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PODCAST: Who's to blame for the situation in Greece?

Fri, 2015-06-26 03:00

The Chinese stock market falls, but this time, official media are silent there. The key index in Shanghai fell about 8 percent today. More on that. Plus, all this week we've been speaking with ordinary Greeks to find out the impact of the crisis on their lives. Today, we talk to Nick Voglis, owner of a small gourmet sandwich bar in Athens. The sandwiches are delicious, but his fellow Greeks may find his opinions unpalatable: he blames Greece for the crisis. And John Kerry off to Vienna for concluding Iran talks we look at what economic levers the U.S. has at its disposal and their effectiveness.

Silicon Tally: A swift response to Swift

Fri, 2015-06-26 02:42

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news? 

This week, we're joined by Jeff Cannata, host of the We Have Concerns comedy podcast, and the DLC video game show.

Click the media player above to hear more.

What's in a stadium name? Millions.

Fri, 2015-06-26 02:00

There's been a flurry of stadium naming rights deals in the past week. Nissan announced on Thursday its name will crown the Tennessee Titans' football stadium. Last week, US Bank said a new Minnesota Vikings stadium will bear its name.

Terms of the agreements were not disclosed. The US Bank deal reportedly will cost $10 million a year over a 20-year term.

Corporations spend millions of dollars a year for stadium naming rights for NFL teams, even poor performers. The Tennessee Titans lost ten games in a row last season.

“Forget about the team's performance. It’s all about the exposure in the most popular sports league in America,” says Don Muret, a reporter with Sports Business Journal.

Muret says the naming rights’ pricetags can vary depending on the market. He says the 2011 naming rights deal for the Met Life stadium, home of the New York Giants and Jets, likely cost between $17-$20 million for a 25-year agreement.

The prospect of a superbowl can also boost the price, according to E.J. Narcise, a principal at Team Services, LLC, a marketing firm that specializes in sports. He notes that the Vikings stadium will host the Superbowl in 2018, and that likely had a lot of appeal for US Bank.

“Think of the exposure that a brand will get when in 2018 it's live from US Bank stadium, and that's going to be broadcast in 38 languages all around the world,” he says.

Narcise says if a stadium can also host big events like political conventions, the naming rights are even more valuable.

 

Cities rethink their future by looking to the past

Fri, 2015-06-26 02:00

Places that used to be industrial powerhouses have lately shot for a tech angle in their branding, jockeying to be labeled the next Silicon Valley. But increasingly, regions are rethinking their futures by looking to their past.

Ariella Cohen, editor-in-chief of a non-profit online publication called Next City, thinks it's a good thing. In a recent article titled, "Cleveland Wants to Make Sure the Next Wright Brothers Come From the Rust Belt," Cohen argues that moving forward can be about realizing what you're not.

"I think people are beginning to recognize that they're not Silicon anything," she says. Cohen points out that the legacy of manufacturing and the infrastructure that still exists in cities like Cleveland and Detroit make them more suitable for an industry that makes things.

"In all these cases, what's really important is that the business community is talking with the universities," she adds. Youngstown, OH, for example, has a community college that has built a makers' studio. The studio, in turn, provides job opportunities and training.

Click the media player above to hear more.

The tool kit for negotiating with Iran

Fri, 2015-06-26 02:00

Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to Vienna for more nuclear negotiations with Iran. The deadline for a deal is June 30. 

Kerry has lots of tools at his disposal as he works with U.S. allies to convince Iran to curb its nuclear program. The sharpest tool is sanctions, which have taken a huge bite out of Iran’s oil exports. Iran still exports some oil to a handful of countries, but oil payments can’t go through Western banks. 

Gary Sick was on the National Security Council under presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan. He estimates Iran is owed around $40 billion.

“It’s their money," he says. "They were paid that money to sell oil to these countries, but they can’t get their money.” 

Sick says Iran is definitely feeling the pinch, because the U.S. and allies in Europe, as well as China and Russia, support the sanctions. But that support could wither if Iran found a way to avoid Western banks, say some analysts.

