Sunday, September 29, 2013

More Pittsburgh and Obamacare

I really don't want to wade too far into the national debate reaching culmination right now, but no matter how that works out, this has to be awfully important when it comes to regional competitiveness in ways I have not fully throught through.

Again just following up on the stories already out there posted yesterday.  Here is the data directly from the Department of Health and Human Services with metropoltian area benchmarking of health care premia under the new Affordable Care Act. I am just struck by how far below the norm Pittsburgh costs are coming in at, near the very lowest among major metro regions across the nation. For a region that wants to attract and retain workers, it has to be a factor for the future.

I will have to defer to HHS to explain (per previous link) all the details on what the difference in plans are, but for the Bronze plans, Pittsburgh has 2nd lowest in this list (not a fully comprehensive list obviously) only higher than McAllen, Texas.  For the Silver and Gold plans, Pittsburgh is cheapest and well below the average.  Per the Kaiser Health System news republished via yesterday, Pittsburgh appears to be not only lower than Philadelphia by large measure, but well below the Pennsylvania average for all three plans. 


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Health care on the cheap

Just passing this on, but it has to be important in a regional competitiveness sense. Reported variously is the fact that health care premia under the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) seem to be coming in significantly cheaper in Pittsburgh. Just within Pennsylvania rates are slated to be more than 77% higher in Philadelphia than in Pittsburgh.  Go figure. For more see: Different rates for same health insurance

but PBT had this a couple days ago:   Exchange rates lower in Pittsburgh

To quote from Kris' latter article "Pittsburghers will have 36 health plans to choose from, with rates starting at $119 a month"


Friday, September 27, 2013

USS Duck - arriving

What more is there to say? More duck video than you can quack at via WIIC:


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Curious case of the disappearing court case

From a purely stream of consciousness path, yesterday's rant got me wondering..... what is up with the case against former county councilman Chuck McCullough? At one point it was regular news and by all accounts quite a circus.

Anyone know what is up? I see no follow up news anywhere in the last year. That and it has now been 6 years since the accusations against him first surfaced.  Do criminal trials usually take 6+ years to get to court?

Curious to look at all the folks connected to the case. It seems that the case against Mr. McC, relating to the disposition of a widow's money, stemmed from revelations first written about by former PG reporter Dennis Roddy who now works for Governor Corbett.  Remarkably McCullough himself was elected to Allegheny County Council after the revelations broke and even though he had publically announced he had withdrawn his candidacy.  However, the timing was such that it was past the deadline to remove names from the ballot and he still wound up beating the candidate who was on the ballot for Republican County Councilperson at large.

Makes you realize how important timing is.  If the accusations against McCullough had popped up just a few weeks earlier, his name would have likely come off the ballot and Kevin Acklin would have been elected without opposition as the dedicated Republican-at-large seat on county council. Makes for some interesting counterfactual speculation on how history would have evolved over the last few years.

update: Asked and answered..... The Null Space gnomes tell me that indeed appeals in the McCullough case are due to be argued on appeal before the Commonwealth's Superior Court in just three weeks (October 22) sitting in Pittsburgh no less.  Actually it appears the court is hearing two McCullough appeals the same day, one for Chuck, and one for his sister Kathleen who was convicted in unrelated cases.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Wanderer

Like there isn't a more perfect straight line for a joke. If only it wasn't true. Where to start with the news that per Trib: Mayoral candidate Wander sold Pittsburgh home, currently in Israel.

I mean, really? You just don't know where to start. It really is bizarre in that he claims he is still a serious candidate. Go read the linked article. Maybe this is all part of some false flag disguise? 
Reporting for duty... or not

Here is the deal. For Republicans who claim they can't get elected locally in Pittsburgh, they are probably right, but you have to think a big part of that comes from the dysfunctional candidates they run repeatedly. One candidate may be an anomaly, but look at the history.

Who are the folks Republicans have run for office in Pittsburgh. Let's start with Joe Cosetti, long time Democrat and city of Pittsburgh treasurer who first registered to run for mayor as a Democrat in 1977, but with 13 minutes before the spring filing deadline he registered as a Republican to eventually run against both popular Dick Caliguiri and Tom Foerester. I'm actually surprised Cosetti garnered the 8% he wound up with. 8%? That has to be below to the Mendoza line of politics.

In 1981 local radio star Fred Goehringer ran for mayor against the popular incumbent Richard Caliguiri.  At the time it was reported as a big victory that he was able to beat the Democratic incumbent who was being written in as well on the Republican primary ballot.

