Economy & Business

Economy & Business news from 90.5 WESA.

Pennsylvania's Debt Downgrade has Wide Impact

Jul 18, 2012

Pennsylvania's recent debt downgrade means it may cost the state more to borrow money, because investors will want to pay less for taking on riskier debt, but the effect of the lower score might be more political than financial.

The drop from Aa1 to Aa2 by Moody's Investor Service is likely to have a small effect on typical investors who invest in state bonds, but analysts are taking note of the major reason given for the change: ballooning pension costs expected to hit the state in increasingly large waves over the next several years.

A new poll released by the American Alliance of Manufacturing finds a majority of likely voters list jobs and, more specifically, manufacturing jobs, as a top priority. 53% of those surveyed rated manufacturing as most important to the overall strength of the American economy.

"Voters are hearing more about manufacturing from a variety of sources, but they feel little is getting done. Manufacturing is seen as a critical and irreplaceable part of the economy and our place in the world," said Mark Mellman, CEO of the Mellman Group.

Governor Tom Corbett toured the US Steel Clairton Plant on Monday, taking the opportunity to praise the pro-business aspects of the new state budget.

Corbett said until the current budget year, companies had been paying more in taxes the more employees and property they'd had in Pennsylvania.

Labor Activists Rally Against Outsourcing

Jul 10, 2012

Toting signs reading "Bring Jobs Home," several dozen labor activists crowded the lawn of the United Steelworkers building on Monday to demand passage for U.S. Senate Bill 2884.

The bill would end tax incentives for companies that move their workforces overseas. Under the legislation, tax credits would be given to companies who move jobs back to the United States.

United Steelworkers International Secretary Treasurer Stan Johnson said the U.S. has lost about six million industrial jobs over the last decade.

Monday, June 25, 2012

An estimated 150,000 American veterans are homeless or become homeless upon returning from overseas, and an advocacy group said the government is not doing enough to alleviate the issue. The Circle of Friends for American Veterans (COFAV) reported 150,000 are without shelter with only 1/10 of 1% of the Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) $130 billion budget supporting homeless veterans.

An estimated 150,000 American veterans are homeless or become homeless upon returning from overseas, and an advocacy group said the government is not doing enough to alleviate the issue. The Circle of Friends for American Veterans (COFAV) reported 150,000 are without shelter with only 1/10 of 1% of the Department of Veteran Affairs' (VA) $130 billion budget supporting homeless veterans.

Community Leaders Want UPMC Unions

Jun 20, 2012

Faith and community leaders in the region are calling on the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center not to thwart unionization of its employees. They claim the health system is currently violating workers' rights. They held a demonstration outside UPMC Shadyside Wednesday afternoon.

Reverend David Thornton, pastor of the Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church, said the goal is to press UPMC to work towards justice and equity for its workers.

The commonwealth is looking to return approximately $133 million in unclaimed property to residents, businesses, and organizations in southwestern Pennsylvania. It is part of about $1.8 billion the Pennsylvania Treasury currently holds.

Treasurer Rob McCord said everyone should inquire if they are owed money. "Almost all of us had some little bank account somewhere, or a forgotten or uncashed check, or contents of the safe deposit box of some relative that maybe passed a decade ago, and you'd be amazed at how long that unclaimed property lingers," McCord said.

Small businesses are important to the national economy, and a new study released by the Fiscal Policy Institute [PDF] shows an increasing number of foreign-born business owners in Pittsburgh and across the country.

In the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, U.S.-born small business owners represent 2.5% of the U.S.-born labor force, while foreign-born small business owners make up 3% of the foreign-born labor force.

Nearly $147 million dollars in federal grants will be given to develop and expand strategies to help Americans return to work in fields that are currently hurting for workers. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis visited Carnegie Mellon University to announce the funding, and to tour the university's Planetary Robotics Lab.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has been invited to speak to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this Thursday about the Pittsburgh area's strong job market.

Fitzgerald said the region's job growth can't be chalked up to a single industry. He said the burgeoning Marcellus Shale natural gas sector is only a "piece of it."

"Marcellus Shale has certainly been one area, but they've been developing shale [gas] all over the country," said Fitzgerald. "Down in Texas, up in Wyoming, Louisiana, Oklahoma — it's not like we're the only ones."

A program which has been credited with saving 46,000 homes from foreclosure in Pennsylvania has been given a new life and funding.

HEMAP, the Homeowners Emergency Assistance Program, was established in the commonwealth in 1983. The state spent $245 million on the program, which generated repayments to the state of $275 million. However, under Governor Corbett, funding for the program dried up and no new participants in HEMAP have been accepted since last September.

Governor Tom Corbett has signed Senate Bill 1310, which will allow the state to sell as much as $4.5 billion in bonds to pay off its $3.87 billion debt to the federal government plus interest. It also limits eligibility for unemployment benefits to reduce spending. Some opponents have called the bill an attempt by the governor and the legislature to chip away at the unemployment system.

New Leader For SMC Business Councils

Jun 6, 2012

Steve Shivak has been named the new president of the SMC Business Councils after a three-month search that included reviewing about 20 candidates. Shivak succeeds Tom Henschke, who resigned in late March. Shivak, who will be SMC's fifth president, said he is eager to work with the 60-year-old Pittsburgh-based organization that helps Pennsylvania businesses grow.

"My role is to take that storied history and bring it back so that whether you're a small business or you're a manufacturer you'll look to SMC to help you succeed," Shivak said.

