Marketplace - American Public Media

Subscribe to Marketplace - American Public Media feed
Updated: 37 min 54 sec ago

California drought prompts 25 percent mandatory cutbacks

Thu, 2015-04-02 10:28

We're not quite there yet, but it's entirely possible that the not-so-distant future in California includes two-minute showers, brown lawns, and — heaven forbid — unwashed cars.

Governor Jerry Brown ordered the first mandatory water cuts in California's history on Wednesday. Local water districts will be required to cut per-capita consumption by 25 percent.

The question on the minds of many Californians and other drought-watchers: what took the state this long?

"For some reason during this drought, [they] have not stepped up the way they have in earlier droughts, which is somewhat alarming to us," says Felicia Marcus, chair of California's Water Resources Control Board. "There really is, obviously, a need for greater state leadership."

Brown made his announcement at Tahoe, where officials measure the snowpack each spring. Sierra Nevada snowmelt trickles into rivers and aqueducts and accounts for about a third of the state's drinking water. 

Marketplace sustainability reporter Sarah Gardner has the key details:

  • The cuts will be handled at the local level. There are over 400 water districts in California. 
  • Districts that have already reduced consumption won't have to meet the full 25 percent target.
  • Some districts in Orange and San Diego Counties still tick off 500 gallons of water consumption, per person, per day. 
  • Over half of residential water use goes to maintaining lawns and gardens. 
  • Agriculture, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of water consumption in California, is not subject to these mandatory cutbacks. 

In short, Gardner says, this mandate is all about urban use, which may prove controversial among city-dwellers who resent agriculture's overwhelming share of water. Farmers counter that the state produces half of the US-grown nuts, vegetables and fruit. 

"Governor Brown made a point, yesterday, of sort of defending agriculture," Gardner said.

"He said, farmers, specifically those with junior water rights have already had a lot of cutbacks. State officials talked, too, about all the land that's been fallowed. They are not ready to challenge this centuries-old water rights system."

Gardner added, the mandatory cuts will only intensify the debate over who gets how much water in California, and for what purpose. 

Patagonia tests the limits of sustainability

Thu, 2015-04-02 09:18

On Thursday, the venture fund for outdoor clothing company Patagonia announced an investment of more than $1 million in a Swiss company, Beyond Surface Technologies (BST), that works to reduce the impact of textile chemicals on the environment.

Phil Graves oversees the Patagonia fund, called $20 Million and Change, which targets environmental problems. He says the investment in BST could yield dividends for the planet.

What makes them unique, Graves says of BST, "is they don't use synthetic, petroleum-based chemicals for their textile finishings. They use natural substances."

Patagonia is one of the most progressive, environmentally committed American companies. But at the same time that it searches for solutions, Patagonia has also contributed to the environmental problems.

For example, the current process of water-proofing for performance clothing, like Patagonia's rain jackets, involves some harmful chemicals.

"The existing technology uses fluorocarbons, which are pretty nasty things in terms of environmental impact," Graves says. "They take forever to degrade. The challenge is when you look at some of the existing alternatives that are more environmentally-friendly, they don't last."

That idea of durability is a recurring theme. It resurfaces again when Phil Graves takes me surfing. We hit the waves so I could test another Patagonia innovation — an earth-friendly wetsuit that's 60 percent plant-based bio-rubber.

"When you look at the environmental benefits, it's a much cleaner process than the process that goes into making neoprene," Graves says.

I wore the new, "green" wetsuit. Graves wore one of Patagonia's traditional wetsuits, which is 100 percent neoprene.

From my brief demo, I found the bio-rubber wetsuit just as warm as any neoprene versions I've ever used, and even a little bit thinner, which made it easier to paddle out.

But that bio-rubber wetsuit doesn't come cheap. Patagonia charges more than $500. That's about four times more than a standard neoprene wetsuit from a competing brand.

Mike Russo studied Patagonia for his book "Companies on a Mission: Entrepreneurial Strategies for Growing Responsibly, Sustainably, and Profitably."

"A significant part of the customer base cares and might reward the company for its environmental programs with purchases at prices higher than they would be willing to pay otherwise," Russo says.

Also, that innovative eco-wetsuit is still 40 percent synthetic rubber.

Back at Patagonia headquarters, I ask CEO Rose Marcario why the company entered the wetsuit market before it had an environmentally-friendly alternative to offer.

"In our case, we enter the market and create a market so that we have a voice in the market," Marcario says.

What about the conflict between the company's eco-friendly investments and its continued use of the traditional, harmful chemicals used for water-proofing?

"That's always been a tension because we create the best gear for very extreme conditions. And sometimes the best finishes for those extreme conditions — of wind and snow — are chemical based," she says.

And, again, there's that idea of durability.

"The issue, when you look at some innovative products — in terms of environmental sustainability — is that they don't have the performance," says Phil Graves. "What we've found is — long-term — when you look at the total footprint of the wetsuit or the jacket or whatever it is, extending the life of that garment makes the biggest difference in terms of environmental impact."

