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Completely Different Economies

November 6, 2012 Economy, Featured, Retail 3 Comments

Many people use daily deal sites/apps like Living Social and Groupon and many local versions exist now as well. Businesses run deals in an attempt to attract new customers, but the distribution of deals is .

ABOVE: Recent map of deals on Groupon

Recently looking at a map (above) of Groupon deal locations it become clear to me the central corridor and south city are my only options, no businesses in north city seem to be participating. A notable exception is advertiser Rambles on 14th Street in Old North had  a recent deal on Living Social.

Perhaps the north city merchants realize the cost of a new customer through such sites may simply be too high, not enough bang for the buck. I looked on Ujamaa Deals but didn’t find anything local:

Ujamaa Deals was founded to directly combat the chronic unemployment plaguing the Black community. No community that spends over 90% of its money with businesses that they don’t own will EVER achieve political, social, cultural, or economic equality or independence!

The idea behind Ujamaa Deals is very simple. The real unemployment rate in the Black community is over 20%, with some estimates as high as 30%, and these numbers are not improving. It is a fact that Black-owned business are more likely to hire Black people than non-Black-owned businesses (about 85% more likely actually). Blacks currently spend less than 10% of their money with Black-owned businesses. So it became obvious to us that the most efficient way to combat Black unemployment is to re-direct more Black dollars to Black businesses in order to help them grow, and when they grow they’ll need to hire more people, and those people are likely to be Black. So by spending money with Black-owned businesses we are creating wealth and jobs for ourselves and decreasing our dependence on others for goods and services.

One sentence really stood out to me:

“Blacks currently spend less than 10% of their money with
Black-owned businesses.”

That’s a harsh reality if true! Looking into this issue I ran across an article by Ujamaa Deals co-founder Lawrence Watkins where he discussed the  4 half-truths about black-owned businesses — and why you should still buy black:

  1. Customer service is terrible with black-owned businesses.
  2. The prices of black-owned businesses are higher than at other firms.
  3. Encouraging people to buy black is racist. We need to encourage people to buy American.
  4. There aren’t any black products that I really want to buy.

Obviously much work needs to be done to get a thriving economy is predominantly black areas.   I don’t have any solutions, do you?

— Steve Patterson


AT&T Quietly Reduced Workforce In Downtown St. Louis

October 22, 2012 Downtown, Economy, Featured 21 Comments

When most people see the AT&T office towers at 1010 Pine and 909 Chestnut St. they assume many people work there. The Pine tower is from 1925 and the Chestnut tower was built as the corporate headquarters of Southwestern Bell in 1985, both have just a fraction of the number of employees of even just 5 years ago.

ABOVE: AT&T’s two office buildings downtown, 1001 Chestnut (left) and 909 Chestnut (right). Photo by William Zbaren from American City: St. Louis Architecture (click image for more info)

Two issues: how AT&T reduced the workforce without public layoff notices and the implication for other downtown St. Louis businesses nearby.

Former and current employees tell the same story about how AT&T avoided having to issue layoff notices as required by the 1988 WARN Act. From one source:

AT&T has done a number of outsourcings since 2006-ish to different companies include Accenture, IBM and Amdocs. I was part of a 1,000 person division in IT which was outsourced to Amdocs in 2008.

We were given a very last minute notice about a mandatory meeting in February, 2008 in the Data Center auditorium where we were told we were being outsourced to Amdocs. Our pay & benefits (health insurance, vacation, etc.) were kept the same, with the exception of our pension as Amdocs did not have a pension plan. Instead, we were given an additional 5% match to our 401k. We still worked for the same boss (the outsourcing went up to the VP level, in my instance), at the same desk, doing the same work. The only difference is that our paycheck was coming from Amdocs.

In early February 2009, we received another mandatory meeting invite for the employees in my group. In the data center auditorium, an Amdocs manager (from a different division, located in Champaign, who none of us had ever met) read a prepared statement stating that layoffs were necessary because the amount of work assigned to our group was falling short of what was anticipated at the time of the outsourcing. We should return to our desks and those employees being let go would receive an email while those not being let go would not. About an hour later, I received an email indicating I would be laid off on February 26, 2009. Approximately 500 of the 1000 people in my group were laid off in total.

The significance of that date? It was one year and one day after we had been outsourced to Amdocs. The contract between Amdocs and AT&T specified any employees laid off in the year following the outsourcing would be given severance at the AT&T rate (4% of salary per year of employment). After that date, severance would be paid at the Amdocs rate (1 week per year of employment). To rub salt in the wound, our final paychecks contained pay for 72 hours as we were let go on a Thursday and worked only 9 days out of the 10 day pay period (rather than the usual 86 2/3rs hours as salaried employees).

My source indicated Amdocs issued WARN Act notices in California, where they have stricter requirements, but AT&T and contractors avoided having to announce reductions in St. Louis.