Lost to history but Tom Murphy had an opponent in the form of Kathy Matta in 1993. Kathy could not garner much support even when running for state rep in a district that then inluded the 7th ward, then and now nominally the most Republican of wards in the city. She did better than Cosetti, but not by much and lost to Tom Murphy with only 14% of the vote.

Harry Frost ran against Tom Murphy in 1997. His slight issue was that he himself had recently gone bankrupt and was living on a friend's couch while campaigning. At least he was a Republican I guess. And despite his personal problems bested Matta by a long shot with 21% of the vote.

Tom Murphy was so popular in 2001 (cough) that the Republican party had to have a rare primary to decide whether Mark Rauterkus or Jim Carmine ran against him in the fall. Problem there is neither were really Republicans before or since, both self-described Libertarians. But still, Murphy at his least popular was able to trounce Carmine who only got 23% of the vote.  But you know... there is a trend there.

Joe Weinroth, and I like Joe... the most normal guy of the pack, had the unenviable task of running against the popular Bob O'Connor in 2005 with a base in Squirrel Hill that paralleled much of O'Connor's. If he was from some other part of the city he might have not lost by so much. The even bigger issue is that he had no support at all from his own party. Virtually no money and parsimoniously few endorsements even, or especially, among Republicans. Yet, he still managed to get 27% of the vote. You have to wonder what he might have received if the Republicans in town merely acknowledged his candidacy.

Who else? Then there is Mark Desantis who ran for mayor, at least on paper in 2007. If ever there was a candidate who showed less interest, or maybe better to say less enthusiasm for running for office I can't quite place him or her. Maybe he was playing to the meme that he was drafted to run, which you have to believe since he really exuded disinterest. He really didn't file to run and was put on the ballot by write in if I recall. So he didn't even need to go through the effort of collecting petitions in the spring. Still he garnered 35% of the vote proving what I am pretty sure the baseline is for what most any Republican can count on for a candidate running a traditional campaign. I swear he left 10% on the table by just lack of interest. If he had run as an independent in that race it would have been 50-50.

Anyone else? Kevin Acklin ran in 2009. So yes, he ran as an independent, but that has to be a technicality. He was touted for a whole election cycle by Republican Party bosses as the guy to run in the fall. Only he fooled them and registered as an independent the day before petitions were due to be filed in the spring. For long party bosses like Jim Roddey would point out it was not their fault there was not a Republican in that cycle because they were planning on it being Acklin and the timing did not leave them any possibility of fielding another candidate. Based mostly on support that parallels Republican voting patterns he got 19%, still third behind the curious campaign of F. Dok Harris who came in second.

and now Wander... What a surprise, what a cliché. You have to take into account that in the spring when parties were working to line up candidates it was still expected that the incumbent would be in office and was a heavy favorite to win the Democratic party primary. Still an incumbent more vulnerable in the fall election than most Democrats have been in decades... yet the only Republican candidate to file was a guy known mostly as a suburban constable, an end-of-the-world prepper and for his hatred of all things French. Now not even deigning to stick around though the very peak of the fall electioneering season. I really thought he was an absurdist candidate before this point. Now I am left sans adjective.

The point for Republicans even if the race was futile would be to raise issues, stake a claim and build a base for the future. As is the story of the Steelers these days, the first thing you have to do to get out of a hole is to stop digging. But all you ever hear is an excuse about registration stats which I have to tell you are misleading. Plenty of Republican residents in the city of Pittsburgh register as Democratic because they know it is the only way their vote will matter given how silly the fall election is cycle after cycle.

and you really can't blame Wander himself for any of this. Remember, he was unopposed in the Republican primary. Only guy to file.  None of this is about he who is symptom of a far larger failing. It's not his fault he was the nominee. Give him some credit for jumping into the ring. This is all a story of the city and county Republican party and its apparachiki.

Come to think of it. I am upset I did not catch the real estate transaction may have lead to the story. Go read the linked story at the beginning.  It has taken weeks for anyone to even notice that he sold his only Pittsburgh residence and appears to have been out of the country for at least a little while.  Tree - woods - sound? Nobody noticed the moving van?

Let's end with the great math of the Cosetti team decades ago. Remember, he wound up with 8%.And he had at least enough money for a full page advertisement in the local papers, it was a serious campaign...


Monday, September 23, 2013

Gin and taxes

Last week PAIndependent pointed out a development in Harrisburg that could have a small impact on the City of Pittsburgh. See: You’re buying: Can PA munis drink their way out of debt? The big idea... Act 47 communities could be given the power to impose their own drink taxes to raise revenue.

What is the biggest municipality in Pennsylvania under Act 47?