Highmark Names New CEO

Jun 4, 2012

William Winkenwerder, M.D. will be the new president and CEO of Highmark starting in July. Winkenwerder was Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs from 2001 to 2007, where he led the Military Health System's 132,000 personnel and served as the principal medical advisor to Secretaries of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates. Most recently, he founded and led a health care consulting firm in Alexandria, Virginia.

May Tax Revenue Lower than Expected in Pennsylvania

Jun 1, 2012

Tax revenue collections in Pennsylvania for last month came in lower than expected. The commonwealth's revenue is now 1.3% below estimates.

The latest report bolsters arguments from Republican lawmakers that they shouldn't rush to increase funding over preliminary state budget proposals just because revenue collections in March and April came in strong.

Report: PA Investing in Facilities, Jobs

May 30, 2012

A report looking at major investment projects around the country shows that companies are ramping up investment in new facilities and jobs and Pennsylvania is among the top destinations for that investment. The 2012 US Investment Monitor by Ernst & Young LLP examined five thousand business investments and more than 336,000 jobs created in 2011.

Growth in a number of higher education jobs has been increasing steadily for several years. The first quarter of 2012 was no exception, but that growth does appear to be moderating, according to HigherEdJobs, a major source for jobs and career information in academia. President and co-Founder John Ikenberry said the growth in higher ed jobs is moderating after bucking the unemployment trend of the economic downturn.

A new manufacturing job training program designed to close the so-called "skills gap" will be short and affordable. It may also be a model to use throughout the state.

The state job training center, Pennsylvania Careerlink of Lancaster County, is launching a new kind of class that's two weeks long and combines several types of training. Enrollees will be able to learn basic math and reading skills, technical know-how, and workplace etiquette/communication skills.

Visit Pittsburgh Takes Mt. Washington

May 24, 2012

Visit Pittsburgh has opened its fourth visitor center, and this one has a view. The region's top tourism promotion group opened a center in the Duquesne Incline's upper station this week.

"There are 500,000 people who go through the Duquesne Incline each year, 80% of which are visitors," said Visit Pittsburgh President and CEO Craig Davis.

United Way of Allegheny County announced they have raised more than $32.3 million in the 2011 annual campaign. That is a 1.6% increase from last year. The total exceeded their goal of surpassing the $31.8 million raised the previous year.

Campaign co-chairs David J. Malone, President and Chief Executive Officer of Gateway Financial Group, and Art Rooney II, President of the Pittsburgh Steelers, revealed the total at the Annual Campaign Celebration this week.

Pittsburgh City Council is denouncing a state House bill to allow high-interest payday loans in Pennsylvania.

Council unanimously passed a resolution against HB 2191 on Tuesday, saying the bill would "trap borrowers in debt."

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak wrote the Will of Council. She said HB 2191 would not only increase interest rate caps from 24% to as high as 680%, but it would also codify "balloon payments."

A bill in Pittsburgh City Council would authorize about $3 million in voluntary payments from a group of the city's largest nonprofit organizations, but the legislation's sponsor really wants the nonprofits to pay three or four times that amount.

The group of nonprofits is offering the funds in an effort to offset some of the costs incurred by the city that cannot be recovered because group members are exempt from real estate taxes.

Income Up for Pennsylvania Hospitals

May 17, 2012

The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) released data today showing income for Pennsylvania's General Acute Care (GAC) hospitals increased more than 1.6% for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011. It marks the second year in a row that total margins increased after two years of a steady decline.

PHC4 spokesperson Gary Tuma said Acute Care hospitals are "vital community assets."

Pittsburgh City Council has endorsed a Pennsylvania Senate bill that would freeze Allegheny County's property reassessment and possibly end property taxation in the county and its municipalities.

Are Pennsylvania Corporate Tax Rates Too High?

May 14, 2012

Many business leaders believe Pennsylvania's regulatory and tax policies make it a poor place to do business, according to a survey of 650 CEOs across America.

A recent ChiefExecutive.net survey shows Pennsylvania scored fairly well in the "Workforce Quality" and "Living Environment" categories, but lagged badly in the "Taxation and Regulations" section.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl joined Visit Pittsburgh in declaring May 11 Travel and Tourism Day, though Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald went a step further and declared the week of May 5-13 as Tourism Week, to coincide with National Tourism Week.

Council Approves Housing Resolution

May 9, 2012

It was more of a celebration and less of a protest in the City-County Building today as homeowners gathered to recognize Pittsburgh City Council for being among the first in the country to call on the President to be more proactive with homeowner rights.

Councilman Suggests Rainy Day Fund

May 7, 2012

Allegheny County Councilman William Robinson is writing legislation to propose a "Rainy Day" fund in response to 2011's Comprehensive Annual Finance Report (CAFR) released by the Allegheny County Controller's Office last week. Robinson, who chairs the Budget and Finance Committee, explained that the fund will have strict restrictions and specifications regarding when County Council will be able to use it.

State Agency Cracks Down on Fraudulent Unemployment Claims

May 6, 2012

The state's jobless numbers may be dropping, but an office created last July to root out unemployment compensation fraud says its work is not slowing down any time soon.

Jim Tillman is head of the Office of Integrity in the state Department of Labor and Industry. He said new tools to prevent online fraud are being added to an existing program to keep people from collecting unemployment benefits when they return to work.

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