The week that was for 05/20/12


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Back to work

Not only do the latest figures from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry show the state's unemployment rate dropped slightly from 7.5 percent in March to 7.4 percent in April, but that drop happened even as more workers were coming back into the labor force. Sometimes, unemployment rates "drop" because people stop looking for work, and no longer count toward the total number of unemployed. But in Pennsylvania, based on a recent population survey, more people had jobs in April than in March.

That labor force news is being driven, in part, out of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, where labor supply grew in March by an estimated 9,100 people, to 1.246 million. That means more people are rejoining the labor force after dropping out of it, and it also means the Pittsburgh region is capturing migrants from out of the area.

Will he or won't he?

Carl Icahn, the Wall Street investor known for his aggressive proxy fights and hostile takeover strategies, still hasn't shown his hand on whether he'll be buying a big stake on Chesapeake Energy Corp., the natural gas company that is active in the Marcellus Shale region.

During a conference call last week, Chesapeake's embattled CEO, Aubrey McClendon, told shareholders that "If he comes in, I'm pretty confident he'll make a lot of money," since news that Ichan is about to invest in a company often gooses stock prices. On May 11, Chesapeake lost about $1 billion in stock value, following the revelation that Mr. McClendon raised cash by taking out personal loans against company wells and properties. After that news was reported, Mr. McClendon was jettisoned as Chesapeake board chairman, but he remains CEO.

In case you missed it ...

... visit post-gazette.com/ business/ to read Steve Twedt's story about the staggering amount of executive turnover at the embattled -- there's that word again -- West Penn Allegheny Health System. The departures have cost the health system millions in retirement and other deferred money.

Likewise embattled ...

... is the former Hilton Pittsburgh, now the Wyndham Grand. The 20,000-square-foot addition has been a metal-and-concrete eyesore for about five years, and the project -- at the western mouth of the city, greeting visitors who enter Downtown via Liberty Avenue -- "has taken longer to complete than either PNC Park, Heinz Field or the Consol Energy Center and is rivaling the 64 months it took to finish the massive, 2.1 million-square-foot midfield terminal project at Pittsburgh International Airport," according to the Post-Gazette's Mark Belko.

The project could be completed by this August. A meteor could hit the city, too, but don't bet the house.

Locked, and dammed

Damned if you do: "Critical repairs to an unstable Ohio River lock have been postponed indefinitely because Crescent township and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot agree on a plan to fix a damaged road that is preventing construction trucks from reaching the lock," according to the PG's Len Boselovic. The Corps wants to repair McCutcheon Way, a township-owned road that leads to the Corps' Dashields Lock and Shouse Park -- but it's a repair project that could temporarily close the baseball park, which the township isn't keen on.

And damned if you don't: "Federal budget woes mean there is no more money for the foreseeable future to make major repairs to aging locks and dams on the Allegheny River, after one last project is completed before Memorial Day weekend, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said."

That's because the Corps' budget for operating and maintaining locks and dams was cut from $8.4 million in the 2011 fiscal year to $4 million this year.

bizopinion

Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.


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