, and that ubiquitous catchphrase: "If it doesn't say Dutch, you've paid too much."

No matter how silly Miller might act on screen, he puts lots of thought into his advertising strategies.

About once a week, he has lunch with advertising consultant Wes Thompson to brainstorm new ideas.

"We start goofing off, really," Miller said.

But there's more to it than that.

Miller and Thompson talk about popular trends, trying to figure out what would connect best with their audiences.

They are constantly evaluating whether or not their ads are working, using monitoring data from Google, Twitter, Facebook and other social media networks to see what people are saying about the commercials.

Sometimes they choose to make their next ad more serious, based on that data. Other times they decide to go silly. Sometimes it's a little of both.

The finished ads usually come in sets of two or three, like the commercials featuring the fake dating website "KiaHarmony.com," or the 1970s cop show parodies "Dutch and Miller."

Miller is a newspaper advertiser too. His dealerships have been online and print sponsors of the WVHuddle high school football coverage that's a collaboration between Daily Mail and Charleston Gazette sportswriters. In print, one of the dealership's advertisements purposefully ran upside down, just to get a double-take out of readers.

Their next big idea is a total departure from anything he has done previously.

Miller and Thompson are working on a series of short educational videos meant to teach people how to buy cars. They want to show consumers how to get the best possible deal, no matter where they buy a car, and be able to tell if their salesman is being dishonest.

"Buying a car is emotional. It's the second largest purchase anyone is going to make other than their house," Miller said.

He is well aware the videos probably won't sit well with his competitors. That's almost the point.

"We are always trying to push the envelope," he said.

Although the advertisements might make it seem Miller is head honcho of the Dutch Miller empire, it is still very much a family business.

His father is still heavily involved in the business. Miller's interview with the Daily Mail was interrupted several times by texts and calls from his dad. Miller's big brother, Sam, runs the Chevrolet-Hyundai dealership in Huntington.

But the family is more than happy to let Chris Miller be the face of the business even if, in some ways, they see him as an unlikely spokesman.

"My mom always told me I had a face for radio," he said.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-4830 or zack.harold@dailymailwv.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.

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Clogged railroads lead to higher electricity costs http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141218/ARTICLE/141219218 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141218/ARTICLE/141219218 Thu, 18 Dec 2014 17:29:31 -0500

By MARIO PARKER

Bloomberg News

CHICAGO - Electricity costs are poised to reach the highest level since 1999 because railroads are too clogged to deliver enough coal to power plants.

While the United States has the world's biggest coal reserves, utilities are forecast by the government to end the year with the lowest stockpiles since 2005. With carriers including BNSF Railway jammed with record shipments of oil and grains, Xcel Energy Inc. and other power producers say they can't get the coal they need.

The rail delays mean utilities haven't rebuilt inventories that fell to a seven-year low last winter. Power producers filed 10 notices this year warning regulators that stocks were low enough to threaten generation, compared with two filings in 2013. Utilities have been obliged to rely more on natural gas, increasing costs for consumers.

"There's plenty of coal," Jim Thompson, a director of coal for IHS, an Englewood, Colorado-based energy and industrial analytics company, said by phone Dec. 2. "The problem is the coal transportation system."

Utilities got as much as 25 million short tons (22.7 million metric tons) less coal than they needed from mines in Wyoming's Powder River Basin this year, Peabody Energy Corp., the biggest U.S. producer of the fuel, said in October. Utilities will burn 868.5 million tons in 2014, generating 39 percent of U.S. electricity.

Power companies are on pace to end the year with 129.2 million tons of inventories, 32 percent less than the record 189.5 million tons reached in 2009, U.S. Energy Information Administration data show.

Utilities have used natural gas to preserve coal stocks, even though it's 22 percent more profitable for a power plant in the Midwest to burn coal, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Average U.S. power costs will rise 1.8 percent to $12.69 per megawatt hour in 2015, the most expensive in records going back to 1999, the EIA said in a report Dec. 9.

The shale oil boom has also sent wages for welders and pipefitters in Louisiana above $100 per hour, causing cost overruns for chemical projects.

The strengthening economy, record shipments from the shale- oil boom and expanding grain crops have overwhelmed the rail network, said Lee Klaskow, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence in Princeton, New Jersey.

West Texas Intermediate oil has slumped more than 40 percent this year as U.S. production has risen to the highest in more than three decades.

Average rail speeds plunged 6.4 percent in the past year while dwell times, a measure of how long cars sit in a rail yard, increased 8.7 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

BNSF, owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc., had the biggest increase in commodity carload traffic this year, with a gain of more than 22 percent, Bloomberg Intelligence data show. The company has boosted personnel, added tracks and locomotives and sought to unplug bottlenecks, George Duggan, group vice president for coal business, said at a conference Dec. 9.

U.S. coal imports increased 37 percent to 12.2 million tons this year, led by purchases from Colombia, EIA data show.

"The transportation constraints gave utilities a need to diversify supply," Ted O'Brien, chief executive officer of Doyle Trading Consultants, a Grand Junction, Colorado-based coal analysis company, said by phone Dec. 11. That's made foreign coal more competitive than U.S.-mined fuel, he said.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has cut generation this year to preserve coal stocks, Ben Jones, the company's manager of coal origination, said at a conference in New York this month.

"Our main concern has been - can we get the coal we've bought into our system," he said. "We started trucking coal to the plants."

Xcel Energy's stockpiles are "significantly low," Craig Romer, the Minneapolis-based company's director of fuel supply operations, said by phone Oct. 28.

"Normally in the fall we try to build up those inventories in anticipation of weather events," he said. "Right now, we're just not getting the service to build those winter stockpiles.'

Utilities may be forced to navigate low inventories through next year and this "could create challenges in the summer of 2015," Alan Haymes, an economist at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said at the agency's monthly meeting in Washington Thursday.

Powder River Basin coal prices increased 5 percent to $12.65 a ton in the past year. They would be even higher if utilities had confidence it could be delivered, according to IHS's Thompson.

