Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Economist on Rust Belt Cities

Can't believe I missed this, but CEOs for Cities points out the article in the latest Economist Magazine on doings in some Rust Belt cities of late. In particular doesn't the mayor's race in Flint sound a bit like ours. Read more: The rustbelt: Back from the dead. The byline says Cleveland and Flint, but we had our own piece in the Economist last year: How Now Brown Town.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Blog-freedom in Cleveland

I have been watching the Cleveland Plain Dealer's experiment with citizen blogging: Actually it is a mix of their staff and invited bloggers on all sorts of subjects, call it a blog-nexus and it seems to have been working pretty well. One of the more interesting blogs was Wide Open Politics which focused on their local politics . Well, that experiment ran into a snag today when Congressman Steve LaTourette (R-14) had one of the invited citizen bloggers fired because he objected to the content of his postings. I suspect there will be some rebuttal to that version, but it sure does not sound good. You can read more about this on the Ohio Daily Blog: BREAKING: Congressman LaTourette Gets Blogger Fired From "Wide Open".

The allegation of censorship is bad enough, but I really have to wonder what the Plain-Dealer was thinking and why this wasn't anticipated on their part. Either they didn't anticipate politicians to react badly to the postings of political bloggers, which would have been grossly naive, or they knew this was going to happen and figured they would have to jettison a content provider at some point. Were they planning to cave at the first inkling of opposition? I will be watching to see what response there is to all of this, but its not a proud moment.


more on USAirways

Something I had started to write up but I see the PG has the story today: Southwest calls airport's fees a large concern. I have to wonder if the airport can survive all of this downsizing by USAirways. Of course, I don't think the airport will ever shut down, but from a financial point of view you have to wonder how it can maintain solvency. The Department of Transportation had this study done in 2003 which applies directly to our situation you would think:


That report is remarkably upbeat about how Pittsburgh could survive a post-US Airways world. I'm unclear if they really took into account the scale of downsizing that actually happened. But for now I wonder whether the airport can really keep responding to fewer flights by raising fees. At some point that becomes counterproductive. I am not an expert on airport finances, but I would say its worth the effort to compare the terminal fees that Pittsburgh has compared to other airports near and far. Anyone know of a source for that data already?

There is one positive story to this. If you had said a few years ago that the region's largest private employer was going to virtually disappear you would have predicted an awful amount of bad things to be happening and that just has not materialized. That in itself says a lot about how the local economy has changed in recent decades. For the airport authority itself however, it's a different story. I would be curious if it has any sustainable financial path for the future. There is still a lot of debt ($500mil+) on the books and you have to wonder about those payments. Some big balloon payments are coming due within 5 years which will force some new bonds to be issued. I'm sure the ratings agencies are going to chime in again soon.

For USAirways which caused all of this, another news blurb just out says some new survey results show it is viewed as the worst global airline. I have to admit I don't believe those poll results a bit from what I read in that short piece. It says BA was rated 1st last year and now comes in third which is still pretty high. Not really a knock on BA, but if you fly BA you are going to have to go through Heathrow which is just such a disaster these days. Read the last line in that blurb which is also worth noting: "43% had six weeks or more " (of vacation). Anyone have the comparable number for the US.


Monday, October 29, 2007

vicious mayoral debates

I know some think the mayor's race has taken a , lets call it biting, turn. Maybe it has, but does anything of late compare to this newsreel footage of the 1933 New York City Mayoral race:


Sunday, October 28, 2007

quote: "the city has never looked so good"

I know this in inextricably political... but given the source there was a really phenomenal statement on TV that needs to be noted for the record. In a discussion on the city's mayoral race on WQED's weekly OffQ Friday, local Republican uber-pundit Bill Green said one of the most unequivocally positive things I may have ever heard from anyone on the state of the city. He was actually going out of his way to argue that:
"In the 40 years I have lived in the city, the city (of Pittsburgh) has never looked so good" and gratuitously broadened that statement to say many " (city) neighborhoods are thriving".

If that statement came from just about anyone else I would not have even noticed. Boosterism is always part of the public discourse, but it's inconceivable that Bill Green of all people was trying to spin a good-news-now story for the city. If Bill's views reflect popular sentiment in any way, there are real political implications for sure. No doubt he finds plenty of fault with the city and how it is being run now and in the past, but people react to the city around them more than anything else. So if Bill was even lukewarm on these points, from a purely political point of view, do any other points matter? You need to give Bill credit not shading his remarks toward a particular end. The remark came as their weekly panel was caught up in the fundamental debate over the state of the city as it relates to the election next week. The political types were mostly trying to make everything city related sound as dismal as they can be. That may be the nature of political races here and everywhere, but nothing is that simple. I would make one point as simply as I can. The state of city finances for example are what they are. I am on record as saying they are precarious now and precarious going into the future. What people confuse often is that the state of the city's municipal budget is somehow not indicative of literally every other metric about the city.