“Presumably, the Iranians would sell their oil at a discount over the global price," says Jon Alterman, a senior vice president with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "And if you could save $6 a barrel buying Iranian oil, there are people who’d say there’s a lot of money in that.”

Alterman says the sooner a nuclear agreement is reached with Iran, the better.

 

 

Facebook still lacking in diversity

Fri, 2015-06-26 02:00
5-4

That's how the Supreme Court voted in its ruling to extend the rights of marriage to same-sex couples on Friday morning. As more and more people suddenly have the ability to say "I do," it's worth checking out how to think about unions when it comes to tax time, Bloomberg reports. 

$67,750

That's how much Uber racked up in fines after its illegal launch in Portland late last year. The ride-sharing company also paid about that much in lobbying in the past six months, a modest sum for Uber, which doled out millions nationwide last year. A Bloomberg report cites Portland, where Uber is now legal, as an example of the company's influence among users and its deep bench of lobbyists to make sure city's ride-sharing regulations are compatible with Uber.

55 percent

That's the percentage of Facebook's employees who are white. That's only down 2 percent from the 57 percent shown in its last diversity report. This after the company vowed to address its lack of diversity in its hiring. In fact, as The Guardian reports, only seven black employees were hired according to Facebook's most recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filing in 2013. That's out of the 1,231 employees hired that year.

$10 million a year

That's reportedly how much U.S. Bank will pay to name the Minnesota Vikings stadium. And that's for the next 20 years. Why so much money just to have your name on a sports arena? The NFL is the most popular sports league in America, and money can't buy that kind of exposure. Well, it can ... it just costs a whole lot.

Sandwich-maker finds Greek debt hard to stomach

Fri, 2015-06-26 02:00

When Greek-born, U.S.-educated Nick Voglis came back to Athens and opened his food business in 1996, he had big plans to launch a new product on the Greek market: the gourmet sandwich.

“Back then, most of the sandwiches on sale in this country were very unhealthy and unappetizing,” he says. "No vegetables or salads inside — just cream cheese, bacon or hot dogs.” 

Drawing on his long experience of living abroad, Voglis decided to open a deli bar selling haute cuisine sandwiches — made-to-order — using home-made French-style baguettes and only the finest and freshest ingredients. His dream was to expand the business into a franchise.

It didn’t quite work out like that.

“We still have only the one store. At our peak in 2007, we had 7 employees. Now we’re down to one part-time worker. And sales are down 40 to 50 percent,” Voglis says.

His business has failed to prosper in spite of his intelligence, energy, enthusiasm, attention to detail and the excellence of his sandwiches. He blames Greek bureaucracy, an unpredictable tax system and the economic crisis for the lack of growth in the business. Some of his opinions may prove a little hard for his fellow Greeks to stomach.

On his country’s debt crisis: “It’s happened because Greeks felt all their lives that somebody else will pay for them.”

On Greece’s membership of the Eurozone: "We want to be part of a club without implementing the rules of the club.”

On Greece’s public sector: "It’s a major monster which has killed this country.”

On Greece’s creditors: “They want to make an example of us. And they’re right.”

In spite of this scathing assessment, Voglis wouldn’t dream of shutting up shop and leaving his  country.

“I’m a very proud Greek. I love this place. And I think it’s very sad what’s taken place here,” he says. 

Jen Hyman on Rent the Runway's "dream fulfillment"

Fri, 2015-06-26 01:58

Jen Hyman started Rent the Runway right out of business school, and the young entrepreneur says she never dreamed she would be the boss of 250 employees and serve four million customers, let alone run the largest dry-cleaning facility in America.

Jack Dorsey of Square on what he's learned as CEO

Fri, 2015-06-26 01:57

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and co-founder of Twitter, sits down with Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal to discuss Square, his life since Twitter and what the future holds for a visionary that many have called “the next Steve Jobs.”

A new podcast from Marketplace and Quartz: Actuality

Fri, 2015-06-26 01:00

Welcome to the golden age of audio. The world has (re)discovered podcasting. And for us, the real lesson of the post-Serial boomlet isn't that podcasts are great — they've been great for a while! — but that people actually care what reporters do before the story gets written or recorded. Which is to say, we always knew you cared about the murder mystery, but we didn't know that you cared about how we try to report it.

