Baker, Ahles & Kaskovich

Bell Helicopter opens new manufacturing plant in Louisiana

Bell Helicopter President and CEO John Garrison speaking at ribbon-cutting ceremony for new plant in Lafayette, La.
Bell Helicopter President and CEO John Garrison speaking at ribbon-cutting ceremony for new plant in Lafayette, La. Bell Helicopter

The ongoing makeover at Bell Helicopter continued last week with the opening of a $26 million manufacturing plant in Lafayette, La., to build a new small commercial helicopter.

The Fort Worth-based manufacturer has been cutting back locally and consolidating operations at a renovated headquarters complex off Texas 10. In the last cutback, announced in April, the company said it would trim 1,100 jobs companywide, including as many as 600 in Fort Worth, due to a soft commercial helicopter market.

But it’s growing elsewhere.

In Louisiana, the 82,300-square-foot hangar facility was built on 14.5 acres at the Lafayette Regional Airport and paid for by the state of Louisiana. Bell will lease the facility from the airport and plans to invest $11.4 million in equipment and tooling.

Bell and Louisiana officials said the center is expected to hire 40 people this year and 115 by 2018, with average salaries of $55,000 a year, according to The Associated Press.

The plant was built specifically to manufacture the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X commercial helicopter, a five-seat, single-engine turbine 505 that’s a contemporary version of the JetRanger built by Bell more than 50 years ago. Bell says it has received more than 350 letters of intent from around the globe for the helicopter.

“The Bell 505 Jet Ranger X is priced to compete and offers an exceptional combination of value, performance and features available on the market,” said Bell’s CEO John Garrison, in a prepared statement. “We look forward to delivering this aircraft to our customers around the world and want to thank the state of Louisiana and Lafayette parish for going above and beyond to support our business.”

Bell recently completed a $235 million makeover of its 1950s-era headquarters complex in far east Fort Worth, including construction of a four-story administration building and relocation of its flight training academy from Alliance. The project was aided by a $13.5 million, 10-year tax incentive package from Fort Worth.

Kendall stays busy

Former Dallas federal judge Joe Kendall surprised folks Thursday when he asked to be allowed to withdraw from defending Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on felony securities fraud allegations.

Why was he backing out? Kendall cited “issues” with the case that would complicate his continued involvement.

But don’t worry, Kendall has got plenty to keep him busy.

A few days earlier, Kendall joined the legal team defending Chesapeake Energy against fraud claims by Fort Worth billionaire investor Ed Bass and a gaggle of others. U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade already has ruled in Bass’ favor for part of his claim that could be worth $8.6 million.

But during a trial that is scheduled to begin Sept. 7, the amount of damages Bass could win may go up several million dollars — possibly doubling the amount Chesapeake owes.

In the lawsuit, the Bass group accuses Chesapeake of improperly deducting post-production costs from royalty checks issued to him and 20 other landowners. They also contend Chesapeake underpaid royatlies because it based payments on a faulty weighted average sales price and that the company wasn’t prudent when it allowed the natural gas to be transported through an affiliate.

Chesapeake, for its part, says it has done nothing wrong. Kinkeade found their arguments “unpersuasive.”

Kendall will try to change his mind. Max B. Baker

Cassco honored with top chamber award

Cassco Development Co., developer of the Edwards Ranch, is being honored Thursday with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 Vandergriff Award.

The award will be presented at the Chamber’s annual State of the County luncheon, which will include an address by Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley.

The award was established in 2011 in memory of the late Tarrant County Judge Tom Vandergriff and recognizes an individual, company, organization or event that has positively impacted Tarrant County. General Motors, Van Cliburn, Sundance Square and Hillwood Properties are past recipients.

Cassco President Crawford Edwards said the company is humbled and overwhelmed with the honor.

Cassco Development is in the midst of developing Clearfork, on 270 acres of the Edwards Ranch in southwest Fort Worth. The development will have 2 million square feet of office space, 1.2 million square feet of shopping, dining and entertainment space and 2,500 multifamily units.

Lemuel J. Edwards pioneered the ranch in 1873. Several neighborhoods have been developed by Cassco since the mid-1950s, believed to be about $2 billion worth of property value. The latest, Clearfork, was made possible by new access to a section of the ranch that had not been seen by the public since the ranch was established.

The family agreed to wait until the Chisholm Trail Parkway was completed. The toll road was envisioned as far back as the 1960s, but the agreement to wait was reached in 1980. In 2005, Cassco donated and sold 181 acres to Fort Worth for the parkway.

“Fort Worth’s growth, prosperity and future owe much to Cassco, their deep love of the land and their wise and prudent planning,” said Chamber President and CEO Bill Thornton in a statement.

The 400-unit The Kelton at Clearfork, Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop and Press Cafe are scheduled to open this fall. Neiman Marcus will open in early 2017 in the 500,000-square-foot The Shops at Clearfork.

Fed running low on chips?

Dick Evans, the outgoing CEO of Cullen/Frost Bankers, had some really pointed things to say about the Federal Reserve during a speech at the Fort Worth Club last week.

Besides saying that the Fed has “analysis paralysis” on not raising interest rates, he also accused the agency of being “naive at best to think that it can turn around this economy alone.”

“Unfortunately, they have not been up to the task,” Evans told a room packed with employees and customers who came to hear his comments and advice.

The Fed’s policy “has been good for Wall Street, until last week, but harmful to many others,” particularly senior citizens who live on fixed incomes and rely on interest income, he said. As a result, some people “chase higher yields in risk areas they fully don’t understand,” Evans added.

“What’s happening now is exactly what I worried about. The Fed was too loose for too long — keeping interest rates artificially low. With the world economy slowing down substantially, the Fed now finds itself in a challenging situation,” Evans said. “Although it’s not completely out of chips, available options are much more limited.”

Apparently the Fed is not listening to the Sage of San Antonio. Following the stock market tumult, the head of the New York Federal Reserve said he’s less inclined to support a rate hike in September. Max B. Baker

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk

Sandra Baker: 817-390-7727, @SandraBakerFWST

Steve Kaskovich: 817-390-7773, @stevekasko