Economy & Business

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

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate is still lower than that of most states, but the Commonwealth's jobless numbers are inching toward the national average.

The state's Department of Labor and Industry reports an unemployment rate of 8.3% for September, up more than a percentage point since May. The U.S. unemployment rate has held steady at 9.1% during that time period.

The state lost nearly 16,000 jobs over the span of a month. Government employment took the biggest hit, shedding 8,300 jobs since August.

A state-appointed financial oversight board required that Pittsburgh increase its yearly pension fund contribution, before giving approval to the mayor's 2012 budget proposal on Wednesday.

The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority contends that the city's proposed pension payment of about $50 million wasn't enough to keep the fund on an even keel next year.

Pittsburgh ‘Occupied'

Oct 15, 2011

Hundreds of people marched from the Civic Arena to Market Square Saturday, chanting maxims like "We declare a class war!" and "Bankers are terrorists!" with both a steady drumbeat and a strong police presence in accompaniment.

The 'Occupy' movement has come to Pittsburgh, and activists say they'll be staying a while, camping out on the Mellon Green near BNY Mellon Headquarters.

Many said they feel the disparity in pay between corporate CEOs and the working class is unfair.

Workshop Aimed at Helping Small Businesses Thrive

Oct 10, 2011

It's often said that small businesses are the key to a strong economy, but in today's economic climate many continue to struggle. Monday afternoon, the "Small Business Works — Welcome to Oz" workshop will take place in downtown Pittsburgh. It's an effort to connect small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs with needed resources.

This is the third event of its kind, which is sort of a one-stop shop for small businesses to find what they need.

Marketers Predict High Halloween Retail Sales

Oct 10, 2011

Halloween has become one of the big retail events of the year, and indications this year point to even higher sales volumes, according to Duquesne marketing professor Audrey Guskey, who says the holiday could boost the national economy.

Consumers spend more than $72 per person on candy, decorations, parties, and costumes, according to Guskey. Adults now spend more on costumes for themselves—$1.2 billion—than the $1 billion they spend on their kids. Pets dress up at a cost of $310 million.

Tonight, those in favor of the American Jobs Act will rally on the Greenfield Bridge in Squirrel Hill, draping a large banner from the bridge.

Shawn Wygant, who helped organize the 5:30 p.m. protest, said the location of the rally is a prime example of work that needs to be done.

"In Pittsburgh we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the state right now. And there's plenty of work to be done around the city — namely these bridges that are dilapidated, falling down, and really endangering the safety of our citizens," Wygant said.

Grant to Help Pennsylvania Companies Boost Exports

Oct 10, 2011

Small business owners looking to increase trade are receiving help from the government.

Pennsylvania will receive $1.7 million to help companies expand and grow by increasing their exports as part of a program by the federal Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA is committing approximately $30 million nationwide to increase the number of businesses exporting and enhance the value of exports for those already selling overseas.

A majority of U.S. small business owners will either maintain or reduce their number of full-time employees over the next 6 months, as weak sales continue to put a strain on commerce. That's according to the PNC Outlook Survey's newest findings.

In Pennsylvania, only 9% of business owners expect to hire full-time employees during the next six months, down from 15% in the spring. 9% plan to reduce full-time staff, which is unchanged from the spring.

The United Steelworkers (USW) opposes three new free trade agreements (FTAs) proposed by President Barack Obama on Monday.

USW Legislative Counsel Linda Andros said her union is lobbying against the trade deals with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.

"We think that these FTAs are not any different than past free trade agreements in that they don't generate jobs, not in the manufacturing sector, which is where we have about 850,000 members working," said Andros. "They've actually been a good way to outsource jobs."

Gas Prices Down But Still Higher Than Last Year

Oct 3, 2011

Gas prices in Western Pennsylvania have dropped recently, which is typical when high summer demand slacks off, but they are also influenced by global conditions. Bevi Powell, Communications Director for AAA East Central, said Wall Street and worldwide demand affect the price we pay for gas. When summer began, oil was $113 a barrel; today it's about $80. The average price of self-serve regular gas is still more than 70 cents higher now than it was a year ago.

The ongoing delays and legal issues surrounding Allegheny County's property reassessment process may force the County Treasurer to send out tax bills as late as June next year — four or five months later than usual.

Treasurer John Weinstein said he's waiting on an order from Common Pleas Judge Stanton Wettick before confirming a send-off date for the tax bills, which are normally sent in late January or early February.

BlueGreen Alliance “AIMs” to Create Jobs

Sep 27, 2011

With the nation's unemployment rate at 9.1% and zero net job growth in August, a labor and environmental partnership is calling on Congress for investments to create millions of jobs.

The Pittsburgh poverty level rose 1.4 percentage points to 12.2 percent in the last decade according to U.S. Census data from 2010 That means roughly 279,000 people in the Pittsburgh area now live in poverty.

