Economy & Business

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

PNC: 2011 Struggled but Grew

Dec 28, 2011

The 2011 economy might look different depending on your personal situation, but from where PNC Chief Economist Stuart Hoffman is standing, it was a relatively good year.

Hoffman said that the US economy overcame, but just barely, several hurdles: "Struggles and challenges coming out of Europe, much higher gasoline and energy prices through the first half of the year, a lack of any action in Washington to deal with the fiscal deficit."

State Efforts Underway to Help Returning Iraq Veterans Find Jobs

Dec 26, 2011

With the official conclusion of the Iraq War, local officials have made much of Pennsylvania's efforts to help returning service members come back into the civilian workforce. The state's Civil Service Commission held a recruiting event specifically for military veterans earlier this month. About 150 people showed up for information and advice.

Veterans face many challenges when returning from combat. One of the first steps to finding civilian employment is to get veterans to cut the shorthand out of their speech.

Apparently "what's on the inside" doesn't really count, at least when it comes to product choice. A recent study from a team of market researchers found that when it comes to consumer choice, packaging makes a big difference in the perceived effectiveness of a product.

Dire Cuts Predicted for 2012-2013 State Budget

Dec 20, 2011

State-funded programs and departments should brace for impact when the Pennsylvania budget is passed next summer.

The state budget for 2012-2013 will make cuts much deeper than those used to balance the current spending plan, according to predictions from the Corbett administration.

Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said on Tuesday that the state is facing a revenue shortfall of at least $500 million in the current budget year, which will carry over into next year's fiscal plan, creating a massive financial gap.

The net amount of the first paycheck you receive in the new year might be a bit smaller. That's because a final phase of Pennsylvania Act 32 is being implemented on January 1st and many employers will be withholding their workers' local Earned Income Tax (EIT) or wage tax for the first time. So, instead of receiving quarterly reminders from your city, township, or borough to pay the tax of 1 percent or so, that amount must now be withheld from your paycheck.

PNC: “Persistent Growth” in 2012

Dec 19, 2011

Don't look for a gangbuster economic year in 2012, but PNC Chief Economist Stuart Hoffman is predicting "persistent growth."

"We're not in the relapse or 'double dip' camp," said Hoffman. "Our view is that the economy will grow actually a bit stronger in 2012 than it did this year."

When the Keystone Opportunity Zone program was created in 1998, it was hailed as a way to attract business to poor areas in Pennsylvania by eliminating some state and local taxes within certain boundaries.

Thirteen years later, the program is being ranked among the worst tax credit projects in the country, in terms of the expectations of companies that benefit from the program to hire a certain number of workers and pay fair wages.

Many people think of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, as the biggest shopping day of the year, but in reality, that honor traditionally goes to the Saturday before Christmas. Since Christmas is on a Sunday this year, this coming Saturday, December 17, is expected to be the busy day.

"Saturday and Sunday of this weekend are going to be huge. Stores are going to be packed. People are going to be buying a lot of things," said Dr. Audrey Guskey, a marketing professor at Duquesne University.

Mayor: $80 Million in Bonds is the Right Amount

Dec 13, 2011

At City Council's Tuesday budget hearing, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl defended his plan to borrow $80 million for use in the city's capital budget over the next two years.

The mayor said that the time to borrow is now because of low bond interest rates and a great need for upkeep of the city's roads, fleets, and buildings.

City Council Members had expressed concern that the mayor's budget aimed to borrow too much, but Ravenstahl said that the city has fallen $17 million behind on maintenance and must now make larger investments to catch up.

Occupy Pittsburgh ‘Evicts’ BNY Mellon

Dec 12, 2011

Occupy Pittsburgh activists have done more than defy the eviction notice given to them on Friday by property owner BNY Mellon, they've given the bank an "eviction notice" of its own.

On Monday, a group of about twenty occupiers gathered at the plaza below BNY Mellon Center to demand that the bank leave its Grant Street tower, a retort to BNY Mellon's legal request that the protesters stop camping on its Downtown property.

Open Innovation is an emerging concept that promotes collaboration between companies to research and develop ideas. This notion goes against years of companies fighting to keep ideas and intellectual property within their own walls — and the belief that they, alone, hold the best and brightest minds.

Friday's news that unemployment in the U.S. has fallen to 8.6 percent is a mixed bag for some local unemployed Pittsburghers. On the one hand, the falling rate is going in the right direction, and last month some 120,000 new jobs were created. On the other hand, the unemployment rate may be lower because more than 300,000 people left the workforce, according to Co-Director of The Mon Valley Unemployed Committee, Antonio Lodico.

A Festive Take on Economic Hardship

Nov 29, 2011

The latest indicator of tough times for American consumers comes gift wrapped from Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.

Every holiday season since 1986, PNC analysts price each of the exotic gift items mentioned in "The Twelve Days of Christmas," a data set they use to tabulate the annual Christmas Price Index (CPI).

While Black Friday has become one of the busiest in-person shopping days of the year, Cyber Monday, the Monday after Black Friday, has become the busiest online shopping day of the year. But, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is reminding residents that those internet purchases are not tax-free.

Department of Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser said many online retailers don't collect use tax, and some even claim products can be purchased online tax-free, which he said is not the case.

Pennsylvania Senator Tries to Spark Third Class Growth

Nov 25, 2011

Main Streets in many of Pennsylvania's mid-sized cities are struggling to survive. One Cambria County lawmaker is hoping that the state can help reverse the trend.