I was reminded of that because KDKA is following up the story today:  New Bill Could Mean Higher Taxes On Drinking Or Working In Pittsburgh. The typical counterarguments arise in Jon's coverage.  Would alcohol consumers shift their purchases outside the city if there was a City of Pittsburgh specific tax?  Reminds me of similar argument against both the Alleheny County drink tax, but also to the Allegheny County supplemental RAD-financing sales tax.  Everyone seemed pretty sure the same calamity would result from both of those new taxes.  Think anyone wants to follow up those past stories?  Has alcohol consumption shifted outside of Allegheny County?  Is the entire retail sector in Allegheny County kaput?

Of course taxes are just one part of the economics of drinking.  I have an idea for an essential benchmarking exercise.  How about the Gin and Tonic index? Is the cost of drink at a competitive disadvantage here compared to...  Cleveland?  Need some primary research from our intrepid spirits-beat reporters in town!


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Some trends are hard to see.....

... others not. With August data an update of the state of the Marcellus through most of Pennsylvania. Funny how the drum beats so much less on the downside than when going up.

If you are pondering the future. the most recent data is the worst.  There were 1,000 mining and logging jobs lost in Pennsylvania (net of Pittsburgh) between July and August.  That is the biggest month over month drop I can find. Probably one of the biggest non-strike induced drops ever.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Broken Arrows

I was traveling recently and near Chicago I saw a couple with matching "B-25 Recovery Team" t-shirts. Instinctively I thought they were from Pittsburgh and was about to say hellow, but on closer inspection I saw it was for another B-25 that crashed in Alaska some time ago.  What B-25 was I thinking of?  The one that must be in the Mon of course. There has long been speculation on what the cargo was of the B-25 that crashed in the Monogahela River in 1956. Folks continue to look for the plane today and rumors seems to expand over time. Remarkably the story continues to make local news here.

Comes to mind because of news today from over the pond of a bit of Cold War history. The UK's Guardian reports on a North Carolina B-52 crash in 1961 that could have been catastrophic.

Less mysterious, but with curiously little written on over the years, was the 1964 crash of a B-52 that crashed on Big Savage Mountain just a couple hours from Pittsburgh. Little mystery and no denying the bomber was armed with two thermonuclear bombs. Little doubt the bombs were real given that the plane was returning from a Cold War Chrome Dome patrol. People forget already just how serious the Cold War was.

They also forget what people worried about back in Ozzie and Harriet days. I just don't understand how anyone looks back nostalgically on the 1950s given what everyone was worried about. Again just one headline from the 1951 series of articles by John Troan, later editor of the Pittsburgh Press, on how Pittsburgh would survive an atomic war:

So serious was the threat of Pittsburgh being bombed that barely a year after Troan's series, defensive military forces were deployed into the Pittsburgh region for the first time since the Civil War in April 1952. That month a column of soldiers and heavy equipment and artillery, the first elements of what would be named the Pittsburgh Air Defense Command, rumbled through the streets of McKeesport to set up a ring of 90mm antiaircraft guns on 12 sites in the region. The Mon Valley was to be defended at all costs from Soviet bombers. 


Friday, September 20, 2013

Labor Force Then, Labor Force Now

Just reading from yesterday the PG's version of what is interesting in the latest dump of date from the American Community Survey. See: Pittsburgh's median family income rises

The article notes the +2.4% growth in the region's labor force over the most recent year of data (2011-2012).  Might be interesting to compare that growth to the average annual growth in the region's labor force over the previous 4 decades. 

Hmmm... what does that mean? (rhetorical question)  For the record there is a bit of mixing and matching data sources in that graphic.  The ACS data is different from the CPS driven LAUS data which is what I uses to compile the decade averages. The LAUS data is showing a +1.92% labor force growth for the region between 2011-2012, a little less than the ACS data. Even so, +1.92% is the fastest annual growth in the region's labor force in two decades, the 2nd fastest annual growth since 1979.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mystery factoid

For the über factoid of the day you need to go over to the Pittsburgh Urban Blog.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Global 'burghers and even denizens outside of Pittsburgh's East End may not understand why there is so much local coverage of the closing of the Quiet Storm Restaurant in Friendship.  Not many corner restaurants get help from the (presumptive) mayor of a big city. In fact QS often got the shout out from afar. See:  Culturemap Austin: What are America's Next Hipster Cities. Gratuitously I'll point out the same article says "Pittsburgh is bubbling with young people molding the city into what they want it to be."  Ok, then.