At some level, it may be better to have a synthetic product that lasts for generations, rather than an innovative substitute that repeatedly needs to be replaced.

Quiz: Balancing school and work

Thu, 2015-04-02 09:08

More than 10 percent of full-time undergrads receive work-study financial aid, according to the Department of Education.

var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "balancing-school-work", placeholder: "pd_1427993335" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'https://polldaddy.com/survey.js':'http://i0.poll.fm/survey.js';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

New report finds 64 percent of managers 'disengaged'

Thu, 2015-04-02 09:06

A new poll out from Gallup says half of all employees in this country have, at some point or another, quit their jobs to get away from a bad boss.

...Which is either depressing or empowering, I'm not sure which.

Of course, that may be because of the second part of the survey: just 35 percent of managers in American companies call themselves "engaged." 64 percent say they're "not engaged" or "actively disengaged."

Which is just a drag.

What can the Fed do about income inequality?

Thu, 2015-04-02 09:01

Once upon a time, back when Laurence Meyer was a governor of the Federal Reserve, he was called to testify before Congress. Bernie Sanders, today a U.S. senator from Vermont, asked him what the Fed would do about income inequality. Meyer's reply? "Nothing."

That's not because he thought it wasn't a problem, but because of the Fed's strictly defined mandate: "full employment and price stability," Meyer said. "Anything else — not their job."

But what the Fed can do is conduct research, and that's just what Janet Yellen called for in a Thursday speech in Washington, D.C. Yellen called income inequality a "disturbing trend" and noted that family dynamics and related microeconomic factors could impact economic mobility and the broader economy.

A growing body of research suggests that lifelong economic productivity is affected by both family and early childhood development.

Randall Kroszner, an economics professor at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, says "I think we have much more data than we did before to drill down into the micro-factors that may be driving macroeconomics."

Ted Peters, a former Fed director, said that Yellen's star status means she can use the bully pulpit to rally politicians to take note of emerging economic trends that might affect the American economy.

"Janet Yellen publicly speaking out against this carries a lot of weight," Peters says. 

PODCAST: The billion-dollar sweatshirt industry

Thu, 2015-04-02 03:00

For high school seniors, March and April mean the arrival of college acceptances – and a rush on college bookstores to buy sweatshirts to proclaim their new status.  A look at how admission seasons have created a billion dollar. More on that. Publishing giant Harper Collins is reportedly at odds with Amazon over details of its contract renewal. We explain how their fight will impact readers. 

College acceptances bring a rush to buy sweatshirts

Thu, 2015-04-02 02:00

This week, high school seniors across the nation have been laser-focused on one thing: their email inboxes.

That’s because April 1st is when many colleges and universities send out acceptance letters.

It’s also when college bookstores ready for a mad rush of T-shirt-seeking teenagers.

Count Rachel Fratt among that group. The 18-year-old is about to graduate from Forsyth County High School just north of Atlanta, and she’s eager to let everybody know she got into the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech.  

Thanks to a sweet scholarship, the aspiring biotech major also has a bit of extra cash. And where better to spend it than at the Barnes & Noble on campus, Tech’s official bookstore?

“I brought some money, and I’m probably going spend all of it,” says Fratt.

Until now, Fratt has avoided visiting the bookstore—she didn’t want to jinx her chances of getting into the highly selective school. But now that she’s here, she goes right to the sweatshirts. “It has ‘Tech’ in big letters,” Fratt says, noting that’s a good thing.

With her mom and grandma in tow, she makes her way from rack to rack, picking up a T-shirt, pajama pants, a baseball cap, a water bottle. And when she makes it to the checkout line, the reality of the trip becomes apparent.

“Your total is $256.85,” says a voice from behind the cash register.

Ouch.

That’s tough on Fratt’s pocketbook, but great for the bookstore. The college bookstore industry brings in $10.2 billion a year, according to the National Association of College Stores. And a lot of that cash comes in when admissions letters go out.

Leah Antoniazzi manages the Barnes & Noble on Emory University’s campus. She says students rush to buy stuff about five times a year—the first of April is just one.  

“During early admissions and during back to school—which would be August and January—we beef up our clothing and apparel,” Antoniazzi says. Acceptance emails even come with a coupon for Emory bling, she says.

But it’s not just the big universities where new students are stocking up on school-branded gear. Seventeen-year-old Kaley Lackey is heading to Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University—enrollment 1,000. Its bookstore is the size of a small gas station quickie mart, and sells about 2,000 Oglethorpe-branded shirts a year. Lackey walks in and buys the first sweatshirt she sees.

“I like how simple it is. It’s not too busy,” she says. “You look at it and you’re like, ‘Wow. She’s going to Oglethorpe.’”

And that’s exactly what she wants people to know, which is why she has no problem forking over $40 for a sweatshirt that says so.