Friday, October 26, 2007

follow that story: downtown wi-fi

So the news just today is that the free downtown wireless is for the moment being supported pro-bono by a local tech company because the firm that was running the system: US Wireless Online, went bankrupt and terminated their local service 3 weeks ago. 3 weeks ago? It's not the biggest news in the world but given the media interest to date it is odd that there was no mention of the company pulling out and potentially leaving the system in limbo. It's not like it was a secret, the bankruptcy itself was written about. The PBT did give some hint that this was coming a couple months ago. So as not to repeat myself, my comments on that news blurb and the long convoluted history of downtown wireless is in this past post: wi-finito. A recent tech angle to all of this is worth reading: Cisco's Next Municipal Wireless Move.

Actually, look at the businessweek link above announcing the companies bankruptcy. It has a tag line that I presume was composed automatically saying: "UWRL's price was unchanged after the transaction was announced on 10/9/07"... you gotta love pink sheet stocks. The price of the stock was 0.0001 per share... that is no typo, there are 3 zeros after the decimal place. So 1/100 of a cent per share.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

enumero blogito

making sense of numbers... Remember when Pittsburgh was ranked the 3rd bloggiest. Well, here is another study just out ranking Pittsburgh the very least bloggiest.

Here is the press release from Scarborough Research which put this out.


schools schools and more schools

Lots of schools stuff that deserves some comment:

on charter schools: Am not sure if this has had any notice here at all, but the Washington Post is reporting that down in DC former Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl has proposed converting several inner city Catholic schools to charter schools. Just from a purely financial point of view, I can only wonder what would happen if that were to happen here given the sheer number of students in parochial school here... it has to be higher proportion than in DC though I have never looked for that statistic. If I were on the school board here I would be watching pretty closely at what is happening there. If that experiment works out, do you think that in the future some local Catholic school faced with financial problems will choose the charter school route vice closing down entirely? How many schools could that potentially be in the long run?

on salaries: WPXI did a great piece of investigative/analytical journalism collecting teacher salaries from school districts in the region. It was good because they went beyond just the salary numbers by themselves which is typically all that the media and public glom onto. They also collected things like average years of service and educational attainment among teachers. It always gets me when someone throws out a statement about "teachers in school district X are being overpaid" and the only fact at hand is some average salary data with no appreciation for the differences between the workforce in different districts. If you just take that average of one district vs. the average of other districts are you making a useful comparison. I have taken the WPXI data and just made the scatter plot below which correlates median years of service to average salary per school district. That gives you a different perspective than just comparing the salary numbers by themselves. As correlations go that is pretty strong. A lot of the disparity in school teacher salaries here and elsewhere is just reflective of the fact that a lot of school districts have seen so little growth in so long that their average teacher tenure is higher than others, so they are higher on their salary scale... not necessarily because their salary scale compares favorably or worse. Does that type of difference affect other workers, especially other types of public sector workers? There is almost a built in bias against slow growing areas where public sector workers have not seen much hiring of new (and typically younger) workers in recent years/decades. Since you can't go around firing senior workers you will always see this type of pattern. And this is just one variable thrown into the mix, there are others that would go even farther toward deconstructing salary disparities across school districts (or other sets of workers). But here is that graph:

on Duquesne: PG did a nice piece recently on the apparently smooth transition going on down in East Allegheny (When Duquesne met East Allegheny, winners all around ) which absorbed a large number of the former Duquesne High School Students. I actually have an inside source down at the West Mifflin School District that got most of the students... you should take this as completely unofficial, indirect and anecdotal, but I have heard nothing bad from their experiences thus far either. I think everyone would agree that those teachers deserve a whole lot just for being professional enough to keep the kids first given the political turoil that went along with all of this.

and finally... yes I'm not done. A blog you may not have seen but is actually kind of interesting: Confessions of a Community College Dean.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007


So, New York Magazine has Pittsburgh listed as a major culture hub. It's near the bottom of places listed in: Ideas for Culture Hunters. Not only that, but Pittsburgh is one of only two US entries among a list of foreign venues that stretch from London to Muscat. Scary thing is that other than Buenos Aires, I think I have been to all of them. I have to admit I have probably not absorbed as much culture as I should have.