Wait, wait.. Breaking news even. Quiet Storm has a temporary home per the CP: Penn Avenue coffeehouse finds temporary shelter at AVA while search for a permanent home continues. That literally popped up as I typed, but I'll continue my thought.  People kill for this much earned media.

To continue......

One of the news articles describe the Quiet Storm as the 'Ritters of the new generation'.  That reference itself begs a serious Yunzer cred at least for the older crowd. Ritters has a unique panoply of clients often as diverse as Paul O'Neill for early early AM breakfasts, the late Nick Perry for lunch and late late at night with Pirate Parrot. It's the stuff of legends and a Pittsburghism that all would be at the counter side by side.

Consider there is news from Ritters as well that has fallen below the radar.  For decades Ritters was almost the only accessible 24 hour restaurant in Pittsburgh. The big news is that just recently they have scaled back their hours and on Mondays and Tuesdays the restaurant is now open only between 6am and 10pm.   I bet more than a few nocturnal folks are showing up at the odd hours only to be surprised to find they are not to be served.  But the 24/7 home port is gone and not much of a replacement around. For now the weekends are still covered.

Still, overblown news?  Now roll back and remember some of the bigger debates on what would determine the future of the city of Pittsburgh.  I recall a still-recurring argument that what Pittsburgh lacked, and what it needed to attract the workers of the future, was more of a 24-hour infrastructure. For example see this in the PG in 2002: Pittsburgh won't attract fresh faces with stale thinking. Pittsburgh was usually pointed out as the antithesis of the 24 hour city concept. Indeed there was not much of a 24 hour scene in Pittsburgh's formal economy a decade ago. Curiously the Quiet Storm never had very extensive hours in the first place and with Ritters' revamped hours, there is even less 24-hour atmosphere now.  Pittsburgh is falling behind the 24-hour atmosphere curve even further. We must be doomed.  It also explains why things have gone so badly over the last decade.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

$123.6 Billion

I noted last month that a major change in how Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is being calculated could have a significant impact on the calculated size of Pittsburgh's regional GDP.  2012 updates for regional (MSA) GDP are out today, but the latest metro data does not yet incorporated the changes I pointed out that focused on how Research and Development activities are measured and capitalized. per the BEA's Press Release:
The statistics of GDP by metropolitan area released today are consistent with the GDP-by-state statistics released in June 2013 and incorporate revisions to national GDP by industry released by BEA in December 2012. However, these statistics do not incorporate the comprehensive revision to the national income and product accounts released in July 2013. The comprehensive revision included the capitalization of research and development expenditures and artistic originals and improved measures of transactions for defined benefit pensions; these will be included in the September 2014 release of GDP-by-metropolitan-area statistics. Changes in GDP will likely be concentrated in metropolitan areas where industries affected by these revisions account for a notable portion of total GDP. (emphasis added)

So we will have to wait another year to see what impact the revised methodology has on Pittsburgh metrics. For now the 2012 GDP for the Pittsburgh MSA is officially $123.577 billion annually.Nonetheless, the 2012 GDP for the region marks a jump of 3.6% over the previous year, which was itself revised upwards.When adjusted for inflation it works out to a 2.1% gain in real GDP. For both real and nominal its slower than recent growth for the region which had been growing about as fast as anywhere for a couple years. This year the growth rate is about in the middle of the pack for metro regions per the BEA's map:


Monday, September 16, 2013

Coal vs. Gas

Per previous post and again inspired by Tim's recent article: EPA's proposed new regulations could keep coal industry reeling. I just realized the big turning point that recently happened in the local mining sector.  Below is the time series for employment in coal mining compared to oil and gas extraction.  In the 3rd quarter of 2011, regional employment in coal mining dropped below employment in in oil and gas extraction for the first time. Probably for the first time ever. Kind of historic.

As much as the story of late is about the growth in shale development, what sticks out to me is just how low coal mining has dropped. I know the whole "War on Coal" meme is out there, but the trend in local coal mining employment has been down for a long time. Under 1,800 jobs in the region today compares to over 78K coal mining jobs in the Pittsburgh region in 1913, down 98% over the century. I would not be surprised if the buggy whip industry retained a greater percentage of its past employment.

Coal mining is NAICS 2121, Oil and gas extraction is NAICS 2111. Some data is suppressed, but the trend is awfully clear. Obligatory caveat is that this is data for the 7 county MSA, which does not include Greene County. Greene County itself still has ~3K coal mining jobs, so almost 70% more than the entire Pittsburgh MSA. The 1913 number cited is for a 6 county MSA that also does not include Greene County.

