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Mike Copeland: Self checkout at H-E-B; Gas prices up; New medical facility on horizon

Mike Copeland: Self checkout at H-E-B; Gas prices up; New medical facility on horizon


Editors note: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that H-E-B Go has launched in Waco. 

H-E-B, Greater Waco’s dominant grocer, is relaunching its self-checkout service, expanding the number of terminals and making them more user-friendly, company officials said.

The company has placed six self-checkout terminals in each of four local stores — the “plus” locations in Bellmead, on South Valley Mills Drive and in Woodway and the regular H-E-B on Wooded Acres Drive, spokesman Johnny Mojica said in an email.

The company has experimented with self-checkout systems over the past seven years but is now using its own system instead of relying on an external vendor, spokeswoman Leslie Sweet said. Shoppers will see new hardware and software at the designated self-checkout counters that will make the experience more "seamless," she said.

Sweet said there are currently no plans at the Waco stores to launch the H-E-B Go service, which allows shoppers to scan items in the aisle to expedite their purchases at checkout. That service launched last year in larger markets such as Houston, Austin and San Antonio. Sweet said the company will monitor trends at the Waco H-E-B and could add the service eventually.

Gas prices up

Ho hum, some might say, gas prices are rising. Don’t they always this time of year, as the weather warms, spring break and vacation plans are being made, and oil companies busy themselves performing maintenance on refineries and switching to more expensive summer blends less likely to evaporate?

Well, yes, but that does not make them any less annoying.

GasBuddy reported Saturday that the price for a gallon of regular unleaded locally had hit $2.31, up from $2.24 a week earlier and $2.11 a month ago. Not good but better than the national average of $2.62 per gallon.

Statewide, gas prices rose 9 cents, to $2.38 a gallon, during the week ending Thursday, according to a report from the AAA Texas/New Mexico auto club.

“With spring refinery maintenance season getting underway, drivers can expect retail gasoline prices to continue to rise,” AAA spokesman Daniel Armbruster wrote in the weekly update.

A new fuel standard for ships also is likely to tilt refinery maintenance schedules, said Patrick DeHaan, a Chicago-based GasBuddy analyst and reliable source.

“Maintenance may be front-end loaded this year because of a significant change to required fuels starting in 2020 by the International Maritime Organization that requires ships to use ultra low sulfur diesel. … Most refiners are trying to avoid maintenance this autumn, as profits will likely be higher later this year,” DeHaan said. “That means more refineries are doing maintenance this spring instead of this fall, crimping gasoline supply just as we’re making the seasonal changes to the EPA-mandated specifications.”

He said OPEC production cuts related to unrest in Venezuela have also contributed to oil prices staying at about $60 per barrel, “the highest in months.”

“I think prices in Waco may rise another 15 to 30 cents a gallon before we peak,” DeHaan said.

Now, about those vacation plans — AAA, in a recent travel survey, found that almost 100 million Americans will take family vacations this year, slightly more than last year. Two-thirds of all family travelers “will embark on a summer getaway,” and most will undertake a great American road trip, according to AAA.

AAA travel editors have identified what they believe are the most popular summertime driving experiences for scenery and relaxation — 1: the mountains and valleys of the desert southwest, including Arizona, Nevada and Utah; 2: Northern California and Southern Oregon Coast; 3: Northern New England; 4: Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina; and (5) Black Hills, South Dakota. National parks also are nice, especially in the West.

Waco, in that vein, can boast of the Waco Mammoth National Monument.

Business roundup

The Waco Metropolitan Statistical Area’s jobless rate dropped to 3.7 percent in February, down from 3.9 percent in January and 3.8 percent a year earlier, according to figures the Texas Workforce Commission released Friday. The Waco MSA includes Falls and McLennan counties.

  • Waco’s Allergan plant was among 100 manufacturing facilities nationwide to receive the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star certification “for their superior energy performance” in 2018. The facility at 8301 Mars Drive makes eyecare solutions. Others in Texas were Alamo Cement Co. in San Antonio; Buzzi Unicem USA, cement manufacturing in Maryneal; Flowers Baking Co., with locations in El Paso and Tyler; and the Phillips 66 petroleum refining facility in Sweeny, according to a press release. Honorees reduced their energy bills by more than $400 million combined, the press release states.
  • Tribune-Herald readers may have noticed the story about Plano-based Oceans Healthcare building a 48-bed behavioral hospital at 5931 Crosslake Parkway, near Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center. It will open by year’s end next to a Fresenius Kidney Care facility. Local real estate agent Bland Cromwell said in a phone interview a 5-acre tract in that vicinity is under contract to yet another health-related user, and he expects a closing soon.
  • McGregor Bancshares, parent company of The First National Bank McGregor, doing business as TFNB Your Bank for Life, announced it has completed a $25 million private placement of its stock. The investors are affiliates of Castle Creek Capital LLC and EJF Capital LLC, “both of whom are well-established, sophisticated institutional investors that specialize in the community banking sector,” bank President and CEO David Littlewood wrote in a press release. Proceeds from the sale will support the bank’s growth and “market expansion activities in Central Texas and beyond,” according to the statement. The bank has two locations in McGregor, one in Triangle Tower at Waco and Valley Mills drives, and continues construction on a new full-service location on South Eighth Street near Interstate 35 and downtown Waco.

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