Newsletter: California Inc.: From a galaxy far, far away ... heeere’s Han!

The “Star Wars” spinoff movie “Solo” is expected to be a hit, despite so-so reviews. The space western is expected to gross $150 million to $180 million during the long Memorial Day weekend.

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.

Good news for the Golden State on Friday with word that California added 39,300 net new jobs in April, with the unemployment rate falling to a record low of 4.2%. The latest report indicates the state economy remains robust despite some fears job growth was tapering off.



Bank deregulation: The House is expected to approve a bipartisan bill Tuesday aimed at easing regulations on smaller banks but also helping many large financial institutions. The Senate approved the bill in March.

Jobless claims: The Labor Department on Thursday trundles out the latest stats on jobless claims. Last week, new applications for benefits increased more than expected, even as the number of Americans on unemployment rolls fell to its lowest level since 1973.

Flying high: Amazon CEO and Blue Origin boss Jeff Bezos will address an audience at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference on Friday in Los Angeles. Bezos also will be presented a National Space Society award for space settlement advocacy at the event.

Kessel run: Never tell Han Solo the odds, but it’s a pretty safe bet his “Star Wars” spinoff movie, “Solo,” will be a hit, despite so-so reviews. The Disney and Lucasfilm space western is expected to gross $150 million to $180 million during the long Memorial Day weekend, which should be enough loot to pay off Jabba if nothing else.



Monday’s Business section goes deep on the gig economy, particularly how it’s been embraced by retailers and restaurants. The unemployment rate is at a 17-year low, but stagnant wages, chronic underemployment and growing inequality are leading more Americans to take on so-called side hustles. Some want to supplement their incomes. Others are just trying to eke out a living. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans now earn money from the digital “platform economy,” according to the Pew Research Center.


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

Not so fast: A Delaware judge refused to issue a restraining order against Shari Redstone and her family, allowing them to continue to keep tight control over CBS Corp. The ruling dealt a huge setback to CBS Chairman and Chief Executive Leslie Moonves, who has been chafing under Redstone’s control and her determination to merge CBS with the weaker Viacom Inc., which owns MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central. Now Moonves’ future is in doubt.

Net neutrality: The Senate narrowly advanced a Democratic-led attempt to retain net neutrality regulations, the first step in a longshot bid to keep the online traffic rules on the federal books before their repeal takes effect in June. The effort, which has built momentum in recent weeks, also is intended to elevate net neutrality as a political issue in the fall elections.

More movies: Maya Cinemas has spent more than a decade courting underserved moviegoers by opening cineplexes in working-class neighborhoods of Fresno, Bakersfield and other cities. Maya Cinemas continued its expansion last week with the opening of its fifth theater — a $20-million multiplex in Delano, Calif., about 35 miles north of Bakersfield.

All systems go: A NASA safety-advisory group weighed in on SpaceX’s highly scrutinized proposal to load rocket propellants while astronauts are aboard, saying it appears to be a “viable option.” Several members of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel said that as long as potential hazards can be controlled, loading crew before fueling is finished could be acceptable.


Sweet future: In February, Albertsons Cos. — which owns grocery chains including Vons, Pavilions and Safeway — said it would acquire Rite Aid, a purchase that includes the Thrifty brand and the El Monte factory where the ice cream is made. A Rite Aid executive says that Albertsons plans to keep the Thrifty brand alive and will sell the ice cream in its grocery stores.


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

Buyer beware: The Wall Street Journal analyzed 1,450 cryptocurrency offerings. Guess what? Things weren’t always on the up and up. A review of documents for digital coin offerings “found 271 with red flags that include plagiarized investor documents, promises of guaranteed returns and missing or fake executive teams.”

Mr. Congeniality: From Wired, a profile of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who almost single-handedly engineered the demise of net neutrality. “The competition is stiff, but Pai may be the most reviled man on the internet. He is despised as both a bumbling rube, trying too hard to prove he gets it, and a cunning villain, out to destroy digital freedom.”

Kale, not jail: The New York Times checks out a farming-focused Bay Area program called Planting Justice. The nonprofit “has forged a trail in which revenue-generating businesses help subsidize the group’s core mission: hiring former inmates, many from nearby San Quentin State Prison, and giving them a ‘family sustaining’ wage, along with health benefits and a month of paid leave annually.”

Endless summer: Fast Company spends time with entrepreneurs Daniela Carneiro and Eduardo Ribeiro, who came up with the singularly brilliant Truck Surf Hotel. What’s that? “The Truck Surf Hotel is exactly what it sounds like: a hotel. For surfers. On a specially designed, expandable truck. Why limit yourself to one location when you can go to the best waves, no matter how far removed from civilization they are, and still go to sleep in a comfy room each night?”

Science! Popular Science gets to the bottom of that Yanny vs Laurel thing that became, well, a thing. “I honestly think after looking at the spectrograms and playing with some filters that this is just the word ‘laurel’ with some high-frequency artifacts overlaying it,” says one UC Davis researcher, which is what I was going to say.



If you, like me, have a gamer in your family, you probably know about Fortnite, one of the hottest games out there right now. The New Yorker delves into how this online shoot-em-up got so huge. “Game fads come and go: Rubik’s Cube, Dungeons & Dragons, Angry Birds, Minecraft, Clash of Clans, Pokémon Go. What people seem to agree on, whether they’re seasoned gamers or dorky dads, is that there’s something new emerging around Fortnite, a kind of mass social gathering, open to a much wider array of people than the games that came before.”

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

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

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