Economy & Business

Economy & Business news from 90.5 WESA.

Elyce Feliz / flickr

Originally meant to protect American workers from being exploited, the Fair Labor Standards Act was enacted in 1938 and set mandatory federal minimum wages at 25 cents per hour.  In the years following, congress and the President acted to raise minimum wage to keep up with inflation and productivity. Around the 1980’s, it became much more difficult to get a labor wage bill out of congress and the term “living wage” circulates to replace the widely criticized minimum wage.  Many protesters and researchers find that the minimum wage does not reflect the actual cost of living and no longer keeps pace with the country’s economic growth. Labor Economist Mark Price of the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg shares his statistical findings and suggestions for improvement.

When the 1.8 million Pennsylvanians on food stamps wake up on November 1, they will have less money for their breakfast.

A nationwide cut will reduce the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, by $183 million in Pennsylvania and $5 billion nationwide.

Ken Regal, executive director of Just Harvest, said the reduction will average $29 a month for a family of three.

Flickr user Jason Pratt

A new study shows Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh specifically, might be the model for the American dream.

A team of researchers from Harvard University and the University of California-Berkley found that Pennsylvania has considerably more upward mobility than other parts of the country.

According to Stephen Herzenberg, economist and executive director of the liberal-leaning Keystone Research Center, upward mobility is the ability of someone in the economic lower class to move up the economic scale.

Herzenberg said upward mobility is at the heart of the American dream.

Ready … set … shop!

While it doesn’t have have an official kickoff day like the Christmas shopping season does with Black Friday, retailers are trying to get parents and students to spend their back-to-school money a little earlier this year.

Mount Washington Community Development Corporation

Mention “Mount Washington” to longtime Pittsburgh residents, newcomers and visitors and the comment you’re likely to get is “the view.” Not the view of Mount Washington, but rather the view from Mount Washington.

Business owners there would like you to turn your back on the view of downtown and the Point … after you’re done gazing of course … and take a look at what that community has to offer.

Digging Deeper Into the Business of Farmers Markets

Jul 30, 2013
Rhonda Schuldt / Local Goodness


For many, farmers markets are one of the wonderful diversions of the summer season, where practical shoppers and foodies alike can peruse the offerings of local farmers. They provide community, frugality and an opportunity to skip the supermarket. But what are the business benefits of participating in a farmers market?

According to business contributor Rebecca Harris, the sellers in a farmers market get to see some clear benefits, one of which is the direct connection to their customers.

“It’s direct consumer marketing and the farmers get to decide on the pricing,” which helps them ensure they get fair pay for their hard labor.

With the help of a million dollars in state grants and tax credits, Gordon Food Service will locate a new distribution center in the Pittsburgh region, bringing more than 150 jobs.

Gordon Food Service, the largest family-owned and operated food service distributor in North America, will construct a 480,000-square-foot food distribution center in Findlay Township.

Andy Maier, marketing communications manager at Gordon Food Service, said the new facility will improve service for its northern customers.

The Better Business Bureau is urging consumers to take a hands-on approach in monitoring financial records after five Russian and Ukrainian hackers were charged with stealing 160 million credit card numbers over seven years.

Caitlin Vancas, spokeswoman for the BBB of Western Pennsylvania, said people need to take a closer look at their bills and statements in order to stay secure.

After nearly four years, the head of Pennsylvania’s leading natural gas industry group will be stepping down.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) announced Friday its CEO Kathryn Klaber will be leaving the group this fall and will stay on during a nationwide search for her replacement.

Klaber, a Beaver Falls native, will be representing the MSC at upcoming events in Australia and London and will host the group’s third annual Shale Insight conference in Philadelphia in September.

Chefs Go Wild Over Local Wild Mushroom

Jul 25, 2013
Flickr


Chanterelle mushrooms are not your average fungus. The orange-hued mushrooms are a local delicacy found through foraging, and nationally acclaimed chefs like Top Chef Bryan Voltaggio are willing to pay top dollar for them.

