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Tuesday, May 31, 2011


After the earthquake and tsunami, Japan has a rise in unemployment for the first time in six months. A record drop in was also felt in industrial production.
The twin disasters have already sent Japan's economy back into recession and Moody's Investors Service warned Tuesday it could downgrade Japan's sovereign credit rating due to the faltering economy and massive public debt.
The jobless rate edged up to 4.7 percent from 4.6 percent in March due to job losses in the retail and wholesale sectors, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said. The number of workers in those sectors dropped in April by 390,000 from a year earlier.
A lot of part-time workers in the wholesale and retail sectors lost their jobs due to weak demand following the March tsunami.
The number of workers in the hotel and restaurant businesses in April fell by 30,000 from a year earlier, underscoring a plunge in tourism following the March disasters and an ongoing crisis at a tsunami-crippled nuclear power plant.
Japan's industrial production, a key barometer of economic health, inched up 1 percent in April from the previous month after plunging a record 15.5 percent in March amid supply disruptions in the wake of the disasters.
The earthquake and tsunami killed more than 24,000 people and destroyed hundreds of factories in Japan's coastal northeast, forcing manufacturers such as Toyota Motor Corporation and Sony Corporation to suspend production.
Auto production alone plunged 60.1 percent in April from a year earlier because of manufacturing disruptions caused by parts shortages.
While overall April factory output fell short of a projected rise of 2.2 percent, the government said industrial production will pick up quickly in coming months, with a rise of 8 percent expected in May and another 7.7 percent in June.
A slump in production after the March disasters hit the bottom in March and April, and a recovery in factory output, especially in the auto sector, is under way.
The ministry said output in the transport machinery sector, which includes auto production, will surge 35.7 percent in May and 36.7 percent in June. Automakers have said domestic production is recovering fast as shortages of parts ease.
Output at Japanese factories looked hopeless after the March earthquake. But supply conditions improved, and each company is making utmost efforts to recover from the disaster. A fast recovery underlined the strength of Japanese manufactures.
The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association reported Tuesday that vehicle production in April totaled 292,001 vehicles, marking a dramatic drop from 731,829 vehicles a year earlier. It was the seventh straight month of year-on-year declines.
Japanese automakers have been forced to lower production in Japan, and aren't expecting to return to pre-disaster levels until later this year.
The ratio of job offers to job seekers in April fell to 0.61, meaning there were 61 jobs available for every 100 job seekers.
April also brought a three percent decline in the Japanese average household spending for a year. This was equal to $3,620 per household.


The impact on the US economy from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March was grim, however, it appears the earlier damage estimates were too low. This hurts hopes that the US economy would rebound quickly.
A series of analysts have recently cut their second-quarter gross domestic product projections, based in large part on impact that the Japan disaster is having on the automotive industry.
Factory shutdowns and ensuing problems with getting parts have slowed vehicle production, a move likely to drive up prices, increase unemployment and slow consumer spending, according to recent projections from economists at Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.
Japan is having an impact across the US economy, but is being felt most acutely on vulnerable Detroit automakers, whose business was just beginning to recover when the disaster hit March 11.
As expected, the hardest-hit sector of the economy appears to be motor vehicle production. Shortages in supply of the key components, notably auto microcontrollers, have led to production shutdowns at US facilities, particularly those owned by Japanese manufacturers.
Consequently, Goldman has cut its second-quarter GDP estimates to 3.0 percent, growth for sure, but below trend and off hopes that the consensus had as the year progressed.
An economic report Wednesday from the Commerce Department reflected how deep the damage was running.
Orders for durable goods, long-lasting items such as cars and appliances, tumbled 3.6 percent in April, much worse than the 2.2 percent consensus forecast and indicative of how much slowdown effects from Japan are hampering the recovery.
New orders for transportation equipment plunged 9.5 percent, while shipments for transportation equipment fell 3 percent.
Manufacturing numbers in general have been weak lately, reflected particularly in a series of reports from regional Federal Reserve branches that measure business activity.
Yet Tilton and Deutsche maintain that the effects from Japan could be short-lived.
Deutsche last week cut its quarterly GDP projections by half a point to 3.2 percent. But the firm focused on a recent report from the Institute for Supply Management projecting continued growth in the second half although at a slower pace.
The Deutsche economists also predicted that first-quarter growth will be revised upward, from 1.8 percent to 2.3 percent, in a report due Thursday. While further downward revisions to their Q2 2011 forecast are possible, they are hesitant to make any meaningful changes ahead of what they still believe could be a strong May employment report.
The enthusiasm, though, was not universal.
Gluskin Sheff economist warned Wednesday of deepening recession pressure in Japan that will cause a spillover on global production schedules the likes of which was felt in the durable goods report.
The main question seems to be how long the effects from Japan will be felt.
Economists at Nomura Securities in New York stated both orders and shipments of motor vehicles and parts fell sharply in April, a development that they believe reflects the contagion effects of the loss of key components that are made in Japan but needed for assembling cars in the U.S. This issue on domestic producers is likely to persist in May and probably June as well.
Goldman's warned that the smaller supply of autos will give manufacturers and dealers more purchasing power, driving up inflation fears among consumers already battered by high oil and fuel costs. They also cautioned that consumer spending would drop by a fairly small amount and projected another 70,000 jobless claims filed over the previous four weeks due to slowdowns in vehicle-producing states.
Higher vehicle inflation and any supply-chain related weakness in vehicle sales should be temporary effects as well, probably fading by late in the year.


