Friday, January 31, 2014

Ray, a drop of golden sun

I never stop learning something new about the Pittsburgh economy. I had no idea we were a center of musical instrument repair. Looking at the latest data on occupational wage and employment stats from the BLS, here is a list of the local occupations with the highest reported location quotients. Some sure seem obvious, but #4 there is for "Musical Instrument Repairers," with a LQ of 4.0.  Any LQ over 1.0 is something to think about.   


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Disruption happens

In 1908 the U.S. Steel Corporation built its first  electric arc furnace steel plant at it's Gary Works in Indiana. Electric arc furnaces later became the core of the disruptive technology known as the steel mini-mill

So maybe U.S.S. was not as swift as we might have hoped for in taking advantage of its early lead in the new technology. But better late than never. Yesterday in the WSJ: ‘Times Have Changed’: New Plan For a Century-Old U.S. Steel Mill.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Green Button Burgh?

While governments, large and small are often the focus of open data efforts, they shouldn't be the only focus. Note I see no local entities on this list of utilities which have adopted the "Green Button Standard."

Just saying... as I watch the temperature drop. I may not actually want a real time data feed of my NatGas usage right now anyway. 


Sunday, January 26, 2014


That is the percentage of passengers flying out of PIT on a USAirways (or whatever its current corporate vernacular is?) flight. Yes, less than 1 in 7, or virtually the inverse of a decade ago if you want to think about the speed of disruptive change. I think the .01% is a bit gratuitous, but let's hear it for precision metrics. For more detail here is the most recent data distributed by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics on passenger traffic departing the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport.(btw: I leave the link for this up on the right if you ever want the latest update)


Saturday, January 25, 2014

All things Marcellus

I have no heart to comment more on the endgame for USAirways as an employer of any scale in Pittsburgh...  it's all so the past. Let's check in on all things Marcellus. Lot's going on of late that is mostly under the radar.

Platts: Marcellus shale wells produce less wastewater than conventional wells: study 

SeekingAlpha: Marcellus Shale Sees Large Increase In Legacy Production Decline

 Ohio.Com: CGG completes three-tear Marcellus shale seismic study

PBT: Former Marcellus Shale Coalition Chief starts firm

Finally, and this is the most economically interesting story.. on the fabled shale impact on the chemical industry. It's real for sure, but...   WSJ: NOVA Chemicals announces first petrochemicals utilization of Marcellus Shale ethane at its Ontario cracker

and this is retread of something in the Trib, but mostly because I find the choice of photo with this article a bit bizarre. Upstreamonline:  Sustainable shale group 'has a tough road'

Also, kind of  a side note, but some remember when the big ethane cracker project did not go to West Virginia in large part because the casino they have running at the location in question was just too valuable to move. Story over the weekend implies it was not a bad tradeoff on their part.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Bashing USAirways

For everyone who feels this innate urge to bash USAirways...    the story is so much more convoluted than it is portrayed. For many many years, USAir was clear about what it thought of the plan foisted upon it to upgrade the terminal at the airport. Don't believe me? May 25, 1984:


Soylent Green and economics of the labor force

Pennsylvania's official unemployment rate dropped from 7.3% in November to 6.9% in December 2013.  A 4/10th of a percent drop that the state notices is the biggest one month decline since 1983.  If ever there was a false analogy, consider that the 1983 nominal drop was barely a reversion from the economic miasma of the time.  You have to go back a lot farther than 1983 to find a more growth driven drop in the state's unemployment rate.

Now many will say it is all because workers are dropping out of the labor force due to discouragement. Before you fall into that trap read any of the following:

Philly Fed (November 2013) : On the Causes of Declines in the Labor Force Participation Rate. One quote: "In particular, the decline in the participation rate in the last one-and-a-half years (when the unemployment rate declined faster than expected) is entirely due to retirement."

Urban Institute: Why are fewer people in the labor force during the great recession. Quote: "the dramatic drop in labor force participation during and after the Great Recession has been driven by a decline in labor force entry rates rather than substantial increases in the share of workers leaving the workforce."

Atlanta Fed: Changes in Aggregate Labor Force Participation Rates

Reuters: Bullard: Labor Force Participation Demographic Driven, Not Cyclical. Quote: "labor force participation looks right, adding the rate appears driven by demographics"

Atlantic: No, Obama's Not to Blame for Our Historically Pathetic Participation Rate

NPR: Workers may be missing, or just retiring

I bet that if you decompiled the demographics of Pennsylvania, the impact of aging in Pennsylvania's labor force is greater than what is true for the nation on average. 

