The Mars plant in Waco is a major producer of Snickers and Skittles products and employs 520 people.

The Mars Chocolate North America plant at 1001 Texas Central Parkway is celebrating its 40th anniversary in Waco.

The state of Texas was so impressed it dispatched to the Mars plant Tracye McDaniel, president and CEO of the Texas Economic Development Corp., and Larry McManus, from the Economic Development and Tourism Division of the Governor’s Office. McDaniel and McManus presented Mars operations manager Matt Dudensing with a letter of commendation.

The Mars plant in Waco is a major producer of Snickers and Skittles products for the company and employs 520 people, according to a press release from the state.

Mars Chocolate North American announced three years ago it was making $11.7 million in capital improvements at the Waco plant, including the purchase of a $4 million enrobing machine to coat food items with chocolate.

Mars enjoyed $33 billion in sales companywide in 2015 and is ranked as the seventh-largest privately owned company in the nation, according to Forbes.

Owen renews contract

Zack Owen, part of the popular “Zack & Jim Show” on WACO-FM, dubbed “WACO-100,” reportedly has signed a multiyear contract to remain part of the team, which touts itself as the most popular morning radio show in Central Texas for the past 24 years.

Owen and Jim Cody have traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan twice and to South Korea once in support of troops from Fort Hood. They and their vacation travel club have accompanied listeners to places around the world during the past 17 years, including Ireland, Italy, Hawaii, Mexico, Jamaica, the Bahamas and Barbados.

During the summer of 2017, they are hosting a trip to Aruba, according to a release from iHeartMedia Inc.

The annual golf tournament Zack & Jim sponsored in April raised more than $22,000 for the Chris Kyle American Valor Foundation.

Owen’s official title is area senior vice president for programming for iHeartMedia in the markets of Beaumont, Bryan, Corpus Christi, Killeen, McAllen and Waco.

Gas prices still rising

Gas prices continue to surge leading into the Christmas holiday, rising about 4 cents statewide in the past week after a 5-to-6-cent surge the previous week, according to the AAA Texas Weekend Gas Watch, which says Texans now are paying 23 cents more per gallon for regular unleaded than at this time last year.

The statewide average for a gallon of gas stood at $2.03 on Thursday, when the AAA auto club released its report.

The Dallas area had the highest average price for metropolitan areas statewide, at $2.07, according to the report.

The national average was at $2.23, up 3 cents from a week ago and 22 cents from a year ago, according to the report.

“Texans are now paying about $28 to fill up the typical 14-gallon-size fuel tank, which is about $3 more per fill-up than last year,” AAA spokesman Doug Shupe wrote in a press release. “Still, Texans are paying among the cheapest gas prices in the nation.”

The average for regular unleaded at midafternoon Saturday in Waco stood at an even $2, according to

Health ranking

The state of Texas ranked 33rd among the 50 states in United Health Foundation’s 27th annual America’s Health Rankings report.

The study considered factors relating to specific illnesses and causes of death as well as the availability of health insurance. It determined that Hawaii ranked as the healthiest state in the nation for the fifth straight year, followed by Massachusetts, Connecticut, Minnesota and Vermont.

At the bottom of the list were Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Minnesota, according to a press release from the United Health Foundation.

The study found 15.2 percent of adults in Texas smoke, less than the 17.5 percent of adults nationwide who smoke. But 32.4 percent of adults in Texas, almost 1 in 3, are obese, compared with 29.9 percent nationally. About 18 percent of Texans, more than 1 in 6 people, lack health insurance, which is considerably higher than the national average of 10.6 percent.

However, Texas experiences 9.6 drug deaths per 100,000 population, which is below the national norm of 14 drug deaths per 100,000 people.

The prevalence of obesity among adults has increased 157 percent since the study was first prepared 27 years ago.

“Of particular concern is the first-time rise in cardiovascular deaths, despite all the medical advances in this area,” Dr. Reed Tuckson, external senior medical adviser to United Health Foundation, wrote in the press release. “This data provides a road map for states, local communities and the public health sector to get ahead of the challenges coming.”

Construction permits

A handful of notable building permits were issued for construction, expansion or remodeling projects in Greater Waco:

A permit to place a new Kia dealership at 2718 La Salle Ave. places the value of the work at $2.5 million.

A $195,000 permit was issued to make alterations to the Bath & Body Works space at Richland Mall.

A permit valued at $130,000 will allow alterations to the Skechers store at Central Texas Marketplace.

Johnson Realtors

Camille Johnson, a 30-year veteran with Coldwell Banker Jim Stewart Realtors, has launched her own real estate company called Camille Johnson Realtors. Johnson is recruiting agents from around the area, hoping to add a 13th, Danny Ellis, around the first of January, she said Saturday.

Her daughter, Kristin Clements, and her daughter-in-law, Anna Johnson, worked with her at Coldwell Banker and have joined her new venture.

Johnson’s agency operates out of 104 Midway Center, and agents almost exclusively represent residential properties.

Agent Lisa Horn, who was affiliated with Coldwell Banker for about 10 years, also is joining Camille Johnson Realtors.

Horn represented Brandon and Lacy Hodges in their recent acquisition of the Spa at Canyon Oaks property in Crawford, which they will transform into Gathering Oaks Retreat. It likely will open in March to host weddings, corporate retreats, family reunions and other events that may include up to 200 guests during the day and 50 overnight users.

Johnson said she greatly appreciated her time at Coldwell Banker Jim Stewart Realtors and considers Stewart, who is retired, her mentor.

“He made everybody feel special,” Johnson said. “He knew each broker personally and he cared about us.”

She said the housing market continues to boom, and no longer do agents typically have dozens of homes for sale.

“These days, deals get done so quickly that properties get sold almost as quickly as they appear on the listings,” Johnson said.

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