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February 28, 2010

UC, Miami rank as centers of excellence

Filed under: money — Tags: , — DoctorBusiness @ 3:30 am

Programs at the University of Cincinnati and Miami University are among 14 Health Care/Biomedicine Centers of Excellence across the state announced by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.

UC’s newly named state center of excellence, Transforming Health Care in the 21st Century, focuses on the neurosciences; environmental health and cancer; pediatrics; and diabetes and obesity. At Miami, Structural Biology and Metabonomics made the list.

“Aligning Ohio universities with Ohio’s growing biomedical and health care industries will generate economic growth and new, hard-to-outsource jobs,” Strickland said. “Biomedicine and health care in Ohio create high wage jobs, investments in facilities, research and development and production. But much more than that, these industries bring forth medical breakthroughs that benefit citizens of Ohio and citizens of the world.”

Dr. John Tew, clinical director of the UC Neuroscience Institute, said his organization was honored to be included cash advance america.

“Ohio is renowned for its health care excellence, and to be recognized as a neuroscience leader by the state’s leadership confirms our achievement as a benchmark institution in neurological care,” he said in a statement.

The Centers of Excellence are part of Ohio’s 10-year Strategic Plan for Higher Education. Friday’s announcement was the second of five announcements of university Centers of Excellence that align with the state’s targeted industries and focus on talent recruitment, according to a press release. In October 2009, the governor announced Ohio’s nine Centers of Excellence in Advanced Energy at eight of the state’s universities.

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February 24, 2010

States short $1 trillion to fund retiree benefits

Filed under: term — Tags: , , — DoctorBusiness @ 8:53 pm

Just as they are contending with massive gaps in their operating budgets, states and localities must also deal with a $1 trillion deficit in public employees’ retirement benefits’ funds, a new report found.

The shortfall amounts to more than $8,800 for every household in the nation, according to the Pew Center on the States, which published its findings Thursday.

States largely got themselves into this mess by failing to make annual contributions while also enhancing benefits, the study found. Now, they are behind by a total $452 billion in their pension accounts and $555 billion in their retiree health funds, as of the end of fiscal 2008, which ended June 30 for most states.

The deficit is likely even more severe because the report did not take into account the crumbling of the stock market in the latter half of 2008. The typical pension plan lost 25% of its value in 2008.

States must find ways to make up these gaps because retiree benefits for public workers are largely guaranteed by union contract. And they are funded through contributions from both employees and state employers, as well as investment returns.

So when gaps appear, states must ask their residents to make up the difference, usually through property tax or income tax hikes.

"Ultimately, taxpayers could face higher taxes and cuts in services," said Stephen Fehr, one of the report’s authors. "You can’t ignore the problem. It’s just going to be more serious budget trouble for states down the road."

To be sure, the bill isn’t due all at once and no state is in danger of default. These benefits are paid out over decades. Still, the deficits must be addressed sooner than later or the gaps will simply balloon more.

In the most trouble

The consequences of the shortfall could be severe. It comes at a time when states are wrestling with a cumulative $180 billion budget gap for fiscal 2011.

Eight states are in the most dire shape, according to the Pew report. These include: Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey and Oklahoma.

Two of these states — Illinois and Kansas — have less than 60% of the necessary assets on hand to meet their long-term pension obligations.

Only four states — Florida, New York, Washington and Wisconsin — had a fully funded system in 2008, down from just over half at the beginning of the decade.

Overall, state pension systems are 84% funded.

Many states have been lax about funding their pension systems, even during more prosperous times earlier this decade. Some 21 states failed to contribute at least 90% of the required amount during the past five years.

Retiree health care and other non-pension benefit accounts are in even worse condition. Only about 5% of their total liabilities are funded. States generally paying these bills as they come due, rather than setting aside money in advance.

Also, some states sweetened their retiree benefits during the 1990s and earlier this decade, reducing employee contributions or providing cost-of-living increases. But they didn’t allocate money to pay for these changes.

What’s being done

Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, states have begun to act. Fifteen states passed legislation reforming their pension systems in 2009 and 16 are looking at making changes this year.

Since it’s tough to make changes to union contracts, most states apply the new rules to incoming employees only.

Several states, including Kentucky, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Texas, have reduced benefits offered to new employees or raised the retirement age. Some are also asking workers to contribute more to their pension accounts or retiree health benefits. And a few have created 401(k) style plans to go alongside their traditional pensions.

In Nevada, for instance, those hired in 2010 and beyond will have to wait until age 62 to retire, instead of age 60. They will also have a less generous funding formula: Their years of service will be multiplied by 2.5, rather than 2.67, to derive the percentage of salary being replaced by pension benefits.

In New York, new hires can’t retire until age 62, instead of age 55, and they will have to work for 10 years instead of five.

"A growing number of policy makers recognize that their states’ fiscal health depends on how well they manage the bill coming due for public sector retirement benefits," said Susan Urahn, the center’s managing director. "We are seeing more and more states explore policy reforms aimed at putting their systems on stronger fiscal footing."

The study looked at 231 state-administered pension plans and 159 state-administered retiree health care and other non-pension benefit plans, which include some localities’ and teacher plans. 

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February 20, 2010

Stimulus: One year later

Filed under: management, term — Tags: , — DoctorBusiness @ 6:42 pm

Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of the stimulus bill, and from here on out the pace of spending should pick up, according to administration officials.

The federal government expects to spend more money on projects — such as high-speed rail — rather than payments to states and individuals, according to Vice President Joe Biden, who released his annual stimulus progress report Wednesday.

On Feb. 17, 2009, Congress passed a $787 billion economic stimulus program — the largest in the nation’s history — and it has elicited both praise and scorn.

The White House is mounting an all-out campaign this week to tout the benefits of the Recovery Act, saying the package has largely lived up to its promises of stemming job losses and boosting economic growth. Administration officials are touring the nation to highlight stimulus-funded work and detailing where the money has been spent in the past 12 months.

Through the end of January, some $334 billion in spending has been approved, of which $179 billion has actually left federal coffers. Another $119 billion has gone to tax cuts.

"Our work is far from over, but we have rescued this economy from the worst of this crisis," said President Obama on Wednesday, though he noted many Americans may not feel the Recovery Act’s impact because they remain unemployed.

Detractors, however, counter that stimulus has been a waste of money and produced few jobs. And few Americans believe the stimulus program is really working. Only 36% of respondents said the Recovery Act is helping the economy, according to a recent CNN poll.

"In the first year of the trillion-dollar stimulus, Americans have lost millions of jobs, the unemployment rate continues to hover near 10%, the deficit continues to soar and we’re inundated with stories of waste, fraud and abuse," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "This was not the plan Americans asked for or the results they were promised."

Shifting the mix

In the coming months, the pace and mix of spending will change, senior administration officials said. Until this point, the bulk of the spending has been on tax relief and direct aid — such as unemployment benefits — in order to stop the economic freefall.

Going forward, the government will distribute $32 billion in Recovery Act funds per month, up from an average $27 billion a month over the past year, according to Biden’s annual report.

To date, only $31 billion has been spent on projects — such as infrastructure, high-speed rail, broadband and health technology. But in the second phase of the act, the amount of money going to these initiatives will more than double to $7 billion a month as the work ramps up. The administration views this spending as setting the stage for a lasting expansion.

"Many projects are just now getting underway, and will be creating jobs throughout 2010 and beyond," said Biden, noting that the administration will announce an additional $1.5 billion of surface transportation projects Wednesday. "Work on many Recovery Act projects will accelerate in the spring and summer months as weather conditions permit work on roads, bridges, water projects, and Superfund site clean ups."

Payments to states and individuals will fall to $11 billion, from $14 billion, per month. Much of this spending — such as Medicaid funding and additional unemployment benefits — was meant to stabilize the economy during the recession.

The administration will reach its goal to disburse 70% of the Recovery Act funds, or $551 billion, by Sept. 30, senior administration officials said.

The Congressional Budget Office recently hiked the cost estimate of the Recovery Act to $862 billion, though the administration still uses the original $787 billion figure.

Shortcomings highlighted

Republicans, however, were quick to point out stimulus’ shortcomings, stressing the nation’s stubbornly high unemployment rate, which stands at 9.7%.

"Taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth from the trillion-dollar ’stimulus’ and struggling families and small businesses are rightly asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’," said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the House’s top Republican.

Republican Whip Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., said states have lost a total of 2.9 million jobs between the bill’s enactment last February through December, though the administration projected stimulus would save or create 3.5 million positions.

In the final quarter of last year, the Recovery Act funded 595,263 direct jobs, according to Recovery.gov. The figure is based on about 160,000 reports from state, local and corporate recipients who have spent $57.9 billion in stimulus money.

It does not tally jobs created indirectly through companies buying supplies for stimulus projects, people spending their tax cuts, increased unemployment benefits and the like.

In total, the economic stimulus program has boosted employment by 1.5 million to 2 million jobs, the president’s chief economic adviser said in mid-January. That number is derived from a mathematical formula based on how much money has flowed out the federal door.

A week ago, the president’s top economic adviser praised the Recovery Act, calling it the "great unsung hero of the past year." Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer reiterated that the program has funded up to 2 million jobs and helped turn the economy around. 

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February 17, 2010

London’s ‘Stock-Starved’ Housing Market Reaches Price Record

Filed under: term — Tags: , , — DoctorBusiness @ 9:48 pm

London home sellers raised asking prices to a record high this month as they took advantage of a “stock-starved” housing market, Rightmove Plc said.

The average cost of a home in the capital jumped 5 percent to 427,987 pounds ($671,000), the most since records began in 2002, the owner of the U.K.’s biggest property Web site said in a statement today. Average asking prices in England and Wales increased by 3.2 percent, the most since April 2007.

A small apartment in London’s Pimlico district received “astronomical” interest from buyers, real-estate agent James Gubbins said in an interview. The Bank of England said in its quarterly economic forecasts this month that the strength in the housing market may reflect “unusually weak” supply.

“A price jump of 5 percent is more comparable to the pre- credit crunch boom,” Miles Shipside, commercial director of Rightmove, said in the statement. “If sellers return to the market in larger numbers, the current upwards price pressure will not be sustainable with the restricted number of mortgage- strapped buyers.”

London’s Westminster district led gains in the capital, with prices rising 14.9 percent on the month to an average of 1.3 million pounds. The most expensive area is the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where a 4.6 percent increase pushed up the average value to 1.9 million pounds.

‘Tiny Little Flat’

“The shortage is the main thing that’s cushioning the market,” said Gubbins, an agent at Dauntons in Pimlico, a neighborhood in Westminster. “Last year, buyers were socked to the teeth on the economy and didn’t know what they were going to do, and now they’ve decided to get on with it and stop putting their lives on hold.”

Gubbins said he recently had an “astronomical” number of viewings for a “tiny little flat” in Tachbrook Street in Pimlico, close to the Tate Britain art museum business card. Last year, “it wouldn’t have done at all well.” The one-bedroom property sold close to the asking price of almost 300,000 pounds, he said.

Prices rose 10.3 percent in London from a year earlier. That compares with a 6.1 percent gain in the U.K. as a whole, where prices fell about 12 percent from the peak in May 2008 to the trough in January last year.

Rightmove said a “stock-starved housing market” supported prices across Britain as the average number of properties per real estate agent stayed at a two-year low of 63. The average total for sale at real estate branches fell to 55 in January, the lowest since July 2007, according to a survey by, the National Association of Estate Agents released Feb. 11.

Mortgage Lending

The property market may still falter if mortgage lending weakens. The number of approvals fell to 59,023 in December, the first drop in more than a year and half.

Bank of England policy makers kept the benchmark interest rate at a record low of 0.5 percent this month as they paused their 200 billion-pound emergency stimulus program. Governor Mervyn King said last week it was “far too soon” to say policy makers will make no more purchases as the economy recovers.

“The low interest rate environment is meaning that less people need to sell,” said James Perris of De Villiers Surveyors in London. “If we do see interest rates go up a bit, we may see people more inclined to sell.”

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February 14, 2010

New stores help boost Chipotle profit, revenue

Filed under: marketing — Tags: , , — DoctorBusiness @ 11:27 pm

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. Thursday posted sharply higher fourth-quarter profit as restaurant openings and higher menu prices helped push revenue up 12 percent.

The Denver-based fast-casual restaurant chain known for its bulging burritos (NYSE: CMG) posted quarterly net income of $31.6 million, or 99 cents a share, up from $17 million, or 52 cents a share, in the same quarter of 2008.

Analysts on average had expected earnings of 81 cents a share, Thomson Reuters reported.

Revenue for the fourth quarter rose to $387.4 million from $345.3 million a year earlier. Analysts had forecast revenue of $388.2 million.

Chipotle opened 45 new restaurants in the quarter, bringing its total to 956 payday loans in 1 hour. Same-store restaurant sales rose 2 percent, largely on menu price increases.

Revenue-level operating margins were 24.5 percent, up from 21.1 percent a year earlier.

For full-year 2009, Chipotle reported net income of $126.8 million, or $3.95 a share, versus $78.2 million, or $2.36 a share, in 2008.

Full-year revenue was $1.518 billion, up from $1.331 billion the previous year.

Chipotle said it expects to open 120 to 130 new restaurants in 2010, with flat same-store sales. It plans a move into the United Kingdom by spring.

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February 11, 2010

Med tech firm Disc Dynamics shutting down

Filed under: economics, news — Tags: , — DoctorBusiness @ 3:36 pm

A decade-old medical technology startup called Disc Dynamics Inc. has closed its doors and is selling off its assets, according to reports.

The Eden Prairie-based company was developing a treatment for lower back pain, but never got its product approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Former CEO Steven Healy left the firm last July to be CEO of Maple Grove-based Lumen Biomedical. Healy, the former president of St. Jude Medical Inc.’s Cardiac Surgery division, had been CEO since 2002.

Disc Dynamics’ Chief Financial Officer Keith Eastman couldn’t be reached for comment.

Three employees remain from the peak of 32 workers, including Eastman, who is managing the sale of the company’s assets, according to a report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Disc Dynamics’ technology was designed to treat lower back problems by injecting a fluid into the spine through a catheter. The fluid then expands and gels inside the back to create an artificial nucleus for the disc.

The company raised about $65 million in venture capital over the years from a variety of investors including Eden Prairie-based Split Rock Partners and Fridley-based Medtronic Inc.

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February 7, 2010

Concerned? Ask your Toyota dealer

Filed under: news — Tags: , , — DoctorBusiness @ 1:54 pm

Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday that owners of Toyotas affected by the recall should bring their cars to a dealer.

"My advice is if you have one of these vehicles, if you have a doubt, take it to Toyota today," LaHood told reporters after a hearing on Capitol Hill.

Earlier, LaHood had told a House committee that Toyota owners should "stop driving" and bring affected cars back to the company. He later referred to that as a "misstatement."

The Transportation agency also released a statement advising owners "to contact their local dealerships to arrange for fixes as soon as possible."

"We appreciate Secretary LaHood’s clarification of his remarks today about Toyota’s recall for sticking accelerator pedals," Toyota said in a statement. "We want to make sure our customers understand that this situation is rare and generally does not occur suddenly."

The automaker said if Toyota owners notice a problem, they should contact their dealerships immediately. But if a car is not experiencing pedal issues, Toyota said it is confident the vehicle is safe to drive.

Toyota officials announced on Monday they had found a solution that involved reinforcing the pedal assembly with a part that is being rushed to dealerships.

The problem, however, is that drivers are not likely to get a quick fix. Toyota told dealers in a letter on Tuesday that "parts and technical instructions will begin arriving this week for you to begin initiating repairs."

The confusion has worried Toyota owners like Maria Ciresi, 75, of Smithtown, N.Y.

"I’m deadly afraid to use it," said Ciresi, referring to the new car she bought in November that has only 300 miles on it.

She said she contacted two of her local Toyota dealerships, but was told that they "don’t know when" they would be able to fix her car.

"You have to be notified first by mail," she said.

Ciresi said she contacted Toyota directly, and was told to "drive the car, and if anything happens, put it in neutral."

Meanwhile, Ciresi said she’s paying $190 a month for insurance and $263 a month on car payments for a vehicle she doesn’t dare use.

LaHood also acknowledged that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating Toyotas not just for problems with gas pedals, but for problems with the electrical systems, as well.

"We will also be investigating the electronic components that are in these cars and if they’re not safe, we’ll have Toyota take a look at that," LaHood said.

He said that Toyota has been cooperative in the investigations.

Toyota has recalled millions of vehicles in recent weeks due to problems with sticking gas pedals that cause the vehicles to accelerate out of control and later halted the sale of the eight vehicles involved in the recall.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the model-make of a car. 

Source

February 2, 2010

Snapshot of job crisis not a pretty picture

Filed under: online — Tags: , — DoctorBusiness @ 10:06 pm

The running numbers on the worst job crisis since the Great Depression have become the new national boxscore.

Even those with cursory interest in the economy are aware the national unemployment rate stood near or past 10 percent nationally for most of 2009.

Still others can reel off the current numbers for Missouri (9.6 percent) and Illinois (11 percent) with the authority of a seasoned economist.

Now, for the first time, policy-makers have a tool to regularly measure the depth of that economic pain at the state and regional level — a quarterly snapshot assessing underemployment and other comprehensive unemployment data on a state-by-state basis.

Since 1994, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has packaged the inclusive national jobs data into its monthly unemployment report. But on a state and local level, such statistics were available only once a year.

A bureau official said the new schedule, two years in development, fills a recession-ravaged public’s need for more information about the state of the economy and job market. And the picture isn’t very pretty.

When the bureau adds workers overqualified for their current positions (underemployed), employees involuntarily subjected to reduced hours and individuals no longer looking for a job to the equation, the national barometer for jobs misery soars to 17 percent.

"It’s not so interesting when the economy is humming along," said Tom Krolik, an analyst with the agency’s local area unemployment statistics division.

The new data provide a steady and reliable estimate of just how deeply the recession has cut into two states in which 773,000

(Illinois) and 137,500 (Missouri) displaced workers are currently drawing unemployment:

— More than 400,000 underemployed in Illinois and nearly 200,000 working below grade level in Missouri.

— Upwards of 350,000 now employed part time involuntarily in Illinois and an additional 153,000 struggling in part-time positions in Missouri.

— At least 30,000 "discouraged workers" (people who have stopped looking for jobs) in Illinois and an additional 10,000 in Missouri.

The state numbers are culled from the same surveys and databases the bureau uses to compile its monthly unemployment statistics.

"The thing that is so discouraging is that we’re not seeing much improvement," said Bonny Filandrinos, president of Staffing Solutions in Clayton, which provides temporary workers to health facilities and other area companies.

Filandrinos says she’s still waiting to see a bounce-back in demand for even temporary or part-time labor. "We’re still in trouble," she said.

Six Flags St. Louis got a glimpse of where the economy still stands earlier this month when 916 temporary 2009 employees attended a party to welcome back temporary workers returning for another season.

By the time Six Flags ends its 2010 recruitment drive — a process that begins with a Feb. 6 job fair — human resources director Colleen Welch estimates about half of the park’s employees will be returnees.

On average, she said, Six Flags sees about 40 percent of its workers return the following season.

Unlike days when the park’s employees swelled in the summer with high school and college students, many of the returnees are older, experienced workers driven to seasonal employment by a bum economy.

Bob Graf, 64, managed to carve out a decent living since abandoning the teaching profession 30 years ago for a second career as a freight broker.

As the middleman that small and mid-sized manufacturers retain to negotiate shipping contracts with trucking firms, Graf considers himself somewhat of an "amateur" economist.

When production slowed and orders started to drop in 2007, Graf figured the economy was going down the tubes.

He figured right.

Last year, the recession hit Graf where it hurts.

With his commissions in the tank, Graf took a second job as a seasonal security guard at Six Flags to help make ends meet. Seeing little improvement in the shipping business, he will be back this summer, supplementing the diminished income from his year-round position.

"I still make money, but it’s not what it was," said Graf, of south St. Louis County.

Still, there are signs of improvement that should eventually show up in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ expanded database.

Jon Lauer, president of Professional Irrigation Systems in Wentzville, is planning to fill four to six positions lost to layoffs last year.

With commercial and residential construction still in decline, Lauer has changed the focus of his 10-year-old company to the servicing of existing irrigation systems as well as installing some at municipal athletic facilities. The workload, he said, is a far cry from the pre-recession days when 50- to 60-hour weeks were common.

For the past year and into the foreseeable future, he stressed, overtime is out of the question.

"We’re still in the hanging-in-there stage," he said.

As is Rob Huddleston, 41, of Florissant, who has been out of work since losing his welding job in August.

After dipping his toe in a market that seeks to pay experienced welders about two-thirds of what he earned last year, Huddleston decided to accept $5,000 in Workforce Investment Act funding to improve his skills in a retraining program.

The tight job market, he said, "does get discouraging sometimes."

But not so much that Huddleston will show up in the bureau’s category of workers who have put the brakes on the job search.

"I don’t look at giving up as an option," he said. "I know people get discouraged, but if you quit there is nowhere to go but further down."

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