But this brings up a funny technology point. I was going to point out my pictures of Muscat, but I discovered that my link for online photos does not work any longer. I am not so much a Luddite as driven by inertia. While (or maybe it was before) everyone was putting pictures on flickr I put up photos on a different site many years ago... low and behold they have gone belly up. I'm sure there are some lessons in all of that.

and just for the bloggeratti, there is another story in that New York Magazine issue on how some photo-artist translated blog-success into something bigger. Read: A Photo Blogger Lands Her Own Gallery Gig.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

350 hours

Ok ok... am I like the only blog remotely connected to Pittsburgh that does not have a comment on the Mayoral Debate last night. Yes, I watched. Yes, I have thoughts... but I will hold my tongue as I said I would try to do. For the non-Pittsburgh readers here who might not follow the nexus of all creative thought in town... I will defer all commentary on the debate itself to this picture posted on the Carbolic Smoke Blog... that picture (and especially the 'addition') is just too funny. Thinking about the CSB crew..... you know, if Steven Colbert can run for president....... oh, scratch that thought.

but it's now two weeks until the fall election right? Seems shorter when you think of it as 350 hours or so until polls close... and some of that both candidates and voters need to use for sleep.

So what can I say without saying anything. In the spirit of openness... and just presenting data for you do interpret as you could put this together yourself if you wanted to. I have put into one excel file a compilation of all election returns by voting district for the major races in the City of Pittsburgh over the last decade. Also included are the basic demographics and some other details that I am sure will be of interest to the political junkies (meant generically of course) out there. I hope someone puts this to good use. See this link to download the file:


new media watch: domestic auto sales

On the analytical journalism watch... the Cleveland Plain Dealer put up a pretty neat interactive graphic that shows the decline of the big three automakers in the US market by state over the last decade. You can access it here:

You can click on different years via the tabs on the top of the graphic and you can click on individual states for state-specific data. For Pennsylvania it's a pretty precipitous drop in the percentage of auto sales here that go to the big three domestic automakers (Ford-GM-Chrysler). In 1997, it was 78% of all sales down to 59% in 2006. I'm not sure if I am more surprised it was so high in 1997 or how fast it is coming down.


Monday, October 22, 2007

on the parking tax.....

I was asked if I could try and explain the whole parking tax imbroglio Downtown that is now partially blown over. Honestly, whatever the economics of the situation are, this has all passed into an uber political world more than anything else. I do think there is a fundamental issue with the state of the parking market Downtown, which I mentioned in this earlier post. At the core of all this is that the Downtown parking market is very very tight.

Is there anything to add on the current debate over whether the city can/should/must/will/won't enact a decrease in the parking tax? I think there is a bigger picture to all of this. I was looking at this report from Harvard's Rappaport Center earlier this year:

Boston Bound: A Comparison of Boston's Legal Powers with Those of Six Other Major American Cities by Gerald E. Frug and David J. Barron, Harvard Law School.

According to one PR the study general conclusion was that Boston.......
"....lacks the flexibility and authority it needs to compete effectively in the new global knowledge economy, and is not able to fully capitalize on the innovation that it is known for"
If that is true for Boston which has a fairly wide range of power that Pittsburgh does not, what does that say about the City of Pittsburgh which gets embroiled in a political semi-paralysis over whether a parting tax can be cut by 5% points or not.

But here is a great old PAT advertisement (with my 'doctoring' if it isn't obvious) I have posted below that could be relevant:


Saturday, October 20, 2007

More NYT coverage / also Hispanics in Pittsburgh during World War II

I am a bit curious by the NYT which has yet another piece on Pittsburgh coming in Sunday's travel section: Footsteps Andrew Carnegie’s Pittsburgh, Where a Tycoon Made It Just to Give It Away.. by David Laskin. But hey, sort of like in politics, almost any exposure is good exposure.

But speaking of history...... In yesterday's post on The Latino Experience web site is an essay on Latino's in the US during World War II. There is a brief mention of Hispanics working at the Pittsburgh Heinz plants making gliders. There were severe shortages of skilled wood workers here during the war, shortages of all workers for that matter. Thus communities of workers were attacted here from near and far. Below is a picture of glider wings leaving the Heinz plywood factory during the war. And below that is a picture of a shop floor at Heinz during the war... it's hard to tell in the online resolution, but it is amazing how many women appear to be doing the actual work. For that picture, if you click on it, it should bring up a very high res version of the same.

