National News

A business with a taste for risk and honey

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 08:13

Every year about 600,000 new businesses open in the United States. Only about half make it past the five-year mark. But of course, that doesn't stop people from trying.

In the early 2000s, Jim Picariello was confident that he had the next great natural foods idea. Just a couple of years before, he and his wife, Jill Day, had moved to a tiny town in Maine. They had just survived the dot come crash and wanted a more peaceful and sustainable lifestyle in rural Blue Hill, Maine. They even built their own home.

After a year of decompressing, Jim woke in the middle of the night with his new product epiphany: Frozen tea pops.

While sitting at his dining room table, he would always make himself a mason jar full of green tea, sweetened with honey, that he would drink while he worked on his laptop. He invariably made too much tea, and would pour the leftovers into a popsicle mold, to freeze and enjoy later. The tea pops were delicious and maybe, profitable.

Picariello quickly raised $25,000 to test recipes and develop his product idea. Before he and his family even realized it, they were starting a new business: Wise Acre Inc.

"When I said go ahead I really didn't feel like we are starting a business," recalls Picariello's wife, Jill Day. "I think that's probably one of the reasons why it even happened, is that I wasn't really aware that that's what we were doing."

The timing was not ideal for the young family: they had a young daughter and a second on the way. But once Picariello began product development, there was great enthusiasm for his idea, and a series of opportunities unfurled in front of him.

In 2007, he took his "Frosteas" and "Frostbites" to the influential Natural Products Expo East trade and was awarded Most Innovative Product, and walked away with a substantial distribution deal.

Quickly he went from making his tea pops in tiny saucepans in his kitchen to needing his own factory and employees. For a while his tea pops were in about 800 stores up and down the East Coast. But it wasn't sustainable, because at that point there weren't enough consumers and his products were languishing in the frozen food aisles. Picariello needed assistance with marketing and advertising, as well as a way to fund production with shrinking resources.

Picariello looked for and found a potential investor, who agreed to a million-dollar deal. The backer advised him to expand quickly and to invest in both production and promotion.

"'Get ready, your first summer is about to kick off,'" Picariello says he was advised. "'Go buy some equipment, cause you're going to make this stuff faster.' So that's exactly what I did. Like an idiot."

Jim immediately invested in some large items, including a pricey blast freezer. He quickly went through money he didn't have and after two weeks there was still no check from the billionaire.

"Turns out a couple days after our meeting, the billionaire, tasted our product and said, "oh I can't imagine why kids would like these." And of course it's not a product for kids, it's a product for adults, and kids do like them."

The prospector investor backed out of the agreement.

"And so at this point I'm sort of doing the math in my head over and over," Picariello recalls. "I have this much money, we have this much payroll, we have this much rent, we have this much electricity. All that over and over and over again."

To keep the business afloat, the family went so far as to start putting payroll on their personal credit card. Without an influx of cash, Wise Acre Inc. couldn't last.

"It was just like, I now have no more money, I have to lay all you people off. And it was very sad."

The bank seized the equipment and the factory closed. Their debts went unpaid, and Picariello declared bankruptcy, of somewhere around half a million dollars.

"We're still dealing with the ramifications," Jill Day laments. "To have the kind of significant debt now that we have because of the business tanking is just like the worst thing that could have happened."

Today, the couple has paid off some of their debts, and Picariello now has a steady full time job. Despite what happened with Wise Acre Inc., Picariello says he might still have one more new product idea to try, but promises it will be much less risky.

PODCAST: Economic effects of protests in Hong Kong

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 07:38

China is seeing shades of Occupy Wall Street today as protesters gather in Hong Kong. We talk to Juliana Liu about potential economic effects. Plus: two more casinos closed in Atlantic City this weekend, and 5,000 people lost their jobs. We look at the suffering gaming industry in a city that may need to reinvent itself. Finally, most cases of food-borne illness go unreported, so Chicago health officials are turning to Twitter, with a bot that scans for complaints of food poisoning stemming from area restaurants.

 

Showboat Casino Is Latest In Atlantic City To Close Its Doors

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 07:08

The casino's closure will be followed today by the shutdown of The Revel. The Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino will likely close Sept. 16. They are casualties of competition from outlets in other states.

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Pro-Russia Rebels Say They Will Settle For Autonomy In Ukraine

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 05:38

It's a step back from the full independence they were seeking and may reflect a Russian desire to end the crisis, which has led to Moscow's worst ties with the West since the end of the Cold War.

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It Might Sound Stupid, But Maybe It Isn't The Economy This Time

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 05:21

An oft-repeated bit of campaign advice held that, "It's the economy, stupid." But maybe in this midterm election cycle, that's not quite right.

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Judge Blocks Enforcement Of Louisiana's Abortion Law

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 04:51

The law requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges to a nearby hospital. The judge's ruling allows the law to take effect, but doctors who break it won't be penalized.

