Economy & Business

Economy & Business news from 90.5 WESA.

Looking at America’s economy today, Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich has pointed to the decline of unions as a contributor to the stagnation of American wages.

When unions are strong, is the economy strong?

Stephen Herzenberg, Executive Director of the Keystone Research Center says job growth and America’s recovery from the great recession have been too slow. With the decline in unions over the past few decades, he says wages have been flattened and even declined since the recovery began.

Early Unions Collectively Bargained For Their Safety

Oct 16, 2013
U.S. Office of War Information / wikipedia

America’s earliest unions of the 19th century were connected to craft and trade guilds. But with factory workers facing terrible working conditions such as 12+ hour work days, and 7 day work weeks in cramped, dangerous spaces, their only choice was to come together to collectively bargain for their safety.

When Crystal Eastman, Co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union visited Pittsburgh in the 1920’s, she reported 526 industrial related deaths in Allegheny County within one year.

According to Dr. Charles McCollester, a former professor of Industrial and Labor Relations at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and author of The Point of Pittsburgh, about 3,000 mining industry workers died each year, between 1890 and 1920.

The Future State of the Unions

Oct 16, 2013
White House Photo, PD / wikipedia

In recent decades, America has seen a sharp decline in union membership. In the 1950’s, 35 percent of American workers were members of a union, today that number is down to 11 percent.

According to labor author, commentator and speaker Philip Dine, President Reagan’s crackdown on unions in the 1980’s demonstrated that the old rules of collective bargaining no longer applied.

While Senate leaders were announcing details of a last-minute agreement Wednesday to avert a threatened Treasury default and reopen the government after 16-day partial shutdown, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) was saying the deal is just a starting point.

Casey said he is pleased that the proposal called for the Treasury to have authority to continue borrowing through Feb. 7, and the government would be open through Jan. 15, but he would prefer that the deadline be pushed back through the end of 2014 as had been included in an earlier proposal. 

Hauntrepreneurs Thrive in Halloween Season

Oct 15, 2013
Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

Fear and fright have become big business.  Young “hauntreprenuers” thrive during the Halloween season by enticing thrill-seekers to commercial Haunted Houses and families to Halloween attractions

Business contributor Rebecca Harris says the Halloween attraction industry appeals to 18-34 year olds looking for a fright and the big corporation looking to grab the young market.

Gasoline prices fell this week three cents compared to last week to land at $3.45 a gallon and the price could slip as low as $3.10 by Christmas, according to AAA East Central Senior Vice President Bevi Powel. 

Last year at this time the price stood at $3.89.

Powel links the slide in prices to a trio of key factors, saying “Winter blends of gasoline are little bit cheaper to manufacture, demand is always a little bit lower after the summer driving season, and we have not had one hurricane effect the production in recent months.”

What Conventions Mean for Pittsburgh

Oct 8, 2013
glindsay65 / Flickr

Pittsburgh may be known as the city of bridges, but it also holds many different conventions.

The reason for the popularity of Pittsburgh for conventions comes down to accessibility, maximum capacity, pricing, availability, and external attractions according to business contributor Rebecca Harris.

Good news for Pittsburghers: more people are joining the workforce and they’re getting paid more.

At a 1.3 percent growth, Pittsburgh had the second highest increase of weekly wages compared to the same quarter last year, only behind Cincinnati, which had a 1.4 percent growth.

This is according to Pittsburgh Today, a regional analytical organization that compares the city to 14 benchmark areas around the country with categories ranging from arts and environment to government and economy.

The Pittsburgh Foundation was taking donations for local nonprofit organizations Thursday down to the last second — literally.

More than $5.8 million was donated to about 700 nonprofits as part of the Day of Giving, down roughly 18 percent from last year.

The annual event, now in its fifth year, tries to highlight the region’s charitable initiatives.

The National Labor Relations Board has filed another complaint against the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, claiming four workers have been fired for union activity.

UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps says, "The NLRB has not determined that UPMC has violated any labor laws and any representation that a violation has been found is false." She says the hospital network, which dominates western Pennsylvania, is looking forward to presenting its side.