 

 

 

Algorithm as Art

Thu, 2015-04-02 02:00

Imagine an auction where you could buy algorithms, or code. Like the one the dating website OkCupid uses for calculating compatibility between two people. If you think that’s too far-fetched, you’re in for a surprise.

New York’s Cooper Hewitt Museum recently held an auction exactly like the one described above: algorithms in all forms—from code scribbled on paper to a thumb drive—were represented in artistic ways, ready to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

“The Algorithm Auction,” as it was known, was the work of Ruse Laboratories, which describes itself as the “preeminent gallery of pure code.” That is, it’s a company that wants to get people to see code as art—art that can be auctioned. Achieving that goal, according to some observers, would increase the popularity of coding, as well as attract more money in the form of philanthropic donations.

“When you read the code as a computer scientist you can see the brushstrokes and the flourishes and the trills that the technologist uses when they craft what they are creating,” said Benjamin Gleitzman, one of the co-founders of Ruse Labs, speaking at the auction.  “I think it’s time the general population understands the beauty of code.”

One of the hottest items on the auction block was, in fact, OkCupid’s compatibility calculator.

“Because our match algorithm can be represented ... as a formula, not simply lines of code, we represented it as a piece of art showing two people falling in love on different ends of the world, being connected by that formula,” said co-founder Chris Coyne, who attended the auction.

 

College acceptances bring a rush to buy sweatshirts

Thu, 2015-04-02 02:00

This week, high school seniors across the nation have been laser-focused on one thing: their email inboxes.

That’s because April 1st is when many colleges and universities send out acceptance letters.

It’s also when college bookstores ready for a mad rush of T-shirt-seeking teenagers.

Count Rachel Fratt among that group. The 18-year-old is about to graduate from Forsyth County High School just north of Atlanta, and she’s eager to let everybody know she got into the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech.  

Thanks to a sweet scholarship, the aspiring biotech major also has a bit of extra cash. And where better to spend it than at the Barnes & Noble on campus, Tech’s official bookstore?

“I brought some money, and I’m probably going spend all of it,” says Fratt.

Until now, Fratt has avoided visiting the bookstore—she didn’t want to jinx her chances of getting into the highly-selective school. But now that she’s here, she goes right to the sweatshirts.

“It has ‘Tech’ in big letters,” Fratt says, noting that’s a good thing.

With mom and grandma in tow, she makes her way from rack to rack, picking up a T-shirt, pajama pants, a baseball cap, water bottle…

And when she makes it to the checkout line, the reality of the trip becomes apparent.

“Your total is $256.85,” says a voice from behind the cash register.

Ouch.

That’s tough on Fratt’s pocketbook, but great for the bookstore.

The college bookstore industry brings in $10.2-billion a year, according to the National Association of College Stores. And a lot of that cash comes in when admissions letters go out.

Leah Antoniazzi manages the Barnes & Noble on Emory University’s campus. She says students rush to buy stuff about five times a year—the first of April is just one.  

“During early admissions and during back to school—which would be August and January—we beef up our clothing and apparel,” Antoniazzi says. Acceptance emails even come with a coupon for Emory bling, she says.

But it’s not just the big universities where new students are stocking up on school-branded gear.

Seventeen-year-old Kaley Lackey is heading to Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University—enrollment 1,000. Its bookstore is the size of a small gas station quickie mart, and sells about 2,000 Oglethorpe-branded shirts a year.  

Lackey walks in and buys the first sweatshirt she sees.

“I like how simple it is. It’s not too busy,” she says. “You look at it and you’re like, ‘Wow. She’s going to Oglethorpe.’”

And that’s exactly what she wants people to know, which is why she has no problems forking over $40 for a sweatshirt that says so.

 

 

 

Questions over HarperCollins and Amazon deal

Thu, 2015-04-02 02:00

It was just last Fall that Amazon settled a very public dispute with Hachette, in which the book publisher won the right to set its own e-book prices. Now, there is news that another storm may be brewing - this time between Amazon and HarperCollins.

The publisher has reportedly refused to sign a deal with Amazon.

In an email, an Amazon representative said the e-commerce giant has offered HarperCollins "the same terms for a contract that Simon & Schuster, Hachette and Macmillan have all recently agreed to."

HarperCollins refused to comment.

"Amazon suffered quite a lot last year with the Hachette experience," says James McQuivey of Forrester Research, who tracks Amazon and book publishers. He says a similar public spat this time around is unlikely, adding that what HarperCollins may want is some of Amazon's customer data.

"Amazon is historically unwilling to share... customer data, and maybe HarperCollins is ready to actually make a point of that," says McQuivey.

And, making that point is important, says industry consultant Peter McCarthy.

"You know in the past publishers were business to business companies at the end of the day. They didn't know who the end reader really was," McCarthy says.