 I could go on, and it is another whole story what is going on with local labor force participation rates, but Tuesday's data dump of Pittsburgh MSA jobs data is going to be interesting.  No way to get big statewide changes without a big Pittsburgh component.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

More migration stats

Just a refinement of something I put up a couple of weeks ago that seemed to resonate.  Way too much to try and parse in this one snapshot of what is going on in Pittsburgh, but you have to note how the large recurring flow of college matriculants impacts the entire age distribution for the city proper.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Early Black Flyers of Western Pennsylvania: 1906-1945

Just your daily reading for MLK Day and the upcoming Black History Month.  From the archives of the Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine: Early Black Flyers of Western Pennsylvania: 1906-1945.

The best part is the story of the unheralded Charles Wesley Peters who grew up in Pittsburgh and who is reported to have been the first black to pilot a heavier-than-air craft in 1911. He is also said to be the first African American to actually build an airplane... his skills practiced by making man-carrying gliders he tested himself flying off of Herron Hill..... in 1906!


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Seeking the Sinking Fund Commission

City of Pittsburgh is soliciting applications for the various volunteer, as in unpaid, appointments to the boards, commissions and authorities it has cognizance over.  Some may remember a similar solicitation 8 years ago. Then the call was to fill seats on 38 boards and commissions, though the passing of the late Mayor O. seems to me from the outside to have disjointed that process before it went too far.  Nonetheless, with 10 boards being advertised right now, we seem to have lost a few, for now at least. For example, there is no solicitation as yet for Pittsburgh's Sinking Fund Commission. I'm sure that solicitation will come in the next round. You think I jest? It is an important gig. Note that Cleveland's Sinking Fund Commission is far less stealthy with a web site no less, and even has hours of operation and a telephone number.

and no.... the Sinking Fund commission is not a euphemism for the Pension Board. Maybe it should be, but that is another topic.

I also wonder what this all means for the future of the Stadium(less) Authority which may be getting new board members. Time to wind down the Stadium Authority is it not? The stadium it was created to fund is long gone, but neither the notional local government it spawned (the Stadium Authority is itself a public authority like so many others), nor even an old web site, will go away.

Some say merge the Stadium Authority into the SEA, with which it shares a staff, director and offices.  Problem there is the SEA has joint city and county governance, whereas the Stadium Authority is entirely a vestige of the city.  In the end it is all about debt and who owes what and under what covenants. If anything, the Stadium authority is more likely to be absorbed by the URA if the legal beagles can figure out how to negotiate that.

I've said this before, but the future is all about what happens on the board of the PWSA.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Far, yet not so far, from the Kantō plain

Japan 2014. USAToday: Japan looks for a few good women to revive economy

Pittsburgh 1947:

(Pittsburgh) will, however, slowly decline unless new industries employing women and those engaged in the production of consumer goods are attracted to the area. 

From the "Long Range Outlook for the Pittsburgh Industrial Area," Econometric Institute, stamped February 12, 1947. Ancient history for Pittsburgh?  In some ways yes, but this was a region that was still pretty convinced that there were jobs for men, and different jobs for women into the 1970s


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What for ORSANCO?

If that title didn't lose you, ponder this.  The incident in West Virginia has to be one of the most underplayed news items of the last year.  A great portion of the American population is going to eventually be impacted by the meandering morass resulting from the chemical spill into West Virginia's Elk River a few days ago. See the Wall Street Journal's graphic: Moving Mass.

The New Yorker pokes at a basic question of who was responsible for preventing this type of thing. See: No One’s Job: West Virginia’s Forbidden Waters

Yet the article there does not even mention the one public agency that does have cognizance under the circumstances.  We had an interesting little discussion of this here several years ago... but why so little mention these days of the Ohio River Valley Water and Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO)? They are the folks at least tracking the spill. But except for the most passing of references, they don't seem to be players. If this is not their show, then what is?

Here in Pennsylvania, or at least the other side of Pennsylvania, the Delaware River Basin Commission is much more empowered, so much so that industry has been trying to eviscerate it for years, especially since it impeded much of the shale development that otherwise would have happened in Eastern Pennsylvania.  Might be worth looking back at that whole debate again.

How the politics of this all plays out in WV is complicated.  Reading between the lines it is a trap of sorts.  This current incident results from coal processing, something you might expect the shale forces would want to play up.  Yet any environmental backlash is not going to favor one industry more than the other, so it's too tricky to wade into.  For Pennsylvania, there are going to be some big debates going forward over how the shale-inspired pipeline infrastructure gets developed across the state, and then this new issue of barging of frackwater... much of it underway on the Ohio River and its tributaries. So again it all comes back to the water.