It’s with this in mind that we’re excited to bring you Actuality, a bi-monthly podcast jointly produced with our friends at Quartz. We’re friends because, frankly, we like to come at stories in some similar ways — finding the accessible and conversational in those stories that used to wither and die on the business pages of serious publications.

Some of the best things that happen in a newsroom are the conversations between journalists before and after the story gets published. An audio product is so much more visceral and immediate: the best way to recreate the moment when someone leans over from the next desk and says, "get a load of this story." We’re also bringing people connected to the story — experts and participants — into every conversation we have, to point out when we are wrong (and vice-versa).

So, every other week, we'll endeavor to bring you into a new story about the global economy and plug you into the conversation behind the news. Marketplace and Quartz try not to take ourselves too seriously, and we hope you find the podcast both informative and entertaining.

Actuality seemed like the perfect name for it; it’s what those of us in the audio business call the clips of tape from interviews that go into our stories. Those, and other “pops” of sound, will give us a nice starting point for many of our discussions.

But where those conversations go from there will surprise you, just like the word "actuality," for its earlier meaning: things as they really are, not as we expect them to be.

Marketplace and Quartz are committed to finding new ways to bring news about the changing world to our audiences in whatever medium they prefer. We hope our podcast will combine the best of Quartz's digital journalism with Marketplace's award-winning radio broadcasts in a mix that brings you the best of our sensibilities as journalists — and our curiosity about the world and what makes it run.

You can subscribe to Actuality here

The Devil Wears Nada

Fri, 2015-06-26 00:52

This week, Actuality slips on metallic jeggings to examine the dubious record of former American Apparel CEO Dov Charney, how jerk bosses thwart business success, and why women get tasked to clean up the mess. Plus, the best time to buy German erotica.

Federal plan to rate colleges fizzles

Thu, 2015-06-25 13:00

After a long wait and an earful from critics, the Obama Administration has scaled back its plans to rate colleges on measures like how much money students earn after they graduate, and how much debt those students take on. Instead, education officials plan to put out a website later this summer, and let consumers compare colleges on their own.

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief on college campuses.

“Today’s announcement gives us optimism,” says Marvin Krislov, president of Oberlin College. “We still want to see what it looks like, but we think the government’s going in the right direction and we’re encouraged by that.”

After putting colleges “on notice” in his State of the Union speech in 2012, President Obama has backed away from plans to punish colleges that fail to keep costs down for students. The original proposal was not only to rate colleges on value, but to cut off federal dollars to those that didn’t measure up.

“We think the ultimate accountability is a kind of public accountability that’s created by a marketplace of really good information,” says Ted Mitchell, U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

He wouldn’t say exactly what information the new consumer tool will provide. According to a "framework" proposed late last year, possible metrics include employment and earnings data, as well as graduation rates. A lot of information on costs and graduation rates is already out there, on the department’s College Navigator website and a newer tool called the College Scorecard.

Rachel Fishman, with the New America Foundation, has been studying how students make college decisions. In a recent survey she shared with Marketplace, just 16 percent of students said they’d ever used those websites.

“There’s no guarantee that the students that are most vulnerable in their decision-making and who don’t have enough good information to make that decision are actually going to find a website from the Department of Education useful,” Fishman says.

Mitchell said the Department plans to do outreach so students know about the new tool. It’ll also share its data, whatever that turns out to be, so that others can experiment with how to present it. The federal government isn’t exactly known for its user-friendly websites.

Without some sort of ratings attached, the value of the new site could be limited, says Kim Clark, who writes about education for Money Magazine, where she developed her own college value rankings.

“Most people don’t think about this stuff all day like I do, and they don’t know which numbers they should be looking at,” she says. “Without expert guidance, all of these extra numbers might just be more noise and more confusion.”

Then again, she says, there’s a whole college rankings industry out there that profits from giving that kind of guidance. With this new data, she says, those rankings might get better.

