Category Archives: Business

We Don’t Have Enough Construction Workers to Build Trump’s Infrastructure Plan

Bloomberg View Mar 1, 2017
The construction labor market at current wages is tight and has been tightening for the past several years. Last summer, when construction unemployment was at its seasonal low, there were only around 400,000 unemployed construction workers. This is around the lowest level we’ve seen for construction unemployment since the late 1990s. So if we’re going to get an unprecedented amount of construction employment growth, they’re going to have to come from other industries, outside the labor force, or abroad.
Immigrant labor, particularly undocumented workers, represent a significant proportion of the construction labor force. Bloomberg reported last week that up to 1.1 million construction workers in the U.S. are undocumented, so stepping up deportations would deplete an already-too-small construction labor pool.

Monsanto vs. Freedom of Information Act

Ralph Nader, who  I admire.  Me who hates Monsanto. gree on this.

ext year, the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will celebrate its 50th anniversary as one of the finest laws our Congress has ever passed. It is a vital investigative tool for exposing government and corporate wrongdoing.

The FOIA was championed by Congressman John E. Moss (D-CA), who strove to “guarantee the right of every citizen to know the facts of his government.” Moss, with whom I worked closely as an outside citizen advocate, said that “without the fullest possible access to government information, it is impossible to gain the knowledge necessary to discharge the responsibilities of citizenship.”

All fifty states have adopted FOIA statutes.

As the FOIA approaches its 50th year, it faces a disturbing backlash from scientists tied to the agrichemical company Monsanto and its allies. Here are some examples.

On March 9, three former presidents of the American Association for the Advancement of Science—all with ties to Monsanto or the biotech industry—wrote in the pages of the Guardian to criticize the use of the state FOIA laws to investigate taxpayer-funded scientists who vocally defend Monsanto, the agri-chemical industry, their pesticides and genetically engineered food. They called the FOIAs an “organized attack on science.”

The super-secretive Monsanto has stated, regarding the FOIAs, that “agenda-driven groups often take individual documents or quotes out of context in an attempt to distort the facts, advance their agenda and stop legitimate research.”

Advocates with the venerable Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) do worry that the FOIA can be abused to harass scientists for ideological reasons. This is true; for example, human-caused global warming deniers have abused the FOIA against climate scientists working at state universities like Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University.

Read more about the Monsanto MONSTER


Five Ways Big Data, Analytics Are Transforming the Trucking Industry

1. Mobile Notifications

Using an open-architecture remote diagnostics system, truck drivers and fleet managers can receive mobile notifications about pending performance issues. The ability to predict issues before they happen helps avoid unplanned downtime. Notifications can be delivered via computers, email, cell phones and more, making it easier for drivers and fleet managers to receive and act on critical updates.

2. Over-the-Air Engine Reprogramming

Much like mobile phones, today’s engines benefit from frequent software updates and recalibrations, and will soon be able to receive these updates remotely via over-the-air reprogramming. Benefits like improved fuel economy can thus be achieved without having to schedule multiple service visits. Over-the-air reprogramming can potentially be used to recalibrate engines for new usage patterns, such as mountainous terrains or heavier loads, to optimize vehicle efficiency.

3. Truck Health Reports

Open-architecture remote diagnostics systems that work with a truck’s existing telematics systems pull diagnostic-related data from vehicles to create vehicle health reports. Using these reports to capture insights into the operational health of the vehicle, fleet managers can understand the severity of vehicle issues and identify the appropriate corrective actions, ultimately leading to increased uptime. By gaining advance visibility to potential maintenance issues, fleets can also schedule maintenance during planned downtime, avoiding service visits while the truck is scheduled to be in use.

4. Environment Tracking

Truck drivers’ on-time delivery is enhanced when mobile data is used to track emerging traffic and weather patterns, approaching truck stops, hotel locations and more. Real-time access to this information enables drivers to cut down on time spent fighting traffic, braving hazardous weather or searching for lodging. It can also speed drivers’ access to the right maintenance or repair facility for their needs, thus contributing directly to improved uptime

5. Fuel Economy

Analysis of vehicle data can pinpoint driver behaviors that reduce fuel efficiency, such as excessive idle time, harsh braking or rapid acceleration. Fleets will also be more empowered to select the right product features and other specifications needed to optimize their vehicles’ fuel economy. Tailored vehicle specifications will increasingly be relied on to address truckers’ emphasis on fuel economy, as well as other user needs.

Dropshipping and Drones – Today vs. Tomorrow


The only drone developments that directly impact dropshipping in the USA  today are Amazon and Google  testing drones developed for delivering goods to customers.