From: Men and Women of Wartime Pittsburgh. Frank C. Harper


Friday, October 19, 2007

implode-o-meter - tracking foreclosures

Just keeping track of the foreclosure crisis. It remains the case that any data I see on the foreclosure crisis nationally shows relatively lower impacts locally, yet at the same time a concentration of defaults just up the pike in Ohio. Something I don't quite take at face value.

In looking for a more pessimistic version I found this report by ACORN put out just a few months ago. Yet even it does not paint the worst picture for Pittsburgh. It says Pittsburgh ranked all of 49th in the rate of foreclosures. 49th out of what I can't quite tell and on the top of page 3 it seems to say our rate is going down locally while we know nationally these numbers are jumping. It's curious in that it sure seems to me that the sentence where it describes the foreclosure rate going down sounds like it was written for data showing the rate going up:
"In Allegheny in April 2007, mortgage companies filed 395 foreclosure filings against homeowners who were behind on their mortgage. 460 notices were filed just a year earlier in April 2006. "

So my math may be off, but that is a year over year decline of 14% which would be noteworthy in itself, but that much more curious given the jumps in that rate across the nation or just within Pennsylvania. That lead me to see if this was really written for other regions and indeed ACORN has reports from around the country released the same time as the report on Pittsburgh. I looked at Cleveland's report and it just does not compare to Pittsburgh's. In Cleveland it said their rate of foreclosures in 2006 was one per 40 households while Pittsburgh's rate was less than half that 1 in 88 households for the same year. (update: here is a new blog focused just on Cleveland's foreclosure crisis: Foreclosing Cleveland).

My guess for some of the incongruous local stats: more older homeowners who have paid off their mortgages. They may be in similar financial straits, but they would not be captured by the bank foreclosure data everyone focuses on. They may be unable to keep up with taxes for sure which would be captured by tax lien or related data. Just suggesting hypotheses.

But high or low here, it's still something that is affecting a large part of the economy. So here is a remarkably informative web site keeping track of the problems in the nations lending markets: Implode-o-meter written about in the WSJ a couple months ago.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

there be rivers here......

Expansion management again comes up with their annual location quotient (LQ) for regions. You can read more or just look at how we rank in their summary table. Our highest ranking was in their best railroad service category followed closely by waterborne commerce.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Larryville ascendent

I can't believe I missed this, but Mike is watching my back. For those who have not seen it, Lawrenceville (as in the city neighborhood) was the focus of a New York Times piece: A Design District Takes Shape. I love how their illustration highlights Arsenal Lanes as well as newer galleries.... if that does not sum up old and new Pittsburgh I don't know what does. Anyone know when Arsenal Lanes started, it's been since before my retained memories.

Lawrenceville is a complex place for sure. I don't have all the data to confirm this, but it has been suggested to me that on a percentage basis, real estate in the neighborhood is rising faster than most anywhere else in town. Even if not true, I wonder whether the opening of Children's Hospital will eventually have as big an impact as any single event on a specific city neighborhood in decades.

and just a personal obligation, but I will again say Goodbye, St. Francis.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Looking West - Economic Change in Ohio

From and about Ohio, but that is our neighbor to the west, is a recent report worth a scan:

GROWTH AND CHANGE:Employment Growth, Future Prospects, and Change at the Ohio Rural-Urban Interface. Prepared by: Mark D. Partridge, Jill Clark and Ayesha Enver (October 2007) of the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. Ohio State University.

yeah, I know.. Nullspace... nullspot... close enough.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Death of an airline hub....

The USAToday's travel columnist (I think that is who this is) writes on our airport troubles in the self-explanatory: Dismantling Pittsburgh: Death of an airline hub. There are comments there as well, and if the first one is correct, there are some core technology issues (as in the increasing range of aircraft) behind the demise of our hub.


On Government - a Null Space spinoff

Just another experiment of mine. I have a new blog that is intended just to help keep track of major news and events relating to regionalism and local government fragmentation in the US which I have named OnGovernment. Other than when local things pop up, I intend it to look broadly across the US and not our own eternal machinations on the topic.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Foodie's dilemma: Manhattan to Pittsburgh

This post on Chowhound (a foodie place) has 56 replies so far: Can I survive a move from Manhattan to Pittsburgh? Is it asking about local wages? Local housing? No, it's all about local restaurants. But who in the world would move from Manhattan to Pittsburgh? :-)
Help! I would appreciate any suggestions for restaurants that will convince me to move with my husband of 30 years from Manhattan to Pittsburgh. Can a person
who lives across the street from Per Se and down the street from Fairway, Citarella and Zabar's find happiness west of the Hudson? Can anyone tell me about the restaurant/ food scene in Pittsburgh?