With prices ranging from $18 to $22 a pound, they’ve become a cash crop for foragers like Wild Purveyors.

The Business of Ice Cream with Rebecca Harris

Jul 23, 2013
Flickr


In the world of “frozen dessert products,” ice cream is still king, reports business contributor Rebecca Harris. Though recent years have seen a rise in the popularity of numerous frozen treat fads, the U.S. still consumed more ice cream than anything else by a long shot. In 2012, 899 million gallons of the frozen treat were doled out in cones, cups, pints, and tubs, compared to 467 million gallons of low fat ice cream and only 74 million gallons of frozen yogurt.

If those numbers aren’t eye popping, think of it this way: the US market for ice cream has been more than $10 billion. And according to Harris, “It’s all about the tub. Well over half the US $12 billion in annual sales is served in pints or half gallons.”

Brick-and-mortar store owners across Pennsylvania are trying to put pressure on Congress to make online retailers collect state sales tax.

Right now, such vendors don't have to collect sales tax from out-of-state purchases, and many customers are unaware they're required to report the tax on their own.

Pennsylvania-based retailers say it's a loophole that gives online-only vendors an unfair advantage, allowing them to undercut prices at brick-and-mortar stores.

Flickr user Casey Konstantín

It’s an often-repeated fact that Pittsburgh homes are cheaper to buy than those in the rest of the country, but a new study shows that does not hold true for new construction.

Every other year, the U.S Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conduct a national survey measuring home prices, conditions, maintenance costs, and other relevant data. The survey also takes an in-depth look at 25 to 30 individual metro-areas on an ever-changing basis. 

If the Pennsylvania American Water Company receives approval by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), the water you use could cost you an extra $6.12 a month.

The company is in the process of increasing its rates for 2014.

Company spokeswoman Josephine Posti said the average customer uses 3,900 gallons of water a month.

Posti said the rate increase is to recover the cost of system upgrades since 2011.

More than 40 business, university and economic development leaders from France are in Pittsburgh this week to rendezvous with their Pennsylvania counterparts.

The high-level delegation is led by Jean-Jack Queyranne, the president of the Rhone-Alpes region in France. That’s equivalent to an American governor. The trip is a follow up to Gov. Tom Corbett’s business development mission to France in March 2012.

Queyranne said his region and Pennsylvania have a special relationship.

The Business of Manufacturing With Rebecca Harris

Jul 16, 2013
Amy Buser / Flickr

The resurgent manufacturing sector has been a boon in America’s struggling economy, but women are being left out of the action. In her second segment on the upswing in manufacturing jobs in the US, business contributor Rebecca Harris talks about the way that the new world of manufacturing is keying off of cutting edge innovation to create jobs.

PA to Use Tax Credits to Spark High Tech Start Ups

Jul 12, 2013

Established, financially successful companies are looking to reduce their tax liability. Nascent tech firms are looking for an infusion of capital to jump start them. A new program that’s included in Pennsylvania’s tax code, signed this week by Gov. Tom Corbett, aims to accomplish both.

“Innovate in Pennsylvania,” sponsored by State Senator John Blake (D-Lackawanna), allows the commonwealth to auction $100 million in tax credits to insurance companies that will then use those credits to trim their tax liability in the future.

Martha Rial / PublicSource


Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the country -- behind Texas, Alabama and Florida -- for the number of hotels with labor law violations, according to the Department of Labor and a recent PublicSource story. This includes wage and child labor violations.

PublicSource Reporter Leah Samuel says because many hotel workers are low skilled and in the hospitality industry, where tips may be given, they’re especially vulnerable to wage violations.

“In Pennsylvania, you can actually pay someone as low as $2.83 an hour if they receive tips,”  Samuel explains. So even if a hotel worker normally gets paid at or above the minimum wage, when it comes to overtime, the rate might be 1.5 times that $2.83, which is illegal.

“It’s supposed to be 1.5 times the regular wage they would receive, minus something called the ‘tip credit’.”