"Some railroads are now saying it will probably be 2016 before we get a full resolution to the problem," Emily Medine, a principal at Energy Ventures Analysis, an Arlington, Virginia- based energy consultant, said Dec. 9 in New York. "There is pent-up demand. A price spike in PRB could happen depending on the performance of the railroads."

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Suddenlink increases Internet speeds for free, adds faster options http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141218/DM01/141219226 DM01 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141218/DM01/141219226 Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:48:18 -0500 By Marcus Constantino Suddenlink has increased residential Internet speeds in most of its service areas in the Kanawha Valley, more than tripling the former basic Internet download speed to 50 megabits per second.

Michael Kelemen, Director of Government Relations for Suddenlink, said customers with a compatible cable Internet modem will receive the speed upgrades at no cost. He said the upgrades come as part of the company's recently announced wave of nationwide network upgrades, dubbed "Operation GigaSpeed," which aims to bring gigabit Internet to all Suddenlink service areas by 2016.

"The speed increases are available today," Kelemen said. "However, customers must have DOCSIS 3.0 modems and routers. Additionally, customers will need to reboot their Internet devices. Suddenlink is notifying customers with more specific information by mail."

Customers who subscribe to Suddenlink's 15 mbps service will now have download speeds of 50 mbps. Suddenlink's 30 mbps package will speed up to 75 mbps. The 50 mbps plan will double to 100 mbps, and the new, highest Internet tier will have download speeds of 150 mbps. The 100 mbps and 150 mbps plans were not previously available.

Previously, the fastest residential Internet speed available in the Kanawha Valley was 107 mbps service through Suddenlink.

Kelemen said in a statement that residential customers are being notified directly of the speed upgrades. He said commercial Internet services will also be improved in the future.

"Nearly half of the planned 1 Gigabit launches are expected to be completed in 2015 and most of the remainder the following year," Kelemen said. "In addition, while Suddenlink already offers its business customers a range of custom services capable of multi-Gigabit speeds, the company also plans to enhance its standard commercial services through this project."

Customers on the 50 mbps plan will receive upload speeds of 5 mbps, while those on the 75 mbps, 100 mbps and 150 mbps plans will have upload speeds of 7.5 mbps, Kelemen said.

Kelemen said the upgrades affect areas in Kanawha, Putnam, Boone and Cabell counties where Suddenlink offers service, with the exception of the Sissonville, Alum Creek and Tornado areas. Earlier in December, Suddenlink completed a similar upgrade in Parkersburg, bringing Internet packages of up to 300 mbps in that area.

There is still no word on when the gigabit Internet upgrades will come to West Virginia.

Suddenlink serves approximately 1.4 million residential and commercial customers nationwide, including in Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia. The company plans to invest nearly $250 million in "Operation GigaSpeed" to boost cable Internet speeds up to one gigabit.

Contact writer Marcus Constantino at 304-348-1796 or marcus.c@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/amtino.

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ArcelorMittal lays off 58 at 3 McDowell County mines http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141218/ARTICLE/141219247 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141218/ARTICLE/141219247 Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:24:17 -0500

ECKMAN, W.Va. (AP) - ArcelorMittal has laid off more than 50 workers at three coal mines in Southern West Virginia.

ArcelorMittal spokesman Bill Steers tells the Bluefield Daily Telegraph that the layoffs are necessary because of decreased demand for coal.

The layoffs affect 58 workers at the company's XMV, Concept and Extra Energy mines in McDowell County.

ArcelorMittal/Princeton general manager Greg Jessee tells the newspaper that coal mining in the U.S. has sharply declined in recent years.

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Gift Guide: Home products come with connectivity http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141218/ARTICLE/141219257 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141218/ARTICLE/141219257 Thu, 18 Dec 2014 08:27:20 -0500

By ANICK JESDANUN

AP Technology Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Do you really need an app to tell you to brush and floss? It seems every household appliance is getting some smarts these days, meaning some connection to a phone app and the broader Internet. But then what?

To give you a feel for what that connectivity brings, here's a closer look at a few "smart" products for the home. There are plenty more if you look around. As I tried these out, I kept thinking to myself whether these products really needed that connectivity. You'll need to decide whether the benefits are worth the higher prices.

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THE SMART TOOTHBRUSH:

I tested the Oral-B Pro 7000 SmartSeries electric toothbrush with Bluetooth connectivity. A free app that goes with it has a timer that tries to make sure you spend two minutes brushing - 30 seconds on each quadrant of your teeth. The app then reminds you to brush your tongue, floss and rinse with mouthwash. It sends me notifications when I haven't been doing that consistently (oops!). The app also offers weekly and monthly charts on your brushing activities.

I was skeptical when I started using this toothbrush. It relies a lot on self-reporting. Although the toothbrush will warn when you're putting too much pressure on your teeth, it can't tell whether you're actually brushing your entire mouth. You can spend the entire two minutes on one area, even as the app tells you to move on. And flossing? I was pressed for time getting to my dentist appointment, so I told the app I flossed that morning - even though I didn't.

But after I switched back to a manual toothbrush, I found myself gradually reducing my brushing time. I also stopped flossing and doing all those other good things. The connected toothbrush won't go beyond what you can do with a timer and self-discipline, but it proves useful when you lack both.

The model I tested isn't out in the U.S. until next month, likely for about $220. A cheaper model, the 5000, retails for $159 and does most of what the 7000 does, with the exception of an extra mode for tongue cleaning. Both are more expensive than the $65 to $100 retail prices for standard Oral-B electric toothbrushes. It's possible for family members to share the device - with different brush heads, of course - but it's cumbersome and not really designed for that.

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THE SMART KITCHEN:

A Smart Optimal Brew edition of the Mr. Coffee coffeemaker lets you schedule brewing or start the machine remotely, such as when you're still in bed or a few minutes from the front door. It won't do the more annoying tasks of refilling the water and replacing the coffee grounds, though.

I find it takes more work to unlock the phone, open the app and launch the brewing than to walk over to the coffeemaker. If I hit the brew button just before jumping in the shower, the coffee's ready by the time I'm out. What would really make the coffeemaker smart is to observe when I shut the snooze on my phone alarm, as that's when I'm ready to get up.