Data used for graph above as follows:

Coal Mining Oil and Gas Extraction
2006Q4 2,505 752
2007Q1 1,999 753
2007Q2 1,940 803
2007Q3 832
2007Q4 838
2008Q1 1,991 920
2008Q2 2,039
2008Q3 2,046 1,030
2008Q4 2,100 1,041
2009Q1 1,864 1,081
2009Q2 1,770 1,002
2009Q3 1,766
2009Q4 1,765
2010Q1 1,754
2010Q2 1,778
2010Q3 1,827
2010Q4 1,855 1,510
2011Q1 1,772 1,647
2011Q2 1,837 1,723
2011Q3 1,819 1,870
2011Q4 1,822 1,948
2012Q1 1,842
2012Q2 1,815
2012Q3 1,817 2,448
2012Q4 1,782 2,456


Saturday, September 14, 2013

King Coal Forever....

....  depends on how you define 'forever'. 

Trib the other day: EPA's proposed new regulations could keep coal industry reeling.The 'keep' part is right.  How much coal mining is left in Pittsburgh? Or, given the compounding increases in labor force productivity, how many coal mining jobs remain? Consider that the total number of coal mining jobs in the Pittsburgh MSA is now under 2K at most.  That's it.  <2K*.  Coal jobs once far outnumbered those in steel, but the job losses came earlier and are now far from our collective memory. Nearby West Virginia remains much more of a coal based economy, but still the time has come when the unthinkable has been asked more and more. PolicyMic: What Happens in States Like West Virginia After Coal?
There were once so many coal jobs in Western Pennsylvania that it fueled much of the region's population growth and diversity. Read about the region's Syrian-American population mentioned today in the National Geographic: Syria's War Hits Home for Immigrants:
"Some Alawites found mining jobs in towns around Pittsburgh—the population in New Castle, Pennsylvania, is estimated to have reached several hundred in the 1930s and had its own social club, El-Fityet Alaween. More Alawites came with later waves of Syrian immigrants."

So I'm guessing at numbers I don't have, but I am betting there were once almost as many coal miners across Southwestern Pennsylvania born in the Levant alone than there are coal mining jobs in total today. How is follow people or people follow jobs?  

* Under 2K is indeed the number of coal mining jobs in the 7-county MSA.  Note that Greene County is not included in the MSA and has a sizable concentration of coal jobs in addition to that.


Friday, September 13, 2013

It's all about PPPs

That would be Parking - Pittsburgh and Politics of course.  If you ever wanted to summarize the unwritten history of urban development here, you could not say more with less than this sublime 1961 advertisement.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

October 1992

Everyone has been on the 20 years since The Slide meme so I guess it's my turn.  In a lot of ways October 1992 is seminal point in time for Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh had just endured what may be the worst economic decade any region has experienced in the peacetime history of the nation. Yet by October 1992 things appeared to reach a certain normality again. A few weeks earlier, September's total employment  in the 7 county region reached over 1.1 million for the first time in 11 and a half years. 1992 was probably one of the earlier years where you saw Pittsburgh mentioned in terms of a rustbelt revival.  It was a long revival in coming.

So what brought about the revival? Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series was on October 14, 1992. Just two weeks earlier the new Midfield Terminal at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport had just opened.  For much of the previous decade the prime focus of regional economic development efforts was getting the new terminal built.  You may think we were doing all sorts of other things. However, if you break down the cash the public invested, the airport funding dwarfed all that we might today call Technology Based Economic Development (TBED) efforts, no matter how the history is being written.

So here we are two decades later. Ironically in the news just the other day, the passenger traffic is now sliding even faster and faster of late. We had a lot more passengers 20 years ago.  In fact, it's unlikely the airport will ever again even come close to the number of flights, passengers or economic impact it had in 1992.

What else is not really mentioned much elsewhere?  There was this little event that continues to have repurcussions today.  Most know that the local ink media was shut down in October 1992 because of an ongoing strike that kept both the Pittsburgh Press and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from operating.  Not only one of the biggest media strikes in history, but one that saw the Pittsburgh Press go out of business before it was over.  Folks today may not appreciate how traumatic it all was. At the time, there were few alternatives for much of the news that came by ink. No WWW to feed news to you via innumerable modalities. What news did Pittsburghers find hardest to replace?  I suggest it was the obituaries. So desperate was the public to keep up with daily obituaries that local TV news dedicated a portion of their newscasts to run a stream of the lastest notices. October 1992 was probably the point of no return for a strike that had already been going on for 6 months. Opened up the market for some upstart competition from a smaller suburban newspaper once known as the Greensburg Tribune Review. One other repurcusion... the 1992 strike was also the death of the paperboy across Pittsburgh.  (was there any gender equality in paper delivery? The job always appears to be referred to in the masculine.) I'd say someone ought to write an in depth series looking back on the impacts of the strike, but I think most of the potential authors in town are conflicted by the history.

