A growing bat research facility based in Colorado is moving ahead with expansion construction plans, despite some community opposition.
The Chiropteran Research Facility is set to be built on the main campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins and will encompass a 14,000 square foot stand-alone bat vivarium.
The new facility is an extension of the CSU Center for Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, which was established on the campus in 1984, and will be tasked with exploring bat diseases and viruses stemming from zoonotic connections.
The National Institutes of Health earlier announced the awarding of $6.7 million in funding to build the facility at 3105 Rampart Road, some 5 miles to the west of downtown Fort Collins. Additional funding is coming from CSU itself.
University officials expect to see the new facility completed sometime in 2025.
By design, the new facility will be built to replicate a bat habitat, and for the safety of on-site researchers will also include appropriate filtered ventilation and self-closing doors.
Earlier this year the Coloradoan newspaper noted that the bat populations at the new center could number into the hundreds, with the "bats acquired by the U.S. government from other parts of the world." Those bats will be quarantined and tested for sicknesses before being released to CSU.
The facility has prompted some opposition. An initiative called the Covid Bat Research Moratorium of Colorado wants to put the project on hold, saying that no public input meetings have been held regarding construction of the facility.
On its website, the group also says that more information should be first be compiled regarding a "possible Covid bat lab leak and gain-of-function research in Wuhan, China."
By Garry Boulard
Even as consumer confidence has seen a marginal increase this month over the month before, worries about a coming recession persist, according to a just-released survey.
The Conference Board, which is based in New York, is a research group publishing any number of surveys measuring the outlook of both chief executive officers as well as consumers on current economic trends.
The group’s U.S. Consumer Index, established in 1967, surveys the attitudes of 5,000 households across the country, and is regarded by economists and business reporters as the leading measure at any given point of American consumer confidence.
In its latest survey, the Conference Board notes that its consumer confidence index reading at 117 is at the highest recorded level since the summer of 2021.
“Greater confidence was evident across all age groups, and among both consumers earning less than $50,000, and those making more than $100,000,” said Dana Peterson, chief economist at the Conference Board, in a statement.
The index reading recorded a consistently upward reading from the depth of the Great Recession in 2009, all the way up to 2020 and the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic. In the first quarter of 2020, the index then roughly dropped from a strong 130, to just over 80.
The latest figures are part of a generally upward trend that has been ongoing since the third quarter of last year.
In the new survey, just under 22% of consumer responses said business conditions were good, with 15.2% categorizing current conditions as bad. At the same time, just under 50% of respondents said jobs were plentiful, an increase of around 1% over June.
But while 17.1% of respondents said they expect business conditions to improve over the span of the next 6 months, the number of those who said they thought a recession was either “somewhat” or “very likely” by the summer of 2024 had increased to just under 71%. Last summer around this time, such recession expectations were voiced by around 66% of respondents.
Even so, noted Peterson, recession expectations remain below previous readings, “suggesting fears of a recession have eased relative to earlier this year.”
By Garry Boulard
Work could begin later this year or in 2024 on the building of what is officially being called the Phoenix Hydrogen Hub, a project to be built out in phases on some 920 acres of undeveloped land nearly 40 miles to the southwest of Phoenix.
The project belongs to the Phoenix-based electric vehicle manufacturer Nikola Corporation, which earlier announced that the hub will be used to help the company in its production of zero emission trucks.
A release issued late last year by Nikola said that the hub, at 28702 W. Patterson Road in the town of Buckeye, could upon completion produce up to 150 metric tons of hydrogen on a daily basis.
Now Nikola has announced that it is entering into a partnership with Fortescue Future Industries, based in East Perth, West Australia and dedicated to the building of renewable energy and green product industries, in order to get the hub built.
The partnership is seeing Fortescue outright acquiring the hub, and in the process both funding and developing it.
The acquisition, said Michael Lohscheller, chief executive officer of Nikola, will “greatly strengthen one of the country’s first and most important hydrogen hubs.”