I recognize that most people have bigger living spaces than I do. So if the coffeemaker is downstairs, it might be useful to start it remotely before the shower. But you can already do that with timers. To justify the smart coffeemaker, your sleeping patterns would need to be so unpredictable that you'd need to change that after you wake up.

The device costs $250, or about $20 more than a comparable model without the smarts. That's not a huge price difference for the benefit. The coffeemaker uses WeMo's app from Belkin, which means the coffeemaker might one day coordinate with light switches, motion sensors and other WeMo-enabled products.

Another such WeMo product is a $130 Crock-Pot slow cooker. It allows you to adjust cooking times and temperature remotely, if you're running late from work, for instance. It's more than twice the price of a regular Crock-Pot, so it's a tougher sell than the coffeemaker. I feel uneasy about leaving a cooking appliance on all day, but the manufacturer points out that people do that with timers already, and the app lets you verify whether you remembered to turn it off.

Both of these kitchen products feel first generation. They'll need more functionality through software updates in the future.

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THE SMART SCALE:

Although I wanted to call Withings' Smart Body Analyzer dumb for telling me I gained 5 pounds, I verified that with a scale at my gym. Sigh.

Once I got past that, I found it to be one of the more useful connected products. You have to stand on it for longer than a typical bathroom scale as it logs your weight, body fat, heart rate and air quality. That data will automatically transfer to an app - the same one used by other Withings' products, including a fitness tracker. The app also takes advantage of Apple's HealthKit system to sync with Apple's Health app and data from rival vendors.

Even without all that syncing, it's great to be able to track your weight over time (the heart rate, not so much, as that changes depending on whether you just exercised). I've tried over the years to track my weight with a spreadsheet, but I keep forgetting (perhaps on purpose) after stepping off the scale.

Up to eight people in a household can use the same scale. It will send readings to the right profile, based on a comparison with past weights. There's an extra step if you're similar in weight to someone else.

The multi-sensor scale retails for $150. A version that does only weight goes for $100. Although you can get a regular scale for much less, connectivity makes sense here. Manufacturers need to give consumers a good reason for having that connectivity - and in this case, Withings does.

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Online:

Toothbrush: http://www.oralb.com/bluetooth-toothbrush

Coffeemaker: http://www.mrcoffee.com/coffeemakers/BVMC-PSTX91WE.html

Scale: http://www.withings.com/us/smart-body-analyzer.html

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Fed to be 'patient' about a rate hike; stocks soar http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141217/ARTICLE/141219295 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141217/ARTICLE/141219295 Wed, 17 Dec 2014 18:57:59 -0500

By MARTIN CRUTSINGER

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON - The Federal Reserve is edging closer to raising interest rates from record lows given a strengthening U.S. economy. But it will be "patient" in deciding when to do so.

That was the message sent Wednesday as the Fed ended a meeting amid heightened expectation about a forthcoming rate increase. At a news conference afterward, Chair Janet Yellen said she foresaw no rate hike in the first quarter of 2015.

The Fed said in a statement that a "patient" approach to raising rates is consistent with its previous guidance that it would keep its key rate near zero for a "considerable time."

Yellen said the strength of U.S. economic data and the level of inflation, not a calendar date, will dictate when it raises rates. At a time of global economic turmoil and collapsing oil prices, she stressed that the Fed was making no policy changes.

"The Fed is sending the message that the broader U.S. economy is on the path toward healing," said Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities. "They don't know how fast it will heal, but it's on the mend."

The Fed chair said she's prepared to let the U.S. unemployment rate fall from its current 5.8 percent to exceptionally low levels because doing so could help cause inflation to rise closer to the Fed's 2 percent target.

Uncertainty about when the economy will fully heal from the ravages of the Great Recession, which officially ended 51/2 years ago, is why the Fed's policy statements remain vague, Ricchiuto added.

"There was no signal that rates are on the cusp of liftoff," noted Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank.

Stock investors cheered the Fed's message. The Dow Jones industrial average, which had been up about 160 points before the Fed issued its statement, roared higher to close up 280 points. The stock market tends to applaud low rates because they make it easier for individuals and businesses to borrow and spend, and they cause many investors to shift money into stocks in search of higher returns.

Most economists think the Fed's first rate increase will occur in June as long as its inflation outlook doesn't remain persistently below its target rate of 2 percent. In an updated economic forecast Wednesday, the Fed lowered its inflation forecast for next year to between 1 percent and 1.6 percent.

Energy prices have plunged since the Fed last met in October, with oil reaching a five-year low. That price drop is reducing inflation further below the Fed's 2 percent target, which could heighten the pressure to delay a rate hike until inflation rebounds. On Wednesday, the government said consumer prices rose just 1.3 percent in November compared with 12 months ago.

But Yellen noted that oil price spikes in the past had only temporarily raised inflation and suggested that a corresponding drop will likely also have only a "transitory" effect on inflation.

She was more optimistic about the benefits of lower oil prices for the U.S. economy.

"The decline we have seen ... is likely to be on net a positive," Yellen said. "It's something that's certainly good for families, for households. It's putting more money in their pockets... It's like a tax cut that boosts their spending power."

The Fed's statement was approved on a 7-3 vote. The three dissents reflected the sharp divisions inside the Fed as it transitions from an extended period of ultra-low rates to a period in which it will start to raise rates. The Fed has not raised rates in more than eight years.

The dissents included Presidents Richard Fisher of the Dallas Fed and Charles Plosser of the Philadelphia Fed, who have long stressed the need for the Fed to prevent high inflation over the need to maximize employment.

But Narayana Kocherlakota, president of the Fed's Minneapolis regional bank, also dissented for a different reason. He thinks the Fed needs to do more to boost inflation to its 2 percent target level.

The Fed's decision to say both that it will be "patient" about a rate hike and that this is consistent with rates staying ultra-low for a "considerable time" was a surprise. Most economists had expected its statement to drop "considerable time" in favor of saying only that the Fed would be "patient" in assessing the economy's ability to withstand higher rates.