I love how even a food discussion on a food blog devolves into a discussion of Steeler-Jets. It is also pretty amazing how the discussion pretty much epitomizes the debate over the economy here vs. elsewhere. Seriously, replace 'restaurants' with 'jobs' and you get the same debates we have all the time.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Border Guard Bob seems like a renaissance guy

Oh man, I may have to rehabilitate Border Guard Bob. This is even stranger than the idea once generated here to kidnap young people from elsewhere and bring them to Pittsburgh. Adfreak has a post about a bizarre ad campaign down in Louisville working toward the goal of attracting young people. Yes, we are not the only place that obsesses on this issue. You really need to watch some of their ad clips on youtube or via their "ShareLouisville" website with proudly (and I hope tongue-in-cheek) proclaims:

"Everywhere in America people are suffering and leading sad, empty lives. Everywhere except in a city called Louisville, where anything is possible."

Just checking this out some, there are some other similarities with Louisville. Maybe this goes along with the obsession on young people/migration, but Louisville also has its own diasporan bloggers such as The Urban Louisvillan who actually resides in Chicago. But from that Blog it is amazing how many things Louisville is planning are actually things we have already or will be trying as well. New sports arena? check. New downtown redevelopment? check. You could say they are like a decade behind us, just as they are with goofy ads.

and many know Louisville is example #1 these days in the whole debate over government consolidation. Ignoring most of that for the moment, I did learn from this blog that L'ville's neighbor: Jeffersonville, Indiana is also consolidating government via annexation.


Friday, October 12, 2007

party registration

As we are now well under 4 weeks to the fall election, I sense at least a heartbeat of interest on the street. So as not too stray to far into the political harangues of the day I am just noting the debate over whether minor party candidates should participate in the major election events like the debate last night. What is a valid threshhold to be considered a viable 'third party' here or elsewhere?

Here are some relevant factoids. I will paste below the registration by party within the city of Pittsburgh as of last month. It really is amazing how small some of the third parties really are. While the Libertatian candidate for mayor at least officially represents 1,185 registered Libertatians in the city (a whopping 0.5% of all registered voters), the Socialist Worker candidate for mayor is himself a major chunk of the 28 registered socialists in the city. Now I know that party registration does not reflect actual political philosophy (and he needed more than 28 signatures to get his petitions submitted I would bet) and some parties carry a stigma you don't want to have on public record even if you are a sympathizer... but even some third parties considered relatively successful in a sense have minimal registration. Reform Party? 41 registered voters. Green Party? 965 total.

Party Total Registration
Consumer 20 0.0%
Democrat 163,485 72.4%
Reform 41 0.0%
Green 965 0.4%
Independent 1,946 0.9%
Libertatian 1,185 0.5%
Miscellaneous 11,183 5.0%
No Party 14,195 6.3%
Patriot 19 0.0%
Republican 32,667 14.5%
Socialist 28 0.0%
Constitutional 107 0.0%
Constitution 19 0.0%
Total 225,860


Thursday, October 11, 2007

think you read enough blogs?

man... my blog reader scans enough blogs as it is.... yet I only have a fraction of the Top 100 Academic Blogs Every Professional Investor Should Read. thanks to the Transportationist for the link.

and PC magazine had a list of their top 100 undiscovered web sites last month.


Do they think they started as Cuyahoga Airlines?

Oh man.... how things have changed. Brewed Fresh Daily points out how the USAirways magazine is highlighting Cleveland this month. Rub some salt in that wound will ya? nuff said.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

casino notes

The Deal notes that MGM Mirage announced plans build a $5 billion, 72-acre resort in Atlantic City. Any impact on the future revenues of the yet to be built Philly casino? on other PA casinos? even on our casino? For perspective $5 billion is about 10 times what Don Barden will spend building the casino here.

News already going around about how the Majestic Star is likely to not open until 2009. No big surprise really given that winter is approaching fast, but remember how earlier in the year it was possible this fall could have seen both the new arena and casino under construction. With unlimited time it would be a fun exercise to go back in time and extract all the quotes predicting when the casino would open and track how they have changed over time.

