Economy & Business

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

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.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Alcoa Corp. is moving its global headquarters back to Pittsburgh, where the 129-year-old company had been based until moving to New York City in 2006.

Alcoa has maintained offices in Pittsburgh and 10 employees will relocate from its New York headquarters when the move is made Sept. 1. Alcoa already has 205 employees in Pittsburgh who share a building with Arconic, a spinoff company created when Alcoa split off its mining, refining and aluminum businesses in November from businesses that make aluminum parts for aerospace, automotive and other industries.

Niven Sabherwal / 90.5 WESA

When attorney Joe Froetschel commutes to work on his bicycle, he thinks about how the city operations work and where the money comes from. As he rides through Oakland,  he notices hospitals like UPMC and University of Pittsburgh buildings that dot the neighborhood. He's also surrounded by churches and charities and the Carnegie museums.

Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Photo

Unless Congress passes the Miners Protection Act by April 28, more than 2,000 retired union coal miners in Pennsylvania will lose their health care.

The bill proposes to use interest from the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to shore up the health and pension funds administered by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).  

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 fm WESA

Nearly every subspecialty seems to have its own academic journal, from one dedicated to "Positivity” – it’s a math thing – to one for engineers working in the packaging industry.

But until now, there has never been an academic journal for research into blockchain – the technology behind Bitcoin.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Japan's embattled Toshiba Corp. said Wednesday that its U.S. nuclear unit Westinghouse Electric Co. has filed for bankruptcy protection, marking a key step in its struggles to stop the flow of massive red ink.

Toshiba said in a statement that it filed the Chapter 11 petition in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of New York. The move had been largely expected.

Scott Lewis / Flickr

Sixteen construction trade unions in western Pennsylvania are looking for a few thousand new members.

Chris / Flickr

A 124-year-old Pennsylvania fireworks business is set to plead guilty to failing to report more than 63,000 fireworks that were apparently stolen.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has already fined Zambelli International Fireworks $200,000 and ordered the company to close for two weeks.

Those penalties were announced in January. On Monday, company representatives are scheduled to plead guilty to a single count of failure to report the loss of explosive material. The New Castle company could be put on probation.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Giant Eagle has filed charges against a union representing some of its employees, saying it violated its contract when part-time employees, who said they were being overscheduled, asked for the creation of full-time positions. 

The grocery store chain is sparring with United Food and Commercial Workers local union 23, which represents 13,000 workers. The charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board alleges the union repudiated or modified its contract, coerced employees and refused to bargain in good faith.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Emerald Mine sits dormant just beyond the boundary of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, about 50 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. Conveyor belts undulate over hundreds of yards of open land. After 38 years of continuous operation, the mine closed in 2015. Danny Ollum remembers the last time it was quiet there.  “I used to play Little League baseball where that coal mine was. It was called the Emerald Field. Years ago. And then next thing you know, boom. A coal mine comes up.”

 

Fishhawk / Flickr

The warm weather of the last few weeks has prompted some fruit trees in Pennsylvania to start opening their flowers. But Friday night’s expected low of 20 degrees has some farmers a bit worried.

“The one good thing about most trees is not everything pushes and opens up and blooms at the same time,” Soergel’s Orchards farm manager Adam Voll said. “So you might lose some of the furthest open buds but there’s plenty of other buds … to make a crop.”

Mark Lennihan / AP

Hershey expects to cut its global workforce by about 15 percent, with the reductions coming mostly from hourly employees outside the United States.

The Pennsylvania chocolate maker also trimmed its forecast for long-term sales growth to between 2 percent and 4 percent, down from the previous 3 percent to 5 percent. The company attributed the lowered expectation to changes in U.S. shopping habits and macroeconomic challenges overseas.

CEO Michele Buck will discuss the measures in New York when she meets with analysts Wednesday.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Gisele Fetterman, founder of 412 Food Rescue and Braddock’s free store, and wife of Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, was an undocumented immigrant for 10 years. She said she lived in New York City with her mother and her brother and dreamed of becoming a citizen one day.

The thing she looked forward to most? Jury duty.

