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Roundup: West Mifflin call center adds 50 workers; Duquesne Light warns of scam; more

| Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

West Mifflin call center will add 50 workers

A West Mifflin call center will double its work force over the next several months, thanks to a new product from two California companies. The Alorica call center, which employs 45 workers, is hiring 50 workers to handle calls for a new kind of phone that provides a live-captioning of phone calls and voice amplification for people with hearing loss. Called Ensemble, the phone with a seven-inch tablet-style display was built by Plantronics, a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based maker of phone headsets and other communications gear, and Purple Communications, Inc., a Rocklin, Calif. provider of interpreting services. Workers in West Mifflin will repeat what speakers are saying on calls, which will be turned into text by a voice-recognition system that feeds text to Ensemble.

Westinghouse simulators train nuclear operators in China

Westinghouse Electric Co. said Thursday it has installed control simulators for training future operators of its AP1000 nuclear power reactors under construction in China. Westinghouse recently finished training 34 AP1000 reactor operators on the new simulators at the Sanmen, China, site who are expected to become state-licensed in November. A second class of 36 operators are to complete their training on another AP1000 simulator in Haiyang, China. The AP1000 is a new-generation nuclear reactor designed to operate more efficiently and simply than earlier reactors. The Cranberry company is building four AP1000 reactors in China, the first of which is slated to go online in 2014. Westinghouse is also under contract to construct six of the reactors in the Southeast, where work has begun on four.

AmEx profit falls on costs tied to planned cut of 5,400 jobs

American Express Co., the biggest credit-card issuer by purchases, said fourth-quarter net income dropped about 47 percent on costs including expenses tied to a planned 5,400 job cuts. The lender will take $594 million in after-tax charges including $287 million in costs tied to the employment reductions, the company said. Net income was $637 million, down from $1.19 billion a year earlier. Adjusted net income, which excludes one-time items, was $1.09 a share, 3 cents more than the average estimate of 27 analysts. The total number of employees by year end 2013 is expected to drop by 4 percent to 6 percent from 63,500, the company said. American Express expects to hold increases in annual operating expenses to less than 3 percent, Chenault said.

Duquesne Light warns of phone call scam seeking late payments

Duquesne Light is warning of a potential scam in which its customers are being targeted with phone calls demanding payment for past-due bills. The utility said the scammers are calling customers and telling them their service will be terminated that day without immediate payment. They also are telling customers to buy pre-paid credit cards to make payments. Duquesne Light said it never calls customers on the day of service shutoff and never directs customers to buy pre-paid credit cards.

Hotel to be built at Beaver County Airport expected to open in Sept.

Construction will begin in the spring on a $5.5 million Microtel Inn and Suites to be built on a 3.5-acre site at the Beaver County Airport in Chippewa Township, with an opening of the 79-room hotel scheduled in September. The developers, Castlebrook Development Group in Sewickley and Cessna Hospitality Associates, have secured a long-term lease of the property from the Beaver County Airport Authority, said Pat Nardelli, a principal at Castlebrook. Having a hotel near the county airport and the proposed ethane cracker plant in Potter Township will be important if Shell Chemical Corp. builds the facility, said Dan Donatella, the airport authority chairman.

Airport traffic drops in November

Passenger traffic at Pittsburgh International Airport dropped 2.4 percent in November compared to November 2011, the Allegheny County Airport Authority said Thursday. Pittsburgh had 658,463 passengers in November, down from 674,828 in November 2011. Monthly air traffic has decreased year-to-year in 15 of the last 17 months, according to authority data. JetBlue Airways had the biggest gain in passengers, at 2.7 percent. The authority said the low-cost airline increased daily flights to Boston from two to three. JetBlue plans to add a fourth daily flight to Boston in May. For the year to date, air traffic is down 3.3 percent compared to the same period last year.

Airlines post better on-time record for November

The government said the 15 biggest airlines were on time a bit more often in November. The Transportation Department said Thursday that 85.7 percent of flights operated by the biggest airlines arrived on time in November. That's up from 85.3 percent in November 2011 and 80.2 percent in October, when Superstorm Sandy fouled up flights. Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time record, followed by AirTran Airways and Delta Air Lines. American Airlines had the worst performance, with one in every five flights running late. Airlines canceled 1 percent of their domestic flights, up from 0.7 percent in November 2011 but a sharp improvement from October, when Sandy caused thousands of flights along the East Coast to be scrubbed.

American Eagle reaffirms 4Q earnings forecast

American Eagle Outfitters Inc. reaffirmed its fourth-quarter earnings forecast, citing a stronger merchandise assortment, better inventory management and restraint on promotions. But it also said Thursday that a key revenue metric has grown at a much slower pace so far this quarter than it did a year ago. The clothing company still expects earnings between 54 cents and 56 cents per share. Analysts surveyed by FactSet predict earnings of 56 cents per share. Revenue at stores open at least a year climbed 4 percent, including its online results. Stripping out the online performance, the figure was up only 1 percent. American Eagle, which runs more than 1,000 stores in North America, will report its fourth-quarter and full-year financial results on March 6.

Other business news

• Mars National Bank hired Lisa Kooker to be senior vice president and chief credit officer to oversee the bank's credit and related activities. A 20-year banking veteran, she most recently had been manager of commercial credit, administration and collections at Fidelity Bank, which recently merged into WesBanco Inc.

• First Niagara Bank plans to open a branch in North Huntingdon on Friday, the Buffalo-based bank's 68th in Western Pennsylvania. The office, on Route 30, features walk-up and drive-through services during business hours, and 24-hour night deposit and automated teller machine access.

• Bank of New York Mellon Corp. named Judy Hu chief marketing manager, effective Feb. 1. She joins the bank from General Electric Co., where she served as global executive director of advertising and branding since 2002. Hu's 30-year career in the corporate, publishing and ad agency sectors includes stints at Leo Burnett Co. and General Motors Corp.

• Virtual OfficeWare LLC, Robinson, named David Harel as its president. The company, a provider of GE Healthcare electronic medical records technology for physician practices, said that Harel also has joined its board of directors.

• Ford Motor Co. said Thursday it is doubling the dividend it pays shareholders to 10 cents per share. The dividend is payable March 1 to shareholders of record on Jan. 30.

— Staff and wire reports

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