I have brought this up before, but the PG ER blog points out how local state rep Don Walko is concerned that local Bingo operators are "having trouble attracting people to traditional bingos, raffles and other "small games of chance" ". If that is true now, has anyone at all asked the question what impact the new casino will have on local bingo operators. Also as the PG blog paraphrases Walko, local bingo operators are typically "nonprofit groups, churches and volunteer fire companies ". Trust me, there will be a story someday about some local fire department or church closing its bingo, or facing significant shortfalls and I bet the casino will be blamed one way or another.

You can read all about the other casino travails involving such as the anticipated parking issues and the ever larger neighborhood issues. We will forever be debating the economic costs and benefit of the casino to the city/county and region. What I read of the escalating conflagration on the North Side just makes me sad. Is the casino worth having city residents fight amongst themselves? While I am sure acrimony will get very personal, I think the structure of how we got to this point fed all of this. The anticipation of various forms of community support to be fed by the casino operation was left mostly unspecified and vague in the entire casino licensing process. Is it that surprising that different interests now have different ideas over the form of that support? There has to have been a better way to do this?


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Pittsburgh history in everything....... even this

The AP is running a story on some recently disclosed documents pertaining to attempts at developing radiologic weapons over a half century ago. The idea for that could easily have come from the death of Pittsburgh industrialist Eben Byers. Byers, who had founded a local steel company and had been the national amateur golf champion, died in 1932. His death was national news that for the most part ended the public acceptance of quack radioactive therapies. He was literally prescribed a daily dosage of Radithor a radium based medicine that he would drink after meals. I was going to say that price for the stuff: $30/bottle in 1932 was pretty expensive, but it comes out to $455 and many know plenty of prescription medicine these days come in a lot higher than that.

Scarier is a quote referenced in the Carnegie's piece on Byers where the manufacturer of the stuff "insisted that his product could not have been the cause of Byers's death." ....... even stating: 'I have drunk more radium water than any man alive,' Mr. Bailey said, 'and I never have suffered any ill effects.' Now there is a credible source.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Pittsburgh to Steubenville in minutes

Ok, it's not Maglev but apparently there is ever another regional rail proposal out there including one that links Pittsburgh with Columbus. Just a snippet I picked up from Trains for America blog. They point to a story in the Newark (as in Ohio) Advocate that mentions the plan, said to be put forth by the state of Ohio, for a high speed rail line no less.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

and the one will become many....

Speaking of generation gaps...... Wired News had a news blurb about how was opening up its platform for everyone to vLog their lives. Not that I undertand any of this, but I thought this was some alter ego to Pittsburgh's iJustine, but I learned that the two are one and the same sort of... or at least iJustine is just one of many vLog'ers on the site, which was founded by Justin Kan. There is even an economic factoid to all of this. The article points out how even the expensive video livestreaming world has seen its costs drop exponentially. It quotes someone involved with the site who says their costs per "user hour" have dropped from 36 cents to less than a penny. Apparently the site was just supposed to be the vLog of its founder Mr. Kan, but Justine E. must be what they describe as "select group of beta broadcasters".

What it all means? I dunno, but do not expect a null space video feed anytime soon. Can you imagine how dull that would be? but I can see the future factoid now... what city will be the vLoggiest someday.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

OT: Read this only if you want to feel old

This has nothing to do with my weekend avocation, but Wired News finds a powerpoint presentation that explains the Navy's perspective on the millenial generation. It really has an interesting perspective of one generation's view of another. But this one snapshot sums up a lot of it. The interesting thing is that the audience for this must think this is new information.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Still S'Liberty

Just for any old time East Enders out there. Via the East Liberty Post is a note about this column in the Pittsburgh Courier: Still S'Liberty. Mentioned is the Gazebo in Shadyside. It's been gone longer then the Balcony hasn't it? Yet no mention of Bolan's or Mannsemans.

And more from the East End: Any high school teachers out there? via the Friendship (the neighborhood) blog comes this info on the American Planning Association's Student Essay Contest on Creating a Green Neighborhood Plan. Someone here should be all over that, and it has a $5K prize. Here is what the it said:

2007-08 High School Essay Contest

Creating a Green Neighborhood Plan

THE ESSAY ASSIGNMENT: Everyone lives in a neighborhood, whether they live in a large city, a suburb, a small town, or even a rural area. For this essay, consider your neighborhood and create a plan to make it green and environmentally friendly.

Length: Essay is no less than 1,200 words and no more than 1,500 words.

