Irina Zhorov

Reporter, Keystone Crossroads

Irina Zhorov is a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She earned her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA from the University of Wyoming. In between, she worked as a photographer and writer for Philadelphia-area and national publications. Her professional interests revolve around environmental and energy reporting and she's reported on mining issues from Wyoming, Mexico, and Bolivia. She's been supported by the Dick and Lynn Cheney Grant for International Study, the Eleanor K. Kambouris Grant, and the Social Justice Research Center Research Grant for her work on Bolivian mining and Uzbek alpinism. Her work has appeared on Voice of America, National Native News, and in Indian Country Today, among other publications. 

In her off time, Irina is pursuing treasure hunters, leafing through photo books, or planning and executing quests.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Pennsylvania is an old state, one where people settled and built infrastructure early. That means much of the infrastructure in the Commonwealth’s cities is breaking down with age, needs expensive maintenance, retrofits, or replacement, or just doesn’t fit with contemporary ideas of urban planning. Add to that many cities’ struggling budgets, which keep sewer repairs and maintenance from being addressed in a timely manner.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Eve Picker takes her computer out of her bag and clicks through a mostly empty website of filler text and stock photos. Picker is a Pittsburgh-based developer with a portfolio of complicated projects, but she says this one is probably the most difficult thing she’s ever done. In just a few weeks, the newest real estate crowdfunding platform, Small Change, will launch.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Scranton’s double-pension payments – offered as a retirement incentive to 35 city workers – were improperly implemented, and cost the city $2.9 million in unapproved costs.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a report this morning which found “the transactions surrounding the doubling of pension payments revealed a disregard for the applicable laws governing pension plans by the officials charged with fiduciary responsibility for the Plan – the Mayor, City Council, and the Pension Board.”

Pittsburgh has been trying to attract immigrants to bolster the city’s population – less than half its peak in the 1950s. Monday Mayor Bill Peduto released the plan detailing how, exactly, to do that best.

Aside from growing the city’s population and increasing diversity there’s an economic reason to woo immigrants: they tend to be more entrepreneurial  than native-born Americans.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Pennsylvania cities have more low-income households and fewer higher-earning households than the national average.

The Brookings Institution, analyzing data from the American Community Survey, broke up cities’ populations by what quintile of the national income distribution households fell into. The Brookings analysis found that “collectively, the smaller cities mirror the national income distribution almost exactly. In large cities, by contrast, both low-income (bottom 20 percent) and very high-income (top 5 percent) households are overrepresented.”

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Hormann Flexon makes high-speed roll-up doors for commercial buildings. The company, located west of Pittsburgh, has doubled in size over the past three years and recently moved into a new building. Company President, Mark Haley, attributed the growth to shrinking lead times; Hormann Flexon delivers a custom door in two to three weeks, significantly faster than their competitors, he said.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Homer City Police Chief, Louis Sacco, is one of just three people – two active and one retired – in his pension plan. He drives around the tiny borough, about 50 miles East of Pittsburgh, with views of looming power plant stacks in the distance and a partly shuttered Main Street.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Standing in a sun-drenched room, Jim Rosipal pointed to a framed assemblage on the wall. In it, a police officer’s uniform shirt, a medal for valor, a gas cap cover from the Harley Davidson he rode, and valve stem covers in the shape of little pigs. “Back in those days we were called pigs every now and then,” Rosipal said. “Didn’t bother us at all.”

via Keystone Crossroads

Jonathan Waldman’s new book — "Rust: The Longest War" — is an exploration of how corrosion eats away at the United States’ infrastructure, military equipment and monuments.

The U.S. spends $400 billion a year fighting rust. And it’s certainly something Pennsylvania’s cities—once producers of so much steel, now part of the Rust Belt — spend a lot of time dealing with.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The Commonwealth Court heard arguments Wednesday about the constitutionality of a state law that has made it possible for gun rights groups, like the National Rifle Association (NRA), to sue municipalities for their local gun ordinances.

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:

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Municipal pension funds in Pennsylvania are underfunded by a combined $7.7 billion, and many local lawmakers are pointing to state-level reforms as the solution. 

The State House of Representatives’ Urban Affairs Committee met with local leadership in Pittsburgh Monday to learn about what exactly municipalities want to see happen in the state Legislature.  

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto compared the municipal pension problem to a sinking boat.

(Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

 

Cities are working hard to plow snowy streets. Sidewalks are an additional challenge. Property owners are generally responsible for clearing walkways and some cities issue fines for uncleared sidewalks.

But Reading has stopped fining residents for not shoveling snow from their sidewalks. Why? Because Reading Public Works crews haven’t been able to clear the mess from the 100 city-owned properties, either.

