Economy & Business

Economy & Business news from 90.5 WESA.

The summer’s wet, cool weather is making life difficult for Pennsylvania’s tomato farmers.

The Penn State Extension, which monitors agricultural phenomenon, has confirmed fungal outbreaks in 13 counties from Lackawanna County to as far west as Cambria County.

The spreading fungus is known as “late blight” and is one of the worst threats tomato growers face, according to Beth Gugino, a plant pathologist for the Penn State Extension.

From clothes stores on East Carson Street on the South Side to the small back-street food vendors of Oakland, Pittsburgh is a hub of small businesses, but according to Thumbtack.com, local government could be a little friendlier to coffee shops, dog groomers and other retailers.

Thumbtack.com gave Pittsburgh a "D" rating for a multitude of reasons.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Zer068 is an identifying number for convicts from the 3rd District of Pennsylvania who go to federal prison.

It’s also the name of a fledgling company.

Founder Daniel Bull is trying to walk the line between honesty about his past and giving himself and others a second chance.

Zer068 has been created specifically to help people with felonies or crimes, a past they would like to forget, overcome that past," Bull said. "We get it, we’re there, we understand what you’re about and we’re here to help.”

Thousands of Disabled Workers Legally Paid Sub-Minimum Wage

Jul 31, 2014
Martha Rial / PublicSource

About 13,000 disabled Pennsylvania workers are being paid far below minimum wage, earning an average of $2.40 an hour in legal sub-minimum wages, according to a recent PublicSource article by Halle Stockton.

Does this practice provide opportunities for people who wouldn't otherwise have a job? Or does it exploit those who could work for minimum wage?

Stockton says these workers are legally paid sub-minimum wages and are supervised by mostly non-disabled workers. Stockton says the working conditions can range from work programs on beautiful campuses, to those of industrial settings.

No matter the conditions, however, Stockton says the pay is based on “pieces.”

“This is all piecework. You get paid for every box of paper you shred; you get paid twenty cents. Or every jewelry box, eleven cents. So, these supervisors are watching and recording that. This person completed three this hour, or completed four, and that’s what translates into your paycheck.”

Curtis Decker is the Executive Director of the National Disability Rights Network. He says people don’t apply for jobs they don’t have the skill set for. Decker does not approve of these sub-minimum wage programs but still believes people need the training so they can realize their greater potential.

thetaxhaven / Flickr

In the next decade the economy will experience one of the largest demographic workplace changes in modern history. By the year 2025 Millennials will make up approximately 75% of the U.S. workforce, and worldwide this generation will account for 50% of those employed.

This week contributor, Rebecca Harris, Director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University, looks at the The Business of Millennials.

There are 80 million Millennials, or those of “Generation Y” in the United States today, making up an entire quarter of the population.  Pittsburgh makes yet another list, coming in 15th in the Niche, Best Cities for Millennials list.  The best places for them to live in the city include Shadyside and Friendship

In addition to aligning themselves with brands and products with a good mission, Harris outlines just who the Millennials are.

Kaye Burnet / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh’s Washington Plaza and Allegheny Center apartment buildings will soon undergo renovations, complete with name changes, under the new ownership of New York-based firm Faros Residential LLC.

Washington Plaza, which is now City View, and Allegheny Center, now called Park View, are being updated to attract younger urban professionals, said Faros managing partner Jeremy Leventhal at a news conference Tuesday morning.

Flickr user jmd41280

Roberta Weissburg has been designing, repairing, and selling leather goods in Pittsburgh for over 30 years.

According to Weissburg, the increasing presence of online and big box stores over the last few decades has made it difficult for small businesses like hers to maintain and expand their customer bases.

Pittsburgh International Airport added three new flights this year with hopes of increasing passenger traffic, but according to airport reports, the number of passengers rolling through Pittsburgh has dropped 21 percent since 2006.

Eight years ago, 9,949,049 passengers traveled through the airport. In 2013, that number has fallen to 7,854,181.

Ashley Henry Shook, an Allegheny County Airport Authority board member, said the numbers tend to fluctuate throughout the year.

Thousands of Disabled Workers in PA Paid Far Below Minimum Wage

Jul 27, 2014
Martha Rial / PublicSource

About 13,000 disabled Pennsylvanians are earning an average of $2.40 an hour in a legal use of subminimum wages.

The majority work almost solely with other disabled people, in a world tucked away from the mainstream labor market.

They’re given menial tasks, like folding boxes, shredding paper or packing mail inserts.

Since 1986, there has been no limit to how little they can be paid. And even the federal government, which issues the certificates that allow employers to pay subminimum wages, doesn’t track the hourly earnings of the workers.