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Insurers find wiggle room in requirement to cover all

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 04:00

It’s September, which means the enrollment period to get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is practically around the corner.

If you're signing up later this fall, you should consider this: despite provisions under the health law to guarantee coverage for all, some insurance policies are still designed to keep the sick away.

We all know thanks to the ACA, the days when insurers denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions are over. Cherry picking the healthiest among us is one of the ways many insurers used to make their money. Even though the law has changed, former state insurance commissioner Joel Ario says some companies haven’t.

“We have not eliminated discrimination from insurer DNA yet. So you are still going to see remnants of insurers using strategies that are trying to drive away risk than manage risk,” he says.

One of those strategies is to make drugs for high cost conditions like HIV or multiple sclerosis more expensive through hefty deductibles. Another is to limit the network of doctors and hospitals. If consumers want somebody out of that network, they pay through the nose.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Tom Baker says to thrive in today’s insurance climate companies must accept that sick people are part of the mix. “The health insurance companies that are trying to have fewer of those people, just want to have fewer,” he says.

Baker says the insurers who find the sweet spot between healthy and less healthy will be the ones at the top of the industry.

More Evidence That ADHD Drugs Don't Curb Ultimate Height

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 03:03

Some earlier research hinted that Ritalin and Adderall can hamper a child's growth. But a study of adults who took the drugs as kids now suggests any such effect is only temporary.

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Volunteer Docs In Peru Take A Shopping Trip To Look For Patients

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 03:03

The medical students were in Iquitos. They could provide much-needed surgery for the residents of this remote Peruvian town. Just one problem: They didn't have enough patients.

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LinkedIn censors its members in China...globally

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 02:55

Not long after I posted my Marketplace story about the 25th anniversary of the Tian’anmen Square protests on LinkedIn, the company sent me an email:


Australian journalist Fergus Ryan received this email, too. His post, a story he did about artist Guo Jian being detained in the run-up to the Tian’anmen anniversary, was also removed.

“I felt outraged, really. Because professionally, as a journalist, I feel that this is why a lot of people would follow me on LinkedIn," says Ryan.

LinkedIn says it did not come to its decision to censor posts from its members in China lightly.

“It is difficult," says LinkedIn's Director of Communications Hani Durzy. "We are strongly in support of freedom of expression. But it was clear to us that to create value for our members in China and around the world, we would need to implement the Chinese government’s restrictions on content.”

But LinkedIn isn't just blocking this content inside China. The company is removing these posts from its site worldwide. In LinkedIn’s email to me, the company explains it does this to "protect the safety of our members that live in China."

“Yeah, well, I mean, bullshit,” says Chinese social media expert Jeremy Goldkorn. “Their Chinese members should be able to choose what they should post and they know better than a foreign company how to protect themselves from the government.”

LinkedIn got help from Shaun Rein, director of China Market Research, to develop its China strategy. Even he’s disappointed in the company’s censorship policies. “A lot of western players, they so want to make money that they actually do more to heed what they think the authorities want," says Rein.

LinkedIn seems to have recognized this. Durzy says his company will continue to block sensitive content inside of China, but,"after talking to a number of people, we recognized that it may be better if we were to change our policy and allow that content and profile to be viewed outside of China,” he says.

Which leaves me wondering what will happen when I post this story to LinkedIn.

Why Did Crowd Flee Shanghai Subway After Foreigner Fainted?

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 02:28

A widely watched video shows a foreigner fainting on a subway car and everyone around him fleeing. No one helps. It's rekindled a national debate about trust, fear and the Chinese national character.

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Atlantic City loses again as more casinos close

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 02:07

Two of Atlantic City’s casinos, the Revel and the Showboat, closed down this past weekend, bring the total closures to three this year.

Five thousand people lost their jobs, and a fourth casino – Trump Plaza – will shut down in two weeks.

“We’re trying to ease the blow,” says Ben Begleiter, an analyst with UNITE HERE Local 54, the union which represents many casino workers in Atlantic City. The union booked the convention center to get resources to people laid off. “We want to make sure that people have unemployment benefits, health benefits, utility and food assistance.”

Atlantic City is experiencing something that many cities have experienced before it. It hitched itself to a star, and that star faded.

“Atlantic City was predicated on being an east coast monopoly in the casino industry now there’s no monopolies any place,” says James Hughes, dean of the school of planning and public policy at Rutgers University.

All the neighboring states have casinos now, allowing those states to retain their own gamblers and poach some of New Jersey’s. 

Despite that, Atlantic City still draws millions of visitors and some of its casinos are still quite profitable. But, says Hughes, “it’s going to have a permanently smaller economy.” 

Gambling revenue is still half what it was in 2006.

“The big question is what Atlantic City does in the future to rebuild and diversify,” says Oliver Cooke, professor of economics at Stockton College. “There’s a whole countless litany of proposals that have been put forward,” he says, from expanding resort offerings to making the city a concert destination. 