If you know a talented high school student who would like to write a planning essay to compete for a $5,000 scholarship, please visit:


young people and wages... or is it wages and young people?

As a few know, but many more suspect, the oped that appeared last week in the Post-Gazette Paid Less in Pittsburgh, was enough to drive me into deep apoplexy. Why? The thesis was simple enough, young people are paid less in Pittsburgh and that is why they are leaving. It’s a bit of Pittsburgh orthodoxy that is taken as gospel truth by most everyone here, yet it is economic gibberish in many ways. The oped ends with a simple question: “So why should we be paid less?”. I really don’t know where the ‘should’ comes from in this context, if you think wages are being set by the market I am a little unclear where the value judgment is coming from… but it is worth asking the question why market wages are lower here in many occupations.

As simple as I can make it, the oped is clearly the perspective of a worker, i.e. labor demand, but says nothing about the labor market. There is this little concept of labor supply that factors into why wages are low and it may be counterintuitive as to why some young people feel they can’t earn as much as they want to in the local labor market.

I also hate to point out that the analysis in the oped is all based on some income statistics pulled from the census bureau. “Income” includes a lot more than just wage and salary earnings such as transfer and retirement benefits, along with other income sources. Due to our odd age demographic, all those income stats are heavily impacted by our elderly population here and say little about what local jobs pay. But no matter in that I don’t dispute the premise that we are paid less here, but it just does not work out to the disparities the oped claims to have discovered. A better source for looking up the “average wage per job” (something very different from median income) across regions is from the BEA. See this link for those who want to look this up themselves:

From which I get these numbers for the regions cited:

Pittsburgh: $38,480
Cleveland: $39,688
Philly: $45,965
Cinci: $39,866
Raleigh: $39,174 (note the oped actually says we get paid 34% less than in Raleigh??... it just isn't even close to being true.)

Before I begin, lets say I just skip the fact that the implied premise, that young people are leaving disproportionately, is baseless. I’ve beaten that to death as much as I can, let’s just look at the economic logic here. And lets stipulate entirely that there are people, many people I bet, who would stay in Pittsburgh or move to Pittsburgh if they could earn the same wage they can get on the open market in many other regions. What does that mean and what does it really say about the region? Something good or something bad? Given equal wages, everyone wants to live in Pittsburgh? Wow!

It is also worth mentioning, but I wont get into, that the oped does the common benchmarking of our educational attainment to other regions looking at the easily extracted statistic for the population age 25 and over. Again, that confuses the issue for us because we have older folks who generally have less education. But I have beaten that to death as well.

Lets talk about young, highly educated, recent college graduates who make up one of the most mobile parts of the labor force. What is Pittsburgh all about these days? We ‘produce’ an inordinate number of college graduates across a wide range of fields. I am pretty sure that if computed a ratio of new college graduates annually to the size of the local workforce would peg Pittsburgh at or near the top among large metro regions. Thus what you get is a nearly perpetual supply of workers being fed to local employers. Think that is affecting local wages? You bet.

Thus the problem is not that so many are leaving, wages are low because so many are staying. Seriously, by any measure, the educational attainment of our young workers ranks high, so somebody is staying…. a lot are staying. If somehow we really retained that many more graduates each year, we would soon become a top-heavy and dysfunctional labor force. The place can’t work with only PhD’s running around serving coffee at Starbucks, let alone working on the shop floor. With an overabundance of college graduates local employers looking for those workers are generally able to meet their needs by paying lower wages, that’s how markets work.

Now I know people bring up the issue of job growth in the region and clearly more job growth would both increase labor demand and also potentially push up wages but that is true everywhere and always. Even if we had several percentage points more growth each year in the workforce (which would be enough to shift us from a job laggard to a job leader among regions) we would still be producing a lot of college graduates for the size of the local labor market. That imbalance would still be there and so would be that wage premia (or negative premia) that we all abhor.

The low wage conundrum has a corollary: why Pittsburgh lags at attracting people to Pittsburgh. It’s just another effect of our high educational production. I have long suspected that local employers have gotten out of the habit, actually I doubt they were ever in the habit, of recruiting nationally for positions. If local employers can meet their needs with local workers it makes every sense for them to do so. It costs more to find and screen candidates from elsewhere… and there is a big hidden cost. Workers who move to Pittsburgh for a job are much more likely to move elsewhere if a better offer comes up. So until local employers are forced to find workers elsewhere, something that may not happen anytime soon as long as our local colleges and universities continue to succeed at their intended missions.