The Economic Cost of Financial Illiteracy

Jul 23, 2014
Credit Alan Cleaver / Flickr

How much do you know, or think you know, about your personal finances? In a world where savings and investment options are increasingly complex, studies show that millions of Americans lack financial literacy.

Paul Brahim, Chairman and CEO of BPU investment firm and a member of the Board of Directors of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Financial Planning Association, says financial illiteracy is causing a social crisis in retirement.

Workers with an Associate’s degree or less make up more than half of the total healthcare workforce in the U.S., according to a report released today by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, and those numbers are expected to climb.

How the Business of Weddings is Changing with the Times

Jul 22, 2014
Grand Velas Riviera Maya / Flickr

From bridal shops to reception venues and more, weddings are big business. Whether you’re part of the wedding party or simply attending the event you can expect to shell out some serious coin.

Business contributor Rebecca Harris revealed some facts that show weddings are changing.

One of Harris's discoveries was that June and September are now the most popular months for marriage.

"15% of US weddings take place in each of those months. It used to be summer time but as you can see from a day like today, people are really selecting to get married in cooler months."

The cost for weddings is also at a record high as Harris reported the average cost of a wedding in the United States is $30,000. With these rising costs the wedding business now makes up $40 billion of the economy.

Among other changes are the ages of the people getting married. The average age of a bride is 29 while the average age of a groom is 31 and Harris noted, "It used to be much younger."

Another major change is the increase of destination weddings, which now make up 24% of all weddings. But as Paul Guggenheimer pointed out this increase in destination weddings means a higher cost for the guests.

Check out these websites and ideas for keeping wedding plans local:

Despite bringing in $99 million dollars more in sales than last year, the PA Lottery is seeking to lower the percentage of revenue it is legally required to give to programs for seniors.

For the third year in a row, the lottery has given more than one billion dollars to programs that help the elderly with transportation, prescription costs and even tax rebates. This year, $3.8 billion dollars in sales revenue were generated, with $1.8 billion going towards seniors, the largest dollar amount in PA Lottery history.

'Southpaw' Film Brings The Bronx to Carrick

Jul 22, 2014
Jennifer Szweda Jordan

A little piece of the Bronx has been dropped into Pittsburgh’s South Hills while film crews work on a new Jake Gyllenhall film.

Building facades and storefronts have been modified and re-decorated by director and Pittsburgh native Antoine Fuqua for his boxing-related film Southpaw.

Is It Time to Raise the Minimum Wage?

Jul 22, 2014
Olivia Becker / Vice News

Seattle has raised their minimum wage to $15 an hour, CEO's wages continue to increase, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is recommending that the city minimum wage be increased to $13 an hour. On the Federal level, President Obama hopes to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

While some people are on Emanuel and Obama's side and believe that increasing the minimum wage will help people out of poverty, critics feel the minimum wage should be eliminated altogether.

Brian O’ Roark, a professor of economics at Robert Morris University weighs the pros and cons of the minimum wage decision.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are planning a hearing they hope will foster discussion on growing Pittsburgh’s employment opportunities.

The House Democratic Policy Committee will hold a July 23 public hearing at the Community College of Allegheny County to discuss jobs and workforce development in the Pittsburgh area.

After seeing no appreciable job growth in the Pittsburgh metro area more than a year ago, the region added 10,700 jobs between June 2013 and June 2014, according to a report from Pittsburgh Today.

“That’s a 0.9 percent increase, which doesn’t set the world on fire, but Pittsburgh has always been kind of a slow and steady grower,” said Doug Heuck, Pittsburgh Today director. “But it’s good news that we’re back growing jobs again.”

Flickr user josepha

More young people are moving to Pittsburgh while fewer are leaving, and Doug Heuck, the director of Pittsburgh TODAY, thinks this could be because of the region’s cost of living.

The nonprofit research organization found that in the first quarter of 2014, Pittsburgh’s cost of living was the third lowest among 14 peer cities – St. Louis and Charlotte had the lowest cost of living figures.

In the last 10 years, an estimated 2.4 million jobs have been shipped off shore by U.S. companies, according to U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), and he says the tax code not only allows it, but encourages it. 

“It’s almost as if the tax code says ‘take your jobs overseas and the code will help you do it,” said Casey.  “Unfortunately I’m not exaggerating.”

For that reason Casey is calling on the Senate Committee on Finance to move the Bring Jobs Home Act (S. 337) to the full Senate for debate and a vote.

Somerset County Commissioners have rejected a request from the Shade-Central City School District that could have forced the county to launch a multi-million dollar property reassessment process.

Customers of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority now have another payment option at their disposal – cash payments at 7-Eleven stores.