Things were looking up for manufacturing in the region, sort of.  Just a year before, in October 1991, the Sony Corporation began making TV's at their New Stanton site which had again been redeveloped for a 3rd time, after Chrysler and Volkswagen had invested there.  By October 1992 the site had recently expanded to produce the latest in rear projection TV's. Yes, rear projection TV's.The wave of the future and the building block of the region's new electronics cluster. Remember the Sony chip design group set up in the Rubicon Building a few years later in the environs of that which would become Eastside? It's all connected.

More technology?   1992 was indeed the year that Pittsburgh's Urban Maglev Group was founded. That was the slow speed maglev mind you, but still.  Too much history to talk about in that ... a lot of it is relevent today. For another post on another day. 1992 was a big year for Pittsburgh's high speed Maglev Inc. as well. Yes, the same Maglev Inc. that went bankrupt last year. Don't let anyone say we Yunzers are not patient when it comes to pursing economic development policies... Maybe that is our secret sauce?

and no, Border Guard Bob was not yet a glint in the eye of the powers that be anywhere in town. It was actually an odd year when it comes to keeping young people in the region.  1992 was the only year in a span stretching decades before, and decades after that there was positive net migration into the Pittsburgh region. Not a lot mind you, but with a national recession ongoing and Pittsburgh not showing a comparable dip, it was a small analogy to recent times when more folks found Pittsburgh a better economy than elsewhere.  They were voting with their feet and moving into (or not leaving) Pittsburgh.  But it was very fleeting, lasting only the year at most.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bigger than Frost/Nixon......

.... at least in Yunzerworld.  WTAE's Shannon Perrine has the Bream interview:  From Sid Bream to Pittsburgh Dad, Pirates fans rejoice after win No. 82

No embedding as far as I can engineer, so you will have to click through the link to watch the video.  Don't quite get the Pittsburgh Dad foil to it all, but no matter.  Now I can sell my Bream bobblehead. 


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What now Lower Hill?

Paging Dr. Smith:


Saturday, September 07, 2013

A tale of two layoffs

Two recent headlines that received far different levels of attention:

One that made a lot of news a few weeks ago: Buffett-Backed Heinz Cuts 600 Jobs, Pushes Accountability

More recently one with only passing media interest: American Eagle, BAE closings will affect hundreds of jobs here

Which is more important?  No doubt the Heinz story had almost international import.  The connections to Pittsburgh's history extend back centuries at this point. But the American Eagle jobs?   Works out to just about the same number of jobs.  Maybe a bit lower paying, but still were they  really de minimus compared to the tsunami of coverage over Heinz? You might think so just reading the news coverage of the two items. 

Here is the thing.  The job losses at Heinz were about as well telegraphed a layoff as ever Pittsburgh has seen in a long time. Heinz as bought out whole by a partnership including Warren Buffet and others.  Buffet has long loved the retail food sector and must know something about how the biz.  It was presumed job losses would come at Heinz's corporate HQ and those job losses would have happened wherever they were located. In fact they did happen across the company and losses elsewhere were comparable to Pittsburgh.  It is not like the jobs were moved elsewhere.  The whole episode said almost nothing about the competitveness of Pittsburgh as a region or a regional economy, just nothing. There was nothing Pittsburgh, nor any other region for that matter, could have done to keep those jobs.

American Eagle is a different story.  The jobs were not eliminated, but indeed moved elsewhere.  Not even moved to some other part of the nation or world, but merely across to the other side of Pennsylvania. The location, i.e. Pittsburgh, was not working for them. The jobs themselves were really in the transportation and warehousing more than retail.  So all the effort you may have heard of folks thinking Pittsburgh could be a big warehousing center?  Not only that, but if oneof the major retail companies located in Pittsburgh does not find Pittsburgh a great place for this type of operation, what does that say for trying to build a broader cluster from companies without a Pittsburgh base? Seriously more important for the future of Pittsburgh than the Heinz news.

