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Monday, Oct 2, 2023

The Business Digest–Lucent Expanding Operations

After closing a deal to acquire an Alhambra-based maker of advanced communications lasers, Lucent Technologies said it will spend $40 million to expand its San Gabriel Valley operations and add about 450 new workers there over the next 18 months.

The expansion will involve building a 20,000-square-foot plant in Irwindale and renovating two existing facilities a move that will boost Lucent’s laser workforce in the area to about 1,100.

The company is expanding because it expects a 16-fold increase in production of the tiny lasers used by cable television and telecommunications companies to send voice, video and data over fiber-optic lines. Lucent’s operations in the San Gabriel Valley stem from its acquisition of Ortel Corp. for $2.95 billion.

Herbalife Founder Dies

Mark Reynolds Hughes, the wealthy 44-year-old founder of Herbalife International Inc., was found dead in his Malibu beachfront mansion apparently of natural causes, a sheriff’s spokesman said.

Hughes, enmeshed recently in a struggle for ownership of his weight-loss and nutritional products company, died at his $25 million estate on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Convinced that Wall Street was not fully valuing Herbalife, Hughes unsuccessfully tried to arrange financing to buy out public shareholders and take his company private. The $510 million buyout bid, announced last September, was discontinued in April.

Herbalife named Chief Operating Officer Christopher Pair acting president and chief executive.

Scott Carrier, a spokesman for the L.A. County Coroner’s Office, said preliminary results from an autopsy on Hughes showed no signs of trauma, foul play or criminal wrongdoing. Results from a toxicology study for drugs and alcohol will be ready in four to six weeks.

Disney-Controlled Dot-Com Closes

Toysmart.com, a privately held Internet merchant controlled by Walt Disney Co., shuttered its virtual doors, becoming a casualty of the online retailing shakeout and underscoring Disney’s Internet travails.

The 2-year-old seller of educational toys, based in Massachusetts, had experienced a steep drop-off in online visitors as big, traditional retailers such as Toys R Us and Wal-Mart pushed their way into an already competitive field occupied by dot-com startups such as eToys and Amazon.com.

Disney acquired a 60 percent equity stake in Toysmart last summer for an estimated $40 million to $50 million. But it turned out to be another online black eye for Disney, which earlier this year said it would retool its limping Go.com network, which cost $500 million to build.

Castle & Cooke Boosts Offer

A special committee of directors at Los Angeles-based real estate developer Castle & Cooke Inc. said it approved a higher buyout from a company controlled by Castle Chairman David Murdock, but left the door open for the possibility of a better offer from a third party.

The committee agreed to an $18.50-per-share bid for the 73 percent of Castle & Cooke that Murdock’s Flexi-Van Leasing Inc. doesn’t already own. That’s 8.8 percent higher than the $17 a share that Flexi-Van offered March 29.

But questions remain about whether the new offer is high enough to mollify other big holders of Castle & Cooke’s stock, including an investment group organized by the four sons of former CBS Inc. chairman Laurence Tisch.

Apparel Jobs Decline

For the second year in a row, the L.A. County apparel industry lost more than 5,000 jobs in 1999, as garment assembly work continued to flee south to lower-wage factories in Mexico and as retailers stocked their racks with less-expensive imported clothing, according to a report by local economists.

By the end of 1999, apparel-manufacturing employment in the county, which accounted for one of every seven garment-industry jobs in California, totaled 101,200, a drop from 106,300 in 1998, according to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.

The group’s chief economist, Jack Kyser, said the $10 billion local industry will probably shed more jobs this year but at a slower rate, given the growing popularity of limited-run specialty lines produced at many of the county’s assembly shops.

County Freezes Program Growth

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors declared that it has reached an impasse in its negotiations with the state and federal governments over health care funding, and abruptly halted all expansion of its outpatient programs.

The supervisors said they are freezing up to $30 million in expenditures “to lessen the catastrophic meltdown” in public health services that could result if a key federal waiver is not renewed.

The board’s move ups the ante in a three-way game of chicken among Los Angeles, Sacramento and Washington over who will fund the county’s public health system, which was saved from bankruptcy in 1995 by a $1 billion waiver of federal Medicaid rules that expires June 30.

The decision to freeze all new expenditures on waiver-related outpatient care, officials say, jeopardizes the financial future of more than 100 nonprofit clinics with which the county has contracted under the waiver.

Disney, Cable Provider Make Deal

Time Warner Inc. agreed to a long-term deal to carry the programming of Walt Disney Co.’s ABC network, ending a dispute that prompted the No. 1 U.S. cable-TV provider to yank ABC for a day early this month.

The carriage agreement was the second announced recently by Time Warner, the nation’s largest cable operator. The company also signed a new long-term agreement with NBC, after months of uneasy negotiations, to carry the network’s programming through 2008, including all Olympics footage planned for CNBC.

Industry executives say Time Warner is eager to resolve any contentious situations that could interfere with the regulatory and shareholder approval of its agreement to be acquired by America Online Inc.

Santa Monica Hotel Targeted

In its first organizing foray into Santa Monica in decades, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 11 announced it is launching a campaign to organize the 320 employees of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.

Loews officials said the hotel will support whatever decision its employees make concerning the union. They noted that five of the 15 Loews Hotel properties in North America are already unionized.

So far, of the 10 major coastal hotels in Santa Monica, only the Fairmont Miramar Hotel is unionized. In a long and bitter campaign that ended earlier this year, the previous owners unsuccessfully tried to decertify the union.

Jakks Expanding With Purchase

Malibu toy company Jakks Pacific Inc. agreed to acquire Pentech International Inc., a New Jersey maker of pens, pencils and markers, for $17.6 million in cash.

Executives said the purchase would help reduce Jakks’ dependence on the fortunes of its World Wrestling Federation action figures, the source of most of the company’s sales in recent years. Under the deal, Jakks also will assume more than $19 million in Pentech debt, the company said.

Stephen Berman, Jakks president and chief operating officer, said the acquisition would make the company the fourth-largest U.S. toy maker, excluding video games, in terms of sales.

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