So what does it all mean? Are we are all destined to earn a fraction of what our friends in SF are making? Job and wage growth will come or it will not based on a lot of factors, but confusing the role of local wages is just bad economics. There is no button to push that will raise wages and keep people here. It all comes across as just another perspective that there is something wrong in the water inhibiting our future growth.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Walmart roundup

Catching up with the news that Walmart has decided to not build in Kilbuck, here are a few Walmart related posts from the past.: One of the earliest blog posts here was on a great use of new media in research. See this video-graphic: "The Diffusion of Wal-Mark and the Economies of Density" (wmv file) put together by Thomas Holmes of the Economics Department at the University of Minnesota. Really worth watching. I was reminded of this via Urban Cartography that also points out the youtube version which I will embed below, although the wmv file seems cleaner. That blog also notes the Walmart related article in the WSJ yesterday.

Also, I pointed out in the past. Penn State's Stephan Goetz and Hema Swaminathan made some waves with a paper published on the relationship between the growth of Wal-mart and county poverty rates. Here is a press release on their article "Wal-Mart and County-Wide Poverty" in the June issue of Social Science Quarterly. There is an earlier version of their paper available here.

and in case the big W feels I am picking on them, there is also news out the other day that Walmart has reached its goal of selling over 100 million compact fluorescent light bulbs 3 months early.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007


I suspect most have seen this because I know my friend Mike M.'s blog Pittsblog has an order of magnitude more readers than I do. Nonetheless I feel obliged to point out his post today on the demise of the Mt. Lebanon focused Blog-Lebo. It's sad to think someone in town takes Joe McCarthy for a role model, but that seems to sum up the situation. That or this old Soviet joke:

Товарищ Рабинович, - говорит секретарь на заседаниипартбюро, - у вас есть мнение по этому вопросу?- У меня есть мнение, но я с ним не согласен!


Motley Fool on the Burgh

The Motley Fool has an article about "investing in your own backyard", with a focus on Pittsburgh. Worth a read, and you may be interested in checking out the Bloomberg Pittsburgh Index as well.

At some point I will compose my related thoughts on what I keep hearing about more and more, namely speculative type investment from people elsewhere coming in and investing in local real estate. We have all heard about some high profile investments like that, in particular Holly B's story about coming back to Pittsburgh and rehabbing the Grantite Building. Most have seen it of course, but you can read her related article on the subject in the New York Times last week: Where Everybody knows your team. Ironically, the Trib reported the same day that sales of Granite Bldg condos were not going so well. What I am more curious about is not the high profile investment, but people from NYC and elsewhere I hear about who are buying, sometimes sight unseen, multi units in some of our more depressed neighborhoods and municipalities. I am not sure if this is fact or fiction to the degree it can really be documented.


and just a note... with the news of the (penultimate?) collapse of USAirways here, there is already discussion on subject at USAToday's Today in the Sky Blog. Why "penultimate"? The ultimate collapse would be if they pull out completely, although what is the real difference between 90% pullback and 100%?


and speaking of Pittsburgh in the national news, or international news in this case. I knew our inclines were really called verniculars elsewhere, but the Voice of America actually describes them as "wooden cable cars" in its short piece: Pittsburgh's Wooden Cable Cars Recall Yesteryear.


neoSteel and the internet

Speaking of steel and transformation…. Via the blog Steel Strip World I see a note that the eCommerce site eSteel is shutting down. The story of steel in the B2B internet world is interesting. It’s interesting locally because eSteel had a competitor called MetalSite which looks like it is still around in some various forms: scrapsite. The funny thing about Metalsite was that it was created by Weirton Steel in the late 1990’s and was eventually sold at a tidy profit. I always thought it was an example of how innovative ideas could be created from what were seen as stodgy ‘old’ industries. The problem for Weirton Steel was that even that internet generated profit could not save the underlying business and Weirton Steel would eventually go bankrupt nonetheless, so you can’t push that innovation argument too far. But when you add in the history of Freemarkets here and these smaller endeavors, we really were a hotbed of B2B internet innovation for a time.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007


I know they have been selling the candy for months, but since it is now October it's reasonable to actually talk about Halloween. Check out the web site (including podcasts, message boards, even an online store and more) for the Greater Pittsburgh Paranormal Society. Gives a whole new meaning to the 'greater' part.

I bet there is money in someone offering "Ghost" tours of Pittsburgh. Maybe somebody is doing it already?