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The Senate confirmed Maria Contreras-Sweet, a former California official who founded a Los Angeles community bank, to head the federal Small Business Administration.

Contreras-Sweet was approved Thursday by voice vote to the Cabinet position, which helps small businesses with loans and other assistance. She takes over for Karen Mills, a former venture capitalist who stepped down as the agency’s administrator last year.

President Obama said Contreras-Sweet “understands what it means to start a small business” and has “a proven track record of helping other small businesses succeed.”

“As we work to keep our economy growing, Maria will be charged with looking for more ways to support small businesses,” said Obama, who two years ago elevated the job to Cabinet level to emphasize the sector’s importance to the economy.

Contreras-Sweet founded ProAmerica Bank in 2006. It focuses on serving small and mid-size Latino businesses in Los Angeles. She also was co-founder and president of Fortius Holdings, a private equity firm that funded small California businesses.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Contreras-Sweet immigrated to Los Angeles when she was 5 years old.

In 1999,

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Animation giant Pixar uses technology only as a means to an end; its films are rooted in human concerns, not computer wizardry.

The same can be said of the new book “Creativity, Inc.,” Ed Catmull’s endearingly thoughtful explanation of how the studio he co-founded generated hits such as the “Toy Story” trilogy, “Up” and “Wall-E.”

Catmull was a 1970s computer animation pioneer (university classmates included Netscape co-founder Jim Clark), but his book is not a technical history of how the hand-drawn artistry perfected by Disney was rendered obsolete by the processing power of machines.

Rather, he uses Pixar’s triumphs and near-disasters to outline a system for managing people in creative businesses — one in which candid criticism is delivered sensitively, while individuality and autonomy are not strangled by a robotic corporate culture.

“Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration,” written by Catmull with Los Angeles writer Amy Wallace, was published by Random House.

Some of the advice flirts with cliche: Staff must be allowed to fail, and

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Most Californians can’t afford their rent.

The state’s affordability crisis has worsened since the recession, as soaring home prices and rents outpace job and income growth. Meanwhile, government funds to combat the problem have evaporated.

Local redevelopment agencies once generated roughly $1 billion annually for below-market housing across California, but the roughly 400 agencies closed in 2012 to ease a state budget crisis. In addition, almost $5 billion from state below-market housing bonds, approved by voters last decade, is nearly gone.

A state bill seeks to replace some of those funds and create more than 10,000 low- and moderate-income homes annually through a $75 fee for recording real estate documents. But the proposal has drawn criticism from some in the real estate industry who say it unfairly saddles homeowners and businesses with added costs.

“It disproportionally burdens one segment of the society with something that should be borne by the entire population,” said lobbyist Alexander Creel of the California Assn. of Realtors.

The bill, SB 391, would replace a portion of lost funds, $300 million to $720 million annually, depending how many

Americans are expected to spend more on business travel in 2014 than last… (Los Angeles Times )

With business travel spending expected to rise this year, American Express Co. announced plans to sell half its business travel division and create a separate venture.

American Express will give up 50% ownership of its global business travel division in exchange for an investment of $900 million from a group led by New York investment firm Certares.

The ownership will be shared with Certares, Qatar Investment Authority, BlackRock and Macquarie Capital, according to American Express.

The business will operate as a separate venture under the American Express Global Business Travel brand. Bill Glenn, formerly president of global commercial services at American Express, will be president and chief executive of the venture.

The company provides travel services — flight, hotel and car rental reservations, among other services — for business travelers.

In a statement, Glenn said the investment will “accelerate our growth by funding meaningful advances in technology, analytics and service excellence that will benefit suppliers, partners and our global customer base.”

With the U.S. economy on the mend, spending on business travel is expected

Aaron Levie, the 29-year-old chief executive of Box Inc., walked the red carpet at the Oscars this year in a dark suit and tie, pressed white shirt and his trademark neon blue sneakers.

“I asked about the sneaker dress code,” said Levie, who like many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs doesn’t like anything slowing him down, least of all a pair of dress shoes. “Apparently it was not a problem.”

It was the movie industry’s biggest night and Levie didn’t waste any time talking up cloud computing to Hollywood stars including Harrison Ford.

“He seemed to get it,” Levie said of the 71-year-old actor.

Levie, whose 8-year-old company is gearing up for the most hotly anticipated technology initial public stock offering to come out of Silicon Valley this year, has been spending a lot of time in Hollywood lately.

With sales growing threefold last year, the entertainment industry has become one of the largest markets his company serves. Levie is looking for an even bigger jump this year.

He has been meeting with movie studios, talent agencies and music labels to get a better sense of what the industry wants from a cloud computing

Lucian Grainge has a vision for the future of the music business that bears scant resemblance to the traditional record company playbook.

