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State economy to take a hit from higher energy prices

| Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2005

Pennsylvania's economy is likely to take a hit in the coming months from higher energy costs, as steep gasoline prices and increases in winter heating bills are expected to pinch residents' pockets. "It will be a significant weight on the state's economy this winter," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com, an economic research firm in West Chester. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said yesterday that the two recent hurricanes contributed to higher gas prices in the state. In prior years, the FDIC said, petroleum and natural gas took up 70 percent of all residential energy used in Pennsylvania -- higher than the national average. "Lower- and lower-middle-income households will have to make a choice between filling gas tanks and heating their homes or putting gifts under the Christmas tree and paying their credit card bills," he added. "It will be an uncomfortable Christmas for many."

Biodiesel plant planned

A proposed biodiesel manufacturing plant to be located in Western Pennsylvania received a $175,000 planning grant from the state's First Industries Fund. The project was one of 44 to be funded by Pennsylvania aimed at bolstering its agriculture and tourism industries. NorAm Biofuels continues to work on financing and a specific location for its proposed $115 million, plant, with the Port of Pittsburgh Commission willing to float taxable bonds for a major portion of the cost, said commission Chairman James McCarville. "If we would become involved, and we have made no formal review of the project and we do not know what the equity portion is yet, we would issue taxable bonds backed by the project and the company," McCarville said.

UPMC plan in top 10

UPMC Health Plan's Medicaid HMO was rated the nation's fifth-best, according to a new study by the National Committee for Quality Assurance in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. UPMC Health Plan was the only local insurance provider ranked in the top 10 for Medicare, Medicaid or commercial managed care plans in the study, which examined more than 500 health plans nationwide. UPMC Health Plan's overall score was 89.9 (out of 100), with five-star (the survey's highest ranking) ratings for access to care, overall member satisfaction and illness prevention.

OSHA proposes fines

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Pittsburgh proposed fining Sears Roebuck & Co. $135,000 for alleged safety violations at its Monaca store, the agency said Monday. Sears was issued citations for two alleged violations that carry penalties up to $125,000 for allowing workers to ride atop platforms on forklifts when the platforms were not securely attached to the forks, and did not have guardrails. OSHA alleged the drivers were untrained. A $10,000 fine is proposed for allegedly not having a system to prevent injuries from falls while materials are loaded. Sears has 15 days to respond.

Universal workers on strike

Steelworkers at the Universal Stainless & Alloy Products Inc. plant in Titusville went on strike Saturday after rejecting the company's contract offer. The contract covering the 42 members of the United Steelworkers Local 7312-03 expired Sept. 30 and the rejected agreement would have increased wages and benefits, the company said. The Titusville facility, which represents less than 6 percent of the company's sales, consists of five remelt furnaces and a precision rolled products department. Universal Stainless will implement a contingency plan to serve its customers. A USW spokesman could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Wabtec wins $112M contract

MotivePower Inc., a unit of Wilmerding-based Wabtec Corp., won a $112 million contract to build 27 new commuter locomotives for GO Transit, a transit system in Ontario, Canada. The contract includes an option for 26 more locomotives for an additional $105 million, said the manufacturer of rail cars, locomotives and other rail products. The locomotives will be built at MotivePower's facility in Boise, Idaho. Work is scheduled to begin in the first half of next year, and deliveries are expected during 2007 and 2008.

Other business news

  • Allegheny General Hospital has for the eighth time in 10 years been named a recipient of National Research Corp.'s Consumer Choice Award. Based solely on consumer feedback to a National Research questionnaire, Allegheny General was one of roughly 210 medical centers in 180 markets nationwide to be honored for its patient care.

  • Rashid Hassan, head tennis pro at the Pittsburgh Racquet Club in Monroeville, is now co-owner of the club. Hassan and Deborah Edwards purchased the club recently for $4,257,000 through their PRC Acquisition LLC from Pittsburgh Racquet Club Inc., owned by Oxford Development Co., according to a deed filed in the office of the Allegheny County recorder of deeds.

  • Butler Technologies Inc., a Butler-based maker of screen printed labels, decals and electrical membrane switches and graphical overlays for the industrial, automotive and medical industries, will be featured on the Pennsylvania Cable Network at 8 p.m. on Oct. 9. For a listing of the cable systems that carry PCN, visit www.pcntv.com.

  • The state Department of Environmental Protection has fined Westmoreland County landfill Westmoreland Waste LLC $75,000 for multiple counts of failure to report overweight waste haulers.

  • BTF Precise Microbiology, an Australian firm that designs test kits for quality testing of public water supplies and for the food and drug industries, has opened a one-person sales and marketing office at the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse incubator in South Oakland.

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