Warren Watch: Omaha is ‘small,’ ‘sleepy’ to outsiders

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Posted: Sunday, May 11, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 1:51 am, Tue May 20, 2014.

Join Steve Jordon at 11:30 a.m. Tuesdays for a live chat about Warren Buffett.

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“O wad some Power the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!” — Robert Burns

Each spring Omaha gets the gift that poet Robert Burns summoned, when tens of thousands of people come to town for Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s annual shareholders meetings.

Some of these “others” tell us how they see the city that hosts the three-day corporate celebration. A sampling:

“About 40,000 investment geeks have converged on the sleepy city of Omaha this weekend.” — Scott Pape, the Herald Sun, Melbourne, Australia.

“We’re in Omaha in time for dinner Friday night at Piccolo’s, an Italian joint packed with Berkshire Hathaway-ites. A ‘cultish’ experience, one Beloved had said. ‘You didn’t read the literature?’ asked Mark from Seattle, when I mentioned I’d never seen a restaurant as crowded as a rock concert. ... Our waitress tells us that (Berkshire CEO Warren) Buffett will ‘probably be here on Sunday.’ In response to our queries, she reveals he’s a 20 percent tipper.” — Leah Garchik, the San Francisco Chronicle.

“As in past years, the town of Omaha suddenly became alive with loyal company shareholders eager to be inspired and to patronize company-owned businesses in the area — and with asset managers eager to learn from the master himself.” — RVW Investing LLC of Los Angeles, via PR Newswire.

“Young investment hopefuls to multimillion-dollar portfolio managers ... will vouch for the fact that the insights they have gained and the people they have met on trips to a quiet town in the heart of America have played a major role in their investment success.” — Jonathan Shapiro, the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia.

“In this vast venue in this small city — a place even Midwesterners use as shorthand for the middle of nowhere — the applause rises, as a small, white-haired man walks on stage, smiling. He is accompanied by another man, even more elderly.” One attendee said, “If you are an investor, you have to go back to (Omaha) to remind yourself how not to be distracted.” — Katherine Rushton, the London Telegraph.

Kids to sell ideas

Three teams and five individual entrepreneurs-to-be, ages 7 to 14, will come to Omaha May 19 to show their business ideas to Buffett, the third year for a scholarship contest by the Buffett-assisted online cartoon series “Secret Millionaires Club.”

The 13 finalists from New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Indiana, Texas, Massachusetts and Washington will compete for $5,000 prizes after winning the trip to Omaha with their teachers and parents.

The cartoon series is produced by A Squared Entertainment of Los Angeles. The contest is sponsored by Fairholme Foundation, a Miami educational group funded by Fairholme Capital Management.

Titles of the students’ ideas include Concentration Bugs, Backpack Buddy, Wiseguide and Munch Poop Production.

Power plant to close

By 2017, Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s NV Energy division will shut down a 557-megawatt coal-fired power plant outside Las Vegas that is, according to the Atlantic magazine, one of the country’s most toxic sources of carbon pollution.

NV Energy also plans to sell its interest in another coal-fired powered plant that is “one of the nation’s worst polluters,” Todd Woody reported, and acquire two natural gas power plants and solar power generators during that time.

Environmentalists and the Moapa Band of Paiutes, a Native American community near the power plant, have worked for years to close it. Last year the Nevada Legislature passed a law requiring elimination of 800 megawatts of coal-fired electricity capacity and construction of renewable capacity.

The Paiutes plan to build 1,500 megawatts of solar energy generators on their land.

Cinco de Mayo stand-in

Oriental Trading Co. CEO Sam Taylor made it to South Omaha for Cinco de Mayo festivities last weekend, bringing along some “fiesta” rubber duckies representing Buffett and Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger.

Taylor was a stand-in for Buffett, who was invited by Jose Garcia, operations director for the Mexican American Historical Society of the Midlands. He had said he didn’t mind the commercialization of the festival, but Buffett should sample the “real deal.”

Buffett was tied up with annual meeting events during the same time.

Garcia said he hopes to further develop the relationship with Berkshire and is delivering a copy of a 1935 Cinco de Mayo poster to encourage mutual understanding of the festival’s history. He also offered “a mighty MUCHAS GRACIAS.”

New pilot training site

Berkshire’s FlightSafety aircraft simulators division plans a new facility at — where else? — Port Columbus, Ohio, across the street from the headquarters of Berkshire’s NetJets division, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Steve Wartenberg wrote that corporate pilots from around the world will train at the 8.7-acre site, which will replace FlightSafety’s 136-employee training center elsewhere in the Columbus area.

NetJet pilots will learn how to operate the 670 new aircraft, costing $17.6 billion, that NetJets plans to buy over the next decade.

In 2008, NetJets announced plans for a $200 million campus for both companies, but the recession reduced that plan to a $21 million NetJets headquarters that opened in 2012.

Too small to be ‘elephant’

If you’ve entered our “elephant” acquisition contest, you’ll rejoice that Berkshire’s recent $3.2 billion purchase of AltaLink of Alberta, Canada, brought no winners.

The price is below the contest’s $5 billion minimum, plus the electricity transmission company is a “bolt-on” acquisition by Berkshire’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy division. Besides, no contestant picked AltaLink as the next elephant, to use Buffett’s company-hunting vernacular.

The prize, a World-Herald/Berkshire messenger bag, is still unclaimed. Email below to enter (one choice per entrant, revisable at will), or send a letter to Elephant, Steve Jordon, The World-Herald, 1314 Douglas St., Omaha, NE 68102.

Tour of Dealey Plaza

As Buffett mentioned during the meeting, he visited the Nebraska Furniture Mart’s Dallas project recently, followed by a stop at the place where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

Alan Peppard wrote for the Dallas Morning News that Buffett toured the 443-acre Mart site, which will have a store bigger than 40 football fields and 6.5 miles of sales racks.

Buffett and Mart executives also went to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, where the late president’s motorcade was attacked by Lee Harvey Oswald. Museum curator Gary Mack and chairman Ken Menges led the tour.

A first-string uke player

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro has toured with singer Jimmy Buffett and even got to meet Warren Buffett backstage at one of his concerts.

“He’s actually a pretty good player himself,” Shimabukuro told the Salt Lake City Tribune before a concert there. “It was great to see that someone who could have anything in the world loves the humble four-string Hawaiian ukulele.”

A video of Shimabukuro’s version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” has been viewed more than 12 million times.

The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

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