HarperCollins is among publishers trying to change that, both McCarthy and McQuivey say, experimenting with direct sales to customers. So, access to some of Amazon's customer data, even just names and emails, would be very important to the publishing giant, McCarthy says.

Alabama confuses taxes for same-sex couples

Thu, 2015-04-02 02:00

Missouri doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, but the governor there has allowed those couples to file state taxes as married couples. Other states that don’t allow same-sex marriage have issued other workarounds. But in Alabama, there’s a standoff between federal and state courts, with the state courts refusing to recognize same-sex marriage, leaving accountants at tax time  flustered. 

It also leaves taxpayers in the awkward position of deciding which state law to violate in filling out their tax returns.

“So one state law says we don’t recognize same-sex marriage, so you can’t file jointly. And another state law says if you file jointly federally, you have to file jointly at the state level,” says Joseph Henchman, who oversees legal and state projects at the Tax Foundation.

All 22 states that had this issue last year have since issued guidance—except Alabama. “Alabama actually removed the guidance from its website,” Henchman says.

In the meantime, what are gay couples to do? They could leave it to someone like Randall Hancock, an accountant in Birmingham. He recently did a same-sex couple’s taxes. “It wasn’t a pleasant experience, I must say,” he says.

For one thing, because the state returns were single and the federal was joint, the state returns had to be done by hand, and mailed in to the IRS. Plus, he had to get a special software add-on to split the returns and crunch the numbers right.

“In this particular instance I had to do one federal joint return, and then two hypothetical federal returns, to create the true and accurate state returns for single filing status,” Hancock says.

In the end, Hancock says, his tax prep fee was more than double. 

 

A new credit score gives credit for paying phone bills

Thu, 2015-04-02 02:00

Fair Issac, the company behind the FICO score that lenders use to evaluate borrowers, is developing an alternative for people who have no credit scores— for instance, people who don’t use credit cards. The new score will draw on other data— like address histories provided by Lexis Nexis, to help measure stability— and other payment histories, like phone bills. 

The inclusion of payment information for utility bills raises a question about traditional credit scores: Why isn't this kind of thing already baked in? 

The answer is:  Utility companies often haven't provided it to credit-reporting bureaus. They don’t need to— not the same way that credit-card companies do.

"Every service provider has a carrot and a stick," says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for credit-sesame.com. "And the stick, almost across the board, is to shut off some kind of service that you need."

A cellphone provider, for instance, can cut off phone service. Credit card companies have fewer options. 

"Visa or MasterCard or American Express or Discover can’t come re-possess anything if you stop making payments," says Ulzheimer.

All they can do is rat you out to the credit bureaus as a deadbeat, so that kind of reporting is a core function for lenders.

Even when utilities want to report customer-payment data, they often have to ask permission from state regulators, says Michael Turner, president of the Political and Economic Research Council.

Often, regulators turn them down. "When a utility company goes to a regulator and says, 'Gee, we'd like to report our payment data to a credit bureau,' they're told 'Hell, no,'" he says. 

Regulators, says Turner, tend to misunderstand how the data will be used. "They think it's all about junk mail and telemarketing," he says. "And there are not a lot of people who are a fan of either of those." 

Ba da ba ba ba...I'm just ok with it

Thu, 2015-04-02 01:59
1 state

As gay marriage remains legal in some states and not others, same-sex couples can run into some major confusion when filing taxes. Most states that ran into trouble last year have since issued guidelines on how to navigate the legalities. Except one. Alabama has removed guidance from its website, causing major headaches not just for couples, but for accountants like Randall Hancock of Birmingham. He says in one instance, his fee doubled as a result of all of the extra work needed to help a couple properly file their taxes.

$1.5 billion

That's what how much eBay spent to acquire PayPal back in 2002. Thirteen years later, a fairly small group of former executives known as "The PayPal Mafia" have founded or backed companies collectively worth many, many times that. Uber, YouTube, Linkedin, Airbnb, YouTube, Palantir, SpaceX, Pinterest... the list of billion-dollar tech companies with PayPal's fingerprints is eye-popping. The New York Times spoke with a couple members of the PayPal Mafia about the way success compounds in Silicon Valley.

$10.2 billion

That's how much the college book store industry takes in a year. And the biggest money maker? When college acceptance letters go out, and students rush to purchase their school's swag.

1,766,522

That's how many people follow @itsWillyFerrell as of Wednesday evening. It's one of many Twitter "parody accounts" that isn't really a parody so much as it is a lame joke account attracting followers with a celebrity's name. There are dozens out there, and the high follower counts can bring in big money from advertisers. Flavorwire spoke with several of the real people behind these Twitter oddities.

$10 an hour

That's how much McDonald's will raise its average pay for about 90,000 of its workers. But as Reuters reports, workers at franchises (which makes up a large portion of McDonald's workers) will not see the benefits as wages are determined by franchise owners.