The “buy local” movement gets a lot of attention for efforts to get communities to shop locally and buy local food, but buying local can also extend to industry. That’s the message of the second annual Buy Pittsburgh First Expo.

A room full of politicians, entrepreneurs and robots - this was the scene Thursday at the Innovation Works AlphaLab as Governor Tom Corbett announced the launch of Innovate in PA.

With the program, the commonwealth will auction $100 million in deferred tax credits to insurance companies.

These companies will then use the credits to raise funds that will go towards start up technology-related businesses - the Ben Franklin Technology Development Partners, three Life Sciences Greenhouses and the Venture Capital Investment program.

Increase In Pennsylvania’s Poverty Rate

Sep 23, 2013
marsmettnn / flickr

Despite being below the national average of 15 percent, the Census Bureau recently reported a slight increase in Pennsylvania’s Poverty rate. Up from 13.8 in 2012 to 13.9 in 2013, almost 1.8 million Pennsylvanians are considered to be living below the poverty line.

A tenth of a percent may seem paltry but a retrospective look at the past twelve years determines a full 3 percent increase. Associated Press reporter Kevin Begos believes that the economy just isn’t growing the way people hoped it would. There simply aren’t enough jobs for the hundreds of thousands of people looking to support themselves and their families.

Flickr user jwalter522

Walk around town these days and you’re just about as likely to see someone sporting a Pittsburgh Pirates T-shirt as you are someone in Steelers garb.

Much of the Bucos team gear has been purchased this season as the Pirates won more games than they lost for the first time in 21 years and won back the hearts of fans that can’t remember the last time they had a reason to cheer on the home team in September. 

Mal810 / Flickr

On Wednesday the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette announced plans to charge a $10 monthly access fee to users of its digital content. The Post-Gazette joins a growing number of newspapers to put their content behind a paywall.

Point Park University Director of Communications, Steve Hallock says people in the newspaper industry have been trying for years to figure out how to monetize their internet content. In other markets, such as Toledo, OH, paywalls have been successful. But with Pittsburgh’s competitive newspaper market Hallock says the Post-Gazette is a test case to watch.

The Village Theater Company did not have enough money to break ground on the new cinema in Sewickley by its goal of June, but a new date can be set thanks to gaming revenues.

The state will award nearly $6.6 million in gaming revenues to 19 community and economic development projects in Allegheny County.

According to the Corbett administration, the projects will provide new opportunities for quality housing, business growth and job creation.

The $350,000 allotted to Brian Dugan, president of Village Theater Company, will go toward building a nonprofit movie theater.

The sixth annual Gaming Diversity Report from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board shows the number of minorities working in casinos continues to grow.

Statewide, 31 percent of the 16,644 casino employees are minorities. That’s up slightly from last year’s 30 percent. Diversity also continues to grow among management, executive and professional positions.

“This year we have 2,733 individuals; 63 percent are males, 37 percent are females and 21 percent are minorities, which is a good number,” said Mozelle Daniels, director of diversity for the Gaming Control Board.

Asking for Advice May Be All the Advice You Need

Sep 17, 2013
Raul Valdes-Perez / Ganador Press

Raul-Valdes Perez was co-founder, chairman, and nine-year CEO of Vivisimo. He's also the author of Advice is for Winners: How to Get Advice for Better Decisions in Life and Work. He claims the secret to his success is simple: ask for advice when making decisions and you will be more successful.

According to Perez people who need help should ask: What is the task at hand? Do we have enough knowledge and experience to do this confidently? What area of the task do I need help with? Who can help me? How can I reach out to them?

Hispanic Business Contribution in Pittsburgh

Sep 17, 2013
Market on Broadway IGA / Facebook

As the Hispanic population in the Pittsburgh region grows, businesses touting authentic Latin food are flourishing.

These stores bring culture and exposure to the region, says business contributor Rebecca Harris, Director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University.

They’re also providing area grocery stores with Latin American and Mexican items to fill the ever-increasing demand. 

