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In The Region

W.R. Grace buys line of roofing material from Canadian firm

W.R. Grace & Co. said yesterday that it has acquired the Tri-Flex 30 roofing product line from Flexia Corp. of Ontario, Canada. Terms were not disclosed.

Tri-Flex 30 is a high-strength roofing material that provides a protective membrane between roof decking and the shingles, shakes, slate, tile or composite roofing on top of it.

Grace markets building materials in addition to catalysts used by petroleum refiners and manufacturers of plastics. The Columbia chemical maker was forced into bankruptcy by thousands of injury lawsuits related to asbestos-containing products it once marketed to consumers and industrial users.

Sandy Spring unit buys Wolfe & Reichelt Insurance

Sandy Spring Bancorp said yesterday that its insurance subsidiary, Sandy Spring Insurance Corp., has agreed to buy some assets and liabilities of Wolfe & Reichelt Insurance Agency, a small Burtonsville firm.

Wolfe & Reichelt is a general insurance agency that has about $700,000 in annual revenue. The firm's primary focus has been commercial lines of business with some personal lines. Principals Charles J. Reichelt and James N. Hutchinson will continue in sales and servicing positions. Roger E. Wolfe, another principal, will retire.

Pending regulatory approval, the deal is expected to close before the end of the year. Sandy Spring, which is based in Olney and has $2.5 billion in assets, did not disclose financial details.


SUV sales rose 56% from 1997 to 2002, census says

Sales of sport utility vehicles rose 56 percent from 1997 to 2002, a new government report says, resulting in one SUV for every eight licensed drivers.

SUVs also drove more miles than ever before - 315 billion miles in 2002, up 100 billion miles in five years - according to the report released yesterday by the Census Bureau.

"The headline news out of this is that there are now over 24 million SUVs ... up from 15 million" in 1997, said Census Bureau Director Louis Kincannon.

Along with 24.2 million SUVs, Americans registered 38 million pickups in 2002.

Ford to raise production of hybrid Escape SUV

Ford Motor Co. plans to start national U.S. sales of the gasoline-electric Escape sport utility vehicle in January as production of the company's first hybrid increases.

The Escape hybrid has been sold only in California, Michigan and the Northeast. Ford began building the model in August and will produce about 4,000 this year. The production plan is for 20,000 annually starting next year.

Clinic operator to pay $350 million for fraud

Gambro Healthcare, one of the nation's largest operators of renal-dialysis clinics, has agreed to pay the federal government $350 million to settle charges it defrauded Medicare, a federal prosecutor said yesterday in St. Louis.

The settlement by Gambro, which provides about 6.5 million dialysis treatments a year to more than 40,000 chronic kidney disease patients in 550 clinics nationwide, resolves an investigation that followed a 2001 lawsuit by whistleblower Dr. Steven Bander, a former Gambro medical officer.

U.S. Attorney James Martin said the fraud included Gambro paying kickbacks to physicians for referrals to the company's clinics, setting up a sham company to feed inflated billings to Medicare and falsifying billing statements to patients to justify compensation for unnecessary tests and services.

In the settlement, a Gambro division agreed to pay a $25 million fine and be permanently barred from the Medicare program.

21,000 United attendants are mailed strike ballots

The nation's largest flight attendants' union mailed strike authorization ballots yesterday to 21,000 United Airlines flight attendants, seeking their approval for nationwide walkouts if United or US Airways breaks its labor contracts in bankruptcy.

The board of the Association of Flight Attendants authorized a strike last month if collective bargaining contracts are abrogated by either carrier. Both have started that process while they negotiate new terms with their unions as part of bankruptcy reorganizations.

The AFA said it intends to carry out intermittent work stoppages on flights without advance notice if the contracts are terminated.

American Airlines offers incentives to reduce force

AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, the world's largest carrier, is offering some workers incentives to leave voluntarily, to reduce the number of people the company has to lay off.

The incentives include severance pay in some cases as well as extended travel benefits, a spokeswoman said.

American, which has posted losses of about $6.88 billion since 2000, said it doesn't know yet how many employees will get the offers and doesn't have a savings target. The airline had 80,300 workers in October.

China asks U.S. to scrap tariffs on its shrimp

China called on the United States yesterday to scrap antidumping penalties on imports of Chinese shrimp, denying that its producers were selling at unfairly low prices.

Most of China's shrimp producers are small to medium-size businesses, and "it would be impossible for them to export below market value," the Commerce Ministry said.

Washington set duties Tuesday on Chinese exports of frozen and canned warm-water shrimp at 27.9 percent to 112.8 percent after complaints by U.S. producers. Vietnam also was hit by similar tariffs.

The U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent federal agency that determines import injuries to U.S. industries, will make a final ruling early next year on whether shrimp imports are harming the domestic American industry.

American Greetings to cut 300 jobs at headquarters

American Greetings Corp., the world's No. 2 greeting-card maker, said yesterday that it will eliminate about 300 jobs, including 8.8 percent of the workers at its corporate headquarters in Cleveland.

The cuts represent 1.5 percent of the company's total work force of 20,000. American Greetings said it is cutting 175 of 2,000 jobs in Cleveland, but didn't specify which employees would lose their jobs.

Bank of America executive to retire

Bank of America Corp. said Vice Chairman James H. Hance Jr., who was chief financial officer for 16 years and helped build the third-biggest U.S. bank through acquisitions, will retire at the end of January.

Hance, 60, was replaced as CFO in April by Marc Oken, 58. Hance joined Bank of America forerunner NCNB Corp. in March 1987 and began serving on the company's board of directors 10 years later, the bank said yesterday.

Bank of America Chief Executive Officer Kenneth D. Lewis and his predecessor, Hugh L. McColl Jr., relied on Hance to sift through potential purchases and serve as the main person for talks on more than $100 billion in deals, including the $48 billion acquisition of FleetBoston Financial Corp.

Gateway resumes sales of computers in Japan

Gateway Inc., the No. 3 U.S. personal computer maker, resumed retail sales of its flagship brand in Japan to boost revenue in a market with less price competition than the United States.

The company is using distributors that carry computers made by Emachines, which Gateway bought in March. Japanese retailers Ishimaru Denki Co., Joshin Denki Co., Nojima Corp. and Tsukumo Co. will sell two models of desktops and two of notebook PCs.

Gateway has been negotiating since May to re-enter the Japanese market. Gateway withdrew from world markets in 2001 to focus on its U.S. business, where sales fell for three straight years.

This column was compiled from reports by Sun staff writers, the Associated Press and Bloomberg News.

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