Thursday, December 31, 2009

Siss, Siss, Siss! Boom, Boom Boom! Bah. Aught Nine!

Some end of year retrospection is the required theme today I suppose. I sometimes get asked what the purpose here is. In my head this is all still an experiment in a way, though now a fairly routine experiment I would have to admit. I really don’t have much of an answer other than what I provided once in post zero. So we will plod along here in a new year. There are always changes, and I bet this will be a year the whole blog-scene evolves in some way I am not smart enough to predict. The PG has a retrospective on some local past-future prognostications from 1995 which is worth a quick read. 1995 is now 15 years ago, but it was a period when the internet was emerging and you see a lot flow from that. Nobody stuck their heads out too far in that. If you want to deconstruct some much longer-term past-future theories check out these from 1950.

Many of you I know well… some I don’t know at all and many I come across and you tell me you read here. I thank you all. Just to let you know that you are not alone I will update the reader trends below. I get asked how many people read here and I honestly don’t know. Blog-metrics like user or hit counts are becoming ever less useful as people read more and more via content aggregators of all forms and for other reasons.

But taking this as a metric of some value, here is what the hitcounter tells me. I won't get into the reasons why these numbers are both over and under counts in terms of representing true readership.  I have no illusions that this is anything more than a moderate amount of bandwidth as these things go. I really am quite happy to expound deep deep in the long tail space. I am mostly curious that the trend here appears to be quite steady over the long haul.. Spikes in there on some days, but really no big jumps up or down breaking the long term trend for the most part.  Ignoring what our hybrid MSM friends get, I am sure this comes in less than Bram, must pale in comparison to PittGirl and I personally am curious how much traffic the sports folks like Mondesihouse get which I suspect is quite a lot… but this is the all time traffic count here for unique users per day since inception for what it is worth.


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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Skybus lives!

Slow vacation week has me even watching the evening news... KDKA's Dave Crawley has a great story on the history buff who literally found the last Skybus car semi-abandoned, but is now on it's way to be displayed at Bombardier's headquarters.  I'll post a link to the story when it comes up.

When it comes to politics and transit, Skybus is the mysterious force that connects it all here in Pittsburgh.   I really am not joking.  To this day almost nothing in regional transit development does not suffer from some aspect of the demise of Skybus.  The busways, the T, the lack of a Spine Line and everything to the North Shore Connector are all merely vestiges of trying to salvage something of what was once planned back in the 1960's.  Too long to get into here, but I swear it is true.  Fodder for another day/week/year/decade.

As for the politics of it all. Just read this:  SKYBUS Pittsburgh's Failed Industry Targeting Strategy of the 1960s.  by Morton Coleman, David Houston and Edward K. Muller. 2000.

On public transit...  Sometimes I get asked some question about transit in Pittsburgh starting like this  "Why doesn't Pittsburgh have ...."..  and you can fill in the end of the sentence yourself.  A real subway?  Commuter rail? A clue?  My answer is really Skybus, the nexus of it all.  When you add it all up, nowhere else has a region gone from being so far ahead of the curve to so far behind when it comes to public transit.  Some places have always been transit backwaters.  Some have always been ahead of the curve and some places have made great progress moving from the former to the latter.  But when it comes to moving backwards we stand alone.  We have only to look to ourselves for once being on the cutting edge and just collapsing. Collapsing in vision, in funding, in focus and just plain implementation. My explanation is that it all goes to the multiyear, if not multidecade, trauma that was not to become Skybus which sapped all the energy there was to making transit better here. Now our only meaningful transit goal is a narrow ill-considered definition of 'efficiency'.  

From my list of favorite YouTube videos is this of the Skybus history:

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Up is down

I'm not so sure why this is coming across as such a surprise, but the big news today is that the local unemployment rate dropped 4/10ths of a percentage point between October and November.  Not the biggest surprise because the data for the state came out last week and showed an equally large drop. Not any reason to think the local drop was not going to be at least equally large.  

One of the bigger examples of Pittsburgh pessimism I have heard in recent years is that whenever I point out how the local unemployment rate has been well below the national level a common retort is that Pittsburgh always trails going into recessions... the implication is that things will get as bad here, we just need to wait.  Yet that pattern has not really been true for some time.  I broke down some of the historical data on recessions nationally and locally in a newsletter a few months ago.  You can see that here if you want to look at that data some more. What it shows is that in the most recent recessions, we did indeed trail in, but also peak much lower which is a far different perspective on the trends leading into a recession.

But here we are.  7.9% unemployment.  Not great.. But a far cry from 10.0 nationally.  A few factoids of note. As I have talked about in the past, for things like migration trends the 'relative' unemployment rate is probably more important than the absolute level.  By my count this now makes it 38 continuous months  that the Pittsburgh region's unemployment rate has been below the nations. Still not a record, there was a 38 month period between starting in January 1990 and a 40 month period starting in 1973.  But in the early 1990's, the local unemployment rate was very marginally below the nation.. averaging 4/10ths of a percent below the nation.  Over the previous 12 months, the local unemployment rate has averaged 1.7 percentage points below the nation. 

One thing to keep in mind for everyone who likes to compare recessions past vs. present or elsewhere vs. here.  In lots of past recessions the local labor force data was bad despite the mostly unemployed folks streaming out of the region, making local metrics look better than the underlying economic conditions.  This time around I am pretty sure there is a net inflow of folks from elsewhere in the country where conditions are much worse than here... if true that would imply the local labor force metrics make things look worse than the local economic conditions are causing.  Why?  Just think about what happens as unemployed folks move in search of work, or move for jobs they have found and how that impacts the size of the labor force in the places they leave vs. the places they are going to. In that sense, no matter how the unemployment rates compare, there really is no comparision to Pittsburgh's past experiences with recessionand this one. 

Here again is my graph of how we have compared. My past interactive chart of the local unemployment rate is still online, but I have not updated it in some time.  I added the red line there to show the current Minus 2.1 percentage point difference in the data just released.  It ties a single month in April of 1975 with a similar difference.  You will also see how different the current period is in terms of magnitude of difference between the two unemployment rates.  Once you look at the area underneath the curve, you will see we are way past any comparision to the early 1990's or really to the 1970's at this point..I would argue that the area underneath the curve is a measurement of the cumulative performance of the local economy in the recession,

If the image is too small for you, you should be able to click on it to get a larger version:


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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Elected Judges

Seeing the retrospective on the tenure of Jim Motznik in the PG today  (WDUQ has it's own coverage as well) I remember a snippet from the NYT last week.  The now-former Councilman is off to a potentially long career (he is a pretty young guy) as a District Justice for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The prefered term these day is actually District Judge.. The NYT was reporting on how former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is in the news for her work starting up an inititive to push states away from electing judges which we do here for all judicial races... DJ to supreme court.

