Monthly Archives: May 2008

The story that keeps on giving

Catch Saturday’s Eagle for the latest from the ongoing saga of Thomas Etheredge’s Wild West World. In the meantime, I’m hoping some of our readers from the banking industry can answer a question that keeps nagging at me:

How does a man essentially without a business plan land millions in loans from small Wichita bank branches?

Our detailed look at Etheredge’s failure over the past year reveals that his loan requests had no traction at Wichita’s large banks.

But the smaller banks – many jousting for local market share – jumped aboard quickly. And we’ve been told that some of the loans were without disbursement oversight. It’s clear that Etheredge used his connections at Summit Church to inspire faith and cash from his friends there. But that doesn’t explain the bank loans.

Was it carelessness? Eagerness for market share? A blind buy-in to a high-profile project?

A joint venture

Engine-maker Rolls-Royce and GKN Aerospace have formed a joint venture to advance propulsion system technology, the companies said.

The venture is for the research and development of composite materials for use in aerospace engine fan blades, the companies said. Rolls Royce will own 51 percent of the venture, with GKN owning the rest.

Rolls Royce is researching technologies in a move towards a lighter, more environmentally efficient engine.

Hey, hey … look at me

OK, not to brag — well, not too much anyway — but a column item I wrote on Neil Young is now prominently featured on his Web site. It’s not every day that a newspaper writer in Wichita, Kansas, lands on a rocker’s Web page.

Or so I thought.

After checking out the site a little more thoroughly, I noticed my colleague Joe Rodriguez’s story on Young and Wichitan Johnathan Goodwin, who is converting Young’s ’59 Lincoln into an electric car, is also posted there. Looks like I have top billing, though, at least for now. The Eagle has another story coming on Young and Goodwin that’s sure to bump me out of the top spot.

Tanker contract “trifecta”

The U.S. Air Force “hit a trifecta” in awarding a $35 billion contract to the Northrop Grumman/EADS team for aerial refuelers, according to a new report by the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

In doing so, the Air Force chose a “more expensive, less capable aircraft in a manner that undermines our trade laws,” it said.

There is a growing consensus that the “tanker decision is a poster child for the fleecing of America,” the union said. It goes on to list reasons why it says the Air Force’s decision was flawed.

Northrop Grumman responded by saying the paper is a “new chapter in (Boeing’s) disinformation campaign” about the contract.

Coffee Break

I didn’t get a ticket on the way in this morning. Things are looking up.

Here’s today’s dose of links:

  • The Associated Press has done a story on Pizza Hut, which is marking the 50 years since Frank and Dan Carney opened their first pizzeria in Wichita.
  • The number of people signing up for new cell phones is slowing, and USA Today reports that could be a good thing for those of us in the market for a new one.
  • Americans should be celebrating as gas prices continue to rise. At least that’s what is being said in story at Marketwatch, where the columnist gives eight reasons why higher fuel prices will do us a world of good.

Remember, if you see stories that you think should be included in Coffee Break, send them to me at dloving@wichitaeagle.com.

Calling Dillons and Wal-Mart

Wichita spoils a person.

So my complaint today is going to ring a bit hollow in a city where you can get anywhere in 20 minutes, thanks to the foresight of developers and city fathers.

But I’ll tell you what: There’s nothing I’d like to see downtown more than a Dillons. Or a Wal-Mart. Or anywhere nearby I can go to pick up a bottle of contact lens solution – for less than $10 – or a heaping pint of chicken fried rice without driving out of my way to the suburbs to wage hand-to-hand combat with the battalions of Wichita workers with the same after-work ideas.

It might happen. Wal-Mart reportedly has developed a multi-story downtown business model that it could implement across the country. And if you’ve been paying attention in Wichita lately, Dillons is fine-tuning its approach to groceries with new sites and new stores across town.

But talk is cheap. Get back to me, Wal-Mart and Dillons officials, and let’s get this downtown grocery store going.