Monday, January 13, 2014

But for Lycos before it

I've decided my next career is as a cyber-industrial archaeologist. Does that occupation exist? Cleaning old files recently I came across archives from a class I taught just a dozen years ago. At the very beginning of course, I asked students some questions just to see what background they had. One question I asked was "In 10 words or less, what is your definition of 'Google'?" The answers I received included:

"It is a search engine to find information not found on Yahoo."

"something of a search method" "1 with a million zeroes"

"Something on the internet, kind of like Yahoo"

"Internet search engine; a 1 with one hundred zeros" (I wanted to give this person an A on the spot)

"A search engine that produces several sites for one topic"

And in the same box with these old questionnaires was a huge stack of cellophane overheads I had prepared for lectures.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Broken Arrows Redux

AP running a story (via Trib): Nuke bomber crashed 50 years ago in western Maryland
Could the AP gnomes read here on occassion. A little more on the same incident in this post from September: Broken Arrows.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Fitch on city finance

Late Friday afternoon release from Fitch Ratings with affirmation of the City of Pittsburgh credit rating. You can read the whole thing if you want.


Thursday, January 09, 2014

River runs through it

Big news not far from Pittsburgh is of a chemical spill into the Elk River near Charlestown, West Virginia.

No casting aspersions here, this has happened to us. On January 2, 1988, 4 million gallons of diesel spilled into the Monongahela River, 25 miles upriver from Downtown Pittsburgh when a tank of the Ashland Oil Company collapsed at Floreffe*, Pennsylvania. At the time it was the largest inland oil spill in US history, though there have been some larger inland spills since.

Two issues are going to arise. First of course are  health and public safety impacts. Right now there are some big impacts as water and power usage has been curtailed across several counties as a result of the new spill.  In the long run there is also how public perception views the incident which will impact those counties much longer into the future. But obscure references R us. There was once a study of public perceptions following the incident.

* I really am curious how a Pennsylvania community was ever named for a Wallonian Abbey? I have no idea. It might even stump the erudite NS commentariat? 


The Ultimate Yunzer Apotheosis

It takes a lot to get the NS A&E editor to produce. I gave a review of this a couple years ago, but there is a reprise of South Side Stories at the City Theater on the South Side. Playing January 8-26.

Having once lived on the South Side when growing up, I can attest to the authenticity of it all. You might need to have lived on the South Side to appreciate just how sublime parts of it really are, but I guarantee that anyone who reads this blog will get their money's worth. You certainly do not need to have lived on the South Side, or even to be from Pittsburgh, to appreciate it.  Maybe those new to Pittsburgh are the folks who really  have to go.  This may be the ultimate rosetta stone to help the new Yinzers understand old Yunzers. Just trust me.


Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Playing with numbers

Just a random graphic factoid I'll leave for others to comment on broadly. Something I was playing with in American Community Survey data released last month.


Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Concording Braddock's Past

Yesterday the world was all atwitter preparing for the overnight freezathon, and there was this little event of a mayoral inauguration downtown along the way, yet I think the biggest news going around virtually everywhere was of the successful crowdfunding effort to raise $250K for a new restaurant in Braddock. Media coverage extends even to CNN at this point, expect more to follow, but a veritable tsunami of earned media.

Ok, got it.  Downtrodden Braddock + New Restaurant = urban renewal and more. 

Call me confused, but didn't this story already run a couple years ago? There was a whole news cycle dedicated to a new restaurant in Braddock, one that even had $500K in Allegheny County CDBG funding (an incredibly sparse commodity) dedicated toward the project. 

So I get that the whatever plan there was fell through I presume. Happens in the best of circumstances, and little in Braddock has optimal circumstances. What I don't get is that none of the media coverage of this 'new' restaurant project even mentions in passing what was a pretty big local news story in 2012. It's as if it didn't happen at all. Did any of it happen? Is the $500K going somewhere else? I am sure there are answers for all those questions, am not suggesting any lack of disclosure. I really don't think anyone has asked those questions. But if it was all worth reporting on before, is it not worth follow-up?

Regrets for the echo chamber in this, but it is completely coincidental that Jim Russell looks at the Braddock mythos from a slightly different angle in this out yesterday as well in Rust Belt Geography and Awful Journalism.

I will only add one statistics for those who really want to claim there has been progress in Braddock of late. The latest poverty statistics released last month* show that the overall poverty rate of Braddock residents is 39.9% and for children under 18 no less than 66.2%.