Mark Hutchinson, chief executive director of Fortescue, in the same press release, said the acquisition represents an “exciting opportunity to work towards a fast-moving project that will lead the way in the U.S., creating new green industrial jobs for Americans, while also helping to reduce emissions once production begins.”
The Nikola/Fortescue partnership has been a long time coming. In January of this year, the two companies announced the execution of a Memorandum of Understanding focusing on the eventual co-development of large-scale green hydrogen production facilities in the U.S.
When that agreement was announced, the Nikola company noted that is has been subject to a “large demand for green hydrogen in order to decarbonize the transportation sector and other industries.”
Named after legendary inventor Nikola Tesla, the Nikola company specializes in electric semi-trucks as well as electric components, drivetrains, and hydrogen station infrastructure.
Launched in Salt Lake City in 2015, Nikola set up operations in southern Arizona in 2019. Last year, the company’s revenue came in at just under $51 million.
By Garry Boulard
Voters in a growing greater El Paso school district may be confronted this fall with a facilities improvement bond in excess of $768 million.
Following up on nearly two months of study, members of the Socorro Independent School District’s facilities advisory committee have put together a package addressing a wide array of facility construction and upgrading priorities.
The recommended projects include everything from the building of new schools, the renovation of existing and older schools, and district-wide restroom, library, and playground upgrades.
To be finally decided by the district’s school board for placement on this November’s ballot, the bond may also fund new classroom technology as well as a host of facility security enhancements.
The second largest school district in metro El Paso with nearly 50 individual schools, the Socorro Independent School District has a total enrollment in excess of 47,000 and facilities in East El Paso, Horizon City, and the City of Socorro.
Bond proposals have generally fared well in the district, with voters by a two-to-one margin in November of 2017 approving a $448.5 million bond measure designed to fund new school construction projects.
If the results of a survey of district residents released last month is an indication, however, prospects for approval of a new bond appear challenging.
While some 68% of respondents indicated that they had a positive impression of the Socorro Independent School District itself, upwards of 63% said they were likely to vote against a new bond. The vast majority, at 57%, of those expressing a negative opinion of a new bond said they were concerned about a rise in property taxes.
By Garry Boulard
Occupancy rates have steadily pushed upward for senior residential units after the double-digit declines recorded during the first year of the Covid 19 outbreak, says a new report.
As compiled by the Annapolis, Maryland-based National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, some 47% of senior housing owners say their independent living units have actually returned to general levels seen just before the pandemic.
That increased occupancy rate was also reported by 37% of the operators of memory care units, while only 30% of overall assisted living facilities have witnessed a similar return.
Altogether, senior housing rates have been on the upside now for eight consecutive months, with the latest figures at 83.7% occupancy rate, compared to 77.8% during the second quarter of 2021.
Says Caroline Clapp, a researcher with the National Investment Center: “Continued solid demand for senior housing, paired with relatively slow growth in inventory, has contributed to the current occupancy recovery.”
Clapp added that while the ongoing occupancy recovery rate is the longest-lasting rate increase recorded by the center, “Occupancy is still below where it was at the start of the pandemic.”
In fact, the assisted living occupancy rate remains stubbornly below where it was before the Covid 19 outbreak when it stood at 84.5%. Similarly, the independent living occupancy rate is 4.2% less than what was recorded in late 2019 and early 2020.
Projects currently under construction represent nearly 5% of total existing senior housing inventory, which, while strong, is still less than the 7.7% achieved in 2019.
The highest occupancy rates, according to the study, are being seen in the East, with Boston and Baltimore at 89% and 87.5%. Atlanta and Houston came in at 80.9% and 78.7% respectively.
The Atlanta and Houston markets, however, have seen some incremental increases over late 2022 when the numbers came in respectively at 79% and 77.9%.
Industry analysts, meanwhile, have noted that new building plans for senior housing projects have in many ways been altered as a result of the pandemic.
Earlier this year, Multi Housing News reported on a building trend seeing a greater design emphasis on open space, making it possible for tenants to enjoy more “gardening activities, more sitting in the sunshine, and going for walks.”
