Economy & Business

Economy & Business news from 90.5 WESA.

The Business of School Lunches

Aug 26, 2014
Lance Cheung/USDA / Flickr

Whether they brown bag it or purchase the cafeteria offering, lunch can be one of the most important parts of a student’s day. This week contributor Rebecca Harris looks at the business of school lunches.

Bob Mrvos jokes you could golf in the corridors of The Pittsburgh International Airport Terminal – it's just so empty.

"My wife and I were on vacation and flew into LAX and stayed there for a couple weeks and we came back through Chicago," he said. "You walk through those airports and you can barely get through the hallway there’s so many people. And when you land in Pittsburgh, it's like the airports closed."

The Natrona Bottling Tradition

Aug 20, 2014
Marcus Charleston / WESA

Whether it’s called soda or pop, consumers can’t get enough of the sweet, carbonated beverage. Here in Pittsburgh the Natrona Bottling Company has been making its brand of specialty beverages for quite some time. In fact, this year marks the company’s 110th anniversary. Vito Gerasole, the “Sultan of Soda,” explains that Natrona’s dedication to product -- rather than profit -- is what makes its drinks so distinctive. For instance, Natrona still puts its sodas in glass bottles, and it uses real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.

“Basically, we want to give you a good quality product that was produced 110 years ago. Our machinery is 70 years old. … No other soda producer uses this style of carbonation. … This is our defining factor.”

The Business of Buying Into a Franchise

Aug 19, 2014
Mike Mozart / Flickr

Can you be an entrepreneur if you buy into a franchise? What should you know if you’re considering opening one? Contributor Rebecca Harris answers those questions this week as she looks at the business of franchises.

How does one even begin to buy into a franchise? Harris has some advice.

Youth employment has been on a decreasing trend since 2000 and the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board (3RWIB) believes that educators and employers could work to get young people more engaged.

The number of 16-24-year-olds who work summer jobs in the region has decreased by 55 percent, and the level of youth employment overall has decreased by 39 percent in the past 14 years. Also, one of eight young people in the region does not work or go to school.

Pennsylvania's jobless rate is up slightly but remains better than the national figure. The state Department of Labor and Industry said Friday the seasonally adjusted rate last month was 5.7 percent, up one tenth of a percentage point from June.

“There’s nothing to be alarmed about,” said Sara Goulet, a department spokeswoman. “It’s a very, very small uptick and we do see those periodically. It’s the natural ebb and flow of the employment situation.”

The U.S. rate is currently 6.2 percent.

Gov. Tom Corbett announced Thursday that the state is investing $7 million to turn a 195-acre brownfield site at Pittsburgh International Airport into an international trade hub.

The site, which is federally-designated for international trade, is expected to include 1 million square feet of office space, 90,000 square feet of research and development space and a 400-room hotel and convention center.

The “Pittsburgh International Airport World Trade Center” is expected to bring more than $200 million in private investment, as well as create 7,000 jobs—1,200 in construction.

Jessica Nath / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh has been described as “hip,” “organic” and “authentic” by a slew of travel publications over the past few years, but what does all this recognition mean for the city and its residents?

It means money and a boost in the economy, according to Craig Davis, CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH, Susan Corbett, the First Lady of Pennsylvania, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

They gathered Tuesday at PNC Park, voted one of the best views in the country, in recognition of Pittsburgh being named as a “Top 10 All-American Travel Destinations” by the Travel Channel.

The Growing Business of Childcare

Aug 12, 2014
Kirsten Jennings / Flickr

The cost of childcare has a significant impact on parents from all income ranges. Last year the New York Times reported the day care costs for middle-class New Yorkers can easily equal from $25,000 to $30,000 per child.

Contributor Rebecca Harris says childcare services are becoming so necessary because of the increase of households with dual incomes; both parents are working. However, Harris does not see this as a bad thing for children as they are growing up.

“Quality child care tends to lead to positive outcomes, even during the teenage years. Children that receive high quality childcare within the first two years of life, they secured higher measures of cognitive and academic achievements when they were 15 years old.”

Pennsylvania women have the opportunity to take part in the commonwealth’s first Business Plan Competition for women, where they will make pitches in front of a panel of judges for a cash prize.

Women own about 7.8 million businesses in the United States, according to the National Women’s Business council.

“They play a really integral role in our economy at the local, state and national level,” Ashley Mostek, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women, said. “They’re job creators; they’re an important part of our economy on all levels.”

PA Consumers Hiked Spending After Recession

Aug 8, 2014

Pittsburgh’s quick recovery and growth from the national recession exceeded growth in the rest of the state from 2009-2012, but has now stagnated before reaching pre-recession levels.

First-of-its-kind economic data released Thursday by the U.S. Department Commerce provides a state-by-state look at how consumers responded in the years after the recession officially ended in 2009.

Pennsylvania consumers bought more cars and trucks and boosted their spending in other areas as the nation emerged from recession.

The third in a series of roundtable discussions with Mayor Bill Peduto focused on better fostering business startups and helping incubators and co-working spaces thrive. With several universities and young companies, Peduto says it’s critical to ensure young graduates stay in the Steel City.

He said these businesses will want to locate within city limits, and in clusters.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY


When the lush, green curves of Route 403 give way to the expansive brick buildings of Johnstown's steel mills, innovative economic development is not the first thing that comes to mind. The city's landscape is industrial, full of cement, and accented generously with blight. Its population sits at about 20,000, down from a high of around 70,000. The last time it was this low was in 1890, and people continue to leave.

The Business of Intrapreneurship

Aug 5, 2014 / Flickr

Intrapreneurship is the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization. The concept is growing in popularity because of large companies such as Google.

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, local government could be a little friendlier to coffee shops, dog groomers and other retailers. 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.