7,000

The number of CrossFit locations nationwide. The brand trades on a gritty, high-intensity workout that offers the opposite of a health club experience, but the Wall Street Journal reports an increasing number of those gym chains are looking to co-opt CrossFit's image and cash in on its massive popularity.

The Transaction: The right price

Wed, 2015-04-01 12:24

Albuquerque, New Mexico: 1970.

Marketplace listener Jose Antonio Ponce was 13 when he learned a few chords on the guitar, and he fell in love. But when his teacher, his brother, moved away for a job and took his guitar with him, Jose had to figure out a way to get his own. 

McDonald's to boost wages for 90,000 workers

Wed, 2015-04-01 11:12

The list of companies that have raised their minimum wage lately, companies like WalMart, Target, TJ Maxx and IKEA, got one longer today.

McDonald's announced it will raise hourly wages by 10 percent, at the approximately 1,500 restaurants it operates directly.

The move will affect about 90,000 employees, which the company's new CEO Steve Easterbrook said will bring average hourly pay up to $9.90 by July. The company said it hopes its franchisees -- which operate another 14,000 McDonald's locations -- will follow suit. 

"These increases come after several years of wages barely keeping up with inflation," says Krissy Clark, who covers low-wage work for Marketplace's Wealth and Poverty Desk. "So in some ways it's a bit of a game of catch-up."

The economy is also catching up to the demand for jobs. Skilled workers who may have resorted to entry-level jobs in retail and restaurants are returning to higher paying positions. That applies more pressure to lower wage employers to raise pay and attract the workforce they need. 

Fast food workers have staged strikes in recent months seeking a $15 hourly wage. The National Employment Labor Project (NELP) sought to temper enthusiasm, calling it a "modest gesture."

In a statement, NELP Executive Director Christine Owners said the increases will "boost pay a little for a small number of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who are trying to make a living selling McDonald’s food and burnishing McDonald’s brand."

And yet, advocates see their actions as directly contributing to the wage increase. 

"One McDonald's worker who is paid about $7.25 an hour right now said, 'Because we joined together and stood up, McDonald's was forced to raise pay,'" Marketplace's Clark said. And yet, they're still pushing for more. 

"A wage of $10 an hour is still going to mean, for many of those families, that they still qualify for public assistance," Clark noted. 

One retailer whose wage bump is making a bigger difference? IKEA.

"They're the only company so far that has tied their wage raises to a living wage calculator, where they're actually trying to say, we want to make sure that you don't have to rely on public assistance if you're working for us," says Clark

More information on growing wage pressure -- from competitors and market forces overall -- when we get jobs data on Friday.

American students head to Germany for free college

Wed, 2015-04-01 11:00
Despite the high cost of college in this country, most American students will choose to go to school here. But a growing number of students are getting their degrees in other countries, like Germany, where taxpayers pick up the tab. WGBH's On Campus team recently traveled to Cologne to explore this higher education defection, and the implications for the United States.

At a cafe just around the corner from the University of Cologne, students sink into big armchairs and sip lattes.

This is Rachael Smith’s favorite place to spend down time between classes. The 26-year-old is working on her master’s degree and has been living in Germany for almost two years.

Rachel Smith is one of about 100 Americans currently studying at the University of Cologne in Germany. (Photo by Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH)

“I love it here. I really like the city. I love the culture,” she says. “Cologne is a very open city, a very friendly city. I definitely get the vibe that Germans appreciate a foreign presence in the city.”

Smith is one of almost 100 Americans studying at the University of Cologne. And, like everyone else, she’s doing it tuition-free.

“I wouldn't have studied my master’s in the United States — just the cost was not an option,” Smith says. “I have enough debt from studying my undergrad, so I didn't want to pile that on. But when I found this program, I realized it could be an actual option.”

Would you pay higher taxes to make higher education free?

Those Americans are part of a growing number of students choosing to get their degrees in other countries, like Germany, where it’s always been free. Today more than 150,000 international students are getting a degree in Germany, including more than 4,000 Americans. That’s double what it was just five years ago. While the amount of students choosing that path is not enough to worry American schools, it has given German universities a boost.

In Siegen

German universities are marketing heavily overseas. The highlight their strengths in research, and building connections with professors at other schools. "Free" is a great selling point, but it’s just the start.

The University of Siegen is in a small regional capital east of Cologne, Germany. (Photo by Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH)

Jay Malone from Columbus, Ohio, is now living in Germany. He’s found a way to capitalize on Germany’s efforts to recruit internationally.

“Cost is what gets people in the door. Cost is what initially interests people,” Malone says. “A person who was only interested in cost, that person is very unlikely to come over. You need to have other interests, other things that are driving you.”

Malone got his master's degree in Germany, and now he’s running Eight Hours and Change, a niche college-consulting firm. Recently, he’s gotten a lot of emails from Americans wanting his help to study in Germany.

Malone recently went on a scouting mission to the University of Siegen, one of the places he’ll take a group of American high school students visiting in June.