Don’t mess with doctors

Aetna, still stinging from a class-action lawsuit that charged the insurer with systematically reducing payments to physicians and overriding their treatment decisions, this week unveiled its “Guiding Principles for Physician Relations,” in which the company says it formally defines its “continued commitment to building the best possible relationships with the medical community…”

The principles include commitments such as:

  • Aetna will work to make it easier for physicians to do business with us.
  • Aetna will continue to make our business processes as transparent as possible.

Considering the company had to pony up $170 million under a 2003 settlement agreement on behalf of 700,000 physicians, it’s no surprise the insurer is continuing to massage its physician relations. Aetna even alludes to the settlements in its explanation:

“All of the changes Aetna made as part of the settlement agreement are embedded in the company’s business model and are consistent with the way the company wants to continue working with physicians. The Principles reinforce those changes…”

Aetna writes about $50 million in premiums in Kansas.

Mayflower sez Destination: Kansas

From the For What It’s Worth Dept.: Mayflower Transit, the big moving company, reports today that it moved a few more people into Kansas over the last 12 months than out. That may reflect the big hiring of professionals such as engineers going on in Wichita — or it may be nothing more than a statistical quirk. (The fact that Nebraska had almost twice as many move-outs as move-ins, the worst in the nation, makes me suspicious)

Still, it’s nice to think that Kansas is finally gaining population from outside after decades of losing out. And the numbers do reflect actual trends: the biggest losers tend to be northeastern and Great Lakes states. The biggest gainers tend to be southern and western states.

Mayflower destinations Jan-April 2008

Mayflower destinations May-Dec. 2007

Psst. I’m an idiot.

Ran into former Eagle publisher Lou Heldman at lunch at a packed Caffe Moderne today. He thanked me for the parking tip (see yesterday’s “Psst, over here”) but said he was a bit confused about exactly where to go in the alley.

Actually, I’m the one who is confused — and directionally challenged. The alley is just to the left — or west — of the Marriott as you face it. Lou figured that’s what I meant and almost parked there but thankfully kept driving and left the space open for me.

While chatting, Lou had to pause for a minute to check his phone, thinking it might be his lunch appointment. Turns out, it was just our Midday Business Report coming in.

Great to see that he’s keeping up with us. Now send those tips, Lou!

Trouble in Paris

You get the feeling that the financial investigation concerning European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. (EADS) is going to turn into a Boeing-Darleen Druyun type scandal. The latest chapter is unfolding in Paris,  where  former EADS CEO Noel Forgeard is being held for questioning by financial authorities. Forgeard is one of 17 former EADS or Airbus executives being investigated for dumping stock just before the company announced further delays in the A380 in 2006. After the announcement, EADS shares fell 26 percent.

Forgeard  is big-name guy in Europe. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2004 and served as industrial adviser to the French prime minister for more  than a decade.

An expensive cup o’ coffee

Hear the one about the guy who spent $19 on a coffee drink? That guy is me.

On my way into work this morning, I stopped by Daily Grind, a new coffee house at Sutton Place. The coffee was good. The parking was not.

Parking signThere are no very few spots if you just want to drop in for a quick coffee to go, other than a number of unused spots in front of it on Market that are marked for police vehicles only. That’s where I parked. When I left the store after no more than five minutes, a kind lady was printing a $15 ticket for me.

Now, should I have parked there? No. I’m a law-breaker and ready to pay for my crime. But the city is doing itself no favors in its efforts to revitalize downtown by having inadequate parking in front of a retailer. If a business is going to put itself out there with a downtown location, it needs spots for its customers to park.

Marathon banker

You might have noticed that Bank of the West private banker Kelly Uran’s bedside table reading selection in today’s Business Today includes two books on running. There’s good reason. Uran is preparing to run the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco this fall. That’s 26.2 miles, by the way, of running up and down some serious hills, folks. It’s also on Runner’s World magazine’s list of must-do marathons in 2008. So let’s throw a little good karma Uran’s way by wishing her the best of luck.