Washington, D.C. is home to 19 Smithsonian Museums that are visited yearly by nearly 30 million people. These museums, commonly referred to as “our nation’s attic”, hold great American items, however the gift shops at the museums hold a very different product. Many items in the shops have been “Made in China”.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, thinks it is utterly absurd and frankly insulting that the patriotic American mementos visitors are taking home today are stamped with the words “Made in China”.
Earlier this year, Rahall introduced the "Buy American at the Smithsonian Act of 2011" because he doesn’t think our nation's attic should be stocked with goods from China that could be made in the United States.
The Smithsonian is an example of the state of American manufacturing today. As more steps of the manufacturing process are outsourced to other countries, American products are harder to find, and often more expensive to purchase.
Critics argue that as manufacturing moves overseas, American jobs go with it. However, some companies have committed to bringing manufacturing back home, recalling some of the "Made in U.S." zeal of the 1970s.
Take bubble gum and baseball cards.
Very few brands are part of the DNA when you're growing up, and Topps is one of them. Topps was founded in 1938 by the Shorn brothers as a gum company. In 1952, the company introduced its baseball cards. The company's been a pillar in America off the back of baseball cards ever since. Topps executives recently made the tough decision to renew their lease in New York City's Manhattan, a move that may cost more money but remains true to the company's American roots.
Despite global market pressures, U.S. manufacturing, taken by itself, would currently rank as the sixth-largest economy in the world, just behind France and ahead of the United Kingdom, Italy and Brazil. At $2.155 trillion, total U.S. manufacturing output is 45% higher than China's. Despite the increase in output, however, the number of jobs in the U.S. manufacturing sector is down more than 7 million since the late 1970s.
Some of the job loss can be blamed on new technologies and computerized manufacturing, which cut down on the need for manual labor. Outsourcing to countries with lower wages also reduces jobs available in the US.
But these short-term savings could cost the American economy in the long term.
Some argue that what is “too expensive” , and what we “can't afford”, is to continue sending American jobs overseas to China, India, and elsewhere. Americans should see buying "Made in USA" products as helping their neighbor, and the national economy, to recover. Americans often seek out products that are made in America, and most are willing to pay a little extra if they know the money will support American jobs.
Restoring all-American products to the country's prized institutions, starting with the Smithsonian Museums, is an important step, both as a stimulus to the economy and a national moral boost.
No one can argue with a straight face that making the Smithsonian sell American-made products will solve our trade deficit, or it will be responsible for our economic recovery. But, it certainly sends the wrong signal, and is highly ironic, that the American mementos that American tourists take home from their American capital are made, not in America, but in China.
Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, is the proud head of one of America's most recognizable brands. It was formed in San Diego in 1953 to create a line of rust-prevention solvents and degreasers for use in the aerospace industry. Almost 60 years later, Ridge, who is from Australia, doesn't see the company as exclusively American. He believes they are a global company that happens to be based in San Diego, but once upon a time they lived in a house, in a street, in a suburb, in a city in the world…today they live in a house of the world. Half of the company's business is now outside of the U.S.
Another argument is that "Made in America" isn't a clear-cut problem or solution; rather, it is a complex game of give-and-take within a global market. There's no doubt that many of the jobs that used to be American mainstays are now located in other countries, but that's only half the picture of globalization. We haven't seen nearly enough attention paid to the companies that have been able to keep or even add to jobs by buying parts overseas at far less than they would cost in the United States; or those whose sales overseas have grown dramatically, while the lion's share of their jobs stay in America.
Products from global companies like WD-40 may not be "Made in America," but the jobs created in America and abroad still have a large impact on the nation's economy.
According to Ridge, efficiency should take priority over nationality when deciding where to set up operations. It depends on cost effectiveness, which sometimes benefits U.S. manufacturers and other times not. Companies need to be the best they can be, to be the most competitive they can be. A closed market will only stunt innovation in the long run, which could result in the U.S. economy falling farther behind.
Consumers are often led to believe that, because a product has a "Made in USA" label, it is automatically of higher quality than foreign goods. However, the "Made in the USA" label simply means that the product is made with "all or virtually all" components in the U.S.
Some have argued the "Made in USA" label is too exclusive and can actually hurt the economy by discouraging consumers from buying goods that are not completely made within US borders, but which benefit the country by creating jobs or promoting innovation.
Others argue that the general consensus seems to be that this designation should be made by who gets the primary benefit or value of the sale. If the United States is the primary beneficiary of the sale, why should the seal of 'made in the USA' not be used even if a minor percentage of the product is outsourced elsewhere?
Further, U.S. labor laws and environmental standards are typically more stringent than in other countries, meaning many products are more expensive to manufacture entirely on home turf.
Fred DeLuca might be the closest example of the quintessential "American Dream" in action. When he was 17, DeLuca borrowed $1,000 from a family friend in 1965 to start his first sandwich shop, with the goal of paying for college.
Today, his shop, Subway, is the largest sandwich franchise in the world, with 34,000 locations in 94 countries and sales of more than $13 billion in 2009 alone.
But when asked if large corporations have a responsibility during these tough economic times to buy American to create more American jobs, his answer was clear: No.
He commented that here in the United States, the American manufacturers earned our business and we're happy to buy from them. He doesn’t really think it's important to just say 'buy American' for the sake of buying American.
Now with small stores in 94 countries all over the world, DeLuca said that it would be nearly impossible to run his business with the kind of precision it needs without franchising to small business owners.
These are small businesses, and if the local people run the stores, they can do an excellent job, and they can benefit from the power of the brand.
According to some fostering these small businesses, whether within a franchise or not, is crucial to an American recovery. Now we are seeing enormous opportunity for small businesses to export goods and services.
The National Export Initiative in cooperation with the Small Business Association ,helps small businesses with capital, advice, and connections that help them get access and opportunity to exporting. The goal is to double America's exports over the next five years. In this realm, small businesses are key. With strides in technology, small businesses have more opportunities and tools to be able to market and sell abroad.