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner has found what she believes to be a discrepancy in tax reassessment breaks between commercial and residential properties.

The controller’s office released information Monday showing commercial properties are receiving significantly bigger tax reassessment breaks than homeowners.

Wagner said there seems to be an inconsistency between how commercial properties were reduced and how residential properties were reduced at the assessment hearings.

Twenty-three trade representatives from 23 countries including Australia, Brazil and China are in Pittsburgh on Monday as the 12th annual Pennsylvania International Week made its stop in the city.

The touring business conference is at Two Chatham Center and will move to Heinz Field Tuesday morning.

Peter O’Neill, executive director for the state Center of Trade Development, said this month is the best time to make new business connections.

Pittsburgh Housing Market Continues Upward Trend

Sep 12, 2013

More homes sold in the Pittsburgh area last month than a year ago, and they were scooped up more quickly — at higher prices.

That’s according to the West Penn Multi-List which reports that in the 13-county region, 3,817 residential homes were sold last month, up 14.7 percent from August 2012. Those homes were on the market for 72 days compared to 82 days a year ago, and the average sales price rose 2.6 percent to nearly $178,000.

When it comes to retirement, are you a planner, a procrastinator or an avoider?

PNC’s third annual Perspectives on Retirement Survey finds 42 percent of people ages 35-70 consider themselves to be on track for retirement. Those are the planners.

Pennsylvanians who received a Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) crisis grant last year might warm up at the news that they are receiving an additional $200.

“It turns out at the end of the LIHEAP season last year, we had enough money that we felt the need to kind of return it to those people who had the greatest need,” said Anne Bale, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Welfare.

Bale said the extra $200 will be sent directly to the crisis-clients’ utility companies.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Hundreds of protestors sat down in the middle of Fifth Avenue in Oakland outside of UPMC Presbyterian Saturday, singing “Amazing Grace” and calling on the healthcare giant to make some major changes.

Christoria Hughes, 56, works in the dining hall at Presbyterian for $12/hour, and said the rally wasn’t just about the employees of UPMC.

In the wake of Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper’s indictment on counts of conspiracy and theft of public funds, Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner wants to increase transparency in county funds.

She and County Manager William McKain are auditing “off-book” accounts with the goal of bringing them under the county’s centralized accounting and banking system.

She called the accounts “historic relics” from the county’s former row office structure.

Two months into the new fiscal year, Pennsylvania’s revenue collections seem to be lagging just a little behind, with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue’s General Fund bringing in $3.7 billion— 0.1 percent below estimate.

In August, corporation tax, inheritance tax and realty transfer tax all fell below the state’s projections. Only sales, cigarette, alcohol and table game tax revenues were above estimates.

The Diet Industry is Big Business

Sep 3, 2013
Lululemon Athletica / flickr

As obesity rates rise in the United States, so too do the amount of citizens annually attempting to diet. Rebecca Harris, Director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University, says studies show at any one time, America has an estimated 108 million people on diets.

She notes that most are women, most make four or five attempts per year to diet and an overwhelming majority are trying to lose weight by themselves, without a plan or program.

Somenametoforget / Flickr

Startup incubators provide entrepreneurs with opportunities to grow their ideas in an affordable space, with resources, mentoring and sometimes funding. They’ve sprung up all over Pittsburgh, especially in East Liberty. 

The Thrill Mill and its incubator space, the Hustle Den, is one of the new kids on the block. And while many incubators are focused on technology, Thrill Mill is supporting some diverse innovators.

For Bobby Zappala founder of the Thrill Mill, it all started when he moved back to Pittsburgh from Washington D.C. in 2006. He says he and his friends wanted to connect with other young people who had interesting business ideas. He says they host regular gatherings which became very popular.

A group of municipal officials thinks prevailing wage is unnecessarily taking money away from taxpayers.

The officials called for prevailing wage reform at a recent House Labor and Industry Committee hearing.

Under the Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act, the pay rate is required for construction, reconstruction, demolition, alteration or repair work that costs at least $25,000.

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