In August 2009 our downtown grocer, Culinaria, opened for business. A year later businesses on the one block of 9th between AT&T and Culinaria  were closing due to lack of customers. Culinaria was blamed but one person I spoke with says this was the height of the reductions.

ABOVE: Baladas’s Bistro, 9th & Pine, right after closing in August 2010
ABOVE: The significant reduction in employees has also resulted in the closure of businesses in the ground floor of 909 Chestnut.

To make matters worse for nearby businesses, many of the remaining employees telecommute from home rather than come into the office.  Reduced property taxes is another issue:

Inland’s affiliate, MB St. Louis, convinced St. Louis assessor Ed Bushmeyer that the AT&T tower is now worth just $135 million – about $70 million less than what it sold for in 2006.

Jerome Wallach, an attorney for MB St. Louis, argues that the building’s value plummeted because AT&T has slashed the size of its workforce there, and low occupancy cuts the building’s market value. The owner would have difficulty selling the half-full building for an attractive price when AT&T’s lease expires in 2017, he added.

But the building is not for sale now, Wallach acknowledged, nor has MB St. Louis given AT&T any rent breaks on the property because of its diminished presence. Wallach argues the rent shouldn’t factor into assessed value, which should be based on what it might sell for now in its half-full state. (stltoday.com from April 2012)

No doubt AT&T plans to completely vacate the 909 Chestnut building after their lease expires, in the meantime the numbers of employees at both buildings will continue to dwindle.

— Steve Patterson


A Front Yard Vegetable Garden In Ferguson Missouri

In July one modest house in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson got the attention of many:

A Ferguson resident has won a battle with city officials that could be considered a matter of taste.

The resident, Karl Tricamo, had been feuding with the city for months over the vegetable garden he had planted in front of his house in the 300 block of Louisa Avenue.

The city saw the garden as a blot on the landscape and issued Tricamo a citation demanding he uproot the corn, tomatoes, sorghum, peppers and other crops sprouting there and, instead, seed the yard for grass. The garden measures 35 feet by 25 feet. (stltoday.com)

Other resources:

Numerous pictures were circulated on Facebook & Twitter as front yard gardening advocates celebrated this victory. But all the pictures concentrated tightly on the garden, I wanted to understand the context. I went to Google Maps but no streetview was available just an aerial.

The 45 degree view of the house in Ferguson, before the lawn was replaced with the garden. Click image to view in Google Maps.

I knew I wanted to see the garden and street in person but it’s a 12+ mile drive — and I don’t have a car. So I caught a bus at the North Hanley MetroLink station and I was within blocks.

ABOVE: The MetroBus dropped me off at Suburban Ave and S. Clark Ave, this is looking north on Clark
ABOVE: Looking west on Louisa St from Clark., nice but well-maintained homes. No manicured lawns.
ABOVE: Continuing on Louisa looking for the house & garden on the right.
ABOVE: I’m visiting on Monday August 20, 2012. The garden looks good to my eye given how dry it has been and how late in the growing season it is.
ABOVE: Lawn remains between the sidewalk and driveway
ABOVE: Another view

In an older neighborhood with mature trees locations for a vegetable garden are often limited, most vegetables need full sun.  I applaud Tricamo for fighting the City of Ferguson so he could grow food for his family.

— Steve Patterson


June 5th Special Election: Metropolitan Sewer District

Four weeks from today voters in St. Louis City & St. Louis County have identical June 5th special election ballots.  They contain the same nine items, each to be approved or rejected.  Eight of the items are changes to MSD’s charter:

The Charter Plan of the Metropolitan St Louis Sewer District is a blueprint for how MSD is operated. The plan was created when MSD was formed in 1954 and was amended and approved by voters in 2000. These amendments provided MSD with the necessary tools to continue providing quality service and to address additional water quality and stormwater needs that exist or may develop in the years ahead. (Source w/link to actual charter)

The first proposition is related to a recent settlement:

A judge approved the settlement of federal lawsuit against the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, paving the way for $4.7 billion of work over the next 23 years to help clean up local rivers and streams and prevent backups into basements and yards.

The Environmental Protection Agency, state and Missouri Coalition for the Environment filed the lawsuit almost five years ago , citing more than 500 million gallons of raw sewage discharged into local rivers and streams between 2000 and 2006 in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. (stltoday.com — recommended reading)

The following are the ballot items:


To comply with federal and state clean water requirements, shall The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) issue its sewer revenue bonds in the amount of Nine Hundred Forty-Five Million Dollars ($945,000,000) for the purpose of designing, constructing, improving, renovating, repairing, replacing and equipping new and existing MSD sewer and drainage facilities and systems, including sewage treatment and disposal plants, sanitary sewers, and acquisition of easements and real property related thereto, the cost of operation and maintenance of said facilities and systems and the principal of and interest on said revenue bonds to be payable solely from the revenues derived by MSD from the operation of its wastewater sewer system, including all future extensions and improvements thereto?


