- - Tuesday, September 20, 2011

NEW YORK

Google Plus network now open to everyone

NEW YORK — Google Inc. has opened up its Google Plus social network to everyone after testing it with a limited audience for 12 weeks.

Google said in a blog post Tuesday that it will now let anyone sign up for Google Plus. Previously the service was available only by invitation, though it got easier to join in recent weeks.

The company also added a search capability to Google Plus that will let users sift through posts on the site.

Google Plus is the online search leader’s attempt to compete with Facebook, by far the world’s most populous online social network with more than 750 million users. Tuesday’s upgrades come two days ahead of Facebook’s f8 conference in San Francisco, where the company is expected to unveil several new features.

CALIFORNIA

Desert factory completed for passenger-ready spaceships

MOJAVE — Space tourism is closer to reality after the completion of an $8 million Mojave Desert production plant where the world’s first fleet of passenger-ready spaceships will be built.

Hundreds of public officials and reporters were invited Monday to tour the giant hangar where the White Knight and SpaceShipTwo craft will be built. Up to 200 people will work at the assembly plant, which will be used primarily for the final assembly, integration and testing before the aircraft are delivered to customers.

The Spaceship Co. facility is a joint venture of Mojave-based Scaled Composites and British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

“Today marks another important step along the road to opening space for everyone,” Mr. Branson said. “From this hangar, the talented team at the Spaceship Co. will be at the forefront of making space access safe, reliable and affordable.”

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides told the Los Angeles Times that completion of the production facility moves Galactic closer to sending paying passengers into space. A ticket costs $200,000 and more than 400 people have paid the full price or a deposit for a chance to experience weightlessness, according to Virgin Galactic.

SpaceShipTwo is based on Burt Rutan’s award-winning SpaceShipOne prototype, which became the first privately financed manned rocket to reach space in 2004.

NEW JERSEY

Merck speeding up layoffs of employees

WHITEHOUSE STATION — Drugmaker Merck & Co. has told employees it can’t reach its goal of cutting up to 13,000 jobs by 2015 just by eliminating vacant jobs, so it is speeding up layoffs in the U.S.

According to an internal memo, Merck will notify employees losing their jobs in sales and other departments by the end of October. The memo states the teams affected are: marketing and customer solutions, managed markets and policy, strategy and commercial model innovation, and the neuropsychiatric and women’s healthcare specialty sales teams.

The memo, titled “Update on Ongoing Changes to the US Market’s Business Operations,” was sent Sept. 15 by Mark Timney, Merck’s president for the U.S. market. It was first reported by the Pharmalot blog.

“The unfortunate reality is that we must do more and move now if Merck is to be successful over the long term,” Mr. Timney wrote. “Making difficult choices in select functions, based on an assessment of the business risks and opportunities identified within each area, will allow us to transform our business and capitalize on the most significant market opportunities in 2012 and beyond.”

When Merck announced its second-quarter earnings July 29, Merck said the cuts were needed because generic competition next year will hurt its top-selling drug, asthma and allergy medicine Singulair. Merck also cited slower revenue growth in the U.S. and Europe, where government health programs have been pressing for lower prices.

At the time, Merck said the cuts would not start in earnest until next year.

A Merck spokesman said 35 percent to 40 percent of the job cuts would be in the United States, many at its headquarters

MICHIGAN

United Auto Workers leaders OK with contract

DETROIT — Union leaders from General Motors Co. factories around the country have endorsed a new four-year contract with the company.

They are recommending that GM’s 48,500 factory workers approve the deal in votes during the next week.

The agreement reached Friday includes a $5,000 signing bonus and improved profit-sharing instead of hourly pay raises for most of the workers. About 2,400 entry-level workers will get raises. They now make $14 to $16 per hour, about half the pay of a longtime UAW worker.

Profit-sharing will be a minimum of $3,500 next year.

The union now will focus on negotiations with Chrysler, and Ford will be next.

Because Chrysler isn’t making as much money as GM, workers there probably won’t see as good of a deal.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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