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Busy Madison highway sees lane reduction in spring and fall

Madison (AP) — One of the busiest stretches of highway in Dane County is reduced from six lanes to four.
Construction workers are replacing pavement and installing median safety walls on a 3.7-mile stretch of
Interstate 39/90/94 from the Dane County line north into Columbia County.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation warns motorists should expect delays during peak travel hours.
Two lanes of traffic in both directions will be open at all time during construction, which will be completed
over several months in the spring and fall.

WisDOT decided to divide the work from Feb. 23 until May 22 and again from Sept. 9 until Nov. 20 so the area wouldn’t be under construction when tourists go “up north” for the summer.

Looking to 2012 election, GOP governors step into spotlight

Washington (AP) — With an eye toward the 2012 presidential contest, leading Republicans used this weekend’s meeting of the National Governors Association to lay out divergent views of President Obama’s stimulus plan — and competing visions of their party’s future.

On one side were southern governors including Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and Mark Sanford of South Carolina. All three are outspoken critics of Obama’s $787 billion plan to jolt the economy through investment in education, health care and transportation, and said they are likely to reject some of the stimulus money.

Jindal and Sanford are considered likely presidential candidates in 2012, but have demurred when asked about their future endeavors.

On the other side were the coastal moderates, including Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and California Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger, who embraced Obama’s stimulus plan as an important, if imperfect, means of bringing their states out of the grip of recession. Schwarzenegger, a native of Austria, is precluded by law from running for
president, but Crist is thought to be a serious prospect.

In the middle is another likely 2012 contender, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who criticized the stimulus bill
but nonetheless plans to accept the money for his state. Pawlenty, whom John McCain nearly chose as his running mate last year, speaks openly of the need for the GOP to modernize and attract more minorities and women while putting a conservative stamp on issues like health care and alternative energy.

One man in one year picks up  50 jobs in 50 states

Theresa (AP) — At a time when some people are having trouble finding one job, Daniel Seddiqui is lining up 50 — one in every state.

Each job symbolizes the state’s most famous industry, and each lasts one week — just long enough for the 26-year-old to appreciate the labor and explore the region.

He’s been a park ranger in Wyoming, a corn farmer in Nebraska and a wedding coordinator in Las Vegas.

Last week, in Week 23 of his yearlong saga, he was a cheese maker in southeast Wisconsin. He mixed ingredients, hoisted slabs of cheddar — and tasted plenty of his work.

Seddiqui, who grew up in Los Altos, Calif., insists his job-hopping isn’t a gimmick. He said it is a legitimate
effort to travel the U.S., learn about cultures and develop a respect for what other people do.

California homebuilder seeks bankruptcy protection amid slow market

Irvine, CA (AP) — California homebuilder John Laing Homes filed for bankruptcy protection, citing a weakening demand for new homes.

WL Homes, which does business as John Laing Homes, filed Chapter 11 documents in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware on Thursday. The 161-year-old firm listed assets of more than $1 billion and debt of $500 million to $1 billion.

Company officials said the filing was due, in part, to the dwindling number of new homes sold in the U.S. over the past three years. John Laing had revenue of $948 million on the sale of 1,371 homes in 2007.

Revenue dropped to $287 million on the sale of 560 homes through Nov. 30 of last year, according to court documents.

The company’s roots date back to 1848 when James Laing began building homes in England. John Laing Homes entered the U.S. market in 1984.

Dubai-based Emaar Properties, one of the world’s largest developers, bought John Laing for more than $1 billion in 2006 during the real estate boom. Emaar last week reported a fourth-quarter loss based mostly on a $482 million write-down in goodwill at John Laing.

More than two dozen home builders have sought bankruptcy protection since June 2007.

Cement maker Lafarge SA will sell shares and assets to reduce debt

Paris (AP) — Lafarge SA, the world’s largest cement maker, said Friday it would sell billions of dollars in new shares and assets and halve its dividend to manage debt it took on to finance expansion before the global financial crisis took hold.

Paris-based Lafarge will sell billions in new shares and assets and will cut costs and investments to manage debt which nearly doubled last year.

Lafarge slashed its dividend in half to $2.54 per share, as it announced declining earnings per share for 2008 and said falling volumes of cement sales would pressure margins in 2009.

The company said net profit fell nearly 17 percent.

Lafarge’s debt nearly doubled at the end of last year, following its debt-financed purchase in 2007 of Egypt’s Orascom Cement.

Lafarge shares sank 65 percent last year as the global economic slowdown and building slump hit the construction industry hard.

Glass maker Saint-Gobian sees 2008 profit fall, cuts dividend

Paris (AP) — Compagnie de Saint-Gobain, one of the world’s largest producers of glass for the construction and automobile industries, Friday said it would sell around $1.91 billion in new shares to bolster its capital amid the deepening global economic crisis.

Saint-Gobain, a company that can trace its origins back to the 17th century and a commission for the Palace of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, also abandoned its earnings targets and slashed its dividend in half as it reported falling profit and prepared for “an extremely challenging” 2009.

The suburban Paris-based company said recurring net profit slid 9.5 percent to $2.66 billion last year.

Businesses related to construction markets in Europe were particularly affected in the fourth quarter, as the financial crisis worsened and British and Spanish construction markets’ contraction accelerated, Saint-Gobain said.

The company cut its dividend and said earnings targets for next year that it had set out in 2007 were “obsolete.” Saint-Gobain made no new forecasts but said it “stands to benefit fully as soon as the impacts of the economic stimulus packages and energy-efficiency plans launched by Western governments begin to be felt.”

Italy’s Enel takes over Spanish utility Endesa, ending bidding war

Madrid (AP) — Italian utility Enel acquired full control of Spanish utility Endesa following the purchase of a 25 percent stake from construction group Acciona.
Acciona said it sold its stake for $14 billion.

The overnight agreement gives Enel a 92 percent stake in Spain’s largest utility and marks the culmination of a bidding war that first broke out in 2005.

Under the deal, subject to Spanish and European Union regulatory approval, Acciona will receive $12.1 billion from Enel and $1.9 billion in a dividend from Endesa.

Acciona agreed to then buy $3.6 billion in renewable energy assets from Endesa in Spain and Portugal.

Enel and Acciona acquired Endesa in March 2007 after the Spanish government deterred a bid for it from Germany’s E.On, which in turn outbid an earlier acquisition attempt for Endesa from Spain’s Gas Natural.

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