Economy & Business

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

For a fourth straight month, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate remained at 5.4 percent in August, the same as one year ago. During that same 12-month period, the U.S. rate dropped a full percentage point to the current 5.1 percent.

Dan Moyle / Flickr

  Southwestern Pennsylvania experienced a summer surge in home listings this year, according to a report by West Penn Multi-List, Inc.

Keystone Crossroads

Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania is hundreds of miles from the boardwalk and the beach, but mere steps from the Susquehanna River. And while no one has made a reality show about this sleepy town yet, they do share one similarity with their namesake: flooding.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Twenty bushels of apples get dumped onto a conveyor belt at Soergel’s Orchards in Wexford. After a quick wash, they’re ground into a pulp and squeezed under 55 tons of pressure to make 110 gallons of cider.

Larry Voll, one of the owners of Soergel’s Orchards, said the cider is going to Arsenal Cider House in Lawrenceville. The juice that he sells to Arsenal to make into hard cider will one day end up back at the Wexford farm, at the Arsenal tap room, which just opened this summer.

In 1981, the Allegheny County Commissioners determined that minority and women business owners should receive a better share of government contracts. Goals were established: 13 percent for minority business owners and 2 percent for women business owners.

Twenty-three years later, the two groups represented a combined 17 to 23 percent of purchasing, economic development and pubic works contracts awarded by the commission. In every instance, the number of contracts given to minority owners far exceeded the number granted to women.

Jared Brey / PlanPhilly

There are some neighborhoods in Pennsylvania cities where half of the properties are blighted or tax-delinquent or both. Between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, there are about 60,000 such properties. But getting them into the hands of new owners who can make them useful for the neighborhood again has been difficult. Enter a 2012 state law that allows cities to quickly acquire properties, eliminate back taxes and get them to new owners. But in reality, there has been little progress.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Rob Walters, a riverkeeper, launched his boat across from a staging area for barges on the Monongahela River, about 20 miles upriver from Pittsburgh’s downtown. His first mate, a Portuguese water dog named Rio — meaning river in Portuguese — whimpered in excitement. He counted about 30 barges before he turned on his boat’s engine and headed towards the city.

Rebecca Devereaux / 90.5 WESA

If you're hoping to take the incline to Mt. Washington over the holiday weekend, you are in luck.

Major rehabilitation work on the Monongahela Incline scheduled to begin Aug. 31 was postponed for eight days following meetings between the Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation and the Port Authority of Allegheny County. Local business owners complained that the loss of the incline, a major method of transportation to the neighborhood, would hinder visitors over the holiday.

United Steelworkers March Through Downtown

Sep 1, 2015
Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

An estimated 1,500 people marched through the streets of Downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday from United Steelworkers headquarters to the offices of Allegheny Technology and U.S. Steel headquarters.

Union workers are demanding contract settlements with U.S. Steel, Allegheny Technologies and ArcelorMittal. Negotiations started in June.

patreasury.gov

Unemployment compensation and workers’ compensation benefit recipients will receive a new provider for prepaid debit cards; the Pennsylvania Treasury will stop making deposits to the previously-used Chase cards on Sept. 30.

Money For Small Businesses Coming To Pennsylvania

Aug 24, 2015

Pennsylvania will be receiving nearly 700,000 in grant money to be distributed among small businesses for the purpose of expanding their offerings in markets abroad. The announcement was made today by Small Business Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet on a conference call with reporters.

Contreras-Sweet said the program's goals are three-fold.

Minimum-Wage Debate Heats Up In Pennsylvania

Aug 24, 2015

Cori Shetter is a college graduate and aspiring actress who’s worked minimum-wage jobs for 15 years.

“It’s like swinging from Tarzan vine to Tarzan vine. One vine’s about to end and break, so you just grab the next one, but you’re never really putting your feet on solid ground,” said the 31-year-old Pittsburgh resident.

Lots Of Red Tape For Building Waterfront Projects In PA, But It Could Be Worse

Aug 19, 2015
Diana Robinson / WITF

Antonia Hinnencamp and a few friends are about to start a bike ride on the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail. The 6.5-mile paved stretch opened last spring, and Hinnencamp says she’s done it twice since then. She says it’s well worth the 20-minute trip from her hometown in Lancaster for such an ideal setting: flat, shaded, closed to pedestrians.

Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group

Four out of 10 black people in Allegheny County wanting to buy a home are denied a mortgage. That's two times the rate of white applicants, according to data released Monday in the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group’s 21st Annual Mortgage Lending Study.

“The level of African American lending is extremely low compared to all other groups,” said Rachel Rue, researcher with the PCRG.

Casey Chafin / 90.5 WESA

The first tenants will move into the new 54,000-square-foot 3 Crossings office building in the Strip District on Sept. 1, completing the first wave of a series of redevelopment projects between 25th and 27th streets.

Steve Guy, president and CEO of Oxford Development Company, said the project will give the area sorely-needed amenities like sidewalks, curbs, drainage and groundwater control systems, as well as updating the electrical pole configurations to more efficiently meet the needs of the neighborhood at large.

AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File

Kraft Heinz has announced it is cutting about 2,500 jobs in the U.S. and Canada. The move comes as the company seeks to cut costs following the Kraft and Heinz merger earlier this year. The impact on Pittsburgh will be minimal, according to Kraft Heinz spokesman Michael Mullen.

“As part of the integration, some employees will move from Pittsburgh to Chicago and likewise, some employees will move from Chicago to Pittsburgh,” said Mullen. “Heinz will continue to have a significant presence in the Pittsburgh area.”

On Tuesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews was in Pittsburgh to lead an initiative that will help start-up and early stage businesses conduct business abroad.

“With 96 percent of the world’s customers and 80 percent of the world’s GDP outside of the borders of the United States, there are tremendous opportunities for U.S. businesses around the world, and we want to help companies early in their life cycle and early in their growth to start thinking globally rather than waiting until they’re further along and more developed,” said Andrews.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is hanging not only his budget proposal, but at least some of the state’s economic future, on continued growth in natural gas production in the state, but rumors of gas being sold at 60 cents per thousand cubic feet (MCF) is prompting concern among many.

More Housing Coming Soon To Pittsburgh's Strip

Aug 6, 2015

In the 1800’s, the building in the 2400 block of Smallman Street was the Duquesne Cigar Factory. As recently as this week, it was an industrial vacuum cleaner company. And soon, it will be home to 38 more condominiums.

Its neighbors? Other condominium buildings, a whiskey distillery and soon, according to published reports, an Apple Inc. office.

Real estate agent Kathy Wallace lauded Pittsburgh's rich, architectural history. As the Steel City's identity evolved, many buildings were left underutilized and sometimes abandoned as their uses changed over time, she said.

Forty out of the 150 buildings in Wilkinsburg’s central business district are vacant, but borough officials are hoping that a new tool will help spur development in that distressed municipality.

Some of these properties have been vacant for a decade or two, according to Tracey Evans, executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation (WCDC).  She said on one block just one of the nine buildings is occupied.

“That’s a huge loss visually for people driving through the business district," Evans said. "It looks blighted.”

Courtesy Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurants

Pittsburgh restaurant owners, chefs and farmers have teamed with Sustainable Pittsburgh to launch the Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurant program, which recognizes southwestern PA restaurants for their efforts in operating energy efficient and socially responsible establishments, especially as the city’s eateries garner increasing national attention.

A long-standing Downtown feud could be on its way to resolution.

Point Park University President Paul Hennigan announced Monday that his administration had dropped its objection to the unionization of the school’s full-time faculty.

“This case started ... under a different administration,” Hennigan said.  “This administration is just not interested in a fight.”

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said Tuesday that he gets “a little emotional” when he talks about the city’s summer employment program for teenagers and young adults.

More homes in the Pittsburgh area were purchased in June compared to a year ago. They sold more quickly and at a higher price, according to a report from the West Penn Multi-List, which tracks the housing market.

The average sale price was about $200,000 and the homes were on the market for an average of 112 days — 35 fewer than this time last year. The number of homes put up for sale in June increased by 3.6 percent last month compared to June 2014.

David Brossard / Flickr

  After 128 years, the Kaufmann clock still tolls, but in the coming months visitors meeting under it won’t be in front of a department store.

Macy’s, a Cincinnati-based department store chain, announced Monday the closing of the 13-floor Downtown Pittsburgh store at 400 Fifth Avenue. The building was sold earlier this year to Philadelphia-based Core Realty, which touts mixed-use redevelopment for the space.

More than $3.4 million in gaming returns will be distributed to 14 community and economic development initiatives through the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County.

Community groups and organizations looking to jumpstart a business, improve a park or start a program or project were eligible to apply for grants up to $500,000.

The city’s tourism agency, VisitPittsburgh, has proposed creating a non-profit organization tasked with attracting major sporting events to the area.

Executive Vice President Jason Fulvi said the city needs an organization dedicated solely to sports promotion.

“We had over a million overnight visits last year in Allegheny County and all of that brings money and revenue into the community," he said. "It helps to support not only our hotels, but restaurants, bars (and) attractions.”

United Way organizations serving Allegheny, Westmoreland, Fayette and Armstrong counties have combined efforts as the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Bob Nelkin, formerly the director of the Allegheny branch and now President and CEO of the larger operation, said the change was rapid after discussions of combining branch strengths began in June.

Kraft shareholders have approved the sale of the company to ketchup maker H.J. Heinz, creating one of the world's largest food companies with annual revenue of about $28 billion.

Heinz' owners, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and the Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital engineered the deal, first announced in March, and will control 51 percent of the new Kraft Heinz Co.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Average annual pay increased in the Pittsburgh region from 2013 to 2014, but not as much as in several other cities, including Denver, Cincinnati or Detroit, according to a report released by Pittsburgh Today.

Doug Heuck, director of Pittsburgh Today, an organization which measures progress in areas such as education, sustainability and economy, said local average annual pay rose by 2.7 percent.

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