Newsletter: California Inc.: Tech event looks at the coming robot takeover

GE’s Minds + Machines conference in San Francisco will focus on automation and technology in such fields as manufacturing, healthcare and aviation.
(Paramount Pictures)

Welcome to California Inc., the weekly newsletter of the L.A. Times Business Section.

I’m Business columnist David Lazarus, and here’s a rundown of upcoming stories this week and the highlights of last week.

Some good economic news from the Golden State: We added 52,200 net new jobs in September, marking a rebound from a month earlier, when employers trimmed payrolls by 7,700. The improvement came in large part from an increase in government jobs, as well as those in trade, transportation and utilities. Employment also increased in the construction and the leisure and hospitality sectors.



Report cards: The finances of some of California’s larger companies will be made public this week as quarterly earnings reports are posted. On Tuesday, Shutterfly (based in Redwood City) and Advanced Micro Devices (Sunnyvale) reveal their numbers. On Wednesday, it will be Avery Dennison (Glendale), Visa (Foster City) and Amgen (Thousand Oaks). Thursday brings us Twitter (San Francisco) and Banc of California (Irvine). On Friday, Chevron (San Ramon).

Robotech: Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft, will be one of the featured speakers at GE’s Minds + Machines conference Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco. The conference focuses on the uses of automation and technology in such fields as manufacturing, healthcare and aviation. Other speakers include Walter Isaacson, head of the nonpartisan Aspen Institute think tank and former chairman of CNN, and Charlene Li, founder of research firm Altimeter Group.

Heavy metal: Big names in the hard-rock music industry will be in Los Angeles on Thursday for two events. During the day, the Grammy Museum at L.A. Live will host the first-ever Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Summit, which will include a session featuring Rob Halford of Judas Priest and Sammy Hagar of Van Halen. In the evening, The Novo in downtown L.A. will host the 2017 Loudwire Music Awards, headlined by the Orange County band Avenged Sevenfold.

Economic growth: On Friday, the Commerce Department will release the first estimate of third-quarter economic growth. The toll from major hurricanes is expected to cause growth to slow to an annual 2.4% pace from 3.1% in the second quarter. Still, the U.S. unemployment rate has hit a 16-year low, and wages have ticked up in recent months. Economists believe that should boost spending and broaden economic growth in the coming months.


Entertainment awards: Dick Van Dyke and Matt Damon will be among the honorees Friday at the AMD British Academy Britannia Awards at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. Van Dyke will receive the Britannia Award for Excellence in Television while Damon will be honored with the Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film. Also honored during the event will be Ava DuVernay, director of “Selma,” and actress Claire Foy (“The Crown”).


As Amazon weighs bids to open a second headquarters, a key question: What would happen if the online retailer brought 50,000 workers to your city? Ask Seattle. Its growth remade a neglected industrial swath north of downtown into a hub of young workers and fixed the region, along with Microsoft before it, as a premier locale for the internet economy outside Silicon Valley.


Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:

Scandal: The Harvey Weinstein saga showed few signs of slowing down. The disgraced producer resigned from the board of directors of Weinstein Co. as he faced more allegations that he sexually assaulted and harassed women over two decades — and an LAPD criminal inquiry. Weinstein has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex. For full coverage, click here.

Cancer treatment: Gilead Sciences’ stock rose after the biotech company’s Kite Pharma unit gained federal approval for its flagship cell-treatment therapy for adults with advanced lymphoma. The Food and Drug Administration’s approval the day before of Kite’s treatment represented a rapid payoff for Gilead, which acquired Santa Monica-based Kite only last month for nearly $12 billion in what amounted to a major bet on Kite’s therapy.

Big deal: Developer Sares-Regis Group has acquired the former Toyota headquarters in Torrance for $270 million — making it one of the biggest real estate transactions of the year in the region, where there’s high demand for campus-style offices. The price was nearly double earlier estimates and indicates the potential the Irvine firm sees in developing the sprawling office and industrial park near the 405 Freeway.


Tax plans: As Congress wrestled with tax reform, Senate Democrats failed in their first attempt to save the state and local tax deduction, which helps many residents of California and other high-cost states reduce their federal income tax bills. Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said that failure to pass the Republican tax overhaul would trigger a “significant” drop in the stock market, which has rallied to record highs in recent months.

Money for Lyft: In the topsy-turvy world of tech, an investor can fund a company one minute and sue it the next. It also can turn around and fund a competitor, which is what Google’s parent company did when it announced that its growth equity fund led a $1-billion investment in Lyft, four years after its venture capital arm invested in Uber. The injection of cash increased Lyft’s valuation to $11 billion, up from around $7.5 billion in April.


And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:

Long march: What’s the most powerful economic power in the world? There’s a good case to be made that it’s China, says Bloomberg. “China is now in a position similar to that of the U.S. at about the turn of the 20th century — a formidable superpower that just hasn’t yet felt any reason to exercise its dominance. Once the U.S. woke up to the need to throw its weight around, no one doubted its primacy.”

Opioid distribution: Pharmaceutical companies successfully pushed for a law undermining efforts to crack down on the illegal trafficking in pain pills, reports the Washington Post. “The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market.”

Tech flaw: Apple’s decision to use something called butterfly switches in the new Macbook’s keyboard is causing all sorts of problems, reports the Outline. “Perhaps it’s true that less dirt gets under butterfly switched-keys. But therein lies the problem — when dirt does get in, it cannot get out. A piece of dust is capable of rendering a butterfly switch nonfunctional. The key won’t click, and it won’t register whatever command it’s supposed to be typing.”

Profitable waste: Drug companies intentionally make eyedrops too big, reports ProPublica, resulting in wasted medication and increased costs for consumers. High-priced drugs end up running down the cheeks of patients. “Chemotherapy drugs can run thousands of dollars per infusion. Crucial eye medications to treat conditions like glaucoma may cost hundreds of dollars for a small bottle that only lasts a month, making the waste of even a drop a problem.”


Costly java: The price of a premium cup of coffee keeps going up, reports the Wall Street Journal, with at least one restaurant now charging as much as a $55. “Many Americans have long moved past the ho-hum cup — first embracing the higher-end brews offered by Starbucks and now enjoying what is called the ‘third wave’ in coffee, with emphasis on farm-to-table sourcing and alternative brew methods.”


Because it’s a subject near and dear to my heart, the story about pricey joe set me to pondering memorable coffee scenes in movies. Many, it turns out, also have naughty language that excludes them from consideration here (see “Pulp Fiction,” gourmet coffee). But we can include the scene where a cafe waitress sends a caffeinated message to Dirty Harry. Not to mention the title sequence from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” And of course the spot-on bit from “L.A. Story” showing how coffee gets ordered in our fair city.

For the latest money news, go to Mad props to Scott J. Wilson for helping put this thing together.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the Business section.

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