Since the Fed's last meeting, the job market and other sectors of the economy have strengthened. Employers added 321,000 jobs in November, sustaining the healthiest year for job growth since 1999. The current 5.8 percent unemployment rate is close to the 5.2 percent to 5.5 percent range that the central bank considers maximum employment.

The Fed's key short-term rate has been at a record low near zero since December 2008. When the Fed does begin raising rates, the expectation is that it will do so gradually and leave consumer and corporate loan rates at historically low levels for a while.

In October, the Fed ended its bond buying program, which had been intended to keep down long-term borrowing rates. The bond purchases boosted the Fed's investment holdings to close to $4.5 trillion - more than four times its level when the financial crisis hit in the fall of 2008.

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Panel proposes casinos for three struggling N.Y. counties http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141217/ARTICLE/141219300 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141217/ARTICLE/141219300 Wed, 17 Dec 2014 18:32:39 -0500

By DAVID KLEPPER

The Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. - Three economically distressed counties in upstate New York have been selected as sites for casinos, a panel announced Wednesday, bringing an end to a fierce competition among developers and job-hungry communities.

The Gaming Facility Location Board chose sites in Sullivan, Schenectady and Seneca counties and decided not to recommend a fourth license amid an increasingly saturated gambling market where consumers have more options closer to home. While casinos were once limited to Las Vegas, Atlantic City and a handful of tribal reservations, most Americans are now within a few hours' drive of a gambling facility.

Voters last year authorized up to four casinos in three upstate regions: the Albany-Saratoga area, the Southern Tier-Finger Lakes region and the Catskills and mid-Hudson Valley.

The projects announced Wednesday:

- The Montreign Resort Casino will be built in the Catskills town of Thompson. The $630 million project will come with an 18-story casino and hotel complex, meeting spaces and an indoor waterpark. Its developer, Empire Resorts, operates through a subsidiary, the nearby Monticello Casino & Raceway.

- The Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor in the city of Schenectady will be part of a larger redevelopment effort at a formerly blighted riverfront site. The $300 million project will include a hotel, a high-end steakhouse, 66 gambling tables and more than 1,100 slot machines.

- Lago Resort & Casino, a $425 million project in the Finger Lakes town of Tyre in Seneca County, will include 2,000 slot machines. It was the largest contender in the Finger Lakes-Southern Tier region.

The board opted not to award a license in New York City's suburban Orange County, the site of six competing proposals. Board Chairman Kevin Law noted that several faced environmental and financial uncertainties and would have taken revenue from other gambling facilities.

"We did take a look at what was happening in the entire industry," he said. "At the end of the day we had to do what made financial sense."

At Bernie's Holiday Restaurant in Sullivan County, dozens of casino supporters who gathered to watch the decision live cheered and hugged after the Montreign proposal was announced.

"It's going to be huge," said Pamela Pesante, a real estate agent. "Jobs! People! Homes can get sold! It's exactly what we need to boost our economy and our spirits."

"This mean rebirth. This means new life," said restaurant owner Randy Resnick. "Basically, it's our shot. This is our time."

Applicants submitted 16 bids for licenses. With its proximity to New York City, the Catskills and mid-Hudson Valley attracted the most interest, with nine bidders.

The three regions were picked to spread out the benefits - and to avoid competition with existing tribal casinos.

The three selected projects are projected to support more than 3,200 full-time jobs and generate $265 million in tax revenues, along with $136 million in licensing fees.

"We needed this," said Schenectady resident James Torre, whose father worked at a locomotive plant at the site of the future casino. "This is going to be good jobs, good development."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the casinos will act as a "magnet" to lure New York City residents to upstate destinations and reduce the amount of money New York gamblers spend in other states.

"Our point is: Let's keep them. Let's keep their dollars in New York," Cuomo said.

For the winners, Wednesday's decision represented the successful conclusion to a long and expensive push.

"A lot of effort, about $8 million and two years," said Thomas Wilmot, developer of the Lago Resort & Casino. "I'm elated."

For the others, the loss was bitter - especially in the Southern Tier. Earlier Wednesday, Cuomo's administration announced a ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, which some in the region had hoped would provide an economic lifeline.

"The Southern Tier just got wiped out economically," said Jeff Gural, owner of the Tioga Downs racino, one of two losing bidders in the Southern Tier.

The licenses will be formally awarded by the Gaming Commission after background checks and other final reviews.

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BlackBerry creates Classic in last effort http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141217/ARTICLE/141219301 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141217/ARTICLE/141219301 Wed, 17 Dec 2014 18:31:28 -0500

By BARBARA ORTUTAY

and ROB GILLIES

The Associated Press

NEW YORK - BlackBerry is returning to its roots with a new phone that features a traditional keyboard at a time when rival Apple and Android phones - and most smartphone customers - have embraced touch screens.

With the Classic, BlackBerry is courting its core customer, the business user. The physical keyboard is something traditional BlackBerry users prefer because they find it easier than touch screens to type with. The company is also emphasizing battery life and security.

"A lot of people say the Classic is aiming for loyal customers. And that is true," CEO John Chen said at the gadget's launch event, tellingly held in New York City's Financial District. But he also invited people who haven't used a BlackBerry "especially people who are young," to try the BlackBerry Classic.

Pioneered in 1999 with the launch of the RIM 950, BlackBerry changed the culture by allowing on-the-go business people to access email wirelessly. Then came a new generation of competing smartphones, and suddenly the BlackBerry looked ancient. Apple showed that phones can handle much more than email and phone calls. Blackberry was late in overhauling its operating system to compete.

BlackBerry now holds a small fraction of the U.S. smartphone market after commanding a nearly 50 percent share as recently as 2009.

The company is trying to stay relevant on making hardware even as it tries to transform into an enterprise security and consumer software company. Whether the Classic will sell enough to keep it in the hardware business is unclear.

"It's going to be a niche product based around enterprise, based around security and pockets of the world where there is still strengths. The future of this company is not the hardware," BGC analyst Colin Gillis said.