The thing that struck me if you read the article: the date her new initiative (the O’Connor Judicial Selection Initiative) started?  December 10th.  Just a coincidence that it is same day the future judge was in the news here with his comments on the tuition tax?

Coincidence or not.  I am not sure people appreciate how much his words reverberated when he made them... not just how deeply they hit anyone at all associated with the universities, but how far from here they were heard and that is before you mention any and all women who know about it.  I am almost sure they will live in a certain infamy.  I suspect that at least at a psychological level his comments had a real impact in how the universities addressed the whole tuition tax negotiations near the end.  Even if Justice O'Connor's initiative has no knowledge of what happened here... I bet that in the future it will be highlighted as a prime example of what electing judges gives you.

To that big picture... the debates over electing judges goes far beyond anything local and the new DJ will demonstrate his skills in his new job good or bad.  There is an argument that a lot of what constitutes the local docket for a DJ is the kind of facilitation that may indeed lend itself toward the skills honed as a councilperson.  Nonetheless, there will be a lot less of Jim in the news.  No 'boots'...    Rich was kind to mention neither his past opining on legal niceties, nor the whole Notznik blog episode, which at least was entertaining.  I suspect Jim will not be completely absent from the news in the future.

A lesser included issue on elected judges in Pennsylvania is their pay.   The legal beagles may have more insight here, but the way it has been explained to me is that some years ago the pay for District Justices went up.  So low that it really only made sense for lawyers to do as part time gigs... and they would have actual practices to make their core income.  Whether that was good or bad, the DJ pays was increased and I sense you have seen a distinct shift in who seeks those offices.   I really wonder if anyone has studied the labor market for Pennsylvania judges?

Just as an example, it will be a palpable raise in itself from the compensation of a city councilperson in Pittsburgh to District Justice. That and I presume Jim will be getting a city pension on top of his new state salary.  Even the counterfactual mayor Gene Riccardi voluntarily left his safe seat on council (and the city council presidency) for a DJ position.   Would either of them have done so if the pay was significantly less?

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Proof of New Pittsburgh

Just my logic, but this is implicit proof that it's a new Pittsburgh all around.  This fellow went through the entire game on Sunday virtually unmolested..... He wasn't completely left alone, but mostly.



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Sunday, December 27, 2009

How the prolate spheroid bounces

I've tried to figure it out on my own to little avail...  I've read what's in the news, but I don't think even the sports beat folks have it all figured out... or at least can't figure a way to explain it concisely in a story.  

The best I have found explaining the options comes from this: 

http://www.playoffstatus.com/nfl/steelersclinch.html

Which FWIW says the ways the Steelers make it to the playoffs come down to these potentialities:

Spot #5 - Wildcard
Steelers beat the Dolphins, and
Bengals beat the Jets, and
Patriots beat the Texans, and
Raiders beat the Ravens

Spot #6 - Wildcard

Case 1
Steelers beat the Dolphins, and
Bengals beat the Jets, and
Patriots beat the Texans\

Case 2
Steelers beat the Dolphins, and
Patriots beat the Texans, and
Raiders beat the Ravens

Case 3
Steelers beat the Dolphins, and
Bengals beat the Jets, and
Raiders beat the Ravens, and
Chiefs beat the Broncos

 
Got all that?  There will be a quiz.   GO BENGALS!

and......?   there must be some more options in the unlikely event Denver loses to KC... but I guess that is so unlikely to not be worth thinking about.  Yes? 

Just to show how confused people are..  If you are looking at those current rankings that show Denver with the number 5 slot... check out what the Denver sports guru's have to say about the Bronco's options to get any playoff spot. According to them, Denver is not fully in control of it's own destiny.  But from the comments there they just can't decide what the deal is. The NFL folks are trying to help out and have this little note:  http://blogs.nfl.com/2009/12/27/making-sense-of-the-afc-wild-card-picture/

I'll just stick with rooting for the Bengals.  Will they even want to win?

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W news

Seemingly a passing news item, but maybe more... Financial crisis in Dubai has not stopped a contract going forward which will have Westinghouse build 4 nuclear reactors in the UAE.  Reuters has a timeline of the project. There is even related news following that up today of other further potential sales in Turkey based on the same partnership.  What is most interesting is this story from a little while ago on the competitiveness of the Korea-Westinghouse partnership that inked these deals.*  My only quibble is that it would be nice to see some more of the W work sourced locally.  For example, down in Tennessee their year-end round-up has a mention of 2009 marking the opening of a Westinghouse "$21 million boiling water reactor training center and welding institute". 

 It is just one of the things that amazes me, but the scale of transformation in the UAE in the last 50 years is one of the more remarkable stories in history. Wasn't the UAE 50 years ago of course... A bit beyond the scope to get into here.

* and as much as I suspect the NS readers are some of the most astute there are... the commenters on that story analyzing the W-Korea proposal must be just scary smart.  Let's go discuss the 50 year history of engineering developments in nuclear power plant design??

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Everything you ever wanted to know about a slot machine

I might wind up at the casino today for the first time...  so in order to bone up on the fine points of playing slots I found this:

The Las Vegas Sun recently had an obligatory interactive graphic on how slots machines work.  Check it out.   The winnings chart it comes up with for the simulated play looks a little like the revenues down there on the North Shore.  

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Brr... could be worse

I hate to pick on my Air Force friends...  they can target missiles to the centimeter these days, but have a hard time properly locating Toronto? See a fun CNET story on the history of NORAD's Santa tracker.  

But in a post the last weekend I suggested folks were over-reacting to the snow.  Some commenters suggested the whole mythos of Pittsburgh winters is overblown. 

So...  it is news in itself that the Pittsburgh Press now appears to be added into the Google News Archives... that is news to me.  Getting electronic archives of the Press has been nearly impossible to get access to so it's a big deal for some of us.  So here is the Press' Christmas Day headline from 1983.   Low of minus 10.   High of 13 predicted. 


