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Brunswick Business Journal Staff Report
 
December 14, 2018 - Leading environmental groups have sued the federal government to prevent seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. The lawsuit, filed in South Carolina, claims that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) in late November. Those permits authorize five companies to harm or harass marine mammals while conducting seismic airgun blasting in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Cape May, New Jersey to Cape Canaveral, Florida. 
 
“With a vibrant commercial fishery industry and the only known calving ground for endangered North Atlantic right whales just off our coast, Georgians oppose seismic testing for offshore oil exploration and the threats it poses to our state’s wildlife, wild places, and quality of life,” said Alice Keyes, vice president at One Hundred Miles. “Our coastal communities have spoken out for years against seismic testing and offshore drilling because they understand what’s at stake — risks to our coastal economy and wildlife ranging from right whales to zooplankton. We are proud to stand with our fellow Georgians and thousands of others across the East Coast in opposition to this dangerous plan.”
 
“This action is unlawful and we’re going to stop it,” said Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana. “The Trump administration’s rash decision to harm marine mammals hundreds of thousands of times in the hope of finding oil and gas is shortsighted and dangerous. Seismic airgun blasting can harm everything from tiny zooplankton and fish to dolphins and whales. More than 90 percent of the coastal municipalities in the blast zone have publicly opposed seismic airgun blasting off their coast. We won this fight before and we’ll win it again.”
 
The government has estimated that seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic could harass or harm marine mammals like dolphins and whales — which depend on sound to feed, mate, and communicate — hundreds of thousands of times. Seismic airgun blasting would also jeopardize the iconic North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species, according to 28 leading right whale experts.
 
Opposition and concern over offshore drilling activities in the Atlantic includes:
Governors of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire
More than 240 East Coast state municipalities
Over 1,500 local, state and federal bipartisan officials
An alliance representing over 42,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families
All three East Coast Fishery Management Councils
Commercial and recreational fishing interests such as Southeastern Fisheries Association, Snook and Gamefish Foundation, Fisheries Survival Fund, Southern Shrimp Alliance, Billfish Foundation, and International Game Fish Association
Brunswick Business Journal Staff Report 
 
December 10, 2018 - Georgia-based Inspire Brands announced the completion of its $2.3 billion acquisition of Sonic Corp. With the acquisition of Sonic, Inspire now encompasses more than 8,300 restaurants and generates annual systemwide sales in excess of $12 billion, making it the fifth-largest restaurant company in the United States. In addition to Sonic, Inspire’s restaurant portfolio includes Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Rusty Taco.
 
“We are thrilled to officially welcome Sonic to the Inspire family,” said Paul Brown, Chief Executive Officer of Inspire Brands. “Sonic and its franchisees have created one of the most successful and distinctive brands in the restaurant industry. We look forward to helping further drive innovation and long-term growth at Sonic and across our growing family of brands.”
 
As recently announced, Claudia San Pedro will lead the Sonic brand as President. Cliff Hudson, former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Sonic, will serve as a Senior Advisor to Sonic until March 2019 to help ensure a smooth transition.
 
“This is an important and exciting milestone for Sonic,” said San Pedro. “Inspire’s commitment to strategic investments and culture of collaboration will significantly benefit our guests, team members, and franchisees. As part of the Inspire family of brands, Sonic is positioned for growth and to continue our 65-year track record of success.”
Brunswick Business Journal Staff Report
 
December 7, 2018 - The U.S. Census Bureau released 2013-2017 five-year estimates from the American Community Survey (ACS), which provides statistics for every county in the nation. Median household income and poverty rates continue to vary across the nation’s 3,142 counties. In general, median household income is higher in urban counties than in rural areas. Likewise, poverty rates tend to be lower in urban areas than in rural areas.
 
Across all counties, those that were mostly urban were often among those with the highest median household income (Loudoun County, Va.; Fairfax County, Va.; Howard County, Md.; Falls Church City, Va.; and Arlington County, Va.). Almost 87 percent of the total U.S. population lived in 1,253 mostly urban counties, counties where at least half the population lived in urban areas. Median income in those counties was $59,970 for the most recent five-year period. The poverty rate was 14.3 percent.
 