Hundreds of check scams, and plenty of other cons such as telemarketing fraud, investment fraud and Internet auction fraud, take place nationwide each year. Recently a check scam surfaced using a bank’s logoed check and asking you to wire money after you deposit the fake check.
These scams are especially tricky because the checks look really real.
The Indiana attorney general said their office receives complaints all the time on check scams.
Here's how it works:
A check comes in the mail with the U.S. Bank logo on it. It matches the exact logo of the real company.
With it is a letter from HR Consult Financials that tells receivers they were electronically selected from an Internet database and have won $80,000.
It then gives instructions for proceeding with the first portion of the winnings, that $2,500 check.
Deposit the check in the bank. Then call the telephone number provided to activate the winnings. At that time, you will be asked to wire a processing fee of $800 and an administrative fee of $700. Those can only be made through Western Union or MoneyGram.
Once you send that money, the letter explains that the rest of your winning check will be sent to you in the amount of $77,500, delivered by FedEx or DHL.
People get so excitied about the prospect of receiving money they forget that if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.
Bank logos being used in a scam is not new and it happens to banks all the time, and with today's computers and printers, the logo and the check can look genuine.
If you are questioning the validity of a check, take it into the branch and have them check it out, and then they can let you know right away. The minute you deposit that check, it's on you.
That's exactly what the scammers want, you liable for the money.
Their hope is that you will deposit the check for $2,500 into your bank account and then wire the $1,500 before the bank realizes the check is phony.
Be wary of any type of program that asks you to wire money. This is a red flag of a scam. Don’t get caught owing money when you thought you would be receiving it. Always remember, if it is too good to be true, then it probably is a scam.


“Turkey and Bacon AvocadOHH” is on the new advertising Subway will unveil next week. The fast food giant is rolling out avocado as a sandwich option nationwide. The public embrace of avocados by the sandwich giant, which with 24,188 U.S. stores has more domestic locations than McDonald's, is pegged to the healthier eating theme that's been crucial to Subway's success.

The move is expected to nudge other major fast-food chains to elevate the vitamin-, mineral- and calorie-packed fruit to their menus. Wayne County Heart Doctors have mentioned that higher consumption of avocado based products has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. At Subway, avocado makes its debut as preservative-free, 100% avocado spread in a Turkey & Bacon Avocado sandwich that sells for about $7.

Customers will have to pay from 50 cents to $1 to have the mashed avocado spread added to most other sandwiches. On the West Coast, instead of the spread, sliced avocados are offered at many Subways. Both have sold very well in tests.

In an effort to make avocados go mainstream, Subway will have upcoming TV spots that will showcase Michael Phelps and Apolo Ohno juggling avocados.

The move comes at a time when avocado is showing up in new chips, dips and cooking oils. More than 75 new products made with avocado have rolled out over the past five years, Datamonitor reports. And domestic avocado sales rocketed to 1.3 billion pounds in 2010, up 16%.

Subway's move is a bid to separate itself from major fast-food chains while luring customers from fast-casual chains such as Panera and Chipotle, where avocado is common. Rival Quiznos has sold subs with guacamole for years.

Subway is eager to boost its own better-for-you image. Last month it announced that it had cut sodium in its sandwich line by 15%.

Subway will tout the slogan "Grab the Green" in TV spots that promote avocados as well as the upcoming summer flick Green Lantern. Avocado also will be available on its breakfast sandwiches.
If you are replacing mayo with avocado then you are making a great change nutritionally. However, avocado spread has 70 calories per serving, so using vinegar and mustard may be a better choice if you are counting calories.

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Every night at dinnertime, Latino families have made the switch from grape picker to wine drinker. The new love for wine has evolved because of how its taste brings out or calms the flavors of Mexican food.
Wine was never on the menu a generation ago for those who grew up in California's Central Valley where many Mexican-born parents picked crops, including grapes. Today in homes of Latinos, wine bottles line up next to plates of quesadillas and carne asada.
Research shows wine consumption among Latinos has increased dramatically over the past five years, much faster than for non-Latinos. The number of glasses of wine consumed by Hispanics per month climbed by nearly 50% between 2005 and 2010, while for non-Hispanics the increase was a more modest 16.
As Latino consumers are uncorking reds and whites, the wine industry is trying to attract more of America's largest ethnic group. Several winemakers are running media campaigns aimed at Latinos. And the wine trade association in California's agricultural heartland is focusing its upcoming wine tasting and competition on them.
Part of what's pushing the increase in consumption is sheer demographics. Hispanics accounted for more than half of the U.S. population increase over the last decade. The other factor: a socioeconomic and cultural shift among the more established Latino generations.
As the tastes of the Latino consumers get to be a little more acculturated, as their palates change, as they become more affluent and educated, they are turning to wine.
Latinos, who make up 50 percent of Fresno County’s population, are enjoying wine at dinner parties, networking events, wine tastings and family barbeques.
Placencia, who was born in the small farm town of Cutler and picked grapes as a child, wasn't exposed to wine until he moved to San Francisco to attend college. There he met people who introduced him to the Napa and Sonoma valleys. Placencia attended vineyard and cellar tours, talked with winemakers and fell in love with wine. He even convinced his parents to try it.
The switch was easier, he said, because wine matches perfectly with Hispanic cuisine. Family favorites include enchiladas suizas with green sauce paired with a Viognier; crispy tostadas with ground beef and salsa with a Chardonnay; or carne asada ranchera style with a Serat or a Zinfandel.
Despite the growth, industry experts say the Hispanic market is largely untapped. They really have not done a good job of translating their product to that demographic. Given the growth of the Hispanic segment of the market, it seems apropos that they find out what people in this group want to drink.
A group which represents over half of California's wine industry, has teamed up with the Hispanic Chamber to put together a panel of Latino judges to help select California's best wines. The results will help the industry group better promote wine to that ethnic group.
Some wine makers are already working on that.
Napa Valley-based Beringer Vineyards launched a campaign that includes Spanish-language TV spots and educational programs on Latino television networks in Southern California, sampling events and Spanish-language displays in Latino supermarkets and national chains with a large Hispanic customer base. Hispanics are one of the fastest growing segments of wine drinkers, so they wanted to introduce their big iconic wine to them.
The company didn't just translate its materials into Spanish, instead, it tailored its message to revolve around family traditions, an integral part of Latino culture.
After a successful pilot this winter, sales in some stores outperformed the general market. Beringer plans to launch the same campaign this spring in California and, later this year, in Texas and New York.
Banfi Vintners, an Italian winemaker that exports wine to the U.S., has put up Spanish-language billboards and in-store displays in southern Texas. The campaign was spurred by growth in the largely Hispanic market around Dallas and Fort Worth metro area. It resulted in a double digit percentage increase in sales and will be expanded to additional markets.
The biggest outreach to Latino wine consumers has come from Latino vintners. Latino winemakers are tapping their neighbors and families, connecting with Latino organizations and educating Latinos about wine.
Latino wine consumers are taking pride in seeking out Latino wine makers. They feel they know their story because it's like their own family history, the immigrant story they can relate to.
So many Latinos have relatives from just a generation or two before them that were grape pickers. They have a family history that was largely impacted by the wine industry. If mainstream wine companies want to win over the Latino community they need to also address labor standard concerns such as pesticides and wages for farm workers. Wine companies need to realize that without the Latino population’s contributions the wine market may not be what it is today.

Monday, May 23, 2011


It is anticipated that the average price for gas is going to fall this week. Oil prices have dropped considerably from the high of $115 a barrel in early May. Oil refineries are working harder making gasoline, however, we using less fuel than last May.
This is all good news for American drivers. The average price for regular unleaded gasoline has been falling to around $3.90 per gallon, yet many of us are paying above average prices.
More than a third of Americans live in just five states; California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois. According to AAA, the average price of regular gasoline for drivers in those states remains more than $4 per gallon. In Michigan, a gallon of regular hovered just below $4 Friday, at $3.96, down from $4.19 a week before.
There are 10 U.S. cities with over 1 million residents each. Gasoline prices in seven of those 10 cities remain over $4 a gallon. It's most expensive in Chicago. It's the cheapest in Houston and San Antonio. All three have gasoline refineries close by, so it's not solely a matter of gasoline supplies that have driven prices up.
Although average gas prices at the pumps are falling, many can plan on continuing to pay above average prices.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Job growth is slowly on the rise according to analysts. Recently the annual list of “Best Cities for Jobs” was release with some surprising results. Last year the reports showed a gloomy outlook when only 13 of 397 metropolitan areas experienced any growth. For this year's list, which measured job growth in the period between January 2010 and January 2011, most of the best-performing areas experienced increases in employment increases.
Almost 400 metropolitan statistical areas are ranked based on employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported from November 1999 to January 2011. Rankings are based on recent growth trends, mid-term growth and long-term growth and momentum. The locations are also broke down by size, small, medium and large, because regional economies differ markedly due to their scale.
Reflecting the importance of the war effort in stimulating local economies, command of this year's best place for jobs was handed to the Army from the Marines. Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood, Texas, shot up to #1 from #4, while the military-based Jacksonville, N.C., last year's first-place winner dropped to 19th place.
Once again the best places for jobs tended to be smaller communities where small improvements can have a relatively large impact. Eighteen of the top 20 cities were either small (under 150,000 nonfarm jobs) or mid-sized areas (less than 450,000 jobs).
Texas, however, dominated the three size categories, with the #1 mid-sized city, El Paso (#3 overall, up 22 places from last year) and #1 large metropolitan area Austin (#6 overall), joining Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood (the #1 small city) atop their respective lists.
Texas also produced three other of the top 10 smallest regions, including energy-dominated #4 Midland, which gained 41 places overall, and #10 Odessa, whose economy jumped a remarkable 57 places. It also added two other mid-size cities to the list with #2 Corpus Christi and #4 McAllen-Edinburgh-Mission. With all this moving there has also been an increase in Truck Bed Liners.
California experience a miserable year with having zero regions in the top 150. This led to a group of California officials to Texas to learn possible lessons about what drives job creation. Gov. Jerry Brown and others in California's hierarchy have a lot to learn as, the fact is, that the city Brown formerly ran, Oakland, ranked absolute last (#65), among the big metros in the report. This is two places behind perennial also-ran #63 Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, Mich.
One lesson that green-centric California may have trouble learning is that, however attractive the long-term promise of alternative energy, fossil fuels pay the bills and create strong economies, at least for now. Even outside of Texas, oil capitals did well across the board, not surprising given the surging price of gas. The #2 small metro, Bismarck, N.D., which also is #2 overall, is the emerging capital of the expanding Dakota energy belt. Also faring well are Alaska's two oil-fire cities, Fairbanks (#10 on the small list) and Anchorage (#3 on the medium-sized list).
There were some great improvements as well. Most welcome are signs of revival from New Orleans-Metarie, La., which moved up a stunning 46 places to capture the #2 slot among large metros. The region lost 11% of its population and nearly 16% of its jobs during the last decade. But now the Big Easy seems to be finding its place again among America's great cities. Jobs, up 3.5% since 2006, have been created by rebuilding, a resurgence of tourism and a growing immigrant population. This region’s Hispanic population grew by 35,000 over the past decade.
There were other inspirational improvements this year. Sparked by a revival in manufacturing, a host of former gloomy areas in parts of the Midwest are showing signs of definite improvement. Niles-Benton Harbor, Mich., a long-time sleeper at the bottom of the list, shot up a remarkable 242 places this year to a respectable #121. Another old industrial city, Kokomo, Ind., ascended 177 places to #215, while Holland-Grand Haven, Mich., improved by 172 places to #221 and Grand Rapids, Mich., rose 167 places to #183. Milwaukee, a long-time loser among the largest metros, moved up by a healthy 163 places overall to a better-than-average #143.
The Northeast Corridor has also made strong progress. The stimulus has been particularly good for the vibrant economies surrounding the ever-expanding federal leviathan. Among the large metros, Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, Va., did best of all the cities outside the South, repeating its #6 ranking among large metro areas. Right behind, at #7 on the large city list, sits the primarily suburban Northern Virginia metro area, while Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Md., ranks 12th.
The other big East Coast winners are the financial and university-oriented economies, which have reaped huge benefits from the TARP bailout and the Obama administration's college-centric stimulus plan. After the Texas cities and the imperial center, most of the best performing big metros are located in financial and university centers, including #9 New York City, #10 Philadelphia, #11 Pittsburgh, #13 Boston and #15 Raleigh-Cary, N.C, which is good news for Raleigh Real Estate.
Outside of Oakland and the big Southern California metros the biggest losers including #60 Los Angeles, #59 Sacramento, #58 Riverside-San Bernardino and #50 Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine. The bottom tier consisted of a motley crew of mid-South cities like Memphis (#64 on the big city list) and still-struggling, former big Sunbelt boomtowns Las Vegas (#62), West Palm Beach-Boynton Beach-Boca Raton, Fla. (#56), Ft. Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Boynton Beach, Fla. (#54), Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Ariz. (#53), Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga. (#52) and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla. (#51) which are leaving people asking who can Ship My Car?
For the most part, these areas rose with the housing bubble and will not fully recover until the economy diversifies beyond real estate speculation. Already some of the bubble victims are showing signs of life, including #155 Merced, Calif., up 134 places, and #167 Orlando, Fla., which rode a revived interest in tourism to jump 89 places since last year.
While energy, America's three wars, the recovering financial markets and real estate problems have played the lead role in setting the stage for the best places to do business, the Intermountain West has shown resilience with Salt Lake City, at #20 among large cities; Provo-Orem, Utah, Ogden-Clearfield, Utah, and Boulder, Colo., at Nos. 10, 25 and 26, respectively, among mid-sized cities; and Logan, Utah, and Fort Collins, Colo., at Nos. 9 and 38 among small cities.
The weak economy continues to reek havoc on new jobs, however, small increases are a good sign. California, Florida, and Nevada have had a bleak year, but improvement can still be noted. Hope is given to all with a city like New Orleans making huge strides. The next surge is expected to be in old industrial areas with newer infrastructure and appealing climates.