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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Stadium-less, but not parking-less

A small newsoid yesterday that North Shore parking rates controlled by the Stadium Authority are going up.  I like the line that simply explains that the rise is because: "One of the prime reasons for the increase is supply and demand".  I'm not quite sure parking rates controlled by a government authority represent market prices,but no matter.   I won't say it, but there is a really obvious suggestion here... Everyone else is thinking of doing it... anyone want to finish the thought?

Also, and again....  why exactly does the Stadium Authority still exist? 

Long ago, I took this picture series myself:

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How low do bond ratings go?

So the PG had a story yesterday on how the bond rating for the Rivers Casino was downgraded yet again.

Note that the downgrade happened last month.  Not sure why nobody caught it until now, but you really have to read that story realizing it is about a report written a month ago to fully appreciate what it means.  The rating was dropped not just one notch, but two.. from BB to CCC. CCC being what is deep into what are called "junk bonds". It's not their worst rating, but there is not much farther you can go without literally defaulting on something...  CCC technically is: "currently vulnerable and dependent on favorable economic conditions to meet its commitments".  So things are horrible, but there is still hope might be a better way to phrase it.

Now take into account this was all last month's news and reread the story with that in mind you.  The story quotes the S&P folks as writing the following (reflective of data through November 24th:
...the agency said the average win per machine had fallen from a peak of $250 to about $180 by the week ending Nov. 15.
Unless there's a "significant improvement in operating performance from that observed to date" the casino might not be able to generate enough cash to meet fixed charges, which include the arena payment, in excess of $55 million next year, S & P stated.
Let's parse....   The drop from 250 to 180 per day is a drop of 28%. That seemed to be of concern to them.   Since then the daily take has not shown a "significant improvement", has not shown any rebound whatsoever, has not even stabilized, and has dropped a further 22% to $140 per machine per day as was just released.  Seriously, what would the S&P folks say if they were rewriting that report today?

Yes I know, I know... tables games are going to save us.  or not?  I also realize it's cold which is probably impacting traffic down there.  But you know, it's going to be cold for months and I bet it's cold this time next year.  So cold happens and if they really expect a daily average closer to $300 per machine per day yet have these depressed months.. how much would they have to bring in during whatever their peak season is to compensate?

Gonna try a test and embed my Casino Watch google gadget below.  If it does not work, you can get it directly via this link.

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Pennsylvania population growth

Just a factoid extracted from some census data just released with Pennsylvania population trends.

Net Population Migration Into Pennsylvania between 2008 and 2009


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Precedent Setting Pittsburgh

Inside Higher Education has its own postscript on the tuition tax.  See:  Tuition Tax Off the Table.

Mostly a summary of what has been reported on for the most part... but near the end it has this:
Though Pittsburgh avoided actually setting precedent for a tuition tax, it has set the precedent for municipalities to take actions that challenging higher education’s traditional contributions in order to squeeze a little more out in a tough economic climate.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

editorial note

99.7% of you can skip this.... but I would love to know who it that is on vacationin the Antilles? 

Written as a stare at the remaining ice needing to be chipped in my driveway.

Today's hits: 

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Barone on Pennsylvania Supreme Court Race

Michael Barone comments on the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court election and what it may mean.  He digs into the county by county and region by region breakdown of the results in The American, a publication of the AEI. See: 

A Keystone Election.  by Michael Barone.  The American.  December 22, 2009

I won't quibble with some of the general comments he has in there on the economy here... he has a thorough breakdown of the political numbers.   He might be overinterpreting a bit because of the very low turnout in the whole election without any real headliner to motivate large chunks of folks, but he does have a point I didn't realize.  He says:
...metro Pittsburgh in this recession has had lower than national average unemployment. It is one of the few major metro areas where George W. Bush ran ahead of his father and where John McCain ran ahead of Ronald Reagan.
If that is true it has some implications on what motivated those Reagan Democrats people talk about.  Gotta ponder that some. 

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Energy Watch

The biggest energy news this week you may not have read.  Via the Cleveland Plain Dealer is some pretty big news in the midwest electricity market that could impact us at least indirectly if not more. Read about some big changes in the regional electricity transmission networks: FirstEnergy's power move may cost  customers.

Why does it matter?. I need to go check to see if this is still true, but for some time Pennsylvania was the single biggest net exporter of electicity in the US with WV not much further behind.  PA + West Virginia together were by far the biggest block of excess electricity generation in the US. Also, remember the massive grid failure of 2003 started outside of Cleveland and cascaded from there. 

But reading the Plain Dealer's online site http://www.cleveland.com/ is something odd I've been noticing.   The biggest ad buy they seem to have is for Saab.  No joke - see screen shot below.  For those not following it, Saab is on the verge of just being abandoned by GM which is a little fact not  mentioned in the ads.  I presume the warranties are all still going to be supported, but still it's odd. Then I wondered.. Maybe I've been oblivious, but I don't seem to have noticed many online Saab ads at all on either the PG or Trib sites.  Yet they really are somewhat ubiquitous up the turnpike.  Are Cleveland consumers that different from us?  There are Saab dealers here right? I bet our local papers could use some of those ad revenues if my casual observation is correct. 

and just to tie that all together.  I really can't recall who it was I was talking to recently, but someone was telling me what I thought was just a historical footnote for gearheads that Saab had the last 2 cycle engine for sale in the US....   I didn't think much of it, but then there is this story in the NYT yesterday all about how the 2 cycle engine may be the disruptive energy technology that may save the auto industry. 

Yeah, boring. But given its no-nabob season I just don't have it in me to talk about pensions, the city budget, assessments, or other such conflagrations even if they are all in the news in one form or another. Although just fyi... the NYT must have felt obligated to follow up since they reported on the impending 'tuition tax' last week.  Their brief follow up is here:  Pittsburgh Mayor Strikes a Deal to Abandon Tuition Tax.  They also have a note on their higher education blog.  The original article last week topped out with around 300 comments on the NYT site, some quite long.  and if you didn't catch it... Jim R's comments on the whole episode made it into Forbes



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Monday, December 21, 2009

required reading list

In case you missed these... far more insightful than I am on local issues are recent comments from both my good friends Jack and Carey.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pennsylvania is a State* &

I will be the first to argue that the Philly and Pittsburgh are very different economically, geographically and in lots of other ways that matter to this... but I suspect lawyers may not care as much about those distinctions and that they may see a precedent in this....   Thus the news out of Philly that a recent abitration ruling that police force will no longer have a residency rule out there could have implications here. Pittsburgh still has it's residency requirement and the local police union folks sure oppose it.  Could put a whole new spin on commuter tax debates.