The 2nd item in the PGT story linked about BAE is also something of note.  The BAE jobs lost came from work refurbishing Bradley Fighting Vehicles and self-propelled howitzers.  What were Bradley Fighting Vehicles designed for?  Fast moving mechanized warfare though the Fulda Gap (sorry, my inner defense analyst comes out sometimes). Same for self propelled howitzers for the most part.  So the world has changed and best not to overinterpret what it says about the Pittsburgh region. However it does bode more of the long term trend with Pittsburgh less and less of a defense based economy.  Not gone mind you, and some has morphed in hard and soft tech. The jobs are just Still, I've pointed out that literally written into the statutes of the city of Pittsburgh is an explicit annual requirement (requirement mind you) long ignored to measure the defense impact on the local economy.  How much of city code is actually ignored is a story for another day.

Ok.. that was three layoffs.


Friday, September 06, 2013

Pittsburgh and the Bicycle Crank

The PGDigs Tumbr page had a neat collection of photos the other day from Pittsburgh's bicycle boom of the early 1970s. Of course, it was not the first bicycle boom in Pittsburgh. For that you have to go back a few more decades and the era of Frank Lenz and his tragic trek around the world.

Not just a traveler and explorer, but writer and photographer as well. Sort of Pittsburgh's own Wilfred Thesiger. And just imagine carrying around a 19th century camera while trying to cross the planet.

I'm serious, is there not a movie to be made about Lenz, arguably one of the greatest American adventurers? Lenz's departure from Pittsburgh must have been the 2nd most important trek to originate in Pittsburgh since Jefferson's assignment to two folks who set out on a keelboat built here earlier in the 19th century.

But if you want to read about Pittsburgh's proto bicycle scene try this article about Lenz from the Pittsburgh Press in 1892. In paticular it describes the typical Bicycle Crank of the day:
The bicycle crank differs from every other variety of the genus crank. At first glimpse of sunshine in the spring he commences to dream about a new wheel and puts in the next month visiting the different agencies, studying the new patterns, trying to arrange a deal for his old machine, etc. At each stopping place he talks a man to death and finally goes home disgusted with a head full of facts and theories. He nary makes up his mind to keep his old wheel but next morning he is round once more always on the lookout for something new whether he buys or not. With the lowest figure from half a dozen agents he sits down and commences to play games with himself to see what wheel he will buy. Finally he buys and then he sorry for a whole season he did not wait a little while longer and bore a few more people. About the time for another other season he commences to fall in love with his old wheel, but the talk of 92 or 93 models once more distracts him and he becomes melancholy mad for another period.


Thursday, September 05, 2013

Weird Wandering Wonkery

Google turns 15....  Just imagine, Lycos would have been 19 going on 20. 

Remember the angst when Lycos left Pittsburgh for Boston? Supposedly it was because of a lack of workers here, but in all likelihood nothing more than the preference of the VC that bought them out in the historic IPO.  Pittsburgh fretted over all the potential jobs and future growth lost. It was not just Lycos, but some may recall when local news was abuzz with talk of founded locally (I do not make this up) as the future of business on the Internet. Somehow places like Fore Systems and Freemarkets could both ramp up tech hiring rapidly here, but Lycos' departure supposedly reflected some vast failure within the region. Unable to keep young workers here would doom us. Never again would the search engine biz return to Pittsburgh it was said. Thus became the likely spark of logic that later begat Border Guard Bob among other counterproductive regional neuroses.

Pardon, it is not appropriate to talk of Lycos in the past tense. Ironically something I learn about by asking Google. What was all that fretting about again?

As a related and more substantial aside, interesting story out of Boston on another 90s legacy web company and the divorce of from the Boston Globe.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

There are interviews, and there are interviews

PG covers the city's über appratchiki: Pittsburgh budget monitor has own budget woes.

Of course the real story there for most people is that the ICA still exists.  But as for the 'news' on Mr. Sciortino....... Nothing really new in any of that other than being noticed in depth for the first time.  Well, not the first time. Still the most in depth interview of the subject over his whole career  appears to be from Bram some years ago: Getting To Know Supreme Viceroy Sciortino

I think Bram is telling us that his demeanor was one of... 'who are you exactly Mr..  uh... comet?', but he was game to talk obviously.  More than he has been on record anywhere else before or since. 

Now might be worth looking into the real work of the ICA which is going on a decade.  I was curious what they have been up to of late and tried to call up the RFP for Web Services on this page, but all I got ironically was a Study of city's Bureau of Building Inspection. That is not to nitpick web editing, but says something about how much interest there has been in all the ICA has been up to over the years. I bet nobody ever noticed.

When Bram did his interview the ruminations of the ICA really mattered, but I'd say the story today is the beginning of the end for the ICA. Actually the story is also pretty clear most operations of the ICA have already wound down.  Past budgets were much bigger and included lots of things.  Anyone remember the money spent on the ERASE study which the ICA itself backed away from.. even spending 6 figures to essentially do again?