E-commerce giant Inc. is developing aerial drones that it said could deliver products directly to consumers’ homes within the next five years. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the vehicles could deliver up to five pounds in a 10-mile radius of Amazon’s 96 warehouses within 30 minutes. Bezos said. “It will work, and it will happen, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun,” he said, according to Bloomberg News.

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration would have to approve the use of drones, Bloomberg said. Congress has directed it to write regulations to allow such vehicles in United States airspace by 2015. Drones are currently used to deliver textbooks in Australia, and an experiment using them is under way in China. In addition…

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GE to establish energy firm combining several businesses

HARTFORD, Conn. — General Electric Co. has established an energy company that combines its LED, solar, energy storage and electric vehicle businesses and a software system to help customers improve efficiency.

The Fairfield, Connecticut-based conglomerate said Wednesday the company, known as Current, will begin with more than $1 billion of revenue and build on the company’s energy businesses. It will be based in the Boston area and have a presence in California’s Silicon Valley, though exact locations weren’t provided.

Through its software GE will analyze energy consumption and provide customers with data detailing patterns of use and recommendations to improve efficiency.

GE says customers include Walgreens, Hilton Worldwide and JPMorgan Chase.

Current is expected to create about 200 jobs. Maryrose Sylvester, a former president and CEO of GE Lighting, will serve as CEO.

Algorithm Will Tell All UPS Trucks Where to Go


A UPS driver has, on average, 120 stops to make each day. But what’s the most efficient route that driver can take?

The company is hoping its Orion (On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation) computer platform will solve this issue for its 55,000 US routes using an algorithm that examines travel costs, distance, and other factors to spit out not necessarily the optimal route, but the most reliably good one, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Customers and drivers like consistency,” a UPS senior director of process management tells the Journal. “Orion has to know when to give up a penny to make the results more stable.”

This efficiency has become paramount as UPS struggles to compete with FedEx, boost earnings growth, and figure out a way to optimize the many residential stops it now makes.

Rough Patches
The deployment of Orion isn’t always so smooth, though. That is where Mr. Levis

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The First and Only Industrial Cloud

Companies have been tapping into cloud technology for years now to reduce data storage costs and manage vast quantities of data generated by the Internet. However, GE found that the existing cloud systems did not effectively address the unique requirements of industrial organizations, so GE invested in creating Predix. This platform-as-a-service (PaaS) enables industrial companies to capitalize on the cloud’s potential in a way that was never before possible.

Predix goes beyond the traditional cloud storage, networking, and computational abilities to take advantage of the huge quantities of data to be obtained by the increase in connection over the next five years. Analysts estimate that more than 50 billion assets will be connected to the Internet by 2020. Predix will have the capability to capture and analyze the volume, velocity, and variety to effectively transformative the industry.

As Jeff Immelt, CEO and chairman of GE, observes, “Cloud computing has enabled incredible innovation across the consumer world. With Predix Cloud, GE is providing a new level of service and results across the industrial world.”

In contrast to platforms that have to rely on outside vendors to supply specific operational capabilities, GE Predix’s secure and comprehensive environment ensures consistency of service, performance, compliance, and security even for global deployment. The “service delivery” model also means customers can scale up and down in a rapid and cost effective manner as their requirements change.

Predix is different from any cloud services currently available to businesses, as it has been purpose built to capitalize on the opportunities to be found in the Industrial Internet. To that end it includes the following features:

  • Asset Connectivity: Predix Cloud provides advanced connectivity-as-a-service for the billions of connected industrial assets that analysts predict for the near future. That will be achieved by combining proprietary technologies with global telecommunications partners to enable rapid provisioning of sensors, gateways, and software-defined machines.
  • Scalability for Machine Data: Machines produce different types of data, which consumer cloud services are not built to handle. Predix Cloud was created to store, analyze, and manage machine data in real time. From capturing and analyzing time series data from a locomotive with thousands of sensors to delivering large object data like a 3D MRI image to a doctor for diagnosis, Predix Cloud is built for the variety, volume, and velocity of industrial data.
  • Security + Compliance: Incorporating decades of experience in operational security and information security, Predix Cloud is designed with the most advanced security protocols available, including customized, adaptive security solutions.
  • Governance: Leveraging GE’s global network and deep expertise across more than 60 regulatory areas, Predix Cloud is designed to streamline governance and drive down compliance costs while respecting national data sovereignty regulations globally. Consequently even highly regulated industries such as aviation, energy, healthcare, and transportation, can build and deploy services.
  • Interoperability: Predix Cloud will operate seamlessly with applications and services running in a broad spectrum of cloud environments, allowing businesses to capitalize on its optimized security and data structure offerings while maintaining legacy solutions.
  • Gated Community: Unlike public cloud services, which are open to any individual or organization, Predix Cloud is based on a “gated community” model restricting access to members of the industrial ecosystem.
  • Developer Insight: Developers will have visibility into their operating environments and all connected to it. That gives businesses the ability to deploy and monitor machine apps anywhere and to adjust to changing demands in the physical and digital world without any loss of security or visibility.
  • On-Demand Availability: Businesses will be able to easily access and scale with the Predix Cloud through a convenient on-demand, pay-as-you-go pricing model.