The BlackBerry Classic is available for sale starting Wednesday for $449 in the U.S. and 499 Canadian dollars in Canada through Amazon.com and BlackBerry.com. It will come later to AT&T and Verizon.

BlackBerry has been expanding its efforts to sell mobile-security software on its rivals' smartphones and tablets to help counter the waning popularity of its own devices.

And on the hardware side, BlackBerry partnered with Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that assembles products in vast factories in China. Foxconn, known for its manufacturing contract work on Apple's iPhones and iPads, jointly designs and manufactures most BlackBerry devices and manages inventory of the devices in an agreement that offloads much of BlackBerry's manufacturing costs. Foxconn is making the Classic for BlackBerry.

Chen, who took over as chief executive 13 months ago, has set a goal of selling 10 million phones a year. In comparison, Apple sold 39.3 million iPhones over three months in the third quarter.

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Waiting list for in-home care shortened http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141217/DM0104/141219313 DM0104 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141217/DM0104/141219313 Wed, 17 Dec 2014 16:53:47 -0500 By Whitney Burdette

The Bureau of Medical Services has worked to substantially decrease the number of people on the waiting list for its in-home care program.

Cindy Beane, acting commissioner of the Bureau, told lawmakers Wednesday the agency has streamlined the application process. The program serves the elderly and disabled and allows participants to remain in their homes rather than seek expensive nursing home care.

Beane told lawmakers the agency verifies concurrently the applicant's medical and financial eligibility, including verifying the applicant has health issues that make it difficult to perform basic tasks. Applicants also must meet financial requirements to qualify for Medicaid. Previously, the agency verified the applicant's medical eligibility before verifying financial eligibility, dragging out the process.

Because of the change, the wait list has been shortened from 2,500 applicants last year to about 1,500 currently. Since July 1, the agency has sent more than 1,300 letters letting residents know they're eligible for the program.

About 5,500 people are enrolled in the program statewide.

n n n

State employees have the option of taking off the Friday after Christmas, but Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has no plans to declare the day a state holiday.

Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman said the governor will not make an official proclamation, and employees who want to take off Dec. 26 should contact their supervisors.

The Friday after Thanksgiving is a state holiday - referred to as Lincoln Day in honor of the 16th president - and has been since legislation was enacted in 2006.

Compiled by Whitney Burdette

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Apple wins iPod lawsuit http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141216/ARTICLE/141219379 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141216/ARTICLE/141219379 Tue, 16 Dec 2014 19:18:06 -0500

By BRANDON BAILEY

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

OAKLAND, Calif - A federal jury decided Tuesday that Apple didn't compete unfairly when it sold music players and songs with copy-protection software that was incompatible with rival devices and music from competing online stores.

The eight-member jury in U.S. District Court handed Apple a victory by rejecting a claim from attorneys for consumers and iPod resellers, who were seeking as much as $1 billion in a class-action lawsuit. The plaintiffs argued that Apple was able to overcharge consumers for iPods by making it difficult to switch to a rival music player, as music bought from Apple's iTunes store wouldn't work on other players, nor would music from other stores work on iPods.

After just three hours of deliberation, the jury accepted Apple's argument that the software provided necessary security protection and was part of a larger package of improvements that made iPods and iTunes popular with consumers.

Apple applauded the verdict: "We created iPod and iTunes to give our customers the world's best way to listen to music. Every time we've updated those products - and every Apple product over the years - we've done it to make the user experience even better."

Apple no longer uses the copy-protection software in question, so the ruling has no effect on the company's current practices.

The case, originally filed in 2005, covers an estimated 8 million consumers who purchased iPods from 2006 to 2009, when the software was still in place.

The plaintiffs argued that the software locked people into using iPods and allowed Apple to overcharge for the devices. Plaintiffs were seeking $350 million in damages, which could have been tripled if the jury found Apple violated antitrust laws.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they plan to appeal. "We're glad we got this to the jury," attorney Bonny Sweeney said. But she said that a ruling by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers kept the jury from considering the impact of encryption code used in an iTunes software update that was the focus of the trial.

During a two-week trial, the plaintiffs' attorneys played a video of testimony by the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who died in 2011. They also showed emails between Apple executives that indicated they were concerned about some early efforts by rival companies to sell digital music files that might be played on iPods.

But Apple executives testified they were focused on preventing unauthorized copying - which was a big concern of recording labels - and said Apple was worried that digital files from outside sources might compromise the security of its iTunes software.

In what turned out to be the key issue of the trial, Apple argued that its iTunes software updates were legitimate product improvements, which combined security protections with other new features that allowed consumers to watch videos, view album covers and synch their music collections on different computers.

Federal antitrust law permits companies to make legitimate product improvements, regardless of their effect on competitors. Rogers told jurors that if they agreed with Apple on that point, they did not need to examine other arguments in the case. The jury began deliberating Monday afternoon.

Although the case focused on an iTunes software update that blocked music sold by competitor Real Networks, Real and other rival music sellers weren't parties in the case.

While the case took almost 10 years to get to trial, it nearly collapsed last week when the named plaintiffs were disqualified from the case. Apple attorney William Isaacson told the judge that records showed that neither of the two lead plaintiffs, who are supposed to represent the other consumers affected by the case, had purchased iPod models covered by the lawsuit. A third plaintiff had withdrawn earlier.

After a last-minute scramble, Rogers agreed to add Massachusetts business consultant Barbara Bennett as the lead plaintiff. Jurors did not hear any testimony from Bennett, who told attorneys she listened to her iPod while figure skating.

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Holiday travel up as gas prices slide http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141216/ARTICLE/141219380 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141216/ARTICLE/141219380 Tue, 16 Dec 2014 19:17:39 -0500

Bloomberg News

SAN FRANCISCO - U.S. travel during the Christmas and New Year holidays will rise for a sixth year to a record as low fuel prices contribute to disposable incomes, according to the nation's biggest motoring organization.