Siegen is a smaller regional capital, nestled in the hills east of Cologne and the Rhineland. A light dusting of snow covered the pointed roofs and slate-tiled cottages of the city’s old town.

Delisha Duran is an American from Chattanooga, Tennessee. She’s studying at the University of Siegen. While she has enjoyed the international experience, she says there are downsides to living in this German "fairy tale."

“I miss having a gym five minutes away,” Duran says. “I miss having a cafeteria that will give me endless food for the whole day.”

Delisha Duran is an American from Chattanooga, Tennessee, studying at the University of Siegen. (Photo by Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH)

And, Duran adds, even for the most adventurous students, living abroad is a challenge.

“One of the things you have to consider is that you’re going to cry, a lot,” she says. “You’re going to miss home a ton.”

If students still think they’re up to the challenge, they’ll have to get through the German admissions process, which is vastly different than it is in the United States, says Malone.

“It's much more transparent, and it is entirely academic based,” he says.

There are no recommendations or extensive resumes. Instead, students need the same test scores that would get them into a solid U.S. state school.

There’s also the language barrier. But, Germany is offering more and more programs in English at both the master’s and bachelor’s level. The government will even pay for German language classes. Germany wants these international students here, even though their taxpayers foot the bill.

“Germany is not a country that's growing,” Malone says. “Its population is not growing. They need people, they need immigrants. They want to be a migration country.”

Competition and cooperation

Think about it this way: it’s a global game of collecting talent. All of these students are the trading cards, and the collectors are countries. If a country collects more talent, they'll have an influx of new ideas, new businesses and a better economy.

“If you look at Germany, the only resource we do have are human resources, actually,” says Dorothea Rueland, secretary general of the German Academic Exchange Service, or DAAD. The DAAD is in charge of Germany’s push to attract more international students.

A map of full-time degree options at German universities that are taught in English. Information from the German Rectors Conference.

“We depend on innovation, on inventions — and where do they come from? From institutions of higher education or from research institutions,” Rueland says.

According to the DAAD, half of foreign students getting a degree in Germany will stay. That's not just in the short term either — 40 percent of students plan on remaining for at least 10 years. In the U.S., only 12 percent of international students opt to stay for even one year.

When asked whether Germany is competing with American universities for the same talent, Rueland doesn't hesitate.

“We are part of this world and we cannot neglect these trends going on. So of course, we are competitors,” she says.

But Rueland is also quick to point out competing is only part of the picture. The other part is cooperation.

“If you look at the global challenges everybody’s talking about, questions of climate change, energy, water, high-tech ... this cannot be solved by one institution or one country,” Rueland says. “So you have to have big international networks. We all know this. This is actually the mission we have.”

Some American universities have said they share that mission of cooperation — and they don’t see Germany as competition, yet.

A mobile degree

Back in Cologne, a group of Americans who are now part of that international network try to work out whether they see themselves working in Germany or the U.S. after graduation.

“I want to see what the workforce is like [in Germany], like a full-time job and see if I enjoy it,” says Glen Bornhoft, a recent graduate from the University of Cologne. “Because so far I really enjoy studying here and meeting all the different types of people that I've met.”

Andrew Kinder, who is studying business administration, agrees.

“I think that would be the more realistic way to have it pay off, to start the next phase of my career here in Germany, and hope with an international corporation, or an American corporation, and at some point maybe move back to the States," he says.

But Natasha Turner, who is studying for her master’s in North American studies, isn't as sure.

American Natasha Turner is completing her master's degree at the University of Cologne. (Photo by Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH)

“I don’t know,” she says. “I know employers on both sides of the ocean will look at my CV and say ‘Oh, oh that looks good.’ I'm employable anywhere.”

Employers agree. With her German degree, Natasha is mobile. So if she doesn't want to come back to the States, she doesn't have to. America has enough talent, and enough students, at least for now.

This is part two in a series from WGBH that examines higher education in Germany, and compares it to the challenges we face here in the U.S. Click here for part one.

Water you doing, Jerry Brown?

Wed, 2015-04-01 08:44

Today Governor Jerry Brown ordered a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water use statewide.

He made the announcement standing at a ski resort in the Sierra Nevada mountains where there was nary a flake of snow to be seen, a spot at which he said there should be five feet of snow this time of year.

If you're looking for the Marketplace angle, think agriculture, and all the produce the Central Valley produces.

We've done a whole bunch of water coverage lately. Make sure to check out our water series.

Water: The high price of cheap

How discrimination fits into the business model

Wed, 2015-04-01 08:43

Those signs on business windows that say "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone"? They're legal.

Indiana's law allowing businesses to refuse service for religious reasons is bringing more attention to a separate but related issue: recognizing gender and sexual identity as a protected class, as more than 20 states already do. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce says some members have already suffered business losses.