Gage Skidmore / flickr

Florida Governor Rick Scott came to Philadelphia this week to meet with company heads, to try to lure business to the Sunshine State. Scott campaigned on the promise of growing private sector jobs in Florida and one of his tactics has been to visit other states – including California, Illinois, and Maryland – to recruit job creators.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said it’s a bit unusual for a governor to show up like Scott did in Philadelphia “but it is not unusual at all for that state government to make calls into other businesses to urge them to relocate into their state. I did it very very often when I was governor.” States, and even municipalities, are competing for companies everyday. 

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

When Ian McMeans became Homestead’s borough manager three years ago the borough had only one email address and the secretary printed the messages and hand delivered them to everyone. “That stopped very shortly thereafter,” said McMeans. Then McMeans built a website. But progress has been slow. The borough is still entirely paper-run. 

Newly elected lawmakers in Pennsylvania will be sworn in Jan. 6. In Senate District 32, which includes Somerset, Fayette and Westmoreland counties, political newbie Patrick Stefano is taking over long-serving Democrat Richard Kasunic’s  seat.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

In 2011, a group of designers put together a development proposal to make Pittsburgh’s airport more than just a landing pad. The plan included ideas to transform the airport into a larger transport hub that would attract businesses to the vicinity, making for a dense commercial zone.

One of the theoretical models in the proposal included something called New Town, literally a new town that would absorb the people coming to take advantage of all the new businesses and jobs the future growth of the airport would spur.

Photo courtesy of Ammar Nsaif

When Ammar Nsaif was eight years old, in Iraq, he often thought about his future wife and kids, and about the car, house and business he’d own.  As an adult, he became an electrical engineer and made his 8-year-old self proud. He said he had a reputation with family, friends, and neighbors as a doer, always working and growing his business. “I did very well,” Nsaif said.

He lost everything when he fled Baghdad suddenly, in 2006. Nsaif, 39, said he received a death threat from terrorists because of his work with an American company. They’d already killed an older brother.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

This is the third story of a three-part series on the state's bridges.

About seven years ago, the Bridge Maintenance Engineer for the South Carolina Department of Transportation, Lee Floyd, was concerned about one of his bridge’s ability to hold up while a replacement was built. He placed sensors on the bridge to monitor how it behaved and found that actually he could keep it open without any temporary repairs.

Johnstown’s Tribune-Democrat, in Western Pennsylvania, recently conducted an online survey to evaluate progress on local issues. Johnstown is a shrinking industrial city with a nearly 9-percent unemployment rate, and one of the worst-funded pension systems in the state.

Republican Patrick Stefano has won the 32nd District Senate seat in southwestern Pennsylvania over Democrat Deberah Kula.

The 32nd District encompasses Somerset and Fayette counties, as well as a section of Westmoreland County. Democrats have held this seat for 67 years, but Patrick Stefano will interrupt that legacy. Stefano is a business owner and it was his first time running for office.

He said he will prioritize three big issues.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

To drive through Wilkinsburg is to tour the ravages of a post-industrial Pittsburgh, a suburb of the comeback city that just hasn’t come back, yet. Houses stand empty, there are open lots, drug deals go down in broad daylight. And then, glimmering on a corner lot: a house painted gold.

90.5 WESA hosted a public forum last night along with Keystone Crossroads, a project focused on urban issues statewide.

Johnstown is hosting the inaugural Allegheny Adventure X-Fest, a weekend-long event for outdoor enthusiasts in the region. Brad Clemenson is with Lift Johnstown, one of the sponsors of the event. He says the weekend will incorporate Johnstown’s 39th annual marathon, along with a whole host of other activities, including biking, boating, hiking, geocaching, fly-fishing demonstrations, as well as music.

The biggest project yet under the public-private partnership, or P3 law, passed in 2012, will replace 558 of Pennsylvania's 4,200 structurally deficient bridges by 2018. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has released the final list of bridges, whittled down from 2000, and has reached out to private companies to submit bids for the project. PennDOT says this approach will get the job done quicker and more economically. 

Senator Richard Alloway (R) has sponsored a bill in the state legislature that would allow certain counties to increase their hotel taxes. If enacted, Senate Bill 838 would open the door to raising the tax visitors pay for hotel stays from 3 percent to 5 percent in applicable counties. And that’s in addition to the tax the state levies.

On a recent summer day, Bob Bridges inflated a boat called the shredder, loaded it on a trailer, took it to an inconspicuous pull off, and launched it into the Stonycreek River.

Foreign-born students studying in the U.S. spend billions in local economies and their talents should be more deliberately harnessed, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution.

The job market of the 21st Century is increasingly global and focused on innovation. That was one of the takeaways at the Governor’s Jobs 1st Summit in Pittsburgh Monday.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak is asking Mayor Bill Peduto to look into the sale of an apartment complex. She said how the sale happened could lead to a loss of tax revenue to the city.  

The Cork Factory Lofts in the Strip District were recently sold to GMH Capital Partners for an undisclosed sum. But instead of buying the converted lofts outright, GMH purchased the two companies that previously owned the converted lofts and associated properties. The sale included three buildings.

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