He is putting songs on smartphones in Africa, reviving moribund American record labels and making Lorde into a Grammy-winning global sensation. Above all, he wants to forge new partnerships with his industry’s erstwhile adversaries — the technology firms that have upended the way people get their music.

Skeptics question whether anyone can reverse the decline of an industry that has seen global sales plummet from $28 billion in 1999 to $16.5 billion in 2012. But if anyone can save the music business, it might be Grainge. As chairman of Universal Music Group, the biggest of the three remaining major record companies, few rival his influence in determining how people will listen to music, and how they will pay for it.

“He’s the great hope for the music business,” said Irving Azoff, manager of the Eagles, Christina Aguilera and other acts. “He started as a song plugger and a publishing guy. He understands the entire worldwide record business. And he gets technology. He understands that’s the future of the business.”

Many have counted

Chesapeake Energy Corp. said it plans to spin off its oil field services division into a separate publicly traded company.

The news came weeks after the the oil and natural gas producer said it was pursuing strategic alternatives for the division, including a possible sale.

The Oklahoma City company, which is the second-largest producer of natural gas in the U.S., has been moving to cut costs after a year of upheaval that included the ouster of Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon.

McClendon was ousted in April after a liquidity crisis and governance scandal. He helped pushed the company’s debt sky high after years of heavy spending, including on millions of acres of shale land in North America.

McClendon’s successor, Doug Lawler, said the company planned to sell assets and slash spending in 2014 by 20%.

The spinoff would slice the company into two businesses — one concentrating on oil field services and the other on exploration and production. Chesapeake said in a Monday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the spinoff would enable both companies to more efficiently conduct business and take advantage of opportunities.

The new oil field company will

Kimi Yoshino, a veteran reporter and editor, has been named Business editor of the Los Angeles Times.

During her 14 years at The Times, Yoshino has worked as a reporter for Metro and Business and covered a variety of subjects, including Disney theme parks, Anaheim and the Orange County beach cities. She fills a recently vacated position.

For the last few years, she has served as morning assignment editor in Metro, and completed two reporting rotations in The Times’ Baghdad bureau.

Yoshino also helped guide The Times’ reporting on the Bell corruption scandal, which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service. Last year, she helped lead a series about construction on or near seismic faults in L.A. and the risks posed by inadequately reinforced concrete buildings.

Before joining The Times, Yoshino was a reporter at the Fresno Bee and Stockton Record. A Modesto native, she studied at UC Davis.

If you’re against letting airline passengers talk on cellphones, you’ve gained a powerful ally.

The Global Business Travel Assn., a trade group for the world’s business travelers, submitted its opposition last week to a plan by the Federal Communications Commission to lift a ban on voice calls on planes.

The group, which represents about 6,000 travel managers, called onboard calls “detrimental to business travelers.” The association even quoted folk singer Pete Seeger, who borrowed heavily from the book of Ecclesiastes when he wrote “there is a time to keep silence and a time to speak.”

Although the U.S. Department of Transportation has already received hundreds of comments in opposition to in-flight cellphone calls, business travelers carry extra influence.

In 2012, business travel was responsible for $491 billion in spending, or 3% of U.S. gross domestic product, according to a new study by the travel association.

The business travel group released its report on the effect of business travel on the same day that the federal government closed its 30-day period for accepting comments on the cellphone ban.

The Department of Transportation collected 1,752 comments. Based on a survey of the comments, the

China could surpass the U.S. as early as next year as the world’s biggest spender in business travel, a year sooner than business travel experts had previously forecast.

With China’s gross domestic product growing at a slow but steady pace, the world’s most populous country is expected to increase spending on business travel by 16.5% in 2014 to $262.1 billion and 17.8% in 2015 to $309 billion, according to the Global Business Travel Assn. Foundation.

The foundation–the education arm for the world’s business traveler managers–had previously predicted that China would overtake the U.S. as the top spender on business travel by 2016.

“The growth in China’s economy has been unprecedented, propelling the country’s business travel market to the second largest market in the world driven by real spending gains for rising business travel demand in both transient and group meetings and events,” said Welf J. Ebeling, regional director for GBTA Asia.

Spending on business travel from China now represents about 20% of the world’s global business travel market, up from 5% in 2000, the GBTA estimates.

But about 95% of the growth in China’s business travel has been driven by domestic travel spending,

Among the frequently asked questions on Yelp’s website, there’s this: “Will Yelp remove or reorder bad reviews if a business pays for sponsorship?”

And the answer: “No. You can’t pay us to remove or reorder your bad reviews — it’s just that simple.”