The reality is this: businesses discriminate against people all the time. Think of someone getting rowdy at a bar who gets booted out. A business owner can do that, says Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

"They can take somebody who comes in smelling and someone who's going to cause difficulty because of some characteristic," Hanson says.

That characteristic can't be race. Federal law prohibits that kind of discrimination at public accommodation places like grocery and hardware stores. As a class, minorities are protected. And Hanson says what's been happening in Indiana might lead to LGBT people being covered as a protected class.

"This fight may well be the rising crescendo to getting sexual orientation covered in the federal law," Hanson says.

For that to happen, Congress would have to act. For now, even under Indiana's extremely controversial law, a business refusing to serve gays and lesbians might not be able to justify its actions.

"You know, it's going to be a lot easier, I think, to make the case under Religious Freedom law that your faith does not permit you to participate in a same-sex wedding than to make the case your faith doesn't permit you to serve gay customers at all," says Ramesh Ponnuru, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute.

Legally, he says, those are very different situations. Nevertheless, excluding customers is baffling to Elliot Richardson, CEO of the Small Business Advocacy Council in Chicago.

"Most of the time you're going to sell to everybody, as long as they can pay for it," Richardson says.

And as some Indiana businesses have already learned, customers make choices as to where they do business, too.

 

The price is right ... or is it? Pricing IPOs is tricky

Wed, 2015-04-01 08:43

GoDaddy launched its IPO Wednesday, selling its stocks publicly for the first time. It asked for just $20 bucks per share this morning, but by day’s end, that price shot up more than 30 percent. 

When a company goes public it starts with a price that it thinks is fair. When that price then shoots up on the first day of trading, it's called “the pop.”

The pop and fizzle

Jay Ritter, professor of finance at the University of Florida, says the average pop is about 18 percent. It’s true that if there’s a giant pop, a company might have a facepalm moment and regret not pricing higher. The biggest fear for companies is that “they’re not getting as much proceeds as they could have,” says Ritter. 

But think about the opposite of a pop: The fizzle. Let’s say there was a greedy little piggy of a company that priced high to squeeze out every last drop of profit it could. David Menlow, president of IPOFinancial.com, which predicts and researches IPO prices, says a move like that “basically shuts down the pipeline of other people who might want to buy the stock. Investors still need to believe there’s room for more demand on the upside.”

...And the razzle-dazzle

Bill Blais, executive vice president of Loyal3, a registered broker dealer whose mission is to democratize the IPO process, says you need to start with the old 'razzle-dazzle.' “Stocks that don’t pop, that go in the opposite direction, generally have a hard time regaining momentum, and there’s a lot of empirical evidence to back that up,” says Blais.

And don’t forget about the banks. The banks are the ones putting on the whole IPO dog-and-pony show to begin with. They want stocks to jump because that’s how they reward their biggest clients — letting them buy undervalued shares before public trading starts, before the pop. 

“Investors are competing to get the underpriced shares” from banks or underwriters of an IPO, says Ritter. “And one of the ways investors compete is by overpaying on commissions on other deals, so that an underwriter or a stockbroker who’s deciding who to give the shares to, who’s allowed to use discretion ... will give shares to more profitable customers.”

The rise of the open-plan office

Wed, 2015-04-01 08:02

Try to get one simple task at work done, say, updating a line of text on a website. The next thing you know, you're running an anti-virus check for malware and re-installing system software. 

Developers have a name for when one tiny task sets off an avalanche of work, "yak shaving." The idea comes from a "Ren and Stimpy" episode: 

"You'll look up and it'll be five o'clock and you'll have chased down all the minutia but you wouldn't have actually gotten any work done," says Jonathan Hirschman, CEO of PCB:NG, a firm that does electronic assembly for hardware entrepreneurs. 

Small tasks which seem to transform magically into tidal waves of work, says Hirschman, are why he can't work from home, he's too easily distracted. Like the time he was indulging in a favorite morning routine, reading tech journals before leaving the house. 

"Before I knew it I was outlining a schematic and had to stop myself and say, 'Wait a minute, you're not going to create a new piece of electronics. You're going to go into the office and get your work done.'" 

Still Hirschman notes, his current office, a rented desk in the open-plan section of a co-working space, is also problematic. 

"What's the quote? Hell is other people," he says. 

Jonathan Hirschman is not a fan of his open plan co-working office. Hell, he says, is other people.

Sally Herships

But encouraging workers to cozy up to each other is what's hot right now in the world of office design, it's all about the open plan. 

Facebook is planning to put thousands of its workers into one mile-long room, and Samsung is building a new headquarters which includes floors of outdoor spaces, where it's hoping employees from different departments and levels will mingle.

GlaxoSmithKline just paid, it won’t say how many hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions, to design a new 200,000 square foot glass building in Philadelphia which is entirely open-plan. 

The company is so excited, it made a video about it.

"It’s a whole new way of working," says one featured worker's voice. "I’ll admit it," continues another, "at first I was nervous about leaving my old office and cubicle setup. But I love working in the open environment.” 