* apologies to Illyrias for borrowing on a phrase.

& Yes yes... commonwealth.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

new 'Burghers and snow?

Don't you think the level of anxiety and the amount of snow being forecasted are a little out of kilter?  I see them saying 2-4 inches.  Even if it's a bit more than that there was a time that amount of snow would have been laughed at. There are some other regions getting socked no doubt, but this is a dusting.  Must be all the new folks in town??  We will get one of those 10-year storms one of these days. If you have broken out the snow shoes you have overreacted.

Nonetheless. on one of the (relatively) least walkable days in months it is a good time to think about walks for the spring.  In the PG, DNJ follows up on my pondering of some Jane Jacobs' walks in town.   See her post in her online CityWalkabout blog/column...  The earlier comments here are from this post.  Sounds like we may have a few volunteers to take this on.  Will need to work out the practicalities of it all, but it seems like Pittsburgh ought to have a role.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

The Pittsburgh Ethic and the Spirit of the Parking Chair

but first a jobs note:  We could talk about how the Pennsylvania's unemployment rate droped 4/10ths of a percent... which is a pretty big drop month over a month as these things go.  If it holds up it would be a big event. Some routine coverage of the news, but not as much as usual.  I sense some cognitive dissonance as it were of potentially positive good economic news.   There is also this belief that that Pittsburgh somehow is just slow to get into recessions, but that things eventually get as bad as elsewhere.  That hasn't been true through the last couple recessions at the very least.  So we will learn the comparable local unemployment rate after the 1st of the year, but maybe we will get a strong early indication from local employment numbers that we will be able to look at later today.

But on much more substantive news.  Just in case you didn't see it.   Ms. Mon scoops everyone with what the parking authority is really up to. It's not the garages or the meters, they are looking to privatize the Pittsburgh parking chair business!!  Like the cookie table, it just does not happen anywhere else... at least on such a scale as here.  Hey, maybe that could be a NYT story as well.  As funny as that is, there is a real point in there.   Privatizing the mostly Downtown garages is one thing which I myself suggested last year... but privatizing street meters is going to bump up into a whole lot of local neighborhood perogatives, let alone development issues, which are a different set of issues and should at the very least be a separate debate/rfp/etc.  Probably won't be as best I can tell from the machinations thus far.

and here is an idea..  If it's there I can't find it, but shouldn't there be a Wikipedia entry on "Pittsburgh Parking Chair".  Colbert once was able to get his viewers to get Wikipedia to report that "the elephant population in Africa tripled over the last six months"..  Can we inspire a (far more fact-based) Wikipedia entry on the Pittsburgh Parking Chair.  Don't forget the caps.   If I am just missing it somewhere, pls let me know. 

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Data watch

Via the Transportationist is a pointer toward a NYT article today on what may be one of the more perverse stories on government data transparency in the US.  This one involving traffic data. 

Which is half an excuse to post something else found recently via the Guardian's Data Blog (btw does anyone in the US do anything near as good as that?). 

From computing.co.uk dead on about something some of us dedicate a large part of our professional and avocational efforts on improving.  See: Free state data initiative goes local, Local authorities to put health, education, crime and public spending data online.

and a corollary.. Meta-transparency!!  Online information assessing how local governments (in the UK that is) do at data transparency.

I am so depressed.  I feel like I live in a cave. Or trying to use VisiCalc on a TRS80. 

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Cookies Rule

See previous post for more but....   This is getting a bit ridiculous.  Well into a 2nd day topping the charts...   wars?   famines?  climate change?  RECESSION??   No... the most emailed story in the entire New York Times is their exposition of the Pittsburgh Cookie Table.  They really need to start covering some more substantive news to attract people's interest. 



Worth noting is that our #1 ranking comes from beating out a story on fish oil and a bit farther down something about walking your dog.  Maybe the point is foodies rule the world... or at least are the only ones reading the news for some reason.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The World Watches II: Revenge of the Cookie (table)

So Mike catches the Pittsburgh double in the NYT today.. Not just the story on Downtown machination mentioned earlier, but there is also a whole story on the Pittsburgh-defining Cookie Table.(it deserves capitals doesn't it?).. and notes I may not be reading the Dining section of the NYT enough. Probably true. 

There is a sublime message in all of that, as well as a reminder of the great cupcake debate.  I have to say I did once pontificate clearly:
"Cupcake targeting risks betting the future on yesterday's recipe. A disruptive technology is always on the horizon. You can never know when chocolate chip cookies or other retro-deserts will come into vogue."
Nuff said on that.

Also, I'd post this within a comment over on Pittsblog, but can't figure out how to put a picture in a comment.   This afternoon here is the shot of the NYT 'most emailed' list.  Does the world care about the tuition tax?  Nary a mention.  But the cookie table?  Number 1 for several hours at a minimum. 


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World is watching

I will point out that the whole tuition tax miasma has gotten us into the NYT again.  Today: Pittsburgh Sets Vote on Adding Tax on Tuition. by Ian Urbina. Given what they could have focused on, they were pretty kind to us in general.  Up to 100 comments already as well.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

WW

So I missed this... and I figure some of you have as well.  Assessment developments not on the docket. Channel 4 from last week:  Allegheny County Sends Property Assessment Head Home.  The title sounded like they fired the guy, but that was not the story at all.   The video is...  well it's really one of the odder twists in the whole assessment saga is about all I can say and this has been an odd story for so long.

You think the judge watches the evening news?

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'eek' squared

eek.    Last week I noticed that casino revenues were the worst since G20 week during the first week of December.  I expected a little bounceback to follow that honestly.  But the 2nd week of December is down again.  Everyone too busy shopping or just too cold to trek to the North Shore.

This is becoming a real issue.  More tomorrow.

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most sociable?

Passed on from the ever watchful NS readership... We were beaten out by Edmonton, but Pittsburgh was in the running as one of the most sociable places in all of North America.  So otherwise passed on without comment, because I can't comment with a straight face.  See the 2009 Social Hospitality Awards put out by the Responsible Hospitality Award.  We have merit achievement in 'Safety and Vibrancy'. The general criteria was looking for places that are "outstanding models for planning and managing nightlife". 

OK... that;s too snarky.  A good thing and I suppose the political doings are mostly irrelevant.

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lower cost gift ideas

I think discretion rules and we will let this process play out before touching the whole tuition tax miasma...  but you have to wonder if town/gown relations in the city have not reached an all-time low of late. Below everyone's consciousness, but I think there is something going on in the sociology of all this. 