Monday, May 9, 2011


West Virginia is the only state to report a decrease in population. Dealths outpace births and the race is expected to continue. The once booming area used to house an abundance young couples and children, but with the decline of the steel mill the largest employer, these families are forced to relocate to survive.
The sense of community is dwindling if not gone in some areas. The aging population just does not have the energy, or in some cases, the ability to activily participate in community building activites. Gone are the days of festivals, fairs, and parades unless the younger generation steps up to the challenge.
Weirton, West Virgina is a perfect example of this story. With just 71 babies born on average for every 100 residents who die, Brooke County, in which Weirton is partly located, has the largest such gap in the nation among counties in metropolitan areas, save for a handful of places that are magnets for retirees. Hancock County, which contains the other part of Weirton, is in similar demographic straits.
The main reason Brooke County is so far off the national number - which is 171 births to 100 deaths - is that it has missed out on one of the dominant demographic trends to emerge from the recent census: the influx of young immigrants into communities across the United States. The median age for Hispanics, by far the largest immigrant group, is just 27, far lower than the median age for whites of 41.
Without immigrants or economic opportunities to keep its younger residents close to home, Brooke County and others like it are showing their age. At St. Paul Catholic Church in Weirton, the Rev. Larry Dorsch has buried 15 people this year and baptized one. The American Legion in Wellsburg has closed because of a lack of young supporters. Volunteer fire departments are so understaffed that people come from other towns to fight fires.
There are now 853 counties with similar population including parts of the Great Plains, the Midwest and New England. The problem is even more acute across the Atlantic. Countries in the European Union collectively will cross the threshold for having fewer births than deaths by 2015, and would experience population growth only through immigration.
West Virginia is the only state in the country with more deaths than births, but other states, like Maine, are not far behind. Estimates are that many white areas will tip into natural decrease in the next 10 to 15 years.
If Brooke County is a postcard from the future, it ended up there because it never adapted from its past. For decades, it was a steel manufacturing powerhouse, employing thousands of workers in mills along the Ohio River. Weirton Steel, a hulking plant that straddles Weirton’s main street was once the largest single private employer in the state. Now Wal-Mart holds that distinction, and Weirton Steel, now owned by Arcelor Mittal, a Luxembourg company run by an Indian billionaire, is a small fraction of its former size. Grass grows through cracks in the vast, empty parking lots.
Manufacturing jobs, long the lifeblood of the area, shrank by 38 percent statewide since 1990. Now health care is the state’s second-largest employer after government. The number of young people here sagged with the economy. The population under 35 is about half of what it was in 1980, while the number of residents 55 or older has jumped by 23 percent, according to 2010 census data released Thursday.
Now walkers and wheelchairs are more common than strollers. Sunday school classrooms at the United Methodist Church downtown are ghostly quiet, and Brooke High School has just half the number of students it did when it opened in 1969.
Fewer people means, inevitably, less of a sense of community. Father Dorsch spends his days looking for ways to revive it. In one town, he used public outrage about stray shopping carts to get people involved in improving their community. But Weirton has such bitterness over the mill that it has been hard to get its residents to trust anybody, and it seems stuck in place.
The demographics have created a death spiral, both literal and metaphorical. The lack of young people had reduced the tax base. With so few young people, volunteer fire departments are having trouble keeping staffing at safe levels. At the Bethany Fire Department, it is said that when the alarm goes off, the trucks leave with just two people on them when six are needed, so volunteers have to come from other towns to help.
But even one energetic young couple can do a lot to bring a town back to life, as the Sheperds have proved in Beech Bottom, the tiny town where they live. The town now has a new playground, thanks to the grant writing skills of Mr. Sheperd, who is from the county. They also have revived the town picnic, and have set up a Web site and a newsletter. They recently received a grant to start a recycling program.
With the population crisis, the communities will continue to struggle unless people, especially younger people, are willing to step up and take on the burden to turn things around. The Shepherds may have gotten the ball rolling but it will take more dedication from others to make it all work and progress. Areas like Brook County have a lot to learn to move themselves up from the trenches of a bad economy into a prosperous area that families will want to move back into.