Economy & Business

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

Jessica Nath / 90.5 WESA

 The “Fight for $15” will take to the streets of Pittsburgh April 15th.

A small group of fast food workers and Pittsburgh organization heads gathered Tuesday in front of the Northside McDonalds to announce plans to strike for an increased minimum wage.

Lolene Germany, a worker at KFC, said the strike will call for fair treatment in the workplace as well as fair wages.

“We wanted to let people know that if you support what we’re doing and you feel like you’re being disrespected at work, wherever you work – at a healthcare, fast food, retail – just come out and fight with us,” Germany said. “And let them know that you’re going to get your respect and you’re going get what you deserve.”

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The city of Pittsburgh along with the Heinz Endowments has announced P4: People, Planet, Place and Performance — a framework for a model of redevelopment of city spaces.

It will consider the four “Ps” when looking at future development and will connect resources and initiatives already working in the city.

Christopher Lancaster / Flickr

The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN)  announced on Thursday the creation of a subcommittee tasked with developing a Customer Assistance Program, similar to those available for electricity and natural gas utilities.

Israel has been referred to as “Start-Up Nation” due to the strong entrepreneurial spirit displayed by its citizens, and a conference this week at The university of Pittsburgh is hoping to use a small group of visitors to foster that spirit here.

“Pittsburgh is very strong in medical device technology, drug innovation and medical IT,” said Paul Harper, Entrepreneurship Professor at Pitt. “Those happen to also be areas that Israel leads the world in.”

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh’s visitors and tourism bureau, VisitPITTSBURGH said 2014 was a strong year, but that 2015 is shaping up to be busier.

The organization released its annual report Thursday, highlighting the economic impact tourism has on the region. Each year the industry brings about $5.6 billion to the region and supports some 40,000 jobs.

Investments in Pittsburgh companies and the city’s technology sector continue to grow. A report by Innovation Works, an investment firm, and Ernst & Young LLP, a professional services company, found:

Gene J. Puskar / AP

The Pittsburgh Steelers' football stadium will keep the name Heinz Field despite the company's planned merger with Kraft Foods Group.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File

H.J. Heinz Co. is buying Kraft Foods, creating one of the largest food and beverage companies in the world with annual revenue in excess of $28 billion.

The deal was engineered by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and the company that owns Heinz, Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital. Berkshire and 3G will invest $10 billion in what will come to be known as The Kraft Heinz Co.

In an attempt to draw attention to local businesses, Sustainable Pittsburgh coordinates days for “mobs” of consumers to be intentional with purchases and support stores committed to green practice and sustainability.

Sahar Arbab, a Green Cities Sustainability Corps fellow with Sustainable Pittsburgh, organized the most recent “Cash Mob” this past November in Ambridge. Fifteen businesses were involved in the day-long shopping spree. The organization is offering an opportunity for communities to apply to host a cash mob in June. 

Raising a child is expensive, and not surprisingly, that cost has only increased over the past few decades. But tax relief to help families with children hasn’t kept pace with the increased cost.

The average cost of raising a child born in 2013 through age 17 is $245,340, according to the Department of Agriculture. That’s a 23 percent increase from 1960.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey cited a study from Pew that said weekly expenses for children have increased from $87 in the '80s to $148 in 2013 — a 70 percent increase.

Michael Lynch / 90.5 WESA

Despite not having a professional team, basketball is expected to bring big bucks to the city of Pittsburgh this weekend.

Tourism agency VisitPittsburgh projects as much as $7 million will be pumped into the local economy thanks to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championships at the Consol Energy Center on March 19 and 21.

The Pittsburgh Technology Council has launched FortyX80, a nonprofit group with the focus of accelerating the amount of capital investment coming into the region for innovation, startups and existing companies.

“We have incredible investors here in our region, we have a few strong venture funds, but they can only do so much” said Tech Council President and CEO Audrey Russo. “We can’t always count on them to do what needs to be done, and it wouldn’t be fair.”

A state legislator from a much more rural portion of Pennsylvania wants to make it legal for farmers to grow industrial hemp. 

State Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) said the level of THC, which gives cannabis its psychoactive effect, is so much lower than the plant used in the drug trade that it can hardly been considered in the same conversation.

Women make up 74 percent of the workforce at nonprofits in southwestern Pennsylvania but they are only being paid 75 percent as much as men.

That’s according to a survey from the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management's most recent survey.

“There’s a whole collection of reasons why this pay gap persists, but it really is troubling because we are supposed to be about social justice,” Peggy Outon, executive director, said. “And nonprofit organizations mostly have a mission to advance social justice, and we have a bigger pay gap in nonprofits than we do in business.”

Despite putting revenue from parking and the Rivers Casino into the pension fund, Pittsburgh’s pension problems aren’t getting any better.

That’s according to a recent audit that showed as of January 2013, Pittsburgh’s pension fund had assets of $675 million, but the liabilities stood at $1.16 billion – meaning the city only has about 58 percent of what it needs in the pension fund in order to ensure current and future payments compared to 62 percent in 2011.

401(K) 2012/Flickr

  Employees working at small businesses within Pittsburgh could see a raise in their paychecks.

City Councilman Corey O’Connor introduced legislation Tuesday he hopes incentivizes small businesses (15 to 250 employees) to raise their wage for full-time employees – currently $7.25 – to $10.10 per hour.  For restaurants employees who receive tips, the legislation aims to increase their minimum wage from $2.83 to $3.93 per hour.