So for the completely uncontroversial comment of the day....   Spotted over at the handmade arcade in Shadyside over the weekend.  Showing my age but I thought this shirt was about my homophonic cousin, but probably not.  Also, GLUE may want to use this shirt as a theme. For your inner yinzer, there is this shirt.  Though my personal favorite shirt remains this one.  (others can opine what else that shirt symbolizes in town)

Also just something I caught in the Philly Inquirer about a contest they have there for identifying the "most beautiful block" they have. Is anyone doing that here?  A 'best Burgh Block' contest.... maybe a complementary 'most improved' contest as well. Anyone?  Could be incorporated into that Pittsburgh version of a Jane Jacobs walk even? 

and yes.. the 'uncontroversial' comment is a joke.  I am quite sure there are still people around who remain upset over ol Sid... probably more upset, or even more aware, than they are of anything to do with the crisis du jour in city finances.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Detroit's future

History as it unfolds. Worth a read: Detroit Free Press has a week-long look at the miasma in their auto industry

and the random news of the day... from New Hampshire is a focused look at the Meadows Casino in Washington County.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Turn on the lights"

Trib has a thorough retrospective on the economic savior that was to be the USAirways hub at the airport that is really worth a read.

I guess it comes with getting old, but it's amazing to me how much people have forgotten how much focus, effort and sheer $$ went into the idea that airport was to be the economic generator to save the region.  The thing that I never understood, and which I would explain to everyone who asked, was that there was no academic research out there connecting causally support for an airline hub and economic growth. See comments here from 2004, by which time I was just tired of questions from folks on how big the economic impact was of the USAirways hub and even more tired more of people getting peeved when they heard I was not giving out the party line. It's one of those things that people just think should be the case. Indeed there might be.. almost certainly is, a correlation between increase flights and growth.   But as best anyone really has shown, the causality is the other way which would have a lot of implications for money invested on the 'effect'. Some of the greatest policy failures come from folks doing what you try to get introductory stats students to stop doing which is confusing correlation with causality. 

The great irony is that Pittsburgh's great revitalization story has only come into full bloom in the years since USAirways has virtualy eliminated it's hub operation. If one were to draw superficial connections, what would you  conclude from that?   It's been some years now, but for years everyone tried to tie the entire future of Pittsburgh's commercial competitiveness to the number of flights originating here.  Well, those flight counts have collapsed. Should we all shut down our business and complete the diaspora?   It is a good time to go back and look at all the prognostications of doom and gloom for Pittsburgh (in a relative sense) for Pittsburgh if we lost flights.   Maybe there is a reason research can't find the causality everyone just knew was out there.

I am not sure the story is over with. I mentioned recently that my direct, if anecdotal, observation was that bookings on the Pittsburgh to Paris flight are not the greatest. One flight to Paris I was on recently had 83 passengers total (I asked the crew) which made it about a third full. That and it was a pretty reasonable fare as well. That and the recent cancellation of the summer flights Continental had from Cleveland to the UK is a strong indicaton all is not well in the (greater, greater) Pittsburgh market.

Any coincidence there was both this oped in the PG in last Sunday's and this story in the Trib last Monday? Now there is this follow up from the AP out of Cleveland.   The Sunday PG oped makes the argument that 'we' (the royal we?) need to use the Pittsburgh to Paris flight or risk losing it.  No doubt.  Yet the argument to 'buy local' rarely works for any product (steel, agriculture...  your choice) these days whether.  The Trib article is interesting as well and focuses on more marketing $$ being put into the flight. 

The target of opportunity being the loss of Cleveland's flight. Note that Cleveland's flight was a seasonal one so it's cancellation probbaly can't produce too too much additonal demand for a flight out of Pittsburgh.  Peak summer flights are likely satiated no matter, its the off season that will make or break the Pittsburgh to Paris flight, IMHO of course.  But the Trib article has an ominous line that is new to the debate.  It acknowledges generally that:  "officials have said a bad first year likely would result in Delta pulling the plug on the route." That is a gloomier perspective than I have seen in print as yet over all of this. Which goes back to the recent oped in the PG. 

I dunno what it all means in the end.  Economic development is a lot harder that it seems.  The last couple sections of the Trib piece are best.  Folks mad at USAirways?  Yet beyond the name, the USAirways that made anyone any promises is gone... any legal promises washed away by multiple bankruptcies.  The fault is not with companies which if you believe in capitalism have to have the freedom to fail.  The failure was in those who took those promises at face value and didn't come up with any meaningful way to place risks where they should be placed.  In economic development vague 'promises' can't mean anything in the long run, that's why we hire all those expensive lawyers.

We all tend to glom onto the answers that we can focus on and the airport was an awfully concrete thing, literally.  I'm sure we all would like lots of flights and cheap fares. If one assumes there is a tradeoff.. which is what the market really wants?   The airport parking lots are awfully full these days and it probably isn't a coincidence that the county is now considering selling the parking lots.  One little irony is that back in hub days, the local parking was probably not as full and the value of selling the parking would not have been as much as it is now potentially.  Second order effects all around?

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Null Space Gift List

I forgot to mention this earlier, but if anyone is still looking for a present for me this season. See this. I'd make sure to insure it if you are sending it by mail.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

yin(z) and yang of Pittsburgh

I have to premise this by saying that given just some of the news I read of late, it is my humble opinion that there must be some hallucinogenic gas being pumped into all offices down at the city county building these last few weeks...  Hard to imagine we are a role model for anyone at the moment.

Nonetheless, Toronto is getting the next G20 meeting and the Globe and Mail has this story today:

How Toronto can shine as a host city: Pittsburgh has tips for success during and after the international event.

So two G20 meetings within just a few hours of each other.  Someone should be playing up any Pittsburgh-Toronto connections out there.   The article says that one result from the G20 meeting is that Oman is considering an investment here.  I should sign up as honorary consul.  I think I have spent more time in Oman than most anyone else in town.  Maybe an incidental story on that for the weekend.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

just asking

You think our city hall beat friends don't have enough to cover these days?  In their spare time here is a topic to poke at.  How much does the loss of any home playoff games cost the city budget in terms of marginal tax revenues that will go uncollected?  Doesn't the SEA budget somehow now count on the Penguins making regular playoff appearances to get to certain revenue projections?

