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The Dallas skyline is shrouded in clouds

LAWRENCE JENKINS

Encana Calgary employees won't be the only ones moving into new office space next year: The company will move its U.S. employees into a new tower next year on land the company recently acquired in Texas.

The natural gas company had been trying to decide how best to house its approximately 450 workers in the region, who were scattered across several smaller offices across the state.

Encana has decided to allow developer Karahan Cos. to build a 300,000-square-foot tower on the parcel of land in Plano, a Dallas suburb, and then sign a long-term lease on the space.

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The announcement comes as work nears completion on the Bow, the company's new Canadian headquarters in Calgary that is owned by H&R Real Estate Investment Trust and being built on a $1.5-billion construction budget.

While The Bow has been in development since 2007, Karahan Cos. plans to have the Plano facility ready for occupancy by the third quarter of 2011.

"It will only be about 12 months of construction - a very fast pace," developer Fehmi Karahan told the Dallas Morning News, adding that he plans to add two other towers to the site.

It wasn't just the allure of a new $100-million tower that drew the Alberta company to Plano: On Monday, the city's council is to vote on an economic incentive package that will give Encana $4.5-million (U.S.) in cash and tax breaks.

Plano has successfully dangled cash at companies before, most recently attracting Pizza Hut Inc.'s head office with a deal worth about $2.2-million. Encana's package will include a 10-year property tax break estimated at $2.1-million, and a $2.4-million cash grant that is intended to help defray the costs of relocating employees to the suburb.

In return, Encana has promised to employ about 510 workers in the complex by the end of 2013. The company would be paid an extra $900 for any new hires above that threshold, to a maximum of $103,000.

"It's an important part of the continent for us and we will certainly have some room for growth in the building," Encana spokesman Doug Hock said. "We've been looking for something for a couple of years."

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Texas has been a source of relative economic strength in the United States, with an unemployment rate of 8.1 per cent compared to a national average of 9.6 per cent. The state added almost 50,000 jobs in October, the Texas Workforce Commission said Friday.

Encana's American head count has held steady at its U.S. division, even though the price of gas is down about 50 per cent since the start of 2009 even as demand for the commodity has risen. Large shale gas discoveries are boosting supply and production. In the U.S., gas production is up 17 per cent in the past five years.

Encana chief executive officer Randy Eresman recently said that low gas prices could cause the company to scale back production, but that he believed there was room for growth over the longer term.

"North America's ongoing oversupply of natural gas production has driven prices for the near term to levels that we believe are unsustainably low," he said. "We continue to build the underlying productive capacity of our enormous resource portfolio for future years' growth."





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