Fetterman shared her immigration story Tuesday evening at an event she and her husband hosted at their home, meant to highlight the economic contributions of immigrants in the Pittsburgh region.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

Ketchup maker and packaged food giant Kraft Heinz has withdrawn a $143 billion offer to buy Unilever, backing away after the mayonnaise, tea and seasonings maker rejected the bid as too low.

The companies announced the decision Sunday in a joint press release, saying that Kraft Heinz has "amicably" abandoned the offer.

The deal would have combined Kraft Heinz brands such as Oscar Mayer, Jell-O and Velveeta with Unilever's Hellman's, Lipton and Knorr. The merged company would have rivaled Nestle as the world's biggest packaged food maker by sales.

Schell Games

The video game industry brought in $79 million in revenue in Pennsylvania in 2015, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

Employment grew at a rate of nearly 5 percent that year and the industry directly and indirectly supported 1,200 Pennsylvania jobs at game developers, publishers and retail outlets.

A new report from the ESA, titled “Video Games in the 21st Century: The 2017 Report,” details growth in the industry nationwide.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

When Alhena Torres turns on her car, a gentle rumble of pop music spills out of the speakers. She used to listen to the news while she drove, but after the first few weeks of the new administration in Washington, she says music has felt like a better option.

“Sometimes I’m just sad and disappointed,” she said, pulling up Google maps on her phone and plugging in an address.

Torres drives all around Pittsburgh for work, a cleaning business she started in 2015.

“I like organizing and fixing things,” she laughed.

What's Next For Boscov's After Retail Titan's Death

Feb 14, 2017
Carolyn Kaster / AP

Albert Boscov was the public face of a department store chain he built from a single corner store in downtown Reading, Pennsylvania, to a regional powerhouse with locations in seven states and more than $1 billion in annual sales.

After his death Friday at age 87, Boscov leaves behind a chain with devoted customers and a tremendous amount of civic goodwill. But the century-old company still faces the headwinds that are buffeting the industry. Analysts say Boscov's long-term prospects are uncertain.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

A new partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and one of the world’s largest business service firms could eventually result in smarter computer aided accounting.

Amy Scott

In a lab at Reading Area Community College, 18-year-old Benjamin Eckenrode stands in front of a blue wall rigged with pistons, pumps and gauges. It’s a pneumatic troubleshooting system, designed to teach students how to identify and solve problems with manufacturing equipment.

“This piston is supposed to go down and actually pick up a ball, but it is not,” he said.

Eckenrode’s assignment is to figure out why the piston isn’t moving. The high school senior is taking this college class as part of a program to prepare more young people for careers in the technical trades.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

Pittsburgh workers’ groups delivered petitions to Republican U.S. Senator Pat Toomey Monday, asking him to oppose the nomination of President Trump’s nominee for labor secretary.

Last week, Andy Puzder’s confirmation hearing was delayed for the third time, while he completes the required ethics paperwork.

AP

Pittsburgh's tallest building is for sale, and the U.S. Steel Tower could go for a sky-high price.

Real Estate Alert, a trade publication that first reported the listing, says the 64-story, triangular office building could fetch $350 million. The current owner, 601W Cos., a New York holding company, paid $250 million for the building in 2011.

The owners have spent $60 million upgrading the building and boast two major tenants, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which has corporate offices there, and U.S. Steel.

Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

The same sectors that caused the economy to lag in southwestern Pennsylvania in 2016 could be the sectors that keep the region on pace with the national economy in 2017.

PNC Financial Services Group Chief Economist Stuart Hoffman said though the region saw growth in technology, health care and financial services jobs, other industries saw losses and the region trailed behind national trends.   

“We lost jobs, obviously, in the energy sector,” he said. Additionally, local unemployment rates rose from 5 to 6 percent in 2016, he said.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania is staking its claim to more than $23 million in federal funding that Verizon turned down to expand high-speed internet service to rural customers in the state.

The Federal Communication Commission's Connect America Fund provides funding to telecommunications providers to build new network infrastructure or upgrade existing broadband networks in regions that lack it. Companies that take the money must agree to offer fast internet speeds as well as meet other targets.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh is a pretty good place to talk about why reliable infrastructure matters, said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

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