By Garry Boulard
Work may soon begin in the northern Arizona town of Page, seeing the transformation of the former site of the Antelope Canyon Inn into modern residential housing.
Page, sitting on the shores of Lake Powell, came into existence in 1957 as a housing community which saw the immediate building of some 200 homes for construction workers building the nearby Glen Canyon Dam and quickly leading to a population boom of around 2,900 people.
In recent years the city, whose population is now just over 7,400, has been challenged by a poverty rate nearing the 30% mark, according to the most recent U.S. Census figures. Conversely, the town has enjoyed a thriving tourism due to the natural resources of Lake Powell and the nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, among other attractions.
The new housing project belongs to a group called Housing for Hope, which is based in Phoenix and dedicated to securing housing for those who are financially challenged.
Launched in 2011, the nonprofit Housing for Hope has been able to parlay public and private giving into the purchase of property throughout metro Phoenix for use as permanent residential housing.
With the help of a $150,000 grant from the Arizona Housing Fund, the group has now purchased the Antelope Canyon Inn property, which sits on a half-acre site at 75 South 7th Avenue.
With more substantial support to the tune of just over $6 million coming from the Arizona Department of Housing, Housing for Hope wants to build a 20-unit complex at the site which will include one and two-bedroom units as well as studio apartments.
Uniquely, the project will also provide access to substance abuse counseling and medical and mental health treatment services for its residents.
Called the Pinyon Pointe Apartments, the project will address a need for “more housing options in Page in general and particularly affordable housing for individuals and families who are at risk of homelessness,” said Steve Capobres, Housing for Hope executive director, in a statement.
The project has sparked the spirited support of local officials in Page. During a Page City Council meeting in which a conditional use permit was approved to build the Pinyon Pointe Apartments, member David Auge said the potential residents of the complex “want a place to live as anybody does.”
According to the Lake Powell Chronicle, Auge additionally remarked: “We need to have a place to help people have a place to live, where they have a place to call home, and where they can lock the door and that type of thing.”
By Garry Boulard
A highly regarded and international solar cell manufacturing company has announced plans to upgrade an existing facility in north Colorado Springs for production purposes.
Based in the town of Thun, Switzerland, the company Meyer Burger produces solar cells and modules, as well as arrays and panels.
Founded in 1953 as a maker of watch stone processing machines, the company enjoys annual revenue in excess of $100 million, and has long had sales offices in Asia, Europe, and the United States, among other places.
Two years ago, Meyer Burger announced that it was building a new solar manufacturing center in Goodyear, Arizona, a facility capable of putting out up to 1 gigawatt of solar panels a year.
That project was delayed until federal solar manufacturing tax credits could be made available. In correspondence with the Internal Revenue Service, the company said its plant will be the “single largest solar manufacturing facility in the world when completed in 2024.”
According to plans, Meyer Burger’s new Colorado Springs location will be tasked with making and supplying cells for the Arizona production facility.
In a statement, Johnna Reeder Kleymeyer, chief executive officer of the Colorado Springs Chamber & Economic Development Corporation, said the company’s Colorado Springs facilities will be “Meyer Burger’s first site in the Western Hemisphere to manufacture the chips and wafers that power cutting-edge solar technology.”
What is being called a “high performance solar cell manufacturing facility,” will see production underway towards the final three months of 2024 after Meyer Burger has repurposed a former 639,000-square-foot semiconductor fabrication plant located at 1615 Garden of the Gods Road.
The Colorado Springs project has been considerably helped along by up to $90 million in tax credits, among other incentives, by both the City of Colorado Springs and the State of Colorado.
Meyer Burger’s advanced technology has seen it applying diamond wire cutting procedures in the solar industry. According to the publication PV Magazine, in using such procedures, Meyer Burger was “taking advantage of technology it had previously used in its watch manufacturing business.”
By Garry Boulard
Major legislation designed to keep planes in the air and maintain infrastructure standards in the nation’s more than 5,200 public airports is now under consideration in the U.S. Senate.
Last week members of the House in an overwhelming 351 to 69 vote approved reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration for another 5 years.