Overly negative? Maybe, but the list is long of projects or initiatives or plans for Braddock that made news when first announced, but were never mentioned again when they didn't pan out. Tell me anyone reading all this latest news of Braddock gets the message on what real state Braddock is in today. More than a few reading yesterday's news probably think Braddock is in the midst of rapid gentrification. I get into a frighteningly recurring argument with smart folks in town who, based on news coverage as best I can tell, are convinced that all has been fixed there over the last few years.. past tense. That we can somehow move on to other problems and not worry so much about Braddock any longer.

* 2008-2012 American Community Survey.


Monday, January 06, 2014

Old meets new in Pittsburgh

While we wait for Victor Fries to show up, here is a cold Monday morning stream of consciousness.

If you have not seen it, social media is all over an article out of Chicago over the weekend worth a read.Chicago Tribune: New meets old in Pittsburgh. This city is cool. What's more, it's not self-conscious enough to care whether you know it. The lede: "I've never been to a city that loves itself more than Pittsburgh." What do I note more than anything else? The obligatory graf on food points out a French bakery and nary a mention of french fries in the sandwiches anywhere. This fellow obviously did not get the right memo.

I think Jim Russell summarized the article concisely by saying that "Sally Field Pittsburgh is dead."  You need to obsess a bit on the vast history of Pittsburgh ennui to appreciate that review, but if you do it is a pretty remarkable recalibration of our self-image. Still, near the end the author describes the echo he perceived of how (some) locals still think of Pittsburgh as a "washed-out casualty of the Rust Belt."

But yes, we take a long time to move past old perceptions. To quote the inimitable Ben Chinitz writing  in 1960!: "A white shirt will not stay white for as long as it does in any city in the country. But it will take some time to work off our reputation." For some for sure, Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh even past the transversality of the Keynesian long run.

Speaking of old vs. new. The other headline today is of course a small event Downtown today I seem to have heard about in passing. One aspect is a bit of irony in that many describe the change being all about 'youth' taking over the city-council building. The circumstances of LR's taking office being unexpected, but nonetheless he was indeed 26 when he took office, just over half the age of the mayor elect (or mayor depending on when you read this) BP who is 49 I believe.  Turns out that the average age of Pittsburgh mayors when taking office since 1946 is all of 48 50 (eek, original calculation I forgot Sophie, how could I?), a number pulled down a bit by the outlier that was LR, but still people seem to forget that both Pete Flaherty and Richard Caliguiri were both 45 when they took office, and even Murphy at 50 was just a tad bit older than BP today.

For those who like numbers, the age upon taking office for recent Pittsburgh mayors.

Bill Peduto: 49
Luke Ravenstahl: 26
Bob O'Connor: 61
Richard Caliguri: 45
Tom Murphy: 50
Pete Flaherty: 45
Joe Barr: 53
David Lawrence: 56
and of course Sophie Masloff: 70


Sunday, January 05, 2014

Righty tighty, lefty loosey

While there is general advice out there from the experts on how best to keep your pipes from freezing......

.... but if you ask me, if you want to do just one thing in preparation for the deep freeze heading our way, everyone should take the time to locate the water main shutoff to the building they live in, even, or especially, if you have never thought of it in the past. 

Just in case you need to find it quickly.


Friday, January 03, 2014

Wettick winks, JP Morgan blinks

Since I don't see anyone else taking notice, I just have to pass on this apparently de minimus news item.  But when he is not staring down Allegheny County executives and property assessors, Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge Stanton Wettick apparently can take down the largest financial firms in the world without losing a beat. 

Anyways, news today via Bloomberg: JP Morgan Settles Pittsburgh Bank Suit Probing U.S. Deal

Really makes you wonder what is in this document that the judge ordered disclosed.


Does that lede pass muster Jon?


Thursday, January 02, 2014

Younger workers in Pittsburgh

We will just pass on this out today: a focused look at the Pittsburgh region's labor market from our colleagues at the Cleveland Fed: Education and Employment Opportunities for Younger Workers in the Pittsburgh MSA, by Lisa Nelson and Francisca Richter.

Lots of stuff in that, and all worth cogitating on.  No matter what is said about growth elsewhere, they are pretty clear, "REGISTERED NURSES ARE PROJECTED TO HAVE THE LARGEST NUMBER OF ANNUAL OPENINGS AND RELATIVELY HIGH WAGES." Their caps, not mine. But graphics as well. Just one to get you to read more: