Marketplace - American Public Media

That's what they call a canvas in the big city

Thu, 2015-01-08 11:31

If you happen to live in a big city, you probably have noticed huge advertisements on the sides of buildings. Not digital billboards or vinyl sheets with computer-printed graphics. But hand-painted art, literally as big as a building.

"Walldogs" is the industry term for the people who paint these murals. It is also the name of a Los Angeles-based company that does that kind of work here in town.

Owner Riley Forsythe has been in the business of painting advertisements and billboards for 40 years. Outdoor advertising and billboards were much more difficult to create in the pre-digital era.

"Before 1990, all the large billboards, including Los Angeles, were all hand-painted. Most people don’t know that," says Forsythe. "All of us were trained to paint photo-realistically, to reproduce the artwork as accurate as possible on these billboards, at scale."

Listen to the full interview with Forsythe in the audio player above.

Walldogs: painting ads on 230-foot tall buildings

Thu, 2015-01-08 11:31

If you happen to live in a big city, you might have noticed huge advertisements on the sides of buildings while driving around town. Not digital billboards or vinyl sheets with computer-printed graphics. But hand-painted art, literally as big as a building.

"Walldogs" is the industry term for the people who paint these murals. It is also the name of a Los Angeles-based company that does that kind of work here in town.

Owner Riley Forsythe has been in the business of painting advertisements and billboards for 40 years. Outdoor advertising and billboards were much more difficult to create in the pre-digital era.

"Before 1990, all the large billboards including Los Angeles were all hand painted, most people don’t know that," says Forsythe. "All of us were trained to paint photo-realistically, to reproduce the artwork as accurate as possible on these billboards, at scale."

Listen to the full interview with Forsythe in the audio player above.

Some very expensive drugs may soon get a lot cheaper

Thu, 2015-01-08 11:26

There’s a good chance some of the most expensive drugs out there may soon get a bit cheaper.

Under provisions in the Affordable Care Act, it’s now easier to get approval for what are called biosimilar drugs. These are drugs that are similar – get it – to biologic, or biologically derived, medications.

Earlier this week, a panel unanimously recommended that the FDA approve the first biosimilar in the U.S. If these copycat drugs pick up steam, Rand predicts savings could reach billions in short order. 

 

Obama's latest move to boost housing market

Thu, 2015-01-08 11:18

A reduction in the mortgage insurance premiums for FHA loans, worth an estimated $900 a year to new homebuyers, is one of the most aggressive policy changes that the president can make unilaterally. It doesn't sound like much.

Susan Wachter, professor of real estate at the Wharton School, says it will have a big impact for the hundreds of thousands of households projected to take advantage of the program. But its broader economic impacts will be limited, in part because the housing market isn't being held back by the cost of funding, but by the difficulty of getting a loan in the first place.

CoreLogic chief economist Sam Khater says it'll take more than legislative action to spark a real recovery in the housing market. More people will need to be working good jobs for good pay, and wages will need to rise first.

 

Redefining the definition of a workweek

Thu, 2015-01-08 11:15

Until the mid-19th century, the average American worked from dawn to dusk, or longer. But when the industrial revolution changed the nature of work, and more people began punching the clock at factories and mines, workers began calling for a shorter, less physically exhausting workday.

The workweek often fluctuated between 35 and 40 hours when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. It set the maximum workweek at 44 hours, but only applied to about a fifth of the labor force at the time, according to the Department of Labor.

Republicans are now pushing to change one definition of a workweek, as defined by the Affordable Care Act, from 30 hours a week to 40. The move could benefit business owners who wouldn't be required to provide health insurance for employees who work less than 40 hour a week.

But for the 7 million Americans who say they want full-time work but can't find it, relief might be harder to come by. 

(Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace)

How the 40-hour workweek became the norm

Thu, 2015-01-08 11:15

Until the mid-19th century, the average American worked from dawn to dusk, or longer. But when the industrial revolution changed the nature of work, and more people began punching the clock at factories and mines, workers began calling for a shorter, less physically exhausting workday.

The eight-hour workday didn't become the norm until 1938, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Now Republicans are pushing to change the definition of a full-time employee from one who works 30 hours a week to one who works 40 hours, for eligibility under the Affordable Care Act.

Some business owners might see some relief by not having to provide health insurance for employees who work less than 40-hour weeks. But for the 7 million Americans who say they want full-time work but can't find it, relief might be harder to come by.

(Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace)

Wyoming tries to prepare for life beyond oil

Thu, 2015-01-08 10:55

At the Cyclone Drilling offices in Gillette, Wyoming, brothers Patrick and Paul Hladky are arguing over who should to talk to the reporter. They laugh and trade barbs and appear to be in surprisingly good spirits, given that it has not been a very good couple of months for them. 

Cyclone is one of the largest oil drillers in Wyoming, but falling oil prices have forced them to start idling rigs. More than 25 percent of the company’s rigs could be sidelined in 2015. “I’d say that I’d feel fortunate," if 25 percent was all he had to idle, Paul says.

But the Hladkys are less worried about that than you might expect. “When you’re in oil and gas, you realize that there’s going to be highs and there’s going to be lows and you prepare yourself for the lows," Paul says. "If you’re not prepared, you’re not going to be in business very long.”

That’s a lesson states like Wyoming, North Dakota and Alaska have taken to heart. These days, they all have sizeable savings accounts for when prices drop.

A few decades ago, things were different.

Author and journalist Samuel Western learned at a party that at one point in the 1960's, Wyoming had just $100 in its bank account. “And I said, ‘that’s got to be apocryphal, that just can’t happen,'" Western says. "And yet, when I interviewed former governor Stan Hathaway, it was not $100, it was $80 in the general fund. So I kind of said, ‘How could that possibly be with all our mineral resources?’"

It was around that time that Wyoming started saving some of its mineral revenue in order to even out the cycle. Western says those in power have not forgotten the history, though, and the memory of it has shaped a survivalist mentality about the economy.

“You become a stasher. You want to hide your money in coffee cans — and we still do that in Wyoming," he says. "We’re still afraid we’re just not going to have enough that we can survive and we won’t go back to those old days again.”

In Western's view, all that stashing just hides the underlying problem, that Wyoming's economy depends on only one thing: minerals. 75 percent of Wyoming's revenue comes from oil, coal and natural gas.

Western argues that getting out of the cycle takes more than saving and points to Texas, which back in the 1980's was almost as dependent on mineral wealth as Wyoming is today. Texas took oil revenue and built "societies and industries and businesses that are not related to energy.”

It's not just Texas that has diversified and become less dependent on minerals. Stephen Brown, an economist at the University of Nevada, has studied the impact of oil prices on state economies. His analysis shows that virtually every state has become less dependent on mineral revenues since the oil crash of the 1980's. “What we’re seeing is that states are becoming more and more alike and less driven by these boom and bust cycles,” Brown says.

A few states, however, still stand out for their reliance on mineral wealth — Alaska and Wyoming being at the top of the list. Bill Schilling, the president of the Wyoming Business Alliance, wants that to change. His organization has its roots in the coal industry. He says the energy industry has been great for the state, helping to pay for everything from roads to new schools, though he also thinks the state needs to diversify. “There are some clouds on the horizon,” he says.

Diversification is a tricky thing, though, and everyone interviewed for this story had a different excuse for why Wyoming has not managed that trick yet: the cold, the lack of people, the isolation. Even so, most agree that in states like Texas and Colorado, investing heavily in education helped.

“We need people who can be programmers, we need people who can build things, we need manufacturing," Schilling says. "I mean, we need all of those things.” And he sees Wyoming heading down that path, though slowly. Schilling points to the Hathaway Scholarship and the expansion of the University’s business school as positive developments, but says more of that is needed. “What we are today is going not to be good enough for what we need to be tomorrow.”

With Wyoming's main economic drivers — coal, oil and natural gas — all in a slump, tomorrow may be here sooner rather than later.

House changes how bills are evaluated

Thu, 2015-01-08 10:50

The House of Representatives approved a change to how bills are “scored,”  that is, how government economists figure out how much a given piece of legislation will cost. The House is moving to a system known as "dynamic scoring" for major bills. It sounds mundane, but it’s actually a big deal, and it’s caused a sizzling debate in economic circles.  

Dynamic scoring is supposed to take into account all of the effects of a bill on the economy. That's "something the Congress should know," says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, chief economic adviser for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and former head of the Congressional Budget Office. 

Holtz-Eakin says dynamic scoring helps members of Congress properly evaluate a bill, and supports the effort to move away from the current system of "static scoring," which doesn’t look at a bill’s impact on the overall economy. “If you have two identical proposals, but one causes the economy to grow and one causes it to shrink, you’d like to know that,” he says.

Not everybody agrees. Bruce Bartlett, a former economic adviser to President Reagan, says dynamic scoring forces economists to make assumptions about the future, which can highlight the economic benefits of tax cuts. 

Bartlett says that’s why House Republicans changed the rules to require government economists to use dynamic scoring. “By tying their hands and forcing them to make assumptions that will give them the answer they want which is that tax cuts are vastly expansionary,” he says.

“In principle, dynamic scoring is a perfectly reasonable technique,” says Robert Pollin, a distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

The problem with dynamic scoring is you can pick and choose, Pollin says. You could just look at the positive effects of a tax cut, like people spending the extra money, and not the possible negatives of lower government spending. “There’s a wide range of potential effects, and so the technique to susceptible to this kind of cherry picking,” he says.

In principle, dynamic scoring is better, Pollin says. But it’s hard to do well, and easy to manipulate.

Quiz: Where edtech money went in 2014

Thu, 2015-01-08 04:25

Venture investors poured more than $640 million in the k-12 edtech market in 2014, according to NewSchools Venture Fund.

var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "which-edtech-category-received-most-venture-funding-in-2014", placeholder: "pd_1420723263" } ); (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'));

PODCAST: Opening borders to doctors

Thu, 2015-01-08 03:00

When oil prices plummet, there are winners and there are losers. More on that. Plus, it’s a classic good news/bad news story. Post Obamacare, employer health insurance premiums have declined in a majority of states, according to new figures from the Commonwealth Fund. That’s the good news. The bad news? Because wages are growing so slowly, healthcare cost is still taking up a bigger part of household budgets. And speaking of health care, we'll talk about the benefits of opening up our borders to foreign doctors.

Health care cost increases slow, but so have wages

Thu, 2015-01-08 02:00

Health insurance premium prices aren’t rising as fast as they used to, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Fund.

But thanks to lethargic wage growth and sharp spikes in out-of-pocket costs, the benefits of the slowdown are all but invisible.

Click the media player above to hear more.

Examining the return on big-ticket civic investments

Thu, 2015-01-08 02:00

The U.S. Olympic Committee meets Thursday and may decide which American city will move forward with a bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games. The finalists are Boston, Los Angeles,  San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

The costs of putting on an Olympiad are well known  – the Sochi Winter Games cost more than $50 billion. What kinds of civic events are actually moneymakers for cities? Super Bowls? Political conventions? What gives the best return on investment?

Click the media player above to hear more.

Healthcare cost increases slow, but so have wages

Thu, 2015-01-08 02:00

Health insurance premium prices aren’t rising as fast as they used to, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Fund.

But thanks to lethargic wage growth and sharp spikes in out-of-pocket costs, the benefits of the slowdown are all but invisible.

Click the media player above to hear more.

The ROI of Olympics and other big civic events

Thu, 2015-01-08 02:00

The U.S. Olympic Committee meets Thursday and may decide which American city will move forward with a bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games. The finalists are Boston, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The costs of putting on an Olympiad are well known (the Sochi winter games cost more than $50 billion in total), but what kinds of civic events are actually money-makers for cities? Super bowls? Political conventions? What gives the best return on investment?

Click the media player above to hear more.

Legal pot sales could top $10 billion by 2018

Wed, 2015-01-07 12:02

Roughly half of U.S. states now permit medical marijuana use with a prescription. In Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, buying marijuana for recreational use has been legalized as well. By 2017, legalization advocates predict another dozen states could follow suit – including the biggest prize for marijuana businesses – California.

Revenues from marijuana production and sales in the U.S. states where it is legal could top $10 billion dollars by 2018 (up from $2.6 billion in 2014), according to research by the ArcView Group, which promotes investment in the emerging cannabis industry.

The business holds high potential for reward – and risk – for anyone thinking of taking the plunge. This was evident at a pair of major cannabis conventions last November in Las Vegas – an investor "pitch-a-thon" put on by ArcView and the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo, hosted by the publication Marijuana Business Daily.

Among the several thousand who attended: Filmmaker and talk-show host Ricki Lake, working on a documentary called “Weed the People,” about the potential benefits of cannabis as a cancer treatment; and bootstrapping entrepreneurs such as Jill St. Thomas of Colorado, purveying her “Mad Hatter” line of cannabis-infused coffees, teas and "mocktails," and Gracen Hook of Washington, trolling for investors for what he called the first pot-themed resort with a “five-star restaurant, a spa conducive to cannabis tourism and a 40-room hotel.”

Tripp Keber, CEO of Denver-based Dixie Elixirs & Edibles, one of the fastest-growing cannabis companies nationwide, was offering pot-infused soft-drinks, candy and fudge. “If you look at Colorado alone, this year it’s forecast to exceed $700 million – that’s massive expansion,” Keber says.

The federal government remains an obstacle to people trying to build regional or national marijuana businesses. 

Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal Controlled Substances Act, which puts cannabis in the same class of illegal drugs as heroin. And federal tax and banking rules make routine business activities – like paying the rent or sending product-samples through the mail – a nightmare of financial risk.

Bruce Granger helped found a state-of-the-art marijuana production and retail company in Denver called Kind Love. The company’s new facility in a Denver warehouse district is brimming with the latest agricultural technology and climate control systems, not to mention plenty of security.

And Kind Love has plenty of customers. But, says Granger: “Banks are nervous to take our money.” Federal money-laundering rules don’t allow banks that are FDIC-insured to handle proceeds from illegal drug-sales, he explains. “Think about running a business and not being able to use a bank account," he says. "How do you do accounting? Most people don’t have a bank statement. So it’s all cash.”

Brooke Gehring runs Live Green Cannabis, a chain of medical and recreational pot-stores in Colorado that do tens of thousands of dollars in sales every day. Managers carry that cash around – in their cars and briefcases – to deliver the payroll. “They have one of our armed security officers with them, to collect and sign off for payment in cash," Gehring says. Previously, she was a bank compliance officer, so she is aware of how closely banks are scrutinized. “As much as banks like fees, they’re not going to risk their insurance or their reputations to bank this industry that still remains federally illegal," she says.

States predicted as likely to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults 21 or older, or medical marijuana. As predicted, voters in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia approved recreational-marijuana legalization in November 2014. Voters in Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize recreational marijuana production, distribution and retail sale in 2012.

The ArcView Group, ArcView Market Research

To complicate the business further, the IRS tax code doesn’t allow businesses selling federally illegal drugs (including those legal under state law) to deduct most business expenses from their tax bill. So they’re taxed not just on profits, but on all revenue.

Oregon Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer has introduced legislation to do away with what he calls these “punishing” federal rules for state-legal cannabis businesses.

“If you care about money laundering or tax evasion or just theft, forcing legitimate businesses to pay their taxes with shopping bags full of $20 bills is insane,” Blumenauer said in an interview at the ArcView investor conference. “Let these legitimate businesses have fair taxes and banking services. They’ll be better off, but so will society.”

Blumenauer predicts that the reform bills he supports – HR 2240, the Small Business Tax Equity Act, and HR 2652, the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act – will receive bipartisan support, even in this deeply divided Congress.

Many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Washington oppose marijuana legalization. But key conservatives, such as California Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, are working in with Blumenauer and fellow liberals on this issue.

These lawmakers and advocates say they want to give the emerging cannabis industry room to grow and experiment – on the right side of the law.

Apps help employees care for aging parents

Wed, 2015-01-07 11:39

Owen Tripp designed a healthcare app for companies to offer workers. It links people digitally to top medical specialists, for, say, second opinions. Some firms bought it, and some surprised Tripp.

"Those employers really wanted to make sure that they could offer it not only for their employees' needs, but for the family around the employee," he says, specifically parents.

More employees are asking for benefits that help them care for aging parents. Will companies respond in general? Those chasing top talent might, they're in a compensation arms race. But many are still assessing if eldercare benefits pay off.

,

 

Goldman Sachs argues for a big bank breakup

Wed, 2015-01-07 11:37

For years, we’ve been talking about whether some of the country’s largest banks are “Too Big to Fail” and what to do about them. Should the government somehow force them to be smaller? And would the public be better off? The question of banks and size came up again this week when a Goldman Sachs report argued that JPMorgan Chase should split itself in smaller pieces – not for the benefit of the public, but for the company’s shareholders, because the bank is now subject to increased capital requirements after the financial crisis.

For Europe, cheap oil is all boon and little bust

Wed, 2015-01-07 11:07

The long-feared threat of European deflation finally materialized at the end of 2014, according to data released today. Consumer prices in the Eurozone fell for the first time since the 2009 global financial crisis. But it’s not entirely bad news: Prices are falling in large part because oil is so cheap, which acts as a windfall for consumers and a stimulus for Europe’s economy.

"It is a massive stimulus for Europe, and it also hits the right people, it is going to everybody, there are lots of knock-on effects for industries," says Ken Rogoff, a Harvard University economist.

Since Europe imports most of its energy, cheap oil is all boon and little bust. Rogoff says the problem is that the European Central Bank has been trying to create a healthy level of inflation for years. “What makes it a little bit difficult for them is they’ve been struggling to get inflation up to 1 percent and ideally 2 percent,” he says.

Not all countries in the Eurozone are seeing outright deflation. Germany, for instance, is still OK. But the central bank will be under pressure to act. “The worry is, is that you could  end up, in some countries, getting into a deflationary spiral,” says Howard Archer, chief European economist for IHS analysts. “There would be a risk of that happening, in Italy, for example, and perhaps Greece as well.”

The next trick the central bank  has to pull off, according to Archer: Decide which countries should receive stimulus and how much.

For small businesses, nothing but blue skies

Wed, 2015-01-07 11:03

Optimism among small businesses is at a seven-year high, according to a recent study by the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Olalah Njenga, a small-business owner and CEO of YellowWood Group in Raleigh, North Carolina, expects 2015 to be a great year.

"I believe that small business, in general, the optimism is really kind of through the roof going into 2015," Njenga says. "My colleagues are feeling it, my clients are feeling it."

Although she's optimistic, Njenga worries about things that could impact her clients' industries.

"Not getting some firm decision from the FCC on crowd funding, that’s something that is definitely keeping me up at night and tax reform is always going to keep me up," says Njenga. "But things like net neutrality and cyber security are definitely at the top of my radar because I am a previous tech employee, and I have some clients in the tech space."

Intel commits $300 million to diversify tech ranks

Wed, 2015-01-07 11:00

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich has pledged to spend $300 million to increase diversity within Intel and at other high-tech companies. Krzanich made the announcement Tuesday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. 

Women, African-Americans and Latinos have long been underrepresented in the technology industry, a challenge some attribute, in part, to fewer women and minorities earning degrees in engineering and computer science. Intel says it will reach out to historically black colleges and other minority-centered institutions, expand engineering scholarships and bolster mentoring programs.

The company has firm plans to hire more women and minorities in the next five years: Krzanich is tying executive compensation to the success of Intel's diversity initiative.

How diverse are tech companies right now?

Pages