Economy & Business

90.5 WESA explores the regional economy, as well as covering the issues that ordinary Pittsburghers face in their working lives.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate remained the same in June, as payrolls crept higher.

The state Department of Labor and Industry said Friday that Pennsylvania's unemployment rate was 5 percent last month, the same as in May. The national rate was 4.4 percent in June.

The household survey found that the civilian labor force, employment and unemployment were all relative stable last month.

Evan Vucci / AP

President Donald Trump has called the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, one of the worst deals the U.S. has made. But the head of the country’s largest industrial union isn’t convinced his administration is doing enough to renegotiate the terms.

LM Otero, AP File

A new initiative aims to better prepare unemployed immigrants in Allegheny County for the American workforce.

Personseo / flickr

Nearly 53,000 businesses in the Pittsburgh region are owned by women, according to recent federal data, and one local organization hopes to continue to bolster female entrepreneurship. 

Chatham University’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship is opening a new 3,000-square-foot hub with four new informational classes.

The Annual Performance Review Gets A Reboot

Jul 13, 2017
Erika Beras

As a lawyer at a big firm and other companies, Chris Arnold remembers those nights before his annual performance reviews well, if reluctantly.

“Night sweats. Shakes. Terror,” he said. “It was a lot of anxiety.”

That’s because Arnold didn’t know what to expect. Would he get a raise, make partner or be greeted with a nasty surprise? Turns out that type of backward-looking assessment of someone’s performance didn’t work so well for companies either.

Alex Popichak / 90.5 WESA

In 1892, the country’s largest trade union, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, took on the world’s largest manufacturing firm, the Carnegie Steel Corporation. Carnegie’s plant manager Henry Clay Frick increased production demands, but refused to increase wages. Frick eventually locked workers out of the facility spurring a strike.

Only about a fifth of the workers at the Homestead Works Steel Mill were skilled workers represented by the union. But the nearly 3,000 workers agreed to strike for better wages and working conditions.

PA Gearing Up For Automated Medical Marijuana Grows

Jul 6, 2017
Franklin Labs, LLC

Pennsylvania is barreling towards a high tech medical cannabis industry, driven by automation, aeroponics and a lot of start-up capital.

Passed in April 2016, the law instituting the state's medical marijuana program puts growing a new industry from scratch on a tight timeline. The first dispensaries are slated to sell prescription cannabinoid oils, sprays and creams by early 2018, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

whitneybee / Flickr

Authorities say more than 100,000 chickens died in a fire that destroyed a barn at a commercial egg farm in Tyrone Township.

The blaze at Hillandale Farms was reported around 5:45 a.m. Saturday. Tyrone is about 29 miles southwest of Harrisburg.

A Heidlersburg Fire Company captain said flames were visible above the roof of the 600-foot barn by the time fire crews arrived.

Firefighters concentrated on keeping the blaze from spreading to other buildings. Three first responders were treated at the scene, two for dehydration and one for a laceration.

Bill Gardner / 90.5 WESA

The language on the controversial black and yellow Sprint advertisement that blankets part of Pittsburgh’s Mt. Washington has been changed, amid legal battles over the sign’s permit.

Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

An independent bookstore chain in Pittsburgh is opening its third location on the South Side this week.

Amazing Books owner Eric Ackland still has quite a few bookshelves to fill. The 4,600-square-foot space on East Carson Street is about five times larger than his Downtown and Squirrel Hill locations.

“Most people assume a third store is evidence of great success,” he said. “In our case, thank God we’re seeking it out, but we need to thrive and we need a location to grow into.”

Mike Mozart / Flickr

UberEATS and McDonald's are beginning food delivery from 44 of the fast-food chain's Pittsburgh-area restaurants.

The companies ran a pilot program testing the McDonald's home deliveries at more than 200 Florida restaurants in January and have since expanded to other areas including Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Phoenix and Columbus Ohio.

Uber CEO Kalanick Resigns Under Investor Pressure

Jun 21, 2017
Evan Agostini/Invision / AP, File

Travis Kalanick, the combative and embattled CEO of ride-hailing giant Uber, has resigned under pressure from investors at a pivotal time for the company.

Uber's board confirmed the move early Wednesday, saying in a statement that Kalanick is taking time to heal from the death of his mother in a boating accident "while giving the company room to fully embrace this new chapter in Uber's history." He will remain on the Uber Technologies Inc. board.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Zoning, permitting, licensing and inspections aren't necessarily the stuff entrepreneurs dream of as they begin to plan their business. Navigating all the steps of setting up shop can be confusing, said Henry Pyatt, Pittsburgh’s small business and neighborhood redevelopment manager.

“For most business owners, you only ever have to do it once in your life,” he said. So, “nobody ever gets good at it, because you only do it once and you never practice and you never do it again.”

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

The number of people unemployed in Pennsylvania is up slightly over the past month, increasing by 8,000.

The state Labor and Industry Department issued seasonally adjusted data Friday showing the Pennsylvania's jobless rate rose one tenth of a percentage point to 5 percent in May, up from 4.9 percent in April.

It's the second month in a row the figure has increased. The national rate is 4.3 percent, down by one tenth of a point from the prior month.

PIZW / Flickr

The bright purple airplane landing at PIT on Friday inaugurates year-round, nonstop service to Reykjavik, Iceland. It’s just one of several new destinations added to the airport this year.

While Pittsburgh will never be the hub it was throughout the 1990s, the goal is to make it really work for the region, said Alyson Walls, airport communications manager.