The future of Atlantic City will be the topic of a forum hosted by Governor Chris Christie, on Sept. 8. 

The Marketplace Inflation Calculator

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 02:00

There is a famous British comedy sketch called the “Four Yorkshiremen,” performed at various times by some or all of the cast of Monty Python. Four well-heeled fellows chat as they smoke cigars talking about the bad old days. They are competing for who can spin the worst tale of hardship from their childhoods. One gentleman claims that when he was a lad, for supper he had to make due with just a cup of tea. Another says he had to make due without milk, sugar…or tea. Another says all he had was a cracked cup. Another says things were so hard when he was a kid, a cup would have been a luxury, because in his household you had to suck tea from a damp cloth. The tales get worse from there.

We misremember the past, and inflation is part of the reason.

My dad likes to tell the tale of how little he was paid early in his career. We didn’t suck tea out of a damp cloth, but he once mentioned to me how in 1968, he was paid an annual salary of $8500 in his job as a college professor. At first blush, that number seems shocking. True, we only had one modest car, didn’t own a home, and our TV was a 14 inch black and white model from Sears, but I was in no way deprived.

One reason is inflation. We stare at the raw number, but we constantly forget to factor in the general erosion of the value of a dollar over time. My dad’s $8500 salary in current dollars, is worth $58,193. That’s not a king’s ransom for someone with a BA, an MA, and a PhD, but it is what some professors get paid today.

One defining feature of inflation is that in the past, you might not have been paid as much, but things do often (but not always) cost less. When my father remembers paying a nickel for a New York City subway ticket when he was ten in 1944, his recollection is spot on. The fare wasn’t hiked to a dime until 1948. But let’s not forget to factor in inflation. If you turn a 1944 nickle into 2014 money, that subway ride costs the equivalent of 68 cents, which remains an amazing bargain when you note the actual cost of a 2014 subway ticket in New York these days is $2.50.

This fall on Marketplace we are going to have some fun examining inflation. We have chosen as our time frame changes in prices over the last quarter century, if for no other reason than this year is Marketplace’s 25th anniversary. You may be amazed what got cheaper. You may be outraged what got much more expensive beyond the rate of inflation. Embedded in this inflation topic are crucial questions about our society: For instance, does a low-income family living at the margins care if a DVD player gets radically cheaper if the cost of eating a decent breakfast is spiking?

When I started out in the radio business as a teenager in 1976, I was paid $2.25 an hour as an announcer on a local radio station. That was minimum wage at the time. Using this meager number, I have tried to impress my own children with the austerity of my youth. In doing so, I have again failed to compensate for inflation. $2.25 an hour is $9.42 in today’s money. That is rather higher than current federal minimum wage of $7.25, but don’t tell my kids. 

Using tablets to teach reading

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 02:00

More and more often, kids have access to tablet computers--They share their parents' devices, have their own, or their school hands them out.  

Sure, some parents use iPads as little more than distraction devices to keep kids quiet during a dinner out.  

But for many educators and parents, the hope is that tablets could be a tool to help kids learn to read. Right now, only about a third of 4th graders have reading skills that are considered proficient.

Could iPads and other tablets help? There's reason to be hopeful.  

Michael Levine from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop says strong literacy and reading apps can be an improvement on boring learning devices--like flashcards.  

But, he says, tablets are still only a tool. Teaching kids literacy skills will always require caring and responsive adults.

 

 

Librarians Are A Luxury Chicago Public Schools Can't Afford

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 00:22

Librarians are being reassigned to classrooms. In Illinois, librarians must also have teaching certifications, and most have endorsements to teach specific grades and subjects.

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Amazon's German Workers Push For Higher Wages, Union Contract

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 23:18

Amazon has thousands of workers in Germany and many are unhappy that they're classified as lower-paid logistics workers. The company says they're well compensated for unskilled labor.

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Our Use Of Little Words Can, Uh, Reveal Hidden Interests

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 23:17

When we talk, we focus on the "content" words — the ones that convey information. But the tiny words that tie our sentences together have a lot to say about power and relationships.

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Ghanaian Mystery Writer Says, 'It's Easy To Get Murdered In Accra'

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 23:16

And, author Kwei Quartey adds, "The police may not find you for a little while." That's why he chose to set his second Detective Inspector Dawson book in Ghana's capital.

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A Political Family, Funding And Running On Both Sides Of The Aisle

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 23:15

The wealthy Ricketts family includes conservatives and a liberal, activists and a candidate. Between them, they raise and spend a lot of political money — and exemplify how the system has changed.

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Pretending To Be A Medical Patient Pays Off For This Teen

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 23:14

Gabrielle Nuki hopes to be a doctor someday. So when the 16-year-old found out that she could work as a fake patient helping to train medical students, she jumped at the chance.

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