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

If today is the day......


Monday, September 02, 2013

1979 all over again

Obligatory read of the day from the New York Times: Pittsburgh's Stirring Leap From the Abyss

It's a great read, but take a look again at the conflicted economic history. The story says:
Some 60,000 people, Tekulve said, enough to fill Three Rivers Stadium, had gathered to greet their heroes at 3 a.m. The steel industry was in steep decline, but the Pirates had joined the Steelers atop the sports world. People were proud.  (emphasis added)
The steel industry was in steep decline? Really? This was the topic yesterday here, but consider the story in the Trib yesterday that said 1979 was the peak of the region's manufacturing boom. Boom? Steep decline? How can both be right? I really think both versions are wrong.

The date for Pirates return to the city must have been the early morning of October 18, 1979. First people remembered cheering the Steelers through 4 Superbowl years through the worst of the economic miasma only to happen a decade later, and now the same for the Pirates? Average unemployment in the Pittsburgh region through the first 9 months of 1979 was 6.1%; lower than the annual average over the previous 4 years, and lower than the unemployment rate in the region today with all of its positive PR buzz of late.

So again, the story was neither boom, and certainly no bust.  Manufacturing employment in the Pittsburgh region averaged 288K in 1979, barely a measurement error difference from 290K manufacturing jobs in the region in 1971. In fact, in August of 1979 the 7-county Pittsburgh region had just recorded a new all-time peak employment of 1,099,700... more than ever before in the past. Those cheering fans? Not only were there more folks employed here in the region, but in 1979 we reached a peak for how much higher than the national average local wages were. They were both employed and well paid. Yet it just does not fit the narrative that seems to so fit the mythos of the rabid unemployed fans.  It's exactly the opposite of the story that keeps getting repeated.

1980 and forward was a different story. With the exception of a one month spike of jobs in March 1981, the region would take 13 years to reach the same employment peak. It was October 1992 when the Pittsburgh region reached the same employment peak it had reached in 1979.  Yes, ironically the very month of the slide.

But who cares... we are now within innings of 0.500. 


Sunday, September 01, 2013

Power of Positive Pontification

I ponder this every time I see the advertisement: Drilling is just the beginning - American Manufacturing. An immensely feel good ad for sure, right up there with Eminmen's video on Detroit, or more generally Clint's halftime in America meme. But I also saw this story yesterday. Trib: Region's companies manufacture a resurgence. Sort of backs it up... or something?

The article is a bit befuddling to me where it talks about the "height of the manufacturing boom in 1979"?  I thought everyone believed that the 70s were dire times for local steelworkers vis a vis the Super Bowl mythos??   There actually was a late 70s boom(let) of sorts in manufacturing jobs here because of a spike in pipeline manufacturing creating thousands of jobs at local plants.  I'm not sure that is is the reference however. That and it wouldn't be such a positive story since the oil-induced pipeline manufacturing jobs of the late 70s dried up far faster than they ever arrived. Despite the mythos, our pipeline manufacturing jobs this time around have never really kicked off the ground locally, though there are signs of life elsewhere of late.  The painful truth is that local manufacturing employment is now a lower percentage of total Pittsburgh jobs than in boffin-filled Boston? Think about that factoid for a minute.

In the bigger scheme of things, there certainly was no meaningful boom in manufacturing for Pittsburgh during the 1970s. For reference I believe the peak manufacturing employment in Pittsburgh came in at 389 thousand workers in 1952, a level even higher than I believe the region hit during the frenetic production during World War II. With the exception of a Vietnam War induced surge in the late 60s, the longer term trend for manufacuting jobs has been nearly continuously down since the early 50s. Through the 70s you see some bouncing around in the numbers having to do more with national economic turmoil, but otherwise the slow structural change that accelerated soon into the following decade. 

Realize that there are some known hits coming soon to local manufacturing employment numbers.  There are a reported 500 folks still on the job at the Horseheads zinc plant hat are likely to be laid off by the beginning of the year. It will be one of the biggest structural job losses in the local manufacturing sector since the closing of the Sony Plant. At the earliest it will be years before only some of that number will be employed operating the still notional ethane cracker.  Far from Pittsburgh I know, but nearby Erie is about to take an existential hit to its manufacturing sector as some of its mainstay railroad manufacturing jobs move to Texas.

Still... some discern a positive trend out of the graphic below.  We are an insignificant fraction above the all time low for this metric.  I suspect that when the zinc workers lose their jobs this chart will dip to a new all-time low early in 2014. If this is the picture of resurgence, I shudder to think what a downturn looks like.