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Pittsburgh-Area Commercial Bankruptcies Hit A Low In 2020, Despite Pandemic

Matt Slocum
At the height of the Great Recession, 620 businesses in Pittsburgh declared bankruptcy. Only a third that number of businesses filed for bankruptcy last year, many helped by federal aid programs.

On today's program: Last year Pittsburgh saw the lowest number of businesses bankruptcies in 17 years, what does this mean for the pandemic-driven recession; fossil fuel advocates spoke to state representatives from both parties last week, highlighting disagreements about how to handle energy and climate change; and a local musician celebrates his 50th weekly porch concert, which started as a way to entertain his neighborhood during the lockdown.


With pandemic-related federal programs, only 212 Pittsburgh businesses filed for bankruptcy in 2020

(0:00 — 6:27) 

Despite the pandemic-induced recession that knocked millions of Americans out of jobs, and shut down businesses in Pennsylvania and across the country, Pittsburgh-area businesses commercial bankruptcy last year were the lowest in at least 17 years, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times. Only 212 Pittsburgh businesses filed for bankruptcy in 2020. 

“It is surprising given that the year before [in 2019] there were more bankruptcy filings, that total was 267,”  says Dr. Risa Kumazawa, an associate professor of economics in Duquesne University’s School of Business and president of the Economic Club of Pittsburgh. “If we compare it to the last year of the Great Recession, that number was almost triple.”

Kumazawa says one major difference between the current recession and the Great Recession is the one we’re living in is health-related. She says the only recent point of reference for the economic impact and recovery is the 1918 Spanish Flu.

“The effects of this recession is not over yet,” she adds. “If you look at the bankruptcy filings just by themselves, things look very rosy, but we have to remember that we’ve benefitted from the Paycheck Protection Program, which certainly provided liquidity and assistance for businesses that would have normally filed for bankruptcy.”

Also, certain segments of the population continue to suffer, including women, workers of color, and low-wage workers, she said. 

“These are things that are troubling, even if we hear in the news that the unemployment numbers overall have come down,” says Kumazawa. “I worry that when these programs expire, that we could potentially see an uptick in bankruptcies.”

State representatives heard ideas for reducing fossil fuel use, but plans to eliminate them are unclear
(6:29 — 10:58)

Last week, state Republicans and Democrats invited fossil fuel advocates to talk about future growth. Two hearings on the same dayunderlined a couple of divides: One between policymakers and scientists who say we must move to low-carbon power sources to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and another between members of a party that says it wants to tackle climate change.  

StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Rachel McDevitt reports.

Swisshelm Park musician celebrates a year of ‘porch concerts’
(11:00 — 20:21)

Over the last year, the pandemic has created a paucity of live musical performances.

In response, Swisshelm Park resident and musician Wil Kondrich started playing music from his porch for neighborhood dog-walkers. He calls them “Walking the Dog” concerts, and tonight will be Kondrich’s 51st weekly show. His dad came up with the idea, suggesting it would be safe, since he plays outside. 

“Just about a year ago now, we started and we said, we’ll do this a couple weeks, maybe a month or so and then we’ll get back to the bars and clubs,” says Kondrich. He laughs, saying, “And here we are!”

The concerts have attracted more than his neighborhood dog-walkers: Kondrich says residents pull up lawn chairs, and some even drive from other neighborhoods. He also began live-streaming the shows on his personal Facebook page. The show next Wednesday, on March 17, will mark a year of porch concerts. 

Kondrich says it’s been his way of offering some hope and fun to the community.

“When I say it’s fulfilling, that’s really what it’s all about to me: As a way to connect to people, to offer a bit of relief during this time through the basic and fundamental human connection form, which is music.” 

“It’s the longest running gig I’ve ever had,” says Kondrich. Even after venues reopen, he expects to keep playing porch concerts and bringing music to the community. 

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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