Economy & Business

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

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.

Icy Rivers Create Headache for Commerce

Feb 27, 2015
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.

2015 Pittsburgh Guide Aims to Link Print to Digital

Feb 12, 2015

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. 

Tzuhsun Hsu / Flickr

Last month Bar Marco, a trendy restaurant in the Strip District, announced that they plan to do away with tipping this Spring. There’s been an outpouring of interest, curiosity and praise from all over the country.

Bar Marco Co-Owner Bobby Fry and Events Coordinator Andrew Heffner talk about how they came to this decision and how they plan to make it work.

A no-tipping policy has pros and cons for owners, servers, and customers. Offering their perspectives are Meg Fosque, the National Development Director for Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), as well as Kevin Joyce, owner of the Carlton Restaurant in Pittsburgh and a member of the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.

According to Fry, Bar Marco made the decision to discontinue tipping after encountering research that suggested eliminating the practice could help mitigate some of the restaurant’s scheduling concerns. Workers in restaurants and retail environments often face schedule fluctuations that make their financial and personal lives difficult, Fry says. Bar Marco’s plan to cease the tip system involves creating a conventional forty-hour schedule for its employees and paying the kitchen staff the same as the servers: a standard yearly salary of $35,000.

Black History Month: History and Business

Feb 10, 2015
City Parks / City of Pittsburgh

African American life, history and culture have become major forces in the United States and the world. Here to discuss the evolution, from both a social and economic perspective, of Black History Month is business contributor Rebecca Harris, Director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University.

Nursing Home Overtime May Impact Quality of Care

Feb 5, 2015
:23: / Flickr

 WESA content partner Public Source is reporting a problem in the nursing-home industry. Experts say frequent overtime is common and it has the potential to compromise the quality of care, leaving fatigued caregivers in situations that could have serious consequences.

We talk with guest Halle Stockton, a reporter for Public Source, Dennis Biondo, Director of County-owned Kane Regional Centers and Joe Angelelli, a gerontologist and assistant professor at Robert Morris University.

Stockton explains that her story emerged from a right-to-know request, which revealed that the Kane Regional Centers have the highest amount of overtime payouts and employees in the county. Some health care providers, Stockton found, work an average of 80 hours a week for 50 weeks or more.

Owners of small- and medium-sized businesses gathered Wednesday to talk about how the Pittsburgh area economy could change in 2015 and not everyone is optimistic.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence hosted the event that included: Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, PNC Chairman Bill Demchack, and PNC Vice President Augustine Faucher. Overall they predicted that the local economy will fall behind the national economy in 2015.

Neighborhood Business: The Mexican War Streets

Feb 3, 2015
Joseph / Flickr

Cities are made up of a collection of neighborhoods with unique features and characteristics. On the first Tuesday of the month, business contributor Rebecca Harris will focus on one of the city’s neighborhoods. Today's focus is on the Mexican War Streets.

Broadly speaking, Harris explains, the North Side consists of 18 different neighborhoods. The district that makes up the Mexican War Streets was laid out in the middle of the 19th century by Alexander Hays, who named the streets after famous figures and battles in the Mexican-American war. The area now holds city and federal designations as a historic district.

Today’s Mexican War Streets district doesn’t really have any central business district; businesses are more spread out instead. Some highlights are the Inn on the Mexican War Streets and the Allegheny City Market, which has been a corner grocery store since 1825.

On the Job: Procrastination as a Positive Habit

Jan 29, 2015
Kristy Arnold / Flickr

"Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today" is an apt quote, warning against procrastination. However, in this month’s On the Job segment, independent career consultant Sasha King addresses why procrastination might not be such a bad thing.

King says procrastination has increased since 1978 due to information overload with the examples of technological advancements and distractions. But she also tells us how procrastination can be positive in today's society.

Repurposing: It's Good for Business

Jan 27, 2015
Rebecca Harris / CWE Chatham

Repurposing refers to finding new uses for items. Some enterprising entrepreneurs have even turned this into a profitable moneymaking venture.

This week business contributor Rebecca Harris looks at the business of repurposing.

Harris emphasizes that repurposing doesn’t just change the use of old goods; it also changes their value.

Pennsylvania's Income Growth 'Lopsided'

Jan 27, 2015

The Economic Policy Institute and Economic Analysis and Research Network released a report today measuring income growth inequality state by state.

The report looked at Internal Revenue Service pretax income numbers before and after the Great Recession to determine which portion of income earners have benefited the most from recovery.

United Way Expands Free Tax Prep Program

Jan 26, 2015

Free tax preparation services are now available for income-eligible taxpayers in eight southwestern Pennsylvania counties this tax season, thanks to the United Way of Allegheny County’s Money In Your Pocket Coalition.

Households earning up to $53,000 a year can get free, in-person assistance with 2014 tax returns from one of more than 300 IRS-certified volunteers. Taxpayers with $60,000 or less in annual income can take advantage of a free online tax preparation service.

The Associated Press

While Pittsburgh’s economy has recovered from the recession that began in 2008, growth is slowing, and policy makers need to address that reality.

That’s according to a new report from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. The fourth edition of the Global MetroMonitor examined economic performance in the 300 largest metropolitan economies in the world. Pittsburgh ranked at #253 in 2014. That’s down from a ranking of #192 between 2009 and 2014.

Why the Low Gas Prices?

Jan 20, 2015
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources / Flickr

The word “staycation” seemed to enter the lexicon when gas prices were continually on the rise a few years back. Now, to the delight of consumers, gas prices are on the decline, and genuine vacations may be back in vogue.

Joining us for a look at how this is impacting the nation is Robert Morris University Economics Professor Brian O’Roark.

The Business of Pittsburgh’s Cultural District

Jan 20, 2015
lady_lbrty / Flickr

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has helped to transform a downtrodden section of Downtown into a world-class Cultural District. This revitalization through the arts has served as a national model for other cities.

Business contributor Rebecca Harris, Director of the Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham University, explains the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the Cultural District.

DCED Nominee Looks at Development Options

Jan 19, 2015

As Gov.-elect Tom Wolf takes the oath of office Tuesday many in the state have high hopes that he will lead Pennsylvania into an improved business and economic climate but most analysts admit the governor has very little day-to-day impact on the state’s economy. 

However, the head of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development seems to hold a little more sway.

Becky Stern / Flickr

The International Consumer Electronics Show, held in Las Vegas, is history for another year. Our pop culture contributor Joe Wos was one of the many people in attendance and had a front-row seat to see the next big gadgets that could be changing our lives.

  The housing market made up for the rocky start for the Western Pennsylvania region in 2014, according to a year-end report.

West-Penn Multi-List, Inc. says the 13-county area’s home sale prices from January-December 2014 increased by 3 percent ($5,093) from the same period in 2013. New listings also increased by 1.5 percent (570 listings) this past year.

Pittsburgh Ranks in Middle of Nationwide Sprawl Survey

Jan 12, 2015

A recent report by the nonprofit advocacy group Smart Growth America offers a mixed assessment of suburban sprawl in the Pittsburgh area.

Within a sample of 221 metropolitan areas across the U.S., Pittsburgh ranks 132nd for the compactness and connectivity of its suburban communities – well behind the largest cities, but better than many of its comparably sized peers.

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