“It’s a convenience for our customers who don’t have a bank account, a credit card, a debit card, they may be out of town,” said Melissa Rubin, a PWSA spokeswoman. “Cash payments can be made at any 7-Eleven across the U.S.”

Pittsburgh has been ranked one of the nation’s most walkable cities for years, but a new study suggests if the city wants to attract young talent, it needs to be even more walkable.

According to a report released by the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University, Pittsburgh is a city of “moderate walkable urbanism,” meaning more than 70 percent of walkable urban office and retail space is located in the central city.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Oberg Industries’ tucked away buildings in Freeport, Pennsylvania are easy to miss.

But inside the nondescript structures are tidy rows of machinery worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each. In one department, refrigerator-sized electric discharge machines, which cut metal using wire, sizzle away like cooking bacon. In another, workers operate manual machines. In one room a worker runs quality assurance using a high-tech instrument.

The Business of Breakfast (Why It's The Most Important Meal)

Jul 8, 2014
Wally Gobetz / Flickr

Breakfast is, as the saying goes, "the most important meal of the day," and businesses are really catching on.

Taco Bell has recently begun to offer breakfast choices, joining a long list of restaurants that seek to help you start your day in a tasty, if not exactly healthy way.

Business contributor, Rebecca Harris has some statistics that may make you, and food businesses, think twice about skipping breakfast.

Flickr user josepha

Pittsburgh has one of the most stable housing markets in the country, according to a new report.

The study, conducted by Zillow Real Estate on behalf of Bloomberg.com, listed Pittsburgh as having the second most stable housing market behind Buffalo. Louisville, Nashville and Raleigh rounded out the top five.

Analyzing housing prices from 1979 to the present, Zillow and Bloomberg used a five year rolling average to calculate changes in home prices to establish a risk of loss percentage.

Green Workplace Challenge Winners Announced

Jul 7, 2014

The results are in for the 2013-2014 Green Workplace Challenge, and seven local organizations have been honored for their environmentally friendly facility improvements.

FedEX Ground, DMI Companies, Pashek Associates, Allegheny County, the University of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, and Conservation Consultants Inc. received the highest scores in their various categories of competition.

Billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife Dies at 82

Jul 5, 2014

Richard Mellon Scaife, the billionaire heir to the Mellon banking and oil fortune and a newspaper publisher who funded libertarian and conservative causes and various projects to discredit President Bill Clinton, has died. He was 82.

Scaife died early Friday at his home, his newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, reported. Scaife's death comes less than two months after he announced in a first-person, front-page story in his Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he had an untreatable form of cancer.

The Business of the Barbecue (And Grilling)

Jul 1, 2014
Gepat / Flickr

This Friday is July 4th, and to commemorate the nation’s 238th birthday people across the country will march in parades, watch fireworks and, of course, fire up the grill.

Tons of hot dogs, burgers, steaks, and propane will be sold in the lead up to Independence Day, the biggest grilling day of the year. So it seemed to be an appropriate time to discuss the business of grilling with contributor Rebecca Harris.

Harris says that even though humans have been cooking meat for hundreds of thousands of years, backyard grilling didn’t truly become popular until the 1950’s. The sudden increase in popularity was spurred by the creation of suburbs, and the creation of the backyard grill.

UPMC and Highmark, A Confusing Truce

Jul 1, 2014
Life Mental Health / Flickr

The announcement of a five-year consent decree brokered by state officials seems to be bringing a truce between Highmark and UPMC. What exactly will the agreement mean for policy holders? State Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine highlights some of the major aspects of the decree to policyholders who may be experiencing some confusion with these “out of network” hospitals.

Some of UPMC’s most prominent hospitals are not in the network, included Magee Women’s Hospital. Commissioner Consedine says the largest issues surrounding the agreement are not which specialty hospitals will remain open in the network, but rather contingency of those already being treated by UPMC doctors, oncology care, and emergency services.

WorKing that Interview: How to Nail the Job

Jun 26, 2014
bpsusf / Flickr

The job interview can be one of the most nerve wracking experiences you’ll ever go through. Magazines and websites regularly run stories about how to answer questions, what mistakes to avoid, etc. In this month’s On the Job segment, independent career consultant Sasha King explains all you’ll need to know in order to nail the interview.

One of the most important things King mentions is for an interviewee to ask questions of the company. She calls it “auditioning the company” while they are in turn auditioning you for the job.

“The first question I usually have them ask is ‘What are your 30, 60 and 90 day goals for someone in this position?’ Why would you want to know that? It helps you, as a job seeker, to know what they expect of you in your first 90 days. But, it also sets a favorable impression with the interviewer that you plan on achieving certain things within the first 90 days, or know what the expectations are.”

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