About 98.6 million people will journey 50 miles or more from Dec. 23 to Jan. 4, AAA said in an emailed statement. That's up from 94.8 million a year earlier and the most in data that began in 2001. Approximately 89.5 million people will drive, up 4.2 percent from last year, the Heathrow, Florida-based group said.

Retail gasoline has fallen by more than $1 a gallon in the U.S. since April, dragged down by oil prices sliding amid a global glut of crude. Domestic oil production is at the highest level in at least three decades as drillers pull record volumes out of shale formations from North Dakota to Texas.

"Lower gas prices are filling stockings with a little more cash to spend on travel this year as travelers are expected to pay the lowest prices since 2009," Marshall Doney, AAA's chief operating officer, said in the statement. "Lower prices are increasing disposable income and enabling families to set aside money for travel this year."

Air travel is forecast to grow 1 percent from a year ago to 5.7 million travelers, according to AAA.

U.S. regular gasoline at the pump averaged $2.526 a gallon yesterday, the least since October 2009, data compiled by the motoring group show. Prices have fallen 32 percent since reaching this year's peak on April 26.

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Japan McDonald's sees fry shortage http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141216/ARTICLE/141219384 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141216/ARTICLE/141219384 Tue, 16 Dec 2014 19:08:44 -0500

The Washington Post

TOKYO - Already reeling from a butter shortage, Japan is now being buffeted by another food crisis: McDonald's is running out of french fries and will start rationing the crispy delicacy.

There's no super-sizing here. From Wednesday, customers will be able to buy only small packs of fries with their orders, which in Japan includes crab croquette burgers and gurakoro, a pattie that includes shrimp and mac and cheese.

The reason for the shortage? Labor disputes at U.S. West Coast ports are holding up shipments. As a result, only 55 percent of the monthly average volume of french fries is likely to be imported to Japan in December, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

An announcement in red letters on the fast-food chain's Japanese Web site alerts customers that the chain has had difficulty procuring stable supplies of French fries has led it to take this stance.

"This is a measure we've decided to take because we might run out of fries. We apologize to customers for the inconvenience," a company official told Kyodo News. Meal deals that usually come with medium fries will be 40 cents cheaper, and McDonald's is not placing any limits on how many small packets of fries a customer can order. No word yet on the impact on another local McDonald's product offering: the classic Quattro cheese fries.

With the major U.S. ports of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle tied up in a contract dispute, McDonald's has taken emergency measures: It is airlifting supplies of frozen fries - 1,000 tons of them - and has put in an order for another 1,600 tons to come from East Coast ports. However, these won't arrive until late January.

And Gusto, a family restaurant chain, earlier this month had about 200 tons of french fries air-freighted in to avoid running out. But these steps will not be enough to meet Japanese demand for U.S. spuds. Japan is, as Reuters reported, the biggest Asian market for American frozen potato products.

The French Fry Crisis of 2014 comes hot on the heels of a butter shortage that has seen the sticks of the yellow fat rationed to one per customer, if they're lucky enough to find it on supermarket shelves. That shortage is blamed on an unusually hot summer, which left Japan's cows exhausted and unable to produce their usual volume of milk.

Still, don't feel too sorry for the Japanese. There's no sign that it's running out of fresh sushi or chewy noodles

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Manchin seeks small business nominations http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141216/DM01/141219385 DM01 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141216/DM01/141219385 Tue, 16 Dec 2014 18:57:19 -0500 Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has asked West Virginians to nominate small businesses and entrepreneurs for the 2015 Small Business Week awards and for the West Virginia's District Office awards. Winners of the West Virginia District Office awards will compete for national titles and attend National Small Business Week activities in Washington, D.C. in May 2015. All nominations are due by 3 p.m. Jan. 5.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is seeking national nominations for the following awards: Small Business Person of the Year Award, Small Business Exporter of the Year, Phoenix Award for Small Business Disaster Recovery, Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery, Federal Procurement Award - Small Business Prime Contractor of the Year Award, Federal Procurement Award - Small Business Subcontractor of the Year Award, Federal Procurement Award - Dwight D. Eisenhower Award for Excellence 8(a) Graduate of the Year Award, Small Business Development Center Excellence and Innovation Award Veterans Business Outreach Center Excellence in Service Award and Women's Business Center of Excellence Award.

To nationally nominate a small business or entrepreneur, use the Small Business Week Nomination Portal, or send to the SBA's West Virginia District Office at 320 West Pike St., Suite 330, Clarksburg, WV 26301.

In addition to national awards, the West Virginia District Office is seeking nominations for the following district awards: Entrepreneurial Success of the Year, Family-Owned Business of the Year, Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Financial Champion of the Year, Home-Based Champion of the Year, Minority Small Business Champion of the Year, Veteran Small Business Champion of the Year and Women in Business Champion of the Year.

District nominations must be submitted directly to the West Virginia District Office. Guidelines and nomination forms can be found at www.sba.gov/wv or by contacting Nikki Bowmar at 304-623-7445 or nikki.bowmar@sba.gov.

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GOP lawmakers ready for 2015 session http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141216/DM0104/141219409 DM0104 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141216/DM0104/141219409 Tue, 16 Dec 2014 17:00:52 -0500 By Whitney Burdette Voters made history Nov. 4 when they elected a Republican majority in both the state Senate and House of Delegates, as well as the state's first female U.S. senator.

That female senator, Shelley Moore Capito, joined Senate President-elect Bill Cole and House Speaker-elect Tim Armstead Tuesday at a legislative conference hosted by the West Virginia Business and Industry Council. Capito said the Republican takeover of the state Legislature and U.S. Senate sends a strong message.

"If you're not ready to make the choices, you shouldn't be in the room," she said.

Capito has been placed on the Energy and Natural Resources, Environment and Public Works and Appropriations committees. She said she'll use her position on those committees to move West Virginia forward. She'll support legislation to fund a six-year highway bill and give oversight to regulatory agencies, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency.

"We've got to look at the whole picture," Capito said. "The EPA operates, I believe, only looking at one side of the ledger and I think that's ill-fated for the future of this country and certainly hurts parts of this country. I don't want to live under a policy that picks winners and losers and unfortunately that's what we've been seeing."