Rebecca Harris / Chatham Center for Women's Entrepreneurship

According to business contributor Rebecca Harris, rumors of American manufacturing's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

The manufacturing industry in the United States is growing in a very real way, contributing roughly $1.74 trillion to the US GDP on an annual basis for the past several years and continuing to grow. According to Harris, many large name American companies, including GE and Whirlpool, are actually bringing parts of their manufacturing operations back to the US, thereby adding even more manufacturing jobs and openings. Over the past 3 years, manufacturers have added roughly 500,000 new jobs to their operations.

Harris adds that the manufacturing sector isn't close to slowing down.  There are still vacant jobs to fill. The only problem is finding well-trained laborers to fill it.

Penguins Ready to Submit Arena Development Plan

Jul 8, 2013

Three years after the final event at the Civic Arena — a James Taylor/Carole King reunion concert — and 15 months after the demolition of the arena was completed, the Pittsburgh Penguins are nearly ready to submit their plan for reuse of that site.

The deal that kept the Penguins from leaving town included the building of a new facility, the Consol Energy Center, and the development rights for the 28 acres on which the old arena and parking lots sat.

Pennsylvania casinos experienced their first drop in slot machine gross revenue this fiscal year since the lucky 7’s started spinning in 2006.

Despite the nearly 2 percent drop in gross revenue, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board reports gamblers spent more than $2.4 billion for the second straight fiscal year.

In the 2012-13 fiscal year ending June 30, slot machine revenue from the 11 Pennsylvania casinos totaled $2,428,840,653 — down from the $2,476,755,316 brought in last fiscal year.

A spokesman for the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh says 33 unfair labor claims made by union organizers have been withdrawn following a review by the National Labor Relations Board, and the casino hopes to resolve 17 remaining claims.

The Business of the 4th of July

Jul 2, 2013
Flickr

For most people, the fourth of July is the last day to think about business. However, there's big money to be made in the celebration of our nation's independence.

Essential Pittsburgh business contributor Rebecca Harris broke down the tremendous amounts of money Americans drop on what we've come to think of as necessities for this patriotic summer holiday. The sums are eye-popping.

Pittsburghers' average weekly wages are up, but slow job growth this year could make it short-lived.

According to Pittsburgh Today, a regional analytical organization, the average weekly wages in Pittsburgh increased by 3.5 percent in 2012, the second largest increase year-over-year behind Cincinnati, which had a 3.8 percent increase.

A recent national survey showed 81 percent of people with a yard say the upkeep is important to the look of their home. This week it’s all about the curb appeal and joining us to talk about the business of landscaping and what it can do for your home is business contributor Rebecca Harris.

A new partnership of organizations is aiming to teach Pennsylvanians about the impact hunting has on the state’s economy.

A diverse group that ranges from chambers of commerce leaders to small business owners has formed a partnership called Hunting Works for Pennsylvania.

This partnership was created to advocate for public policy that supports jobs and economic prosperity.

Pennsylvanians feeling the pressure to hurry up and fill out their property tax/rent rebate application by June 30 can breathe a little more easily because the deadline has been extended to December 31.

The due date was pushed back because the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has additional funds to pay the rebates.

Spokeswoman Elizabeth Brassell said the deadline has been pushed back every year for the past 10 years she has worked at the department.

Larkin Page-Jacobs / 90.5 WESA

Western Pennsylvania's canal system of locks and dams is an economic generator in the region and beyond, and on Friday, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) emphasized that it is a resource worth funding.

On the deck of a Gateway Clipper ship at Pittsburgh's Station Square, Casey congratulated river transportation officials for helping push for the River Act, which passed the Senate as part of the Water Resources Development Act. But he also reminded the crowd that there is still a ways to go.

According to the latest numbers from the Federal Trade Commission, 26 percent of all securities fraud is perpetrated against seniors, but seniors only represent 14 percent of the nation’s population.

In the past, discrimination disputes cost thousands in lawyers’ fees and trials, not to mention the year it took to even get into court. 

Now the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) is offering a free mediation program so the dispute can be settled within 10 days without legal and court costs.

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