For individual counties, median income ranged from $20,795 to $129,588 and poverty rates ranged from 2.9 percent to 48.2 percent. Loudoun County, Va., had the highest median household income among urban counties during the 2013-2017 period while East Carroll Parish, La., and Brooks County, Texas, had among the highest poverty rates for urban counties.
 
Across all counties, those that were mostly urban were often among those with the highest median household income (Loudoun County, Va.; Fairfax County, Va.; Howard County, Md.; Falls Church City, Va.; and Arlington County, Va.). Of the mostly urban counties, Falls Church City, Va.; Lincoln County, S.D.; Douglas County, Colo.; and Loudoun County, Va., had among the lowest poverty rates. 
 
About 11.5 percent of the U.S. population lived in 1,185 mostly rural counties, counties with 50 to 99.9 percent of their population living in rural areas. Median household income in these mostly rural counties was $47,020 over the five-year period. The poverty rate in these counties over the same period was 16.3 percent. Median household income ranged from $20,330 to $94,775 while poverty rates ranged from 2.4 percent to 51.9 percent.
 
Fauquier County, Va., had the highest median household income among mostly rural counties during the 2013-2017 period. Holmes County, Miss., and Clinch County, Ga., had among the lowest median household income.
 
Morgan County, Utah, had the lowest poverty rate (2.4 percent) among these mostly rural counties while Oglala Lakota County, S.D.; Holmes County, Miss.; and Ziebach County, S.D., had among the highest poverty rates.
 
Only 1.6 percent of the U.S. population lived in the 704 counties that are completely rural, with 100 percent of the population living in a rural environment. Median income in those counties was $44,020 over the past five years. The poverty rate was 17.2 percent. Median income ranged from $19,264 to $92,849. Poverty rates ranged from 2.6 percent to 52.0 percent.
 
Of these completely rural counties, Elbert County, Colo., and Billings County, N.D., were among the completely rural counties with the highest median household incomes while McCreary County, Ky., and Greene County, Ala., were among the lowest.
 
Wheeler County, Neb.; Borden County, Texas; and Oliver County, N.D., were among those with the lowest poverty rates while Todd County and Corson County, both in South Dakota, and Jefferson County, Miss., had among the highest poverty rates over the 2013-2017 period.
 
Nationally, median household income increased 1.9 percent, from $56,587 to $57,652 in inflation-adjusted dollars between the two five-year periods. The percentage of people in poverty decreased from 14.9 percent to 14.6 percent.
 
These national trends were mirrored in all three geographic county groups:
  • In mostly urban counties, median income increased 2.3 percent while poverty declined from 14.6 percent to 14.3 percent.
  • In mostly rural counties, median household income increased 1.4 percent while the poverty rate declined from 16.6 percent to 16.3 percent.
  • For completely rural counties, median income rose 2.4 percent while the poverty rates declined from 17.7 percent to 17.2 percent.
Brunswick Business Journal Staff Report
 
December 6, 2018 - The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects total U.S. coal consumption in 2018 to fall to 691 million short tons (MMst), a 4% decline from 2017 and the lowest level since 1979. U.S. coal consumption has been falling since its peak in 2007, and EIA forecasts that 2018 coal consumption will be 437 MMst (44%) lower than 2007 levels, mainly driven by declines in coal use in the electric power sector.
 
The electric power sector is the nation’s largest consumer of coal, accounting for 93% of total U.S. coal consumption between 2007 and 2018. The decline in coal consumption since 2007 is the result of both the retirements of coal-fired power plants and the decreases in the capacity factors, or utilization, of coal plants as increased competition from natural gas and renewable sources have reduced coal’s market share.
 
In 2007, coal-fired capacity in the United States totaled 313 gigawatts (GW) across 1,470 generators. By the end of 2017, 529 of those generators, with a total capacity of 55 GW, had retired. So far in 2018, 11 GW of coal-fired generating capacity has retired through September, and another 3 GW are expected to retire in the final three months of the year, based on data reported to EIA by plant owners and operators. If these plants retire as planned, 2018 will be the second-highest year for coal retirements. Another 4 GW of capacity are planning to retire by the end of 2019.
 