I don't know how Bram embeds those tweets.   But sports reporter Adam Schefter has this on his blog which I guess is now our little purgatory to endure.
As a Browns fan, I don't know what a Super Bowl feels like, but if it is better then this...then WOW.
I guess this all counts for self-actualization up the turnpike....  although a funnier tweet there earlier is this:
Losing twice to CIN, and now this. 2012 has arrived early in western PA
Maybe there is something to all of these end of the world (the Road?, The Pitt?) themed things made or based in Pittsburgh?

Who knows what is on Cleveland TV or Radio, but I don't sense as much gloating as what you might expect in what you can read via the intertubes. Some 'joy' of course, but in fact one story I see even from this morning is not as much about their victory, but about how once again  Steeler Nation invaded Cleveland for the game.  I wonder if anyone has ever estimated our net economic impact on these other places we 'invade'.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Nuke news

Financial Times today has an article on how Westinghouse and its French competitor Areva are awating word one of the bigger contracts in the pipeline for new power plants in the UK.   Print edition has a cutout with the last line: 'Westinghouse said it was “planning for success” and working to build a supply chain in the UK.'

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misc: secret list and recession demographics

wow... someone didn't get the memo.  I don't find us on this list anywhere. (shh.  Philly and Cleveland are)   Most here have heard my arugument on how age demographics skews metrics like that against us.  I am working on something that may again make that point.  For later though. 

*****

I've been watching how recession impacts could change population trends and possibly impact congressional reapportionment.  I think Pennsylvania is pretty solidly in a range to lose a congressional seat as has been predicted, but in an extreme case might not.   But there is a report out from Brookings and one of the things it is saying is that there are some very real changes in the population trends impacting other states. First report I have seen really saying that.  Here is the key paragraph in an AP story running recently:
Texas previously had stood to gain four House seats and Arizona two seats, based on earlier population trends of torrid Sunbelt growth during the housing boom. But with U.S. mobility now at a 60-year low, Texas may add just three seats and Arizona one. Missouri and Minnesota could avoid losing seats and Ohio may drop one seat instead of two. New York, which earlier had been projected to lose two seats, is now on track to lose one
So no mention of Pennsylvania... but they are saying both New York and Ohio might lose one less seat than expected until recently.   I think the recession started too late in the decade to really have enough impact by the spring to have any hope of saving Pennsylvania's antitcipated loss.  Not completely inconceivable that we might be saved the loss, but the recession population/migration impacts will have to be a lot sharper than expected... but nationally the recession is longer and deeper than many have expected as well. 

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

neverending political cycle

Potter first noted the political doings in the race for State House District 19 which is worth a read just to see what may be the magnum opus of local political verbiage.  District 19 covers Downtown, most Hill District neighborhoods, parts of the North Side, Beltzhoover and environs.  The interesting thing here is whether or not there is, or will be, any noticable political impact of the new Downtown denizens that everyone keeps talking about.  My guess is those new folks are unlikely to vote, but you never know.  Adds a wrinkle is all. 

I seriously want someone to fund a survey across Pennsylvania to see what percentage of folks know what state house district they are in or who represents them.  I bet either is a scary number.  So just to help out with that, below is an outline of State House District 19 in Google maps.  You should be able to click into Google maps to play with it interactively. 



View Larger Map

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Only Pittsburgh


They aren't supposed to beat me to this kind of stuff... alas the folks paying the PG to see their PG+ may have seen this already... but there is a great map going with a story on how Moody's predicts and I quote:
"one market -- Pittsburgh -- is expected to turn positive in 2010."

They aren't kidding with that only Pittsburgh line either.  Look at their map!  Think there is a correlation to the failed banks graphic I mentioned the other day?

You can't gloat over any of that in the least.  If you read the table in that story and scoll to the bottom.. The predictions are for 30% price declines in most Florida real estate markets yet to come in 2010. 

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Blame the Tryptophan?

I may need to look closely at the timing of these reports.  If taken verbatim, people gamble over Thanksgiving, but not in the week afterwards.  Bottom line: last week the worst except for G20 week down at the casino.

and just fyi.. Philly Inquirer had a look at the expanding casino universe the other day. See:  States go all in to get a shot at gambling gold.

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Failed banks R not us

From last week and sent in by the NS readership: WSJ had a neat if depressing Google maps mash up of failed banks across the nation in the recession.  The one little tiny little dot on Pittsburgh is Dwelling House in the Hill.

One additional thought... I think Dwelling House is the only Pennsylvania bank to go under.  That would be worth noting. My quick eyeballing of it, but I think Dwelling House is the smallest bank on that list as well. 

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Westinghouse starts World War II

One could argue that the US entered World War II the moment a Westinghouse-built The U.S. Army SCR-270 radar detected Japanese aircraft heading toward Pearl Harbor.   During the war they would design or build all sorts of gizmos here that would be essential in the war.  Probably incalculable to measure how much difference it all made in the end.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Digging for Tulips?


Most readers here will find these stories themselves of course, but make sure to note that Elwin in the PG has one of the longer media looks at the whole Marellus Shale story.  Don't miss the complementary piece by Mr. Migration (that's Toland not me ok) with some early looks at what it all may mean to oil worker migration into Pennsylvania.

One fun story that really relates.  (yeah, I'm an exciting guy at parties).  What is the link to Marcellus exploration and the labor force?  An awful lot.  Drilling of any kind is a specialized skill and even for Pennsylvania which has a long history in oil drilling it's not the largest workforce here or elsewhere.  A story I really do use whenever I teach the subject is about what happened in Northeast Pennsylvania some years ago.   People don't realize we are in a minor earthquake area.  There was minor quake along the PA-OH border in 1998 was not a public safety issue at all, but it dropped the water table in a big enough area to be an issue.   Not a big big problem, but a fair number of folks had to redrill their wells or sink them farther.  Problem was that there really were not enough well drillers.  For water or gas or oil or whatever, there just were not enough trained folks out there to meet the surge in demand.  So there were a brief flurry of stories of well drillers being brought out of retirement to help out and get people back their water.   At some point those retirees are not an available ready-source of labor supply and any new demand for workers will have to come from elsewhere.  That seems to be what is happening at least to a degree.

So read Toland's story on a few folks he has found here who have moved here as part of the Marcellus binge of late.  It is a story that has been playing out a bit elsewhere in the state. It gets to a really important point that almost everyone ignores (Jim R. excepted for sure) that if you don't talk about migration when talking about any workforce, worker development or human capital issue you are missing the most important issue by far...  at least when it comes to short and medium term impact on the labor supply. Education and training have unavoidably longer term impacts on labor supply and by the time you really figure out what you should be training people to do... the world changes.    But as I will go into in a second, the new oil workers are not a tsunami of people by any means. 