 

 

Ex-convicts struggle to find work in Baltimore

Thu, 2015-06-25 12:59

In 1994, Baltimore won a federal contest aimed at alleviating poverty. Six cities received federal funds totaling $100 million and a slew of tax breaks for businesses and employers. Baltimore invested the money in job creation and job training for unemployed and underemployed people in the poorest neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods were called Empowerment Zones.

Pete Sevison remembers that about 15 years ago, his father took advantage of a small-business loan made possible through the Empowerment Zones. Sevison runs Petro Express, a fuel delivery company located in Baltimore's industrial Fairfield area. Sevison is exactly the type of job creator Baltimore hoped to retain. He has 22 employees, and says he starts his drivers at about $15/hour. Baltimore's minimum wage is $8/hour. Still, last winter Sevison had trouble finding seasonal help. He says the primary issue was that his company delivers to government buildings, so drivers must have clean records.

In cities across the country, having a criminal record can be a barrier to employment. Baltimore drew national attention in April, when protests erupted following the death of a young man named Freddie Gray in police custody. A study released in February by The Justice Policy Institute and the Prison Policy Initiative found Sandtown and neighboring Harlem Park have the highest number of incarcerated people in Baltimore. Every year, Maryland spends $17 million to jail people from Sandtown and Harlem Park.

A Marketplace analysis found the unemployment rate in Sandtown-Winchester is 22 percent. Nancy La Vigne, who directs the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center and who has studied prisoner re-entry in Baltimore, finds some laws governing where former inmates can work to be antiquated.

"In many jurisdictions the formerly incarcerated are unable to hold positions as barbers," La Vigne says. "Even though it's something they've trained for behind bars. Because as a barber or beautician you're wielding a sharp object." She finds the rules puzzling, in part because in her capacity as an expert, she sometimes gets calls from employers who are actively seeking employees who have served time.

"In truth, they have found that people with criminal records are really motivated to make good," La Vigne says.

Other Baltimore businesses have made it part of their mission to hire former inmates. GD Laminates in East Baltimore manufactures things like countertops and cabinets. The company was located in the city's Empowerment Zone, and owner Greg Dively got tax credits for his employees through the federal program. Another program offered him tax credits for hiring people who had served time. Over the years, he says, the results have been clear. 

"I've had better success hiring ex-cons then I did with people coming out of the neighborhood," Dively said. "They have to come to work every day. And they appreciate what I do for them. And at the same time I appreciate what they do for me."

Dively portrays these hiring practices as pure business pragmatism.  He's become particularly close to one employee, Kevin Parker, who started working at GD Laminates in 1999, after a long stint in prison.

"I would go to war with [Parker,]" Dively says. "He would go to war with me. I've made money with the guy. He's happy. He means something to me. He's got a wife, got a car, got a kid, got a house. It's a partnership between me and him."

The professional loyalty runs both ways. "He was patient with me, prior to learning," Parker says. "He could have said, 'Hey, you don't know that.' But he didn't. He said, 'try it again.'"

Parker keeps the first dollar he made working for Dively in his locker at GD Laminates. It is faded from years of contact with sawdust and chemicals. Parker says it represents the thing he needed most when he left prison: a good place to start.

With Obamacare upheld, health care firms exhale

Thu, 2015-06-25 12:59

Thursday's 6-3 Supreme Court vote upholding a major tenet of the Affordable Care Act means health insurers and health care providers are breathing a sigh of relief — this is the outcome they wanted — but that doesn’t mean they can rest. They're still in the process of figuring out how to thrive in this still-new health care environment.

Hospital stocks jumped eight to 15 percent as the ruling came down, a rare occurrence, says Jason McGorman, a healthcare analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

“The last time I’ve seen over 10 percent move for hospitals was back in 2012 when the Supreme Court last had the Affordable Care Act,” he says.

McGorman says Wall Street smiled on insurers and managed care companies today, too. It shows how this industry – one of the country’s largest – is "all-in" on Obamacare.

Drug makers, device manufactures, doctors and nurses have spent the past several years learning the ropes in this new era where they get paid based on better health, says PricewaterhouseCoopers' Ceci Connelly.

“I know it’s become a cliché, we’re moving from volume to value, but is the accurate shorthand,” she says.