Zeevveez / Flickr

A contentious bill to prohibit municipalities from taxing or banning plastic bags has passed the legislature, and now faces a potential veto at the hands of Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Several manufacturers of the plastic used for disposable shopping bags are based around Pennsylvania, and employ over a thousand people. The Republican sponsors of the bill say that’s the main reason they’re supporting it.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 fm WESA

A deal that is expected to grow the region’s biotech sector has been inked by established biotech firm Helomics and the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse.

“We did a survey… and one of the things we recognized is the scientific community [in Pittsburgh] is missing an incubator where diagnostic people, pharmaceutical people and biotech people can get together,” Pittsburgh Life Science Greenhouse President and CEO James Jordan said.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Pennsylvania's state treasurer and auditor general are warning lawmakers that the state government's worsening long-term deficit may require it to borrow money from an outside lender to prop up routine budgeted operations.

Wednesday's letter to lawmakers says the state may need to borrow as much as $3 billion while its main bank account has a negative balance for eight months between July and next April.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The University of Pittsburgh is taking steps to promote and grow the region's life sciences industry, which includes medical research, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and information technology.

Vice Chancellor for Economic Partnerships Rebecca Bagley said, despite being among the top five recipients of National Institutes of Health funding, the university has struggled to commercialize the technologies its researchers develop.

Keith Srakocic / AP

PPG Industries is retreating from its attempt to take over AkzoNobel after repeated refusals to negotiate by the Dutch chemicals company.

There has been an aggressive push to consolidate in the industry because of falling revenue and thin margins.

DuPont and Dow are attempting to complete a $62 billion merger. Swiss specialty chemicals maker Clariant and Huntsman Corp in Texas recently announced their intent to become a single company with a market value of almost $14 billion.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The Allegheny County Airport Authority has handed out more than $2 million in grants to small airlines to entice them to expand service at Pittsburgh International and the head of the authority says more can be expected.

The largest of the grants was made a year ago to California-based OneJet, which since then has expanded service from its original two cities to a total of seven.

Trendy Hat Brand Kangol Is Struggling After Returning Jobs To The U.S.

May 31, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

If home is where you hang your hat, Kangol is struggling to afford its pricey new U.S. digs.

When the famous hat brand worn by celebrities like Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Pitt and Gwen Stefani moved into a Pennsylvania factory last year from China, executives with the Bollman Hat Co. billed it as an effort to create U.S. manufacturing jobs.

But as labor costs went up, profits went down. Way down. The 149-year-old company behind Kangol says it's losing money on every kangaroo-logo cap knitted at its factory in Adamstown, 60 miles west of Philadelphia.

Convenience Store Wars: The Economic Impact And Fandom Of PA's Sheetz And Wawa

May 30, 2017
m01229 / Flickr

There are millions of Americans out there who don't have much of an opinion about their local convenience store brand. They'll stop at a 7-Eleven for a snack, a Shell station for gas and any old truck stop to use the bathroom. They're not likely to describe their relationship with a convenience store as "love."

Susan Walsh / AP

Katie Horowitz is making dinner at her home in Morningside. On this night, it’s sautéed spinach with chicken breasts boiled in broth.

“One of the hardest parts of this diet is that you have to cook everything,” Horowitz said. “I have a really busy job, and it’s really challenging to find time.”

Horowitz was diagnosed last year with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel condition, and is now on a very restrictive diet. She’s been hospitalized several times, and her doctor said she’ll likely need surgery someday.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 fm WESA

Bill Newlin has had a hand in so many successful technology companies in Pittsburgh, that some people call him the "godfather" of tech startups. It’s a title he doesn't boast about himself, but his record of investing and supporting early-stage companies speaks loudly.

90.5 WESA’s Mark Nootbaar spoke with him about how he got into the venture capital game and why he has been so successful.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

MARK NOOTBAAR: There is not a venture capitalist major in college, so how did you get started?

Lynne Sladky / AP

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate crept up in April, breaking a four-month streak of declines, as payrolls shrank slightly.

The state Department of Labor and Industry said Friday that Pennsylvania's unemployment rate rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 4.9 percent last month. The national rate was 4.4 percent in April.

The household survey found that the civilian labor force grew by 22,000 in April. Employment rose by 18,000 to a new record high above 6.1 million while unemployment rose by 4,000 to 315,000.

Scott Dalton/Invision for Dick's Sporting Goods / AP

Dick's Sporting Goods has cut 160 jobs in the Pittsburgh-area, most at its Store Support Center in nearby Findlay Township.

The retailer announced the cuts along with its first-quarter earnings on Tuesday.

The company says it's investing in its online businesses, including its website and Team Sports HQ business that focuses on team sports customers at the high school level and below.

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s weekly news program.

Each week, reporters, editors and bloggers join veteran journalist and host Kevin Gavin to take an in-depth look at the stories important to the Pittsburgh region.

Make the Road Pennsylvania / Facebook

More than 100 Hispanic-owned businesses in and around the eastern Pennsylvania city of Reading plan to close on May 1.

The move organized by Make the Road PA is to celebrate International Workers' Day but also to protest the immigration policies of the Trump Administration.

The Berks County business owners have signed a pledge to close that day, and are urging people not to shop that day.

Reading and Berks County have some of the highest concentrations of Hispanic residents in the state.

The group is also planning marches in Reading and Harrisburg that day.

Jamie / Flickr

Hershey Co. on Wednesday reported a steep slide in first-quarter profit on a hefty charge, but the results still topped Wall Street expectations.

The Hershey, Pennsylvania-based company saw profit fall 45 percent to $125 million, or 58 cents per share. The drop was due to a $208.7 million charge for property and equipment writedowns.

Earnings, adjusted for one-time gains and costs, were $1.31 per share, which topped Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of six analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $1.26 per share.

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