Monthly Archives: November 2008

Gas prices: Back in time

I had a flashback of sorts yesterday. I went to Kansas City for Thanksgiving and stopped at QuikTrip on my way back to fill up the tank. Total cost to fill ‘er up? $25.07. For 18 gallons. It was $1.39 a gallon.

It reminded me of those days long, long ago when as a cash-starved high school kid I would feed my 1982 Ford Escort with wood-grain paneling — yes, I was THAT cool — $5 at a time. The year was 1988. I don’t remember exactly how much gas was then, but I figure it was close to 90 cents a gallon.

There was a point this summer when I never thought we’d see $2 gas again. Now I’m wondering if we’ll see $1 gas. If we do, I might have to break out my letter jacket.

Pulling from both directions

An irate – and unpublished – Opinion Line caller took me to the woodshed yesterday for what she perceives as an erroneous suggestion that the median home price in Wichita is rising.

Her logic – such as it was – was the value of her low-end home is falling, so the conclusion couldn’t be correct. And I should do more, she claims, than just parrot local realtors who aren’t being honest about the state of the Wichita housing market.

A couple of points: First, the conclusion is correct, and the irate caller is partially correct, as well. Upper-end homes are selling briskly in Wichita, and when a bunch of $500,000 homes sell, the median price rises. And, it offsets the lack of traffic in entry-level homes where the market has been literally frozen by the lack of credit for first-time homebuyers.

It’s the latest in the sagging national economy’s strong impact on covering business in Wichita: Some local realtors would love me more if I actually did parrot them because the real numbers – which we publish religiously as soon as they’re released – erode buyer confidence. I have no doubt that they’re correct about that. Yet others are brutally honest about what they see in a market that is clearly declining, spin notwithstanding.

Same with retailers: Some are candid about their questionable futures and a potentially bleak Christmas season. Others – mostly on the East side of Wichita – complain that business is just great and giving their struggling peers a voice hurts their business.

I’m reminded of a lunch many moons ago with a local construction executive, who peered across the table and said flatly, “Your job is to advocate for Wichita.”

So let’s talk about that. What do you expect from your newspaper?

Workin’ on it

Dan Loving and I had lunch today with Bryan Derreberry and Barby Jobe from the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. We congratulated them on having such a great annual dinner this year. Doris Kearns Goodwin was an undeniable hit.

So how do they top her next year (or even come close to having as good of a program)? Bryan said he’s already at work on that. He was also nice enough to ask for suggestions. So here goes.

How about a journalist? Ted Koppel, Tom Brokaw or maybe my personal favorite, Maureen Dowd.

Journalists have front-row seats and backstage passes — literally and figuratively — to all kinds of news most of us only get in black and white or soundbites. They can offer behind-the-scenes stories and perspectives on events and world leaders.

With the right pick — hopefully someone more engaging than professorial — the chamber could get a speaker who appeals to Republicans and Democrats alike.

And for this journalist, that will be worth reporting.

Citigroup: Breaking up is hard to do

It wasn’t that long ago that we were writing about Wachovia’s shotgun wedding with Citigroup.

And then Wells Fargo stepped in and scuttled the whole thing.

Seeing what happened over the weekend, with regulators hastily arranging a bail out plan for Citi, that might have been a good thing.

I never really understood why banking regulators were so anxious to pair up Wachovia and Citi. At the time the wedding was announced, Citi had already posted three consecutive quarters of losses.

I wonder how much this latest event is going to affect Citi’s credibility in the lawsuit it’s pursuing against Wachovia and Wells.

Maybe Tiger Woods should just buy GM

Tiger Woods is out as a General Motors spokesman at the end of the year, the Associated Press reports.

GM said in a statement Monday that it is looking to reduce costs, and that the star golfer also wants more personal time as he expects his second child.

Woods has endorsed GM products around the world and has been closely tied to its Buick brand in the U.S., Canada and China.

GM’s vice president for North American sales, Mark LaNeve, says the separation is the result of discussions earlier in the year and is not related to the company’s campaign for $25 billion in loans from the federal government.

Free Dr Pepper for everyone

Not sure if this is marketing genius or a costly move (or both), but the Associated Press reports that Dr Pepper is making good on its promise of free soda if Guns N’ Roses released its new CD in 2008.

The soft-drink maker said in March that it would give a free soda to everyone in America if the album dropped in 2008. “Chinese Democracy,” infamously delayed since recording began in 1994, goes on sale Sunday.

