Economy & Business

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

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 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.

Township Supervisors Discuss Impact Fee, Cost Savings

May 4, 2012

The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) is holding its 90th annual conference this weekend. PSATS director Dave Sanko said this year, out of deference to a new era of limited resources, everyone's focus is on saving money.

"Local governments are not looking to Harrisburg or Washington for money, but they are looking for mandate relief and to enable them to be able to do things more effectively, more efficiently, get rid of the some of the goofy rules that stand in their way that cost them money," Sanko said.

Potential DPW Policy Changes Could Endanger Disabled

May 4, 2012

Advocates are warning that some policy changes by the state Department of Public Welfare (DPW) are endangering the agencies that provide services to people with disabilities in their homes and communities.

Disability rights activists are renewing their call for a meeting with the governor about proposed budget cuts and changes to programs. A group of 26 people, many in wheelchairs, chanted outside the governor's office Thursday, saying their repeated attempts to schedule a meeting had been denied.

Pittsburgh Finances a Mixed Bag in 2011

May 1, 2012

Pittsburgh ended its 2011 fiscal year with a $20 million surplus, but Controller Michael Lamb warned the city isn't likely to end up with so much extra money this year.

In an annual financial report released Tuesday, Lamb said Pittsburgh only ran a surplus last year because the city was given an unusual boost from one-time revenue sources.

A new survey finds 30% of business owners in Pennsylvania feel economic conditions in the state have worsened over the last year; 17% said conditions were better. That was one of the findings of the Spring 2012 Keystone Business Climate Survey conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, a conservative think tank.

The Pittsburgh City Controller's office will examine issues of pay equity among city employees this year.

Controller Michael Lamb said he'll issue a report on compensation rates among similar jobs by year's end, with special attention to disparities concerning gender, race, age, and other factors.

City Council voted on Tuesday to have Lamb conduct the follow-up audit, in order to see what's changed in city pay practices since a similar report was issued by a private company in 2009.

‘Asset Test’ Returns for Pennsylvania Welfare Recipients

May 1, 2012

People renewing their application for food stamps or getting the benefit for the first time in Pennsylvania will have to report certain assets, like their savings accounts and second vehicles.

The asset test once again takes effect Tuesday, about four years after it was abolished under the Rendell administration.

Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman Anne Bale said Pennsylvanians hoping to enroll in the state's food assistance program will need to provide data on their various assets.

Foreclosure activity in the first quarter of 2012 increased in 26 of the nation's 50 largest metro areas, and Pittsburgh led the way.

"We saw a 49% quarterly increase in foreclosure activity in Pittsburgh, up to about 2,300 properties with foreclosure filings in the first quarter, up from about 1,500 in the previous quarter," said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac, a firm that watches foreclosure data national.

The large jump is due in large part to foreclosure filings, which start the whole process.