Nationally, the figures are worse. The recession in the latter half of the last decade increased the poverty rate to 15.1 percent, or 43.6 million people, the highest it's been since 1993. Pennsylvania as a whole has 13.4 percent of its population living in poverty.

Pennsylvania is losing jobs because of China's trade practices, according to a study from the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute. Researchers found that the increase in U.S. imports from China and the decrease in American exports there has combined to create a $278 billion "trade deficit"—a gap three times greater than the 2001 figure. The D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute says the growing trade deficit has eliminated 2.8 million American jobs, much of that in the manufacturing sector.

PPG Place Under New Ownership

Sep 19, 2011

Raleigh, N.C.-based Highwoods Properties announced the purchase of PPG Place this morning from Market Associates LP, an affiliate of the Hillman Company. The acquisition is Highwoods' first venture into Pittsburgh and company CEO Ed Fritsch, said he is excited.

"This is a great iconic building as y'all know better than we do. It's a wonderful entrée into this market we hope it is truly a springboard for us to do more commerce here," Fritsch said. "It is the jewel of the Pittsburgh skyline and we're thrilled now to be the landlord of two Fortune 500 companies."

U.S. Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA) and 31 other members of the Congressional Steel Caucus have urged Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to buy only steel melted in the U.S. to make armor steel plate used in military vehicles, fighter jets, and other sophisticated equipment.

Murphy said in 2009 that the Department of Defense expanded the definition of "U.S.-produced steel," which is required by law, to include steel finished here but melted elsewhere. That has shut out American steelmakers.

A state agency will tell Pittsburgh leaders today whether the city's underfunded pension plan had the cash needed to avoid a state takeover on January 1, 2011.

On Friday, the Public Employee Retirement Commission received the last documents necessary from the city, concerning Pittsburgh's fund custodian, PNC Investment Group.

A coalition of liberal and conservative organizations is calling on the special Congressional debt reduction panel to cut environmentally harmful programs.

President Ryan Alexander of D.C.-based Taxpayers for Common Sense said the combination of saving money and helping the environment is something both parties could agree on.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is in Pittsburgh today to rally support for the job creation bill recently proposed by President Obama.

Secretary Vilsack said the plan would put people back to work immediately if it's adopted by Congress. The American Jobs Act would cut the payroll tax in half, a measure Vilsack said would encourage small businesses to hire more employees.

Local Woman Heeds President’s Jobs Bill Orders

Sep 12, 2011

President Barack Obama took to the Rose Garden this morning to warn congress that he will send his "American Jobs Act" to the Capitol later today while at the same time calling on those in attendance to fight for its passage.

"I can't tell you how many times the president said, 'Pass the bill, pass the bill, pass the bill,'" said Just Harvest co-director Tara Marks. Marks was invited to the White House last week, but was not told what the focus of the event would be until later. "Of course you get that invitation you say, 'Great, I want to be there,'" said Marks.

Solar Energy Hits Milestone in PA

Sep 12, 2011

There are now more than 100 Megawatts of installed solar power capacity in Pennsylvania according to a recent report from regional transmission organization PJM Interconnect. That is up from three megawatts four years ago.

"The solar energy industry in Pennsylvania creates a lot of jobs," said PennFuture Energy Center Director, Christina Simeone, "We have estimated that Pennsylvania has the second largest amount of solar energy jobs in the nation, second only to California."

Window Closing on Federal Foreclosure Aid

Sep 12, 2011

Homeowners facing foreclosure have just a few days left to submit applications for federal assistance.

Of $105 million available to Pennsylvanians through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, only $50 million has been committed so far, with about $4 million of that in southwestern Pennsylvania. The remainder of the money is still available through HUD's "Emergency Homeowners' Loan Program" — that is, until Friday.

Pennsylvanians Want to Keep Drilling, But Tax It

Sep 2, 2011

A broad majority of Pennsylvanians support natural gas drilling, according to a new poll. At the same time, 65% of respondents want lawmakers to pass a severance tax, and send the revenue to the state government. 72% want to split the tax dollars between the state and local municipalities.

"So the takeaway here is, Pennsylvanians say, yep, let's tax. Let's divide the tax between local communities and the state," said pollster Terry Madonna. "Yes, the industry is doing the right thing. They're doing a good job, but oh, by the way, you better be careful about the environment."

Toomey Joins Federal Debt Panel

Aug 10, 2011

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) will be part of the twelve-member panel charged with writing a plan to reduce federal debt by more than $1 trillion.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell named Toomey, a former investment banker, to the congressional super-panel today. Toomey, a freshman Republican, said he is "very honored" to serve on the committee when it meets this fall.

"We need to get our spending under control," said Toomey, "and we need to do it in a way that will maximize economic growth."