Senator John Wozniak (D-Cambria County) has introduced legislation that would send millions of dollars to the state's third class cities, including Johnstown. The measure would set aside $100 million in state budget grants each year for the next five years to fund economic development in 53 cities, including Harrisburg, New Castle, and McKeesport.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced the formation of a new public-private council that will work to identify and prioritize issues that can lead to a more sustainable and successful manufacturing sector.

GOP Opposes Allegheny County Property Tax Hike

Nov 21, 2011

A proposal to raise Allegheny County property taxes is taking flak from Republicans on County Council, who argue that there are better ways to balance the budget.

The Council's Democratic majority has proposed a property tax hike from 4.69 mills to 5.69 mills, a 21 percent increase meant to restore last year's budget cuts to the Community College of Allegheny County and human services programs.

Shale Gas and Health: Science Meets Politics

Nov 18, 2011

Public health researchers gathered at the University of Pittsburgh on Friday to share their findings on how drilling in the Marcellus Shale for natural gas does or does not impact human health.

Among the presenters was Duke University's Robert Jackson. He co-authored a study earlier this year showing higher concentrations of methane in groundwater near Marcellus shale gas wells. The study instantly thrust Jackson into the national debate about franking.

Pennsylvania Unemployment Down for October

Nov 18, 2011

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent in October, down from 8.3 percent in September.

It remains lower than the national average of 9 percent. The positive news has some economists cautiously optimistic.

Washington County's Commissioners plan to appeal Common Pleas President Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca's ruling ordering property reassessment in the county. They have until December 15 to appeal the decision.

Commissioner Diana L. Irey said that the county wants to avoid reassessment because the process is outdated.

Council, Administration Battle over City Debt

Nov 16, 2011

Pittsburgh City Council is forging ahead with a new plan to control the city's borrowing habits, despite stern opposition from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration.

The measure, given preliminary approval on Wednesday, would put strict limits on how much total debt the city could take on, pegging that number as a percentage of the General Fund.

The mayor's Finance Director, Scott Kunka, said that the city needs more freedom when borrowing.

Agency Works to Help Vets Get Jobs

Nov 9, 2011

As Pennsylvania celebrates the nation's service members this Veterans Day, the veterans themselves continue to deal with an unemployment rate higher than the civilian average.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans who've served in the past ten years is 12.1%, as compared with the national average of 9.0%.

Business Council Weighs in on Shale Rules

Nov 4, 2011

Local government groups have been critical of a Pennsylvania House proposal that would allow state-imposed natural gas drilling regulations to trump local ordinances, but one business advocate is arguing that the alternative is a regulatory patchwork.

Representatives for the state's townships and boroughs have issues with the bill. The Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs is not keen on the idea of allowing counties to decide if they would like to impose drilling fees.

Per capita spending in 123 of Allegheny county's 129 municipalities rose slightly in 2009. That's according to a report from the Allegheny Institute, a conservative think tank based in Castle Shannon. The average per capita amount spent was $638, compared to $629 in 2008.

The report finds that per capita spending was up slightly at a time when revenue remained flat.

Terror-Free Investments Succeeding

Nov 2, 2011

A year into a state law prohibiting the investment of pension funds into companies that do business in Iran and Sudan, State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Pittsburgh), who advocated for the legislation, says the pension plans' investments have not been hurt by these restrictions.

"When you take a look at mutual fund portfolios around the country that target terrorist-free investments, they've outperformed the general market," Frankel said. "So we believe there's been no negative impact and probably positive impact on Pennsylvania's pension funds."

The leader of the national Democratic Party stopped in Pittsburgh on Tuesday to call on Republicans to pass President Obama's American Jobs Act.

Florida Congresswoman and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Republicans "should be ashamed of themselves" for voting against the stimulus measure when it came up for votes, both in full form and in smaller pieces.

Energy Assistance Program Opens for 2011-2012

Nov 1, 2011

The Low Income Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, is now accepting applications for the winter months ahead. Pennsylvania has $135 million dollars that will go to qualifying households to help with heating utilities or so-called crisis grants for things such as emergency repairs to heating systems.

"A household of four with an income of 33,525 a year is eligible to receive LIHEAP benefits. Those benefits range from a cash benefit from $100 to $1,000, and a crisis benefit from $25 to $300," said John Coleman, Vice Chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission.

Penn­syl­va­nia Gov­ernor Tom Corbett has said he wants to make deci­sions about drilling for nat­ural gas in the Mar­cel­lus Shale based on good sci­ence. But the effort to research the impact of shale drilling has been ham­pered by lack of fund­ing, lack of data and claims of bias.

Dur­ing the next sev­eral months, law­mak­ers in Har­ris­burg will be draft­ing leg­is­la­tion based on Gov­er­nor Corbett's pro­pos­als for new gas drilling rules.

"There's two things that really make Hulk mad: unsafe bridges and unemployment!"

Those words were uttered by Bob Glidden, who was dressed as the Incredible Hulk while rallying at the foot of the Birmingham Bridge. He and about a dozen others were calling for state lawmakers to commit to fixing the area's bridges. The rally was staged by Pennsylvania Wants to Work, an organization tackling unemployment in Pittsburgh. Organizers say that fixing the area's deficient bridges would help solve the jobs problem and increase public safety.

Housing Official Talks Rust Belt in PA

Oct 28, 2011

U-S Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Shaun Donovan took a trip to Pennsylvania this week to meet with clergy, city council members, and state lawmakers to dive into problems common to Pennsylvania's older cities, boroughs, and townships.

The top housing official in the Obama administration is singling out Pennsylvania cities where federal programs stand to benefit struggling neighborhoods.