It’s not that simple, at least if you listen to the many small-business owners who say Yelp routinely uses bad reviews and competitors’ ads as leverage to get merchants to cough up some cash.

“They continually harass you and strong-arm you to get you to pay for their service,” said Randy Boelsems, 64, who runs a boating supply company in Fountain Valley.

And if you don’t play ball, he said, it’s likely that negative reviews about your company will be featured more prominently than positive ones.

Such criticism isn’t new, though it appears that Yelp has found new ways to lean on business owners. Earlier this week, I wrote about an Alhambra jeweler who said that after he canceled his Yelp ad, a saleswoman for the site contacted him to warn that competitors’ ads would now appear with his listing.

“She said that for $75 a month, she could

Small-business owners were more optimistic about the economy last month and expected sales to increase as a winter marked by severe weather ended, according to survey results released Tuesday.

The confidence index from the National Federation of Independent Business rose to 93.4 in March, from 91.4 the previous month. The measure is one of the few monthly barometers of the small-business sector, which is a key driver of the economy.

Last month’s increase nearly reversed a drop in February, but the index, which can range from 80 to 110, remains historically low as the economic recovery struggles to gain traction.

While the index still can’t seem to get above 95, we can be encouraged that the economy is at least crawling forward and not heading in reverse,” said Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist for the trade group.

Although owners of small and independent businesses remained negative about future economic conditions, their expectations concerning sales showed a strong improvement last month.

About 12% of the those surveyed said they expected higher sales volumes during the next three months, up 9 percentage points from the February survey.

Hiring also improved last month. Small-business owners reported

Saturday night is fight night, with the highly anticipated rematch between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley set to be broadcast on big screens across the nation.

As thousands of fans traipse into bars and restaurants to catch the big fight, a small army of corporate detectives will be lurking in the background, hoping to catch something else.

Paid by the promoters of the closed-circuit televised event, these sleuths will be on the lookout for bar owners who show the Pacquiao-Bradley fight without paying the commercial rate, which dwarfs the fee to watch in your living room.

Pay-per-view promoters go to great lengths to punish piracy by business owners. They have filed thousands of lawsuits against bars, restaurants, taquerias and barbershops for illegally airing boxing and Ultimate Fighting Championship matches to large audiences.

The consequences can be severe. Loren Minnis said it contributed to the downfall of his business.

After investigators found that his Lake Elsinore bar had showed a Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight without paying the commercial rate, the closed-circuit promoters sued.

Minnis said his brother, a co-owner, paid $23,000 to settle the lawsuit, then closed the bar.

“You’re in the

Business travelers prefer flying Seattle-based Alaska Airlines over any other carrier, but Delta and United Airlines carry the most business travelers in the U.S.

Business travelers also love the gourmet sandwiches at Jimmy John’s eateries, but most of their expensed meals are eaten at Starbucks or McDonald’s.

These are among the findings of a new report by Certify, a Portland, Maine-based expense management company that processes 1.5 million business expense transactions each month.

Certify analyzes how much and where business travelers spend company money. But the firm also asks road warriors to rate the businesses they frequent while on the road.

Of all the food expense reports analyzed by Certify, the greatest number were at Starbucks (5.3%), followed by McDonald’s (2.8%). But Jimmy John’s got the top ranking, 4.5 on a scale of 1 to 5, even though it did not make the top 10 for total expenses.

Nearly 21% of all airline expenses were for flights on Delta, with 14% for flights on United, according to Certify. But when business travelers were asked to rank airlines, Alaska got the top score of 4.6, followed by Southwest with 4.3.

The top-rated businesses

Swiss pharmaceutical titan Novartis AG on Tuesday announced an overhaul of its operations that involved several multibillion-dollar deals with GlaxoSmithKline intended to allow Novartis to focus on its oncology business and boost profitability, the companies said.

The spate of deals follows recent consolidations in the pharmaceutical industry with large price tags, including the $5.6-billion acquisition of an Anaheim specialty drug firm by Irish pharmaceutical company Mallinckrodt this month. More are expected to be announced in the coming months.

Novartis said Tuesday it has agreed to acquire GSK’s oncology products for $14.5 billion, and an additional $1.5 billion if it reaches a certain development milestone. Novartis would also have opt-in rights to GSK’s current and future oncology research and development pipeline.

As part of its agreement, Novartis will divest its vaccines business, excluding its flu business, for $7.1 billion plus royalties. The companies said $5.25 billion of that would be paid upfront and the remaining in installments based on certain milestones.