The measure, officially called the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act, authorizes spending some $4 billion per fiscal year for the FAA’s busy Airport Improvement Program.
That program is dedicated to the planning, development and upgrading of the nation's airports.
Last week the program announced $113,000 in funding for the installation of new taxiway lighting at the San Carlos Apache Airport in Globe, Arizona; along with $1 million to build a runway at the Grand Junction Regional Airport in Colorado; and $674,000 for apron reconstruction work at the Truth or Consequences Municipal Airport, among other projects.
The House-approved bill has also tasked the agency with addressing safety issues on runways and expanding an ongoing air traffic controller training program.
An additional goal of the legislation: to promote project innovation and streamline the regulatory process.
Upon passage of the House bill, Sam Graves, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, remarked: "America has always been the gold standard in aviation, and this bill ensures that we remain the world leader."
Graves added that the legislation will also make the FAA more efficient, while encouraging the safe adoption of "new and innovative technologies and addressing growing workforce shortages, from pilots and mechanics to air traffic controllers."
A timetable for when the Senate may begin voting on the FAA Reauthorization has not yet been announced. "Hopefully we'll get a resolution soon," Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, who is the chairperson of the Senate Commerce Committee, told the publication Politico.
The current FAA authorization is set to expire on September 30. Once the Senate passes the legislation, members of both chambers will then work to iron out any differences
By Garry Boulard
The construction completion date for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company's new chip facility may be put off.
The Hsinchu, Taiwan-based company announced plans more than two years ago to build what will be its second manufacturing facility in metro Phoenix at a site at the intersection of Loop 303 and 43rd Avenue.
Originally, TSMC, the world's largest chipmaker, said it hoped to see the new facility opened for business and in production by the fall of 2024.
But now, Mark Liu, the chairman of the company, has suggested that the opening date may not occur until sometime in 2025.
"We are now entering a critical phase of handling and installing the most advanced and dedicated equipment," Liu has remarked in a call with analysts focusing on the company's third quarter 2023 earnings.
"However, we are encountering certain challenges as there is an insufficient number of skilled workers with those with specialized expertise required for equipment installation in a semiconductor-grade facility," he continued.
Liu added that TSMC is partly working on improving the situation by "sending experienced technicians from Taiwan to train the local skilled workers for a short period of time."
The new skilled workers will be added to a labor force of some 12,000 workers helping to build the Arizona facilities.
The challenges with the Arizona project come as TSMC has also announced plans to spend just under $3 billion to build a new advanced chip plant in Taiwan. That plant will be used to meet a growing worldwide demand for artificial intelligence products.
By Garry Boulard
A move is on to save a hotel in Belen that was built more than 100 years ago and may be on the verge of demolition.
Located at 100 Reinken Avenue, the two-story Hotel Kuhn was opened in 1906 and for decades served as a pleasant resting stop both for visitors as well as those working at the next-door Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe rail station.
With 35 rooms and a pleasant front balcony decorated with a series of decorative trellises, the hotel for years provided meals, baths, showers, and a barber service, among other amenities. In the 1930s it was also the home to the Albuquerque-Chicago College of Beauty Culture salon.
The hotel fell on hard times in the 1970s, with fewer and fewer guests, and has since been owned by several different parties. City officials, meanwhile, have long taken note of the deteriorating condition of the building.
Late last month, members of the Belen City Council finally voted to demolish the structure, describing it as an “immediate menace to the public comfort, health, peace, and safety.”
City documents indicate a multitude of issues with the structure that include a collapsing roof, mold infestation, and crumbling walls. The property has also been subject to vandalism.
Now the owner of the property has announced that an effort is underway to sell the building to an investor who has indicated an interest in purchasing the old hotel and restoring it.
That potential new owner has told the council that he wants to enter into an agreement with the city that will keep the building from being demolished, while at the same time trying to determine just how much it will cost to bring the Hotel Kuhn back to life.
The council, in response, agreed to hold off on any demolition plan for the next several months.
By Garry Boulard
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