It's been 83 years since the Republicans led the state Legislature. Cole, who was chosen by his colleagues as Senate president earlier this month, said there is no playbook to follow as leadership changes parties.

"We need to get on with moving the legislative agenda forward," he said.

A key component of that agenda, Cole said, is enacting legislation that will "keep our kids home." That includes creating job opportunities, fixing the education system and broadening the tax base.

"If we don't broaden that tax base, we're in trouble on every single front," Cole said.

Cole and Armstead have worked closely since Election Day to craft a balanced agenda ahead of the 2015 session, which begins next month. The two hope to make the Legislature more transparent by posting meeting agendas at least 24 hours in advance.

Cole, a businessman from Mercer County, said West Virginia hasn't done a good job in the past of using its natural resources or beauty to improve economic conditions in the state. He aims to change that.

"We have it all," he said. "We just haven't learned to capitalize on it."

As with Cole and Armstead, Capito said she is working closely with the four other members of West Virginia's congressional delegation, including Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.

"I think we're all committed to working together," Capito said.

"I'm very optimistic about the working relationship," Capito added, referring to Manchin. "We're going to agree a lot; we're going to disagree a lot, but at least we'll know where each other stands. It's not going to be a mystery."

Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or whitney.burdette@dailymailwv.com. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.

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Stocks slip after biggest weekly loss since 2012 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141216/ARTICLE/141219460 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141216/ARTICLE/141219460 Tue, 16 Dec 2014 08:18:27 -0500

By BERNARD CONDON

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK (AP) - U.S. stocks inched lower Monday afternoon, following the market's biggest weekly loss in two and a half years, as the price of oil continues a six-month slide. The Russian ruble has plunged to a record low against the dollar.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell four points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,997 as of 1:13 p.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 56 points, or 0.3 percent, to 17,224. The Nasdaq composite fell 26 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,627.

OIL: The price of oil dropped, erasing an early gain. Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.24, or 2.1 percent, to $56.57 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil has fallen by about half since June on waning global demand and abundant supplies. The recent drop to five-year lows has been roiling stock markets.

RUSSIA'S PAIN: The ruble sank 13 percent to 65.91 to the dollar. The ruble started the year at 32.85 to the dollar. The falling price of oil, which is the chief source of Russian exports and tax revenue, has weighed heavily on the currency.

EUROPE DROP: After mixed trading earlier in the day, major European indexes closed sharply lower. France's CAC 40 lost 2.5 percent and Germany's DAX fell 2.7 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 was down 1.9 percent.

THE QUOTE: "What you're seeing is a correction that's long overdue, and now we finally have an excuse: free-falling fuel prices," said Uri Landesman, president of Platinum Partners, an investment fund in New York. "People are taking profits."

BUYOUT BOUNCE: Riverbed Technology and PetSmart are soaring on news that they agreed to be bought. Riverbed, a maker of computer-network equipment, jumped $1.61, or 9 percent, to $20.35 after agreeing to a $3.6 billion sale to private-equity firm Thoma Bravo and a Canadian pension fund. Pet-supplies chain PetSmart rose $3.26, or 4.3 percent, to $80.92 after announcing Sunday that it had agreed to an $8.7 billion sale to a group of investors led by BC Partners.

FACTORY FIX: U.S. manufacturing output in November surpassed its pre-recession peak as auto production ramped up. The Federal Reserve figures are an encouraging sign that America's factories are somewhat insulated from the global economic slowdown.

JAPAN ELECTIONS: Japan's ruling coalition won in lower house elections Sunday, giving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democrats up to four more years. However a business survey released Monday highlighted the challenges facing Abe's government, which is using large-scale monetary and fiscal stimulus to try to end two decades of stagnation. More than two-thirds of companies surveyed said the outlook for the coming quarter wasn't favorable.

ASIAN SCORECARD: Japan's Nikkei closed down 1.6 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 1 percent and Seoul's Kospi shed 0.1 percent. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dropped 0.6 percent. China's Shanghai Composite reversed losses to close up 0.5 percent.

BONDS: Prices for U.S. government bonds fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.10 percent from 2.08 percent late Friday.

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Diamond Electric to move US headquarters to Putnam County http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141215/DM01/141219542 DM01 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141215/DM01/141219542 Mon, 15 Dec 2014 13:55:48 -0500 By Whitney Burdette Diamond Electric, an automotive coil ignition manufacturer based in Japan, has announced it will move its North American headquarters from Michigan to Eleanor.

The move consolidates Diamond's main U.S. office with its existing operation in Putnam County, which currently employs 335.

"Today, West Virginia takes another step toward a brighter future," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said at a Monday press conference announcing the event.

Diamond Electric has operated out of Eleanor since 1997. Since then, it has grown into the company's largest production facility in the world. Diamond Electric operates in a total of seven countries, including the U.S. and Japan.

This isn't the first time Diamond has expanded its footprint in West Virginia.

"Since Diamond Electric opened its first manufacturing plant in West Virginia in 1997, the company has chosen to expand its operations in the Mountain State several times," Tomblin said. "We're honored Diamond Electric has selected West Virginia as the new home for its headquarters facility. I truly appreciate the confidence in not only our state and our business climate, but West Virginia's growing and dependable workforce as well."

The company also has a long history in Michigan, starting in 1987 when it opened its first sales office in North America. A few years later, the main U.S. office opened in 1992 in Dundee, Mich. Although the main office is relocating, Diamond Electric will still maintain a sales office in Michigan.

"This change improves our efficiency because now our administration and our manufacturing operation are all under one roof," said Hironori Kurita, president of Diamond Electric. "Our internal communication is much better because of this decision."

Diamond Electric is just one of several Japanese companies that maintain operations in West Virginia. Since 2012, six such companies - Hino Motors, Nippon Thermostat, NGK Spark Plugs, Wheeling-Nisshin, Toyota and Diamond Electric - have invested more than $130 million in West Virginia and created more than 175 jobs.

Tomblin credits those expansions to West Virginia's business climate. He said the state has taken steps in recent years to make it more attractive to businesses.