As easy as that is to say, few really know how to provide more value. Insurers are trying to figure out how to price these new insurance policies they sell on the exchanges. Hospitals are trying to figure out how to treat more patients in outpatient clinics and in their homes. As these titans grope for answers, we are seeing many mergers — hospitals, physician practices, and recently, lots of talk about insurers merging.

“It tells me the industry is reorganizing itself,” says Leemore Dafny, a health care economist at Northwestern. “My concern is, is it reorganizing itself in a way that is likely to benefit us, the consumer? Unfortunately the evidence we have to date suggests that most consolidations are associated with higher prices,” she says.

Dafny says companies hope being bigger will help them navigate these new waters, and if not, at least shore up market share. And while more consolidation could mean higher costs, Dafny says this push toward value  —as hazy as it is — leaves her optimistic consumers will one day get more for their money.

There's an appetizer for that

Thu, 2015-06-25 12:56

You are what you eat, and so is your smartphone... or something.

CNBC reported on a new study from NPD group that breaks out the types of food bought by iPhone and Android users.

Apple fans are far more likely to order soup than Android users, who make up a large share of roast beef sandwich orders. 

Chicken strips? They're about equal. Check out the rest of the data here.

Making electricity demand match the supply

Thu, 2015-06-25 12:49

The grid control room at Østkraft, on the Danish island of Bornholm, is a mix of old and new. On one side of the room, huge computer monitors detail the flow of electricity throughout the system. On the other, printed circuit diagrams hang on 60s-era control boards with dancing needles. Lounging at a desk in a grey jumpsuit and thick eyeglasses, engineer Erik Malmkvist jams to early 90s dance music, while explaining that his job is to do as little as possible.

“When I shall do anything, it costs us money," he says. 

Malmkvist works for Østkraft, the utility on the Danish island of Bornholm. He's one of the engineers responsible for keeping the island's grid in balance.

Doing as little as possible has gotten more difficult in recent years though, as Bornholm has stepped up its share of renewable energy. It’s much easier to balance a system that relies on coal than on fluctuating power sources, like wind and solar. Malmkvist grabs a graph printing out of one of the analog machines on the wall.

“You can see here the wind, it goes up and down all the time," he says.

Bornholm gets half of its power from wind and solar. But of course,that power supply is intermittent, and doesn’t always match the times of day when people are using the most electricity. Malmkvist grabs another printout.

“All days look alike," he says. "You can see, people get up in the morning, about half past 5, and then they go to eat, then don’t do anything anymore.”

Right now, when demand spikes and the wind isn’t blowing, utilities like Østkraft ramp up production at their coal or gas plants, but Denmark is planning to be fossil-fuel free in its power sector by 2030, which means soon, that won’t be an option.

The main Østkraft power plant on the island of Bornholm, powered by coal, biomass and biogas.

So, instead of making supply meet demand, Østkraft is testing what it would take to make demand meet supply.

“Demand response has nothing at all to do with energy savings. It has to do with using the energy when it's there,” says Maja Bendtsen, who works for the utility and is in charge of a project called EcoGrid EU.

The project has been testing so-called demand response with roughly 2000 households on Bornholm for the last few years. But Bendtsen's first introduction to the idea of demand response came when she was a kid. Her family had a wind turbine and when the wind was blowing hard, they turned up all the radiator valves in the house.

“Because it was was windy and the wind turbine was spinning anyways, the energy was free and abundant,” she says.

The idea behind EcoGrid is the same: use electricity when there’s plenty of cheap, renewable power, and cut back when there isn’t. The project focuses on heating and cooling, which are among the biggest electricity users, but unlike when Bendtsen was a kid, the EcoGrid project automates it, so no one has to run around opening and closing radiator valves.

“As a participant in the project, you say which temperature do I want," Bendtsen says. If you want your house to be between 68 and 72 degrees, for example, the utility controls your heating to keep it within that range.

For the utility, that’s valuable: being able to temporarily shut off hundreds or thousands of heaters or air conditioners can keep the electricity grid in balance without having expensive, polluting power plants on standby and without building thousands of miles of new transmission lines.