So are open plan offices the holy grail of office design? Or, are they what Jonathan Hirschman describes as "a kind of purgatory for workers?" Keep your head down long enough and maybe, just maybe, you'll make it to an office of your own with a door that closes. 

GlaxoSmithKline's new building looks and feels a little like a hotel. There’s a coffee shop on the ground floor and a spiral staircase rises out of a huge atrium, whichever way you look you see windows and light. 

But even though the five-floor building holds over a thousand employees, there are no offices, at least not the kind we're used to. 

This is the new non-office office, there are no offices in the building — at least, there are no assigned seats. At GlaxoSmithKline, groups get put in "neighborhoods": Every morning you get your laptop, post-it notes and assorted chargers out of your locker, and decide where you'd like to sit for the day. Every evening, your belongings get stowed away again. GSK has a clean desk policy in place — no detritus please. 

Why not just let workers stick to the comfort of their own desks? 

"Because we’re trying to keep movement in the environment," says Ray Milora, head of design and change management at the company, "we’re trying to keep people moving around." 

Milora notes there are options for workers who need some alone time. There are special chairs that look like they've escaped from "Alice in Wonderland," with large arms and headrests meant to protect their occupants from sights and sounds, are strategically placed throughout the building. There are also quiet rooms, though they have time limits to prevent employees from moving in permanently. 

The big idea, says Milora, is to encourage workers to talk to colleagues they might otherwise never interact with. And at GSK, the plan seems to be working.

Milora says attendance at the company has gone up dramatically. At GSK's old building, which he describes as a traditional American 1980s space, "low ceiling, neon lights everywhere," and he continued, "beige, everything beige," attendance was at 40 percent, but in the new space, it's gone up to "well over 90 percent here." 

Though the new space is beautiful and open, workers are bathed in lots of natural light, and the staircase promotes exercise — the elevators are located in non-encouraging spots — some employees at GSK wear headphones. And that, says Nikil Saval, author of "Cubed, a Secret History of the Workplace," is the "open scandal of the open-plan office trend." 

While open plan offices can be conducive to collaboration, Saval notes that they can also be distracting.

"They're supposed to induce these serendipitous encounters where people run into each other and burst into this flame of innovation and disruption," but Saval says, "that's not what you're doing all the time." 

Besides, says Ben Waber, president and CEO of Sociometric Solutions, a firm which uses Bluetooth and microphones to track worker interactions, happiness and productivity, open plan or office with doors, encouraging employee interaction can be hard to get right. 

Bicycle helmet designer Danielle Baskin prefers to customize her own work space.

Sally Herships

"The amount you talk to other people is never predictive of how productive or happy you are," he says. It's not how much you talk to your co-workers, says Waber, but instead "it's the pattern of communication — do I talk to a lot of people who know each other or do I talk to people in different groups?" 

Waber tells a story about a large manufacturing company whose salespeople sat in cubicles. 

"The company said, 'You know what we’re going to do? We’re going to spend millions of dollars, we’re going to build out a beautiful new open-plan office setting, lots of daylight, it’s going to be great — fantastic.'" 

And they did that, but it didn’t work. Sorry cube-haters — the cubicles, says Waber, were actually better. 

In the old setup, the sales team talked to each other and consequentially learned how to sell more. When the office went open-plan, they also talked more — but to other co-workers, outside of the sales team, instead. 

The problem today, says Waber, is instead of thinking about what specific employees needs are, some companies are too focused on trying to be trendy. 

Of the office-hip, open-plan plan, "isn't it ironic — I started researching these in 1976," says Alan Hedge, a Professor in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis, Cornell University. "And here we are nearly forty years later — and it's come back into fashion," he says. 

The open-plan office, according to Hedge, is a German idea from the middle of the last century: "Bürolandschaft." "Büro which is the German for office and landschaft which is landscape." 

The original open-plan offices were a flop, says Hedge. Workers were unhappy with the noise and lack of privacy, and today, when headphones — out of necessity — have become the new office door, the same concerns exist. Office design, says Hedge, is like fashion. 

"The latest trend is to say, 'let's get rid of cubicles, let's get rid of private offices, let's create these vast open spaces and life will be wonderful.' Well it won’t," he says. 

When it comes to office design, uniformity can equal failure. 

"Everybody gets the same chair, everybody gets the same desk, everybody gets the same space. That's the kiss of death." 

As is another hot office design trend: The standing desk. "The human body is designed to move," says Hedge, "but not all the time. It is designed to sit, but not all the time. It's designed to stand, but not all the time." 

Instead, says Hedge, workers should find an optimal mix. He offers the following formula: Sit for twenty minutes, stand for eight and move for two. At the very least, your lower back will feel more comfortable. And if you're a worker who's unhappy in his or her office space, there's always another trend to fall back on — grabbing your laptop and heading to the nearest coffee shop.

Pages