Economy & Business

Economy & Business news from 90.5 WESA.

Economy Improving While Wages Shrink

Sep 4, 2012

Over the last decade, Pennsylvania’s economy grew. However, the average PA family is now earning less than they would be at the turn of the 21st century.

This new information comes from the left-leaning Keystone Research Center’s annual State of Working Pennsylvania report.  According to the report, the state's economic growth could have supported a rise in living standards for all Pennsylvania workers, but a disproportionate amount went to the top one percent of earners.

A new website will allow Allegheny County property owners to estimate their 2013 real estate tax bills under the county's court-ordered property reassessment.

Given a property's address and reassessed value, "PropertyTaxEstimator.Net" calculates next year's tax bill based on projected municipal and county millage rates.

Pittsburgh’s second ward, which includes portions of downtown and the Strip District, is number 2 on a list of the top 35 areas for home sales and home price appreciations over the last decade. Several other areas of the city also made the list.

“Communities like North Side, Lawrenceville, Southside,” said RealSTATs Vice President Daniel Murrer, “it was really good to see the appreciation going on in the city of Pittsburgh, and a lot of that we attribute to investors going into rundown properties, gutting them, then selling them for a higher price.” to Begin Collecting PA Sales Tax

Aug 30, 2012

Beginning Saturday, Inc. will start collecting Pennsylvania sales tax on orders that are shipped to the state, a spokesman said Wednesday.

The online retail giant had previously refused to register to collect Pennsylvania's 6 percent levy on its orders. But a spokesman said the company reversed itself because a state directive requiring it takes effect Saturday.

"We believe that customers (in Pennsylvania) will continue to come to Amazon because we offer the best prices with or without sales tax," said the spokesman, Scott Stanzel.

Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese Prepares For Layoffs

Aug 21, 2012

Faced with a two to two-and-a-half million dollar deficit for 2012-13, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is making cuts in programs and getting ready to layoff some of its 180 employees at its offices.

Diocesan spokesman Reverend Ron Lengwin says the 2011-12 budget was 23.2 million dollars but the 2012-13 spending plan is 21 million.  Lengwin said they began trimming costs earlier this year, "but we've reached the point now that in order to balance our budget it will be necessary to reduce from our excellent workforce."  

Coal Summit Calls on Legislators

Aug 17, 2012

A bi-partisan and multi-faceted summit on the coal industry Friday in Pittsburgh allowed government officials, workers, and corporations to comment on the issues surrounding the burning coal for electricity.  Everything from jobs to clean coal technology was discussed.  There was no clear general consensus, but all seemed to agree coal remains a large industry in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says a national energy policy should work towards clean coal burning.

PA Unemployment Rate Up For 2nd Straight Month

Aug 17, 2012

Despite staying under the national rate of 8.3 percent, Pennsylvania’s jobless rate jumped from 7.6 percent in June to 7.9 percent in July. Over the past four months, the number of jobs in the state has decreased, following a two month increase in February and March. The unemployment rate was down 0.2 percent from July 2011.

The State Department of Labor and Industry reported 10,000 more people were looking for jobs in July while resident employment was down 10,000. The number of unemployed residents rose by 21,000. The labor force was up 110,000 above July 2011’s level.

As many Pittsburghers were reminded in July, inclement weather can cause major power outages, which also results in problems for the state’s electric distribution companies (EDCs). Three reports released by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) detail the corrective actions being taken related to severe weather in 2011. Jennifer Kocher, Press Secretary for the PUC, said collectively, the reports were centered around the storm-related power outages. Report Web.mp3

With a national focus on union-related policies in recent years, including Wisconsin’s recent recall election, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wanted to examine state laws and how they relate to labor unions.

National Bid-Rigging Scheme Settlement Pays Out

Jul 25, 2012

Pennsylvania is set to receive approximately $11.5 million in restitution as part of a multi-state bid-rigging case involving major financial institutions. These large-scale companies marketed and sold municipal derivative investments, which are primarily used by government agencies and non-profit groups to reinvest the proceeds of tax-exempt bonds until funds are needed.

US Trade Rep Touts Pittsburgh for Export Potential

Jul 20, 2012

The White House brought its message of increasing US exports and decreasing outsourcing to Pittsburgh Friday with a stop at Pittsburgh International Airport and a meeting with Steel Workers Union leadership. United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk, said by focusing on those two goals more jobs will be created in the US.

Kirk said it is important to focus on Pittsburgh's success and potential. "Last year for example, Pennsylvania business exported almost $41 billion. That's a 118 percent increase over 2002. 217,000 [PA] jobs are supported by exports," said Kirk.

Small businesses have been called up to the big leagues as they now have the opportunities to compete for state contracts as heavy hitters. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced new efforts to provide equal footing for self-certified and veteran-owned small businesses to bid on procurements.

Troy Thompson, Press Secretary for the Department of General Services, said the Small Business Procurement Initiative will give companies with 100 or fewer employees and meet maximum revenue requirements a chance to prove they are capable of being prime contractors.

Midwest Drought Might Drain Pockets in PA

Jul 19, 2012

The drought in the Midwest is bad enough to cause economic ripple effects across the country, including noticeable price hikes in Pennsylvania grocery stores in coming months, according to PNC economist Kurt Rankin.

"The drought may not affect western Pennsylvania directly, although I haven't had to cut the grass quite as much this summer," Rankin said, "but we will see the price increases."

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.