“We are over-investing because we are not utilizing the energy we produce in a smart way," says Jørgen Christensen, the chief technology officer of Dansk Energi, the Danish energy association. He says it will be too costly to reach the country’s renewable energy goals without demand response. But convincing customers that there are benefits to allowing someone else to control their heating or electric car charging takes time.

“If it’s totally new for you, you say, ‘let’s wait and see what the neighbor does,'” Christensen says.

That might be the biggest barrier to demand response in Denmark, but what about elsewhere?

In the United States, there are residential demand response projects, but none of them use automation, which limits their potential benefit to the overall grid. Start talking about controlling people’s heating systems in a fiercely independent place like Wyoming, though, and well -- you can imagine how the conversation would go.

This reporting was supported in part by a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation. 

Funny or Die trying

Thu, 2015-06-25 12:17

It’s been almost eight years since Funny or Die's first viral video, “The Landlord,” took the Internet by storm. Over these years, they’ve dealt with a recession and a $600,000 movie flop, all while handling an enormous viewer following. They sat down for our series, Conversations from the Corner Office, to discuss how staying true to comedy allowed them to stay ahead of the curve.

CEO Dick Glover says Funny or Die isn’t just a name, it’s their business plan.

We live by the mantra: the creative drives the deal, not the deal drives the creative. Have I said that 5,000 times? We make what we hope is funny, great product. Period … And we will sink or swim on how good that is.

Just a year after they launched, the recession hit, and Glover says the company barely survived. In fact, a presentation by Funny or Die’s investor, Sequoia Capital, predicted that the company was doomed.

"The recession hit in 2008," Glover says. "[We got] the famous Sequoia Capital ‘Rest in Peace Good Times’ business presentation … I sat through [it] and wanted to throw up."

Funny or Die downsized, but made sure to stay true to their content and business mantra. Despite the tough economic climate, they were able to grow an enormous following. Glover credits part of this success to maintaining a “start-up” mentality.

I would be very concerned if we ever lost that sense that "Hey, we’re a start-up." And that’s what I learned at ESPN. ESPN, as it became this huge, huge company, I mean huge company … never lost the sense that it’s a sports fan. If a company can be … a person, you know, ESPN’s the guy that you’re wanting to tweet about the game with last night, or in the old days, stand next to the water cooler and talk to. So we want the same thing. We want to make sure this culture does not change as, hopefully, we continue to get bigger and bigger.

President of Production Mike Farah says it's because they aren't afraid to fail, that they can learn, grow, and succeed.

"I've messed up a lot," he says. "I cost us $600,000 on a movie that didn't happen. But what can you do? You just move on."

Often, Glover adds, it's this risk-taking that attracts talent to their studios in the first place, and is what will allow them to create innovative content in the future.

We’re not afraid to fail. We do tons of videos that people don’t like. In fact, one of our selling points to A-list talent is: ‘You’re in an environment that by and large does not tolerate failure…with us if you do some crazy idea and it doesn’t work, who cares? But if it works it gets as much attention as anything else you’ve done.'

Tell us about the opportunities that changed your life

Thu, 2015-06-25 10:54

What's the best financial opportunity you've ever come across?

We want to know. Tell us your stories of great deals and fantastic job offers — opportunities that changed your life, or ones you missed. 

Write to us! Reach out on Marketplace's Facebook page, send us an email or reach us on Twitter, @MarketplaceWKND.

Opportunities that changed your life

Thu, 2015-06-25 10:54

What's the best financial opportunity you've ever come across. 

We want to know. Tell us your stories of great deals and fantastic job offers -- opportunities that changed your life...or even ones you missed. 

Write to us! Reach out on Marketplace's Facebook page, send us an email or reach us on Twitter, @MarketplaceWKND.

Your Wallet: Opportunities

Thu, 2015-06-25 10:54

What's the best financial opportunity you've ever come across. 

We want to know. Tell us your stories of great deals and fantastic job offers -- opportunities that changed your life...or even ones you missed. 

Write to us! Reach out on Marketplace's Facebook page, send us an email or reach us on Twitter, @MarketplaceWKND.

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