Only one, relatively small, new coal-fired generator with a capacity of 17 megawatts is expected to come online by the end of 2019. The decline in coal-fired capacity is expected to further reduce coal consumption: EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook expects power sector coal consumption to fall 4% in 2018 and 8% in 2019.
 
One of the main drivers of coal retirements is the price of coal relative to natural gas. Natural gas prices have stayed relatively low since domestic natural gas production began to grow in 2007. This period of sustained, low natural gas prices has kept the cost of generating electricity with natural gas competitive with generation from coal. Other factors such as the age of generators, changes in regional electricity demand, and increased competition from renewables have led to decreasing coal capacity.
 
Environmental concerns have also played a role in coal retirements. Coal retirements were highest in 2015, driven in part by stricter emissions standards required by the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule, which went into effect in April of that year for coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. Instead of investing in emissions control technologies, many smaller power plants that operated at lower capacity factors were retired before the new standards were implemented. Some plants applied for and received one-year extensions, which contributed to retirements in 2016.
Brunswick Business Journal Staff Report
        
November 27, 2018 - Adobe reports that Cyber Monday hit $7.9 billion, making it the largest online shopping day of all time in the U.S. This represents a 19.7 percent increase year-over-year (YoY) as of 7:00 p.m. ET. In comparison, Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday brought in $3.7 billion (28 percent growth YoY) and $6.2 billion (23.6 percent growth YoY) in revenue, respectively. Saturday and Sunday, November 24 and 25, set a new record as the biggest online shopping weekend in the U.S. ($6.4 billion) growing faster than Black Friday and Cyber Monday with more than 25 percent on each day. The full season thus far (November 1 to 26) drove $58.5 billion in online sales, a 19.9 percent increase, with every day generating over $1 billion.
 
Buy Online, Pickup In-Store (BOPIS) over the weekend saw a record 50 percent increase year-over-year. As the online and offline retail experience continues to blend, retailers with physical stores drove 28 percent higher conversions online. Top sellers on Cyber Monday included the Nintendo Switch, Little Live Pets, Red Dead Redemption 2, LG TVs, drones (DJI, Air Hogs, Sky Viper), Dell laptops, FurReal Pets and Amazon Echo devices. Revenue from smartphones will hit $2.1 billion on Cyber Monday ($1.4 billion in 2017), making it the highest ever at 48.1 percent growth YoY, while smartphone traffic share grew 16 percent. Mobile overall represented 51.4 percent of site visits (43.6 percent smartphones, 7.8 percent tablets) and 34 percent of revenue (26.3 percent smartphones, 7.7 percent tablets), making it the first Cyber Monday where more than half of visits came from mobile.
 
Additional findings include:
  • Biggest Discounts: Black Friday saw the best deals for televisions (prices down 18 percent) and computers (17.8 percent). On the Sunday before Cyber Monday, shoppers saw some of the best deals for toys (31.6 percent). 
  • Out-of-Stock Levels: 2.4 percent of product page visits saw an out-of-stock message on Cyber Monday, up over a season average of 2.1 percent. This cost retailers up to $187 million in potential sales. In comparison, Thanksgiving saw 3.3 percent and Black Friday saw 2.8 percent, costing retailers up to $120 million and $177 million, respectively.
  • Top Cities by Spend: Denver had the biggest shopping baskets since Thanksgiving with orders averaging $163, followed by $157 in San Francisco, $156 in New York, $156 in Portland and $154 in the Seattle/Tacoma area. The nationwide average is $138, up 6.1 percent YoY as shoppers have gotten more comfortable buying more and bigger ticket items online.
  • Main Sales Drivers: On Cyber Monday, direct website traffic ranked highest for driving revenue at 25.3 percent share of sales (down 1.2 percent YoY), followed by paid search at 25.1 percent (up 7.4 percent YoY), natural search at 18.8 percent (down 2.8 percent) and email at 24.2 percent (up 0.5 percent). Similar to past years, social media continued to have minimal impact on online sales at a 1.1 percent share.
  • Large Versus Small Retailers: Large retailers ($1 billion or more in annual e-commerce revenue) saw 6 percent higher conversion rates on smartphones, a sign that investments in improving the mobile shopping experience are paying off. Smaller retailers, offering more specialized products, were better at getting shoppers to close sales via desktops with 7 percent higher conversions.
 

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