Flickr user joseph a

Total construction starts in the seven-county Pittsburgh metropolitan region for January 2015 were down 47 percent from January 2014, according to construction industry analysis firm Dodge Data & Analytics.

Total building fell from $171.9 million in January 2014 to $90.7 million in January 2015. Residential construction dropped 37 percent from $115 million to $72.1 million, while non-residential building starts slid 68 percent from $56.9 million to $18.5 million.

But Richard Branch, Senior Economist at Dodge, said such a narrow comparison can be misleading.

Matt Rourke / Associated Press

Governor Wolf made taxing natural gas drillers the centerpiece of his campaign. As he prepares to give his first budget address Tuesday, the issue has once again taken center stage in Harrisburg.

Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state without a severance tax, but it does levy many other levy taxes on drillers. A gas tax has been a hot-button political issue for years– but how does Pennsylvania actually stack up against other states?

The answer to that question gives a window into why the debate is so complex and controversial.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

With Pittsburgh being plunged into arctic temperatures for much of February, the rivers have seen more ice than usual. Pittsburgh’s ports and waterways are among the largest inland ports in the country – so the slowdowns caused by the ice are causing some ripple effects. Locks on the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers are still operating – though the ice is slowing traffic.

Flickr user Peter Radunzel

The Pittsburgh Penguins and development firm Clayco are just six months away from the proposed groundbreaking for a 28 acre mixed use development in the Lower Hill. City Council on Tuesday approved a unique approach to tax abatement, which has been vital to getting the Hill community on board with the plan.

It’s been more than half a century since eight thousand Pittsburgh residents were displaced from their homes in the lower hill district, when 95 acres of a thriving, mostly African American community were razed to make way for the Civic Arena.

Morgue File

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has approved a six-week parental leave benefit for Allegheny County employees. The policy is modeled after Pittsburgh’s.

“We really like the policy as we look into it for our employees, we just really think paid leave policies really have benefits for children and families and we want to certainly be a family-friendly community,” said Fitzgerald.

Flickr user JulianBleecker

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has predicted that Pittsburgh will add more than 18,000 jobs in 2015, and according to a new report from the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, those jobs are likely to either be high-paying or low-paying.

What Do Unemployment Numbers Really Mean?

Feb 17, 2015
Michael Carian / Flickr

Earlier this month the unemployment numbers were announced. Over two-hundred thousand jobs were added to the economy. While this is good news why do so many people feel we’re still in the recession? Robert Morris University Economics Professor Brian O’Roark explains how unemployment is assessed and who counts as “unemployed.”

Unemployment assessments are done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. O’Roark says that the official ranks of the unemployed do not simply include people who don’t have jobs.

Fitness Means Business

Feb 17, 2015
Fittsburgh / Facebook

From Zumba to yoga to gym memberships, fitness is big business. This week business contributor Rebecca Harris offers her take on some of the latest trends in the business of fitness.

Harris says one of the new ways of working out is treadmill studio running that features intensity training. Another trend is the rise of fitness streaming technologies, which are a popular choice for people who want to work out at home but still have the feel of a “social” experience. Crossfit remains very popular too, Harris says.

Photo courtesy 4Moms

Venture capital dollars spent in the Pittsburgh region more than doubled from 2013 to 2014, according to a new report from economic and social trend tracker PittsburghTODAY.

In 2014, venture capital firms invested $338 million in local companies, up from $138 million in 2013.

Flickr user Phil Dragash

In the last 4 ½ years, 35 commercial properties in Wilkinsburg’s central business district have been sold, 22 new businesses have moved in, and 12 formerly vacant storefronts have been filled.

That’s according to Tracey Evans, Executive Director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation.

Like many towns in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Wilkinsburg is slowly emerging from the combined effects of the 2008 economic recession and the steel industry’s demise in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

How Affordable is Housing in Pennsylvania?

Feb 12, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Not at all, according to the latest analysis from the Philly Fed.

The vast majority of lower-income households in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware spend more than the conventionally-advised one third of income on housing.

That's the primary takeaway form the Federal Reserve's Philadelphia office housing affordability analysis released Tuesday.

Each year VisitPITTSBURGH, the city’s official tourism and promotion agency, releases an Official Visitors Guide to Pittsburgh. This year there’s a change.

“What makes this a little bit different this year is that our visitors guide, we’re changing the orientation from a portrait type of orientation to a landscape, which makes it very different than all of our competitive cities,” said Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH.

Pittsburgh City Council is planning a public hearing before they give the final stamp of approval to proposed tax abatements and exemptions for developers of the former Civic Arena site in the lower Hill District.

Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who has been instrumental in developing a plan for revitalization of the area, said developers will still be paying property taxes on the value of the land and related improvements.

The Economic Costs of Addiction

Feb 11, 2015
http://www.flickr.com/photos/markjsebastian/1264424156/ / Flickr

How do you address the growing trend of addiction in the workplace? How does it impact employers and co-workers? We pose those questions to Rosa Davis, executive director of POWER, a Pittsburgh-based organization helping women in recovery.

According to Davis, when workers struggle with addiction it can have a large impact on the company's bottom line.

"In addition to the human cost, there's a huge economic cost," she says. 

Davis advises employers to be as non-judgmental and as objective as possible. 

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