So back to the Marellus issue at hand.  While I am as intrigued as anyone on the potentials of Marcellus shale natural gas exploration and development across Pennsylvania, at this point I really have this tulip feeling about where it is all going. How goes the saying?  Even good stocks can be overpriced?  Even if it is as successful as some are projecting, there is this little issue that natural gas prices are collapsing, international supply and more importantly supply networks are expanding, which has this little impact on the supply curve and prices.  We are a long way from natural gas powered cars inducing a disruptive level of demand. That and our hills makes it difficult for there to be too much natural gas conversion of local autos, trucks and buses.  There is an issue with power in NatGas engines that makes them impractical for a lot of our topography.  I am kind of hoping the developments in NatGas prices induce new investment in a local fuel cell industry... but not too many folks talking about that yet. 

Don't get be wrong. It's just the scale of hype that is getting a bit carried away.  I myself wrote years ago, long before any of the energy price induced frenzy on the cluster potential of Energy Burgh and before that on the new potential of our coal economy back when all anyone here really would talk about here was bio-this or robo-that.   I noticed the Schlumberger Thumper Truck tooling though PA a couple years ago and commented here on its significance.  Going way farther back, one of the first things I wrote for a newsletter we put out is all on local Natural Gas prices and a bit on how they impact the region.  It is fascinating re-reading that in that there was no discussion at all of Marellus Shale or anything new in the local production of NatGas.. I did note that natural gas prices were higher here for most uses than elsewhere in the US.  This is the graphic I used in 2002, so probably reflecting the system a decade ago for the most part.  But note which way the arrows all flowed and imagine what would change if we really boosted local production.



How new production will affect our relative prices in natural gas is really the big story that could develop from all this development. If we can just achieve parity in natural as prices it will be an improvement in our competitive position.  Natural Gas is not the easiest to distribute.  I know just enough on the expanding seaborne distribution of natural gas to appreciate that.  But even landward distribution across the nation isn't the easiest and location matters to pricing.  If we do boost local supply it really should translate to lower local prices which would be good for a number of industries.  We still have a number of energy intensive local industries.

So again.  Back to the tulips.   Economics really does matter and the low low prices of natural gas are beginning to have an impacton this development. Natgas explaration and expansion is going on across the globe.   Some Marcellus developments have already at least been put on hiatus I hear more will be going the same way if prices remain where they are right now which are multi year lows.  There has been palpable workforce issues across the state when it comes to migration, but one thing to keep in mind is that in the big picture is that overall mining employment in the state is up a bit, but not quite a surge.  A couple reasons for that.  Some of these exploration workers are probably not really Pennsylvania workers technially.  Many folks up from Texas or wherever are showing up as workers elsewhere. I am not sure our development has reached the point where the exploration has translated to permanent local jobs in huge numbers.  And even if there are new Marcellus related jobs... King Coal is hurting here as coal prices for Northern Appalachian coal have plummeted .  
But at the end of the day...  the Dutch could never use those Tulips to heat their homes.   The Dutch actually use LPG to run a lot of their cars these days.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Live by the flow, die by the flow

Brian O's column in the Sunday PG (not online just yet) has a blurb on something Don Carter is writing about the role of water in the region's economic future.  It's not a new idea and has had a fair bit of economic development buzz in recent years.  Even see the news in WSJ last month with the story of how Milwaukee has been touting it's water resources as a competitive advantage.  See:  Water Plan Aims to Help Jobs Flow.  Milwaukee, With an Abundant Supply, Seeks to Offer Discounts to Businesses.

It certainly is an appealing idea for us.  Though I suspect some of it is a kind of anticipated schadenfreude from those in the water-rich but growth-poor regions which have for some time looked askance at the nearly unmitigated growth in places which seems to be completely unsustainable.  Not just the obvious that which should be desert Phoenix, but even places like Atlanta face ever larger water shortages as they continue growing.  I can't explain Phoenix's water-less story, but places like Atlanta have a different problem.  They face real water problems it is true, but if they were to just curtail water intensive cotton farming in nearby parts of Georgia their problem would largely fade for now.  At some point sheer economics will address their situation.  

Lest anyone think our water advantage, if there is an advantage that is, is free and clear....  Remember it's our water problems that may be our biggest economic speed bump in the near term.  Without massive investment in our sewer infrastructure there is an ongoing threat the EPA will directly curtail new development in the region.  Our lock and dam infrastructure is dangerously antiquated and needs a massive amount of money to just remain viable.  The sheer costs of the minimal fee increases our water infrastructure will be imposing on us in coming years will be a drag in and of themselves for years to come. Watch your water and sewer bills..  Isn't PWSA looking at a rate increase right now?  They will not be alone and it won't be the last.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

The news that wasn't

Well, that was boring.  Makes you wonder what Wednesday was all about?   But no matter.  Time to move on.  Not much assessment noise until the spring it seems.  It's just a general rule around here across the board that we make simple things so hard. 

and just an little snippet from Lansing Michigan and their version of PopCity is a look at Pittsburgh with a short interview with Bill F. at the conference.  I only noticed because Bill says of Pittsburgh:
"If we went back into the early 80s and late 70s, this was an entrepreneurial town. Pittsburgh was one of the most entrepreneurial places on the planet.  We had these enormous industries grow up here because of young entrepreneurs like Carnegie and Westinghouse". 
I mean, I agree if he meant the1870's and 1880's?  Curious.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Hedge your bets

Missed this the other day.   I see no local mention that the Mayor was in Cleveland and had an unexpected message.  This headline was in the Plain Dealer: 

Hedge your bets on revenue from casino, Pittsburgh mayor advises Clevelanders

Uh...  I don't disagree at all... but...... has anyone looked at the 5 year plan for the city budget?  No reliance on sustained casino revenues there.   And then there is this little issue of table games saving everything else.  I think the city is slated to get what?   all of 1.0% in the form of a tax on table games.    Also some interesting comments with the Cleveland article. 

anyway.   weekly numbers up a bit, so people gamble over Thanksgiving... but clearly in a range.

Speaking of Cleveland...   the only international flight they have, which is just a summer only Continental flight to London, was cancelled today.  I wonder about the future of the Pittsburgh to Paris flight which I took again a couple weeks ago.  Less than half full.  Most folks were able to stretch out across 3 seats to sleep. Delta sent a bill to someone for the revenue shortfall. 