Shall Article 2 of the Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District be amended to provide that the portion of the boundaries of the District that are located within St. Louis County shall be as described in records kept in the office of the Secretary-Treasurer of the District and no longer required to be contained in the text of the plan?


Shall Articles 3 and 9 of Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District be amended to (a) establish procedural requirements relating to the formation of subdistricts within the District and the design, construction and funding of improvements in such subdistricts, and (b) establish the method for levying special benefit assessments, all subject to a vote of the property owners in the affected subdistricts?


Shall Article 3 of the Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District relating to powers of the District be amended to (a) permit the District to establish environmentally sustainable standards and practices, and (b) clarify the existing authority of the District to enter into contracts pertaining to stormwater facilities?


Shall Articles 5, 7 and 10 of the Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District be amended to provide that notice of the expiration of the term of office of a Director, notice of tax levy hearings, notice of proposed rate changes, and notice of elections under the Plan (Charter) shall be given by mail, publication or electronic media, or such other form of communication as may be permitted by Missouri law?


Shall Articles 7 and 9 of the Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District relating to budget and finance be amended to (a) require the budget of the District to include a list of capital projects, (b) require a public hearing at least 21 days prior to adoption of the budget, and (c) provide that proceedings to make certain improvements shall be initiated by approval of a list of capital projects and a general appropriation ordinance rather than by resolution?


Shall Article 9 of the Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District be amended to permit the District to use design-build and other alternative delivery methods to make improvements, as permitted by Missouri law?


Shall Article 11 of the Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District be amended to provide that a District Plan Amendment Commission shall be appointed on or before July 1, 2019 and every ten years thereafter?


Shall the Plan (Charter) of The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District be amended to (a) make various typographical, grammatical and stylistic revisions to the text thereof, (b) correct outdated statutory citations and references, (c) change gender specific language to gender neutral language, and (d) eliminate the requirement that records of the Board of Trustees maintained by the Secretary-Treasurer be kept in bound or book form?

I’m just now starting the process to research these before election day so I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts.

– Steve Patterson


Can’t Decide My Preferred Metro Fare Increase Option

Nobody likes cost increases but they are a fact of life. Metro has asked transit riders to comment on three variations for increasing fares.

Options 1 and 2 maintain the current $2 (MetroBus), $2.25 (MetroLink) and $4 (Metro Call-A-Ride) cash fares without any change. Reduced cash fares for eligible seniors, children and customers with disabilities would also remain the same.

 Option 1 would increase the prices of Metro passes to more accurately reflect the number of boardings made using these passes. Monthly passes would increase from $68 to $75 ($34 to $37.50 for reduced fare); weekly passes would increase from $23.50 to $26; and the college semester pass from $145 to $155.

Option 2 retains the current cash fare but would increase the price of the 2-hour pass/transfer from $2.75 to $3 (reduced fare would increase from $1.35 to $1.50.) Option 2 would preserve a greater discount rate for the weekly, monthly, and semester passes than Option 1. Option 2 would increase weekly passes from $23.50 to $25; monthly passes would increase from $68 to $72 ($34 to $36 for reduced fare); and the college semester pass would increase from $145 to $150.

 Option 3 would implement an approximate 5 percent across-the-board increase for all fares including cash fares, passes and Metro Call-A-Ride fares.

The following chart shows what the changes look like:

ABOVE: Quick look at the 3 options, source: Metro. Click images to view larger version

This is tough because I switched to paying cash instead of buying a monthly pass. Thinking beyond myself to the typical riders using transit, what is the most fair…fare.

Option 1 those who buy weekly/monthly/semester passes are the only ones that will see an increase — 10%.With option 2 those who buy passes as well as those who uses transfers will see increases. Many, if not most, cash riders get transfers since more than one bus/train is often needed to reach their destination. Option 3 is a 5% increase across the board. This seems the most fair but riders used to paying $2.00 will now have to carry dimes since their fare will be $2.10. Same with transfers, option 2 is a simple $3.00 (up from $2.75) but option 3 is $2.85 — again a dime more.

ABOVE: Metro CEO John Nation (right) speaking to a person that came to the informational meeting on Wednesday at St. Louis City Hall

I don’t know about you but I find change annoying. I’m a “reduced fare” rider so my fare w/transfer is $1.35, I’ve finally gotten used to making sure I’ve got the 35¢ I need for my transfer. Would it be worth it to me to pay $1.50 rather than $1.40 just so I only need to worry about carrying quarters? Maybe. But I often buy (10) 2-hour passes at the MetroRide Store on Washington Ave so option 2 would be a buck cheaper than option 3 and I pay with plastic when I buy the 2-hour passes.

– Steve Patterson