The companies also announced a joint venture to run a consumer healthcare business, of which Novartis will own a 36.5% majority share. The venture will combine the companies’ well-known products, including Novartis migraine drug

IMac delays blamed on its popularity

Apple Inc. said the popularity of its new iMacs has led to shipment delays, causing two-week waits for customers ordering a 27-inch version of the desktop computer through the company’s website.

Apple started selling updated versions of its all-in-one iMac computer in October. The Apple fan site AppleInsider.com, citing resellers, said some buyers of the 27-inch models have complained about flickering screens and yellow-tinged displays — problems that Apple may be delaying production to fix. Users also have reported screen malfunctions on the iMac discussion board at Apple’s website.

A spokesman declined to comment on the cause of the shipment delays.


Ford credited Obama for stepping in to help General Motors and Chrysler and prevent auto suppliers from collapsing. Ford said the administration acted “swiftly and forcefully and it worked.”

Bill Ford delivered a list of recommendations to the Commerce Department developed at a Detroit business summit on ways to revitalize the economy.


Maiden flight for Boeing 787 is set

Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner is ready to fly today if Seattle’s skies clear, providing “a really big day” for the plane

Sue Herera and Maria Bartiromo are two of the best-known faces in financial journalism, a world once dominated by white men in suits. Both women, in recent interviews, expressed their thoughts on the stock market, the booming demand for business news and their ever-busier lives.

Sue Herera, 41, grew up in Brentwood. Her father was a shoe wholesaler and her mother a homemaker. One of the first jobs for the Cal State Northridge journalism graduate was an internship at KNXT, before the Los Angeles TV station became KCBS. She made the leap to business reporting in 1981 when she joined start-up business channel Financial News Network, where her first beat was the highly technical futures industry. In 1989, she joined another start-up, CNBC, which has become a giant in business news. Herera anchors “The Edge” and co-anchors “Market Wrap I.”


Why business news? “When I started, I knew nothing about business news. I’d call up guys in the [trading] pits in Chicago and they would hang up on me. After four months of that they finally realized I wasn’t going away. I learned business news from the guys on the CBOE [Chicago Board Options

It’s the question on the minds of many in Los Angeles’ film community:

Does Gov. Jerry Brown get how badly the state’s film and TV industry has been squeezed by runaway production?

Kish Rajan, director of the Governor’s Office of Business & Economic Development, offered some reassuring words to film commissioners and industry executives who gathered in Hollywood on Thursday for an annual breakfast hosted by the California Film Commission.

Rajan stopped short of saying whether Brown would rally behind a bill winding through the Assembly that would significantly expand California’s film and TV tax credit program, which allocates $100 million annually but is due to run out of funds next year. A final vote is not expected until late summer.

You know there will be difficult political considerations,” Rajan said, alluding to expected opposition to the bill in the Senate, and Brown’s own skepticism toward industry tax breaks.

Toyota Motor Corp. plans to move large numbers of jobs from its sales and marketing headquarters in Torrance to suburban Dallas, according to a person familiar with the automaker’s plans.

The move, creating a new North American headquarters, would put management of Toyota’s U.S. business close to where it builds most cars for this market.

North American Chief Executive Jim Lentz is expected to brief employees Monday, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly. Toyota declined to detail its plans. About 5,300 people work at Toyota’s Torrance complex. It is unclear how many workers will be asked to move to Texas. The move is expected to take several years.

Toyota has long been a Southern California fixture. Its first U.S. office opened in a closed Rambler dealership in Hollywood in 1957. The site is now a Toyota dealership. In 1958, its first year of sales, Toyota sold just 288 vehicles — 287 Toyopet Crown sedans and one Land Cruiser. Last year, Toyota sold more than 2.2 million vehicles in the U.S.

The U.S. branch picked Los Angeles for its first headquarters because of proximity to the port complex — where it

Pots were boiling, pastries were baking and bodies were moving Wednesday as students at Aliso Niguel High School prepared a special luncheon to announce the start of an internship program to teach students the restaurant business.

Students spend 15 hours a week working at local restaurants as part of their Culinary Arts Department curriculum. They also may receive community college credit. The paid internships teach students all aspects of the restaurant industry, from bookkeeping and produce inventory to cooking and busing tables.

“This will really help me a lot,” said sophomore James Noonan, who aspires to be the next Wolfgang Puck.

A pilot program started last year, with the help of the Aliso Viejo Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Assn. After a year of fine-tuning, the partnership officially gets underway with restaurants ranging from the Ritz-Carlton and the Salt Creek Grill, to Mimi’s Cafe and the Macaroni Grill to the International House of Pancakes and Pizza Hut.

“I think it’s a great program,” said Cori Stewart, general manager of Pasta Bravo in Aliso Viejo, a program participant. “This is one area where you can get practical experience at a young age.”