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Google Burgh

Spotted first via Governing.com.. but google has listed its top search terms by city (or region?).  For Pittsburgh the top 10 are half expected and a few not:
  1. carnegie library oakland
  2. hofbrauhaus
  3. rivers casino
  4. cmu directory
  5. ccac blackboard
  6. kdka news pittsburgh
  7. cmu blackboard
  8. cmu hub
  9. parkvale online banking
  10. port authority pittsburgh

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Random afternoon musings

Remember all that discussion and debate ('debate' might be an exaggeration) over the city cash to placed into an  irrevocable trust of some type.  Guess not. What was the point of all that noise?  How does that impact the 5 year plan?  Word of the day: fungible.

Judge Wettick didn't quite use that 'contempt' word...  yet.   All I can say is "Groundhog Day" (man I wrote that a long time ago).  Isn't it amazing how little interest there is in the whole story which directly impacts 550K properties in the county and potentially much of Pennsylvania.  There was a day it was issue #1 for years on end. (KDKA has the:  live shot.?)

CNN has this on other cities' experiences with drilling for natural gas .   Given my past observation this is all happening here I am surprised how little interest or coverage is of similar issues here.  I know a lot of local folks are concerned. 

Let the campaigns begin.  Walko closing his state rep office. This one might be a free for all.  Just asking: Is he still the PWSA chairman? 

Finally...   if there were 5 people in town who cared about this story, I would be one of them... and I don't think I am one of them.

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unemployment factoids

Yup.  Unemployment is up locally.  Still there are some remarkable factoids of note:

1.9:  that is the percentage point difference between local unemployment rate and the national unemployment rate.We've been bouncing around this number for the last year, but before that it is not something we have even been close to since the mid to early 1970's.  Not quite a record, there was a single month where that metric would have been 2.1 in the early 1970's. 

3 years - 37 months technically.  That is how long it has been since the local unemployment rate was higher than the national unemployment rate.  Also not qute a record.  There was a 39 month period between September 1973 and November 1976 which was longer, but barring some unprecedented convergence between local and national economic conditions we will set a record of sorts in a couple more months and then some.

****

Some people misconstrue why I keep pointing this out.   It's not to say everything is rosy.  Recession is recession and it ain't fun no matter where you are.  But the ability of the region to weather a recession with any modicum of stability is a huge story in itself.  What I focus on more is how these factors impact things like migration.  Models of migration show a real impact not on the absolute economic conditions in a region, but the relative economic conditions.   Consider... the early 1980's was a severe national recession, but people still chose to leave the region in hordes since it was even worse here.  In early 1990's there was a recession here and in the US, but it was a period where out-migration was minimal.  There is even a year where the census estimated there was net inmigration to Pittsburgh around 1990-1991.  All because our recession was less bad locally compared to the nation, but it was only a short period that was true and it was not by much that local conditions were any better than nationally.   Nothing like this period.

Late 1990's saw the lowest unemployment rates the region has seen in decades, yet there was still a moderate out-migration because the national economic expansion made economic conditions in other places even better.  Push and pull factors have always been at the core of understanding regional migration patterns .  This which will soon be the longest period of relatively positive unemployment rate has to be a precursor to better migration trends in coming years. It's because it's not just the current data, but how sustained that trend has been.  People don't make instantaneous decisions to move, but typically are moving in relation to their personal economic conditions over the previous year or two. 

So you have to keep in mind migration when looking at current labor force data.  It's the complete opposite situation from the 1980's.in a sense.  Back then the horrible unemployment data locally would have been much much worse if the folks who were streaming out of the region were staying in place to remain unemployed locally.  Today I am pretty sure the labor force data has more unemployed, or discouraged workers, locally because we are not only losing fewer folks due to migration, but are even attracting folks from elsewhere.At least in a net sense that has to be true.  The Detroit Labor force alone has gone down nearly 90K in just the last year.  Pittsburgh's is +/- a thousand or so from the range it has been in the last several years.  Those Detroit folks and lots of others are going somewhere or they will be soon.  All while people who might normally be leaving Pittsburgh don't have the options to move away as they might normally have. 

The nearby Johnstown Tribune Democrat actually had a good piece on all of this last week going beyond the superficial that gets at a lot of the real issues. See:  Labor Force Changes Cloud Local Jobs Forecast
Just to show it's not just Detroit impacting us....  let's end with another animated graphic different folks keep coming up with showing job creation and destruction during the recession by metro area.  Note the Katrina effect before the recession actually... and then note how we are sandwiched between some of the largest pockets (swaths?) of job destruction in the nation in the last year. 

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Immigrant-Burgh

A report out from the Fiscal Policy Institute, a research group in New York, has Pittsburgh ranked number 1 in terms of the net benefit of international immigrants to the regional economy.  See the table on the top right of page 11 of this:  Immigrants in the Economy, Contribution of Immigrant Workers to the Country’s 25 Largest Metropolitan Areas. 

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Redistricting Next

PG's ER posted this first... but Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania redistricting gets a mention on page 3 of this from the CQ:  The Next Battle to Draw the Lines. Touched upon by the CQ piece, but a fuller discussion of Republic over-reach following the 2000 census was discussed more fully in the Wall Street Journal a couple years ago.  How much redistricting can change the literal political landscape I have poked at in the past in:  Pennsylvania's Rorschach test.

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WW: Fire for effect

As of now I believe the standing order of the court is as follows:
........Allegheny County shall perform a comprehensive reassessment in accordance with the provisions of the Four-District Compenhensive Reassessment Plan that are set forth at pages 17-21 of the Opinion which accompanies this Order of Court. The initial meeting with the court to be attended by the Chief Assessment Office of Allegheny Co. other Department of Assessment Officials selected by the Chief Assessment Officer and counsel shall be held on 12/2/09 at 2:00 p.m. in Room 815. Prior to this meeting the Chief Assessment Officer shall prepare and furnish to the court and counsel a detailed plan for the timely completion of the reassessment of the First Assessment District. (underlines and links added)
You could parse every sentence.   "Initial" meeting...  as in there will be more?  Many more?  and I am just wondering... With this session just about 24 hours away, has said 'detailed plan' been furnished to the court? Interesting that the judge specifies exactly who he wants standing before him.  Could be interesting as the good counselors debate the meaning of "detailed" or "plan" or "timely".

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