“We never thought this day would come,” Tony Jacobs, Dr Pepper’s vice president of marketing, said in a statement. “But now that it’s here, all we can say is: The Dr Pepper’s on us.”

Beginning Sunday at 12:01 a.m., coupons for a free 20-ounce soda will be available for 24 hours on Dr Pepper’s Web site.

Inside the Air Capital

In case you’ve missed it, we have a new blog in the family.

Air Capital Insider made its debut yesterday. That’s where you’ll find everything you need to know about the aviation biz inside and outside Wichita, thanks to aviation reporter Molly McMillin. In addition to industry news, Molly will provide lots of tids and bits about aviation that don’t always find their way in the paper.

Molly has been on the aviation beat for nearly a decade. “That makes me sound very old,” she said. But she’s not just a reporter, she’s an aviation enthusiast. Her dad got his private pilots license when she was growing up, and she’s now learning to fly in his 1956 Piper Tri-Pacer. In fact, she made her first solo flight on Nov. 1.

So check out Air Capital Insider and let us know what you think

Ford, Chrysler, GM bosses grilled about flights to D.C.

Seems lawmakers listening to the bosses of the Big Three automakers weren’t too enamored with how the Detroit men traveled to Washington.

In a story on CNN.com, Rep. Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat, called it “a little bit suspicious” that Ford’s Alan Mulally, Chrysler’s Robert Nardelli and General Motors’ Richard Wagoner flew corporate jets to request money to help rescue their businesses.

“There is a delicious irony in seeing private luxury jets flying into Washington, D.C., and people coming off of them with tin cups in their hand, saying that they’re going to be trimming down and streamlining their businesses.

“It’s almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high hat and tuxedo.”

None of three responded the criticism during the hearing, but their companies defended the CEOs’ travel as standard procedure. All three have policies requiring their CEOs to travel in private jets for safety reasons, CNN said.

“Making a big to-do about this when issues vital to the jobs of millions of Americans are being discussed in Washington is diverting attention away from a critical debate that will determine the future health of the auto industry and the American economy,” GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said in a statement.

I’m also guessing that there are a fair number of people who work in our city that are OK with the Big Three owning business jets.

A cleaner pig

Steve Kopperud, currently a Washington lobbyist who has more than 25 years of experience in the agricultural and government arenas, brought a truckload of information for his talk this week at the Kansas Agri Business Expo at Wichita’s Century II.

During the bio-tech part of the discussion, he spoke of a salmon that is being genetically designed to produce 30 times as much food. And then there was the environmental pig, which has been designed to defecate less but tastes just as good. “The pig is more environmentally friendly,” Kopperud said.

He was speaking of the carbon cap that all ag producers must consider. The EPA will set the standards and fines will be levied for a business — ag or otherwise — for exceeding those carbon limits.

Churchgoers live longer?

There should be some marketing potential here:

People who attend religious services regularly — and denomination didn’t matter — have a 20 percent overall lower risk of death than those who don’t, according to a new study by researchers from Yeshiva University, in the Bronx, and its medical school, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The results are an outgrowth of the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term study following more than 90,000 women.

River? What river?

I had the opportunity to go to lunch with Jeff Fluhr last week. He’s the new president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.

Naturally, we chatted about downtown. Fluhr sees the Arkansas River as a key component to downtown revitalization. That’s what the mayor says, too. In fact, everyone seems to bring up the river, but not many people seem to be doing much about it.

Take the Hyatt Regency Wichita. The city owns it, right? Why, then, was there extensive remodeling of the main restaurant and bar at the Hyatt, but still no incorporation of the river?

I’m sure it would have cost more, but this could have been the perfect opportunity to reposition the restaurant to overlook the river, preferably through huge picture windows. And an accompanying outdoor patio would have been a must. Done correctly, the restaurant and bar could lure Wichitans — not just travelers — to stop in.

Then again, even a river view might not attract me with prices like $22 for two less-than-generous pours of wine, which I was recently charged there.

Still, I think the remodeling was a lost opportunity.

I hope Jeff can work with the city to ensure we take advantage of the next one.

Levity in the midst of gloom

Believe it or not, we reporter types don’t necessarily enjoy reporting the doom and gloom that seems to be intensifying all around us and at an alarmingly increasing pace.

So I took great comfort today when a longtime local businessman and I were discussing the state of his industry and the economy in general when he said: “At least we’re still vertical.”

I think that says it all.