Charlotte-based Duke Energy makes offer to purchase troubled South Carolina utility

Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE: DUK) is back in the mergers and acquisition hunt, having submitted a proposal to purchase South Carolina-owned utility Santee Cooper. S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster has proposed selling the state-owned utility in the wake of the failed $20 billion-plus expansion of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station. The July 2017 decision to abandon that project — after more than $9 billion was spent on construction — already led to the sale of SCANA Corp. to Virginia-based Dominion Energy Inc. SCANA subsidiary S.C. Electric & Gas owned 55% of the project. Duke is one of several companies and organizations to submit proposals for Santee Cooper, which has about 180,700 direct customers. It also sells wholesale power to 20 electric cooperatives and estimates that overall it provides power to about 2 million residential and business customers in 46 South Carolina counties. Charlotte Business Journal

Report: Apple to slow hiring; Austin’s new mega-campus on track

With iPhone sales falling short and revenue forecasts dragged down, Apple Inc. will cut back on hiring for some divisions, Bloomberg reports, citing anonymous sources. The intel was reportedly gathered after CEO Tim Cook met with employees earlier this month. In that meeting, Bloomberg reports, he said Austin is still on track to get a new $1 billion campus — and an expansion in Los Angeles was also specified as safe. Cook reportedly dropped the news to select employees a day after he authored a letter to investors about the company’s recent woes, particularly in China. During the meeting, Cook said he didn’t expect a hiring freeze — just that “some divisions would reduce hiring,” Bloomberg reports. Austin has a lot at stake. Not only are about 6,200 Apple employees already here, but the company announced in December that 5,000 more are on the way to a soon-to-be-built extension to the Austin campus. Austin Business Journal

SpaceX to develop, test Starship prototype in South Texas

SpaceX, the commercial space company of billionaire Elon Musk, is working in South Texas to develop and test an early prototype of the vehicle designed to take people to the moon and Mars. The Starship vehicle, with a test version recently assembled at Boca Chica beach near Brownsville, could one day carry space travelers atop a powerful rocket. The Starship integrated with the Super Heavy Rocket, previously called BFR, is expected to be more powerful than the Saturn V rocket that NASA used to propel astronauts to the moon. The assembly of the test Starship is reinvigorating the Greater Brownsville community after long delays and roadblocks. SpaceX first announced its Gulf Coast launch facility in 2014, but then years went by with little to no activity. People can now see the vehicle while driving along the beach, stopping to gawk and take pictures. Houston Chronicle

Texas unemployment rate holds at its historic low of 3.7 percent

The Texas unemployment rate in December held at its historic low of 3.7 percent as employers added to their payrolls for a 30th consecutive month, according to government data. The Texas economy added 38,000 jobs in December, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Annual employment growth for Texas was 3.2 percent in December and marked 104 consecutive months of annual growth. Over the year, Texas has added 391,800 jobs as Total Nonfarm employment reached a new high of 12,744,100. Houston Chronicle

TSA security checkpoint at Houston airport remains closed until further notice

It’s unknown when Terminal B at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) will return to normal operations as the partial government shutdown drags on. The Houston Airport System announced Jan. 16 that the Transportation Security Administration security checkpoint and the ticketing counter in Terminal B will remain closed until further notice. The closure began the afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 13 and is due to staffing issues associated with the shutdown. Passengers who are flying out of Terminal B have to check in and go through security at Terminal C or E before heading to their departing gate by walking or taking the Skyway tram to Terminal B. Click here for maps of the airport. Houston Business Journal

Eagle Ford’s 2018 boom may not extend to 2019

Drillers in the Eagle Ford Shale were productive in 2018, but as oil prices hover around $50 a barrel, there will likely be a halt on new wells in 2019, experts say. There were 175 more new well applications submitted in 2018 in the counties that encompass the Eagle Ford Shale than in 2017, according to data released by the Railroad Commission of Texas last week. In a presentation before market watchers in San Antonio on this week, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas economist Keith Phillips said the rig counts in that region and in the Permian Basin are likely to fall in the coming year. The Eagle Ford was slow to recover from the last downturn in oil prices in 2015 and 2016, Phillips said. Production began picking up in 2017 and increased in 2018 as prices climbed to $75 per barrel. The price drop in late December, however, has likely significantly slowed it into second quarter 2019. Houston Business Journal

Dallas Cowboys tops attendance as NFL lags in 2018

The National Football League’s overall attendance was down slightly in 2018, falling 1.9 percent to 33.8 million from 34.5 million in 2017. The Dallas Cowboys again had the highest attendance in the NFL at 732,958, an average of 91,619 per home game. However, the attendance was down 1.19 percent — below the NFL’s overall attendance fall. Thirteen teams grew home attendance, but only five added more than 1 percent to 2017 turnstile totals. The Los Angeles Rams, which are playing in Los Angeles for the third year after moving from St. Louis, grew attendance the most. In its first year in the cavernous Los Angeles Memorial Stadium, the Rams drew a whopping 665,318 fans in 2016. Dallas Business Journal

Tentacles of federal government shutdown spread across Georgia economy

A cotton farmer in Cuthbert is waiting on federally backed loans and crop forecasts for planting season. A broker of small-business loans near Cartersville has halted construction of his home after much of his revenue evaporated. A researcher in Atlanta specializing in moon dust has a NASA contract on hold. As the partial federal government shutdown approaches one month, the economic fallout is hitting the pocketbooks of more Georgians than the 16,000 federal workers furloughed in this state or working without pay.

Georgia unemployment claims by federal workers continue to surge

The wave of federal employees filing for unemployment benefits in Georgia continues to surge, as the partial federal government shutdown persists and more workers scramble for assistance. More than 1,200 federal employees sought new unemployment benefits last week, accounting for about one in 10 new claims the state received in that time period, according to data the Georgia Department of Labor released Wednesday. Only 34 federal employees sought benefits in the year-earlier period. The sharp increase comes after nearly 450 federal workers in Georgia filed unemployment claims in the two weeks before that, representing roughly an eight-fold increase from the year-earlier period.