"We've worked hard in West Virginia to create a business climate that allows us to compete for projects like Diamond Electric's expansion," Tomblin said. "We've worked to create a climate where companies are encouraged to innovate and stay and create new jobs. Companies around the world are noticing the changes we've made. For the third straight year, we've cut business taxes, we've reduced workers compensation costs by more than 60 percent and this year businesses in West Virginia saw the tenth straight reduction in workers compensation premiums. We've stabilized our employment trust funds. We're tackling our debts, strengthening our education system and we're one of the most fiscally responsible states in the nation with the fourth strongest rainy day fund in the United States."

Those positives contributed to Diamond Electric's decision to move to West Virginia, Kurita said. He attributed the success of the Putnam County plant to the strength of its workforce.

"Our team members are our greatest asset," Kurita said. "Our goal is to provide a good work environment and to produce ignition coils that exceed the expectations of our customers.

"Because of the great work ethic of our team members, we have been able to enjoy great success," he added. "We are happy to tell everyone that our people make the difference in West Virginia. They make us strong and they give us pride."

Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-7939 or whitney.burdette@dailymailwv.com. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.

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Jared Hunt column: More residents eye big-ticket purchases in 2015 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141215/DM05/141219596 DM05 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141215/DM05/141219596 Mon, 15 Dec 2014 00:01:00 -0500 As consumer optimism increases modestly, more West Virginians plan to purchase new vehicles and spend money on home improvements in 2015, according to a new consumer survey from Huntington Bank.

Last week, Huntington Bank released the results of its third annual Midwest Economic Index survey, which interviewed 2,107 adults in the bank's territory - Ohio, Michigan, western Pennsylvania, Indianapolis and West Virginia - asking them how they felt about the economy and whether they will make any significant purchases in the coming year.

Overall, 50 percent of those surveyed said they expected the economy in their region to be better in the coming year. That's up slightly from the 49 percent who felt that way last year and the 45 percent who felt positive two years ago.

Fifty-six percent said they are better off financially now than they were five years ago, during the height of the Great Recession. As a result, more consumers said they were willing to make big-ticket purchases in the coming year.

"The survey confirms the recovery we are seeing in our local markets as unemployment rates and, more recently, gas prices decrease," said George Mokrzan, director of economics at Huntington Bank. "We anticipate that unemployment rates will continue to fall further in these states through 2015. We also believe that consumers here are expecting the same based on the feedback used to generate the index."

Like many across the region, more West Virginians said they plan to make significant purchases in the coming year compared to this time last year. Forty percent of West Virginians surveyed said they expect the economy to be better in 2015 (same as the broader region) and 57 percent said they were better off financially compared to five years ago.

Good news for state car dealers: 16 percent of West Virginians said they will "definitely" purchase a new car in the coming year, up from just 3 percent who said they would last year. That's roughly in line with Huntington's broader five-state region, with 16 percent planning a new vehicle purchase in the coming year, up from 6 percent last year.

Contractors and home supply stores should also be happy: 60 percent of West Virginians said they plan to make home improvements in 2015, up from 38 percent who planned improvements in 2014. That result is significantly better than the broader region, where just 48 percent of overall survey respondents planned improvements in the coming year.

Seventy-eight percent of West Virginians said they planned to take a vacation away from home in 2015, down slightly from the 79 percent who planned to take a vacation this year. That's roughly in line with the regional result, where 75 percent said they planned to take a vacation in 2015, down from 76 percent who planned to vacation this year.

While many of those surveyed planned home improvements in the coming year, not very many are planning to sell those homes once they're fixed up.

Just 6 percent of those surveyed in both West Virginia and the overall five-state region said they planned to sell their home in the coming year, virtually flat with last year's result. Bank analysts said that indicates consumers are still wary about the real estate market.

"The consumer sentiment on the real estate market is in contrast to our analysis which indicates that housing prices in the states where surveyed consumers live are generally climbing and relatively stable," said Mokrzan.

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US Small Business Administration names W.Va. director http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141215/ARTICLE/141219559 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141215/ARTICLE/141219559 Mon, 15 Dec 2014 11:19:14 -0500 CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Karen Friel has been named director of the U.S. Small Business Administration's West Virginia district office.

Friel has worked in several positions for the agency for the past seven years, most recently as deputy and acting district director. She also has served as a commercial loan processor for several banks.

She'll be responsible for the delivery and leadership of the SBA's financial and business development programs throughout the state.

Friel has degrees in marketing, management and business administration from Fairmont State University.

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W.Va. business groups to outline legislative agendas http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141215/ARTICLE/141219560 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141215/ARTICLE/141219560 Mon, 15 Dec 2014 11:19:05 -0500 CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Representatives of business trade associations are gathering this week to outline their legislative agendas.

The West Virginia Business and Industry Council will hold a conference Tuesday at the Charleston Marriott.

Council chairman Chris Hamilton says the conference will bring together major industries including coal, gas, health care, automotive, power generation and retail.

Legislative leaders also plan to give an outlook for the 2015 session.

Among those scheduled to give presentations are U.S. Sen.-elect Shelley Moore Capito, state Senate President-elect Bill Cole and House Speaker-elect Tim Armstead.

Appalachian Power President and Chief Operating Officer Charles Patton will give a lunch keynote address. Afternoon panel discussions will focus on education, the tax and legal system, and the state's economy.

A reception for newly elected lawmakers will be held afterward.

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Marshall holding online safety conference http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141215/ARTICLE/141219561 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141215/ARTICLE/141219561 Mon, 15 Dec 2014 11:18:37 -0500 HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - A computer safety conference is being offered in Huntington.

The conference continues Tuesday at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena. It is free and open to the public.

Participants can learn about preventing online bullying, avoiding identity scams, keeping their information and computers safe, and avoiding the dangers of social media.

The conference is sponsored by the arena, the FBI, the Huntington Police Department, the Appalachian Institute of Digital Evidence and Marshall University's Department of Integrated Science and Technology.

For further information, contact Institute assistant professor John Sammons at 304-696-7241.

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