The gain in efficiency and productivity engendered by the Industrial Internet is predicted to save hundreds of billions of dollars each year. But only if they have the means to tap into it effectively. That’s what GE Predix allows companies to do. It’s a platform that GE was able to develop due to its unique combination of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) expertise and deep industrial domain knowledge.

Businesses will have access to GE Predix beginning in 2016.

Role Expands For US Inland Ports

Local, state and federal officials gathered in Duluth, Minn., in early spring to celebrate the beginning of a new era in Great Lakes intermodal transportation. Ground officially broke on May 27 for the Port of Duluth Intermodal Project, a $17.7 million redevelopment effort that will restore service to an abandoned dock at the western end of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway.

The completion of this long-awaited rebuild and expansion will enhance the Duluth Seaway Port Authority’s intermodal capabilities by increasing capacity to handle more heavy-lift and project cargo, installing rail connections for two of the four Class I railroads with access to the port, and adding enhancements for safety and security that ultimately will bolster the competitiveness of the entire region by increasing freight capacity via the seaway system. Port officials expect this first phase of reconstruction to be completed in fall 2016.

“It will be our largest capital project since the formation of the port authority back in the 50s,” says Vanta E. Coda II, the authority’s executive director. “Transportation is the elasticity of commerce, and the Great Lakes are great off-ramps.” The role of Midwestern ports is expanding in today’s global economy, as shippers seek alternate transportation routes. Inland port visibility increased even more during recent trucker shortages and West Coast labor disputes that snarled international trade at ocean-side ports up and down the Pacific earlier this year.

What’s more, in April, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx designated the Mississippi River a container-on-vessel route, which provides a viable multimodal solution to the country’s freight transportation needs, says Aimee Andres, executive director of Inland Rivers, Ports and Terminals Inc. (IRPT), a trade association. The Mississippi River reaches 10 states and now provides a main stem corridor for container-on-barge shipping to the Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Red rivers.

The Port of Duluth-Superior isn’t the only Midwestern inland port undergoing major expansion projects that include rail-related upgrades. “We have to stay ahead of the curve,” says Frank Papa, sales manager for America’s Central Port, the St. Louis region’s only full-service, public intermodal port, which is in the midst of its $50 million South Harbor project that includes adding two rail loops to an existing 9,600-foot-long loop that will connect to the new harbor and provide access for six North American Class I carriers. “The completion of that second harbor is going to have a major impact, especially here in the Midwest.”

“Port authorities are seeing what’s happening nationally and planning for the future,” says Andres. “Economic development has been the catalyst for river port authorities for quite some time, and for the most part, ports are created for the main purpose of driving economic development through the advantage of infrastructure such as river, rail and highways. It takes all three modes for a port to be successful.”

Ports of call

It’s no secret that Chicago is the world’s largest rail hub. At least a dozen mainline railroads feed into selected terminals at the Port of Chicago, and all have reciprocal switching arrangements. But with the Chicago Area Transportation Study for years calling for the addition of more port acreage than the city has available, alternate options are clearly needed.

Which is why smaller ports in the Midwest are doing what they can to keep intermodal transportation booming, especially as the definition of “intermodal” broadens beyond the movement of containers involving two or more modes of transportation to include conveyance of bulk and other non-container goods.

What follows is a rundown of recent developments at key Midwestern inland ports and rail’s impact at each one.

America’s Central Port

Strategically located in Illinois on the Mississippi River, just north of St. Louis, America’s Central Port sits on 1,200 mixed-use acres that offer 1.7 million square feet of rail-served warehouse space. Major rail cargo includes fertilizer, grain, steel and asphalt products. In addition to being a hub for six Class I railroads, America’s Central Port also connects to the regional switching carrier Terminal Railroad Association (TRRA) of St. Louis.

The Port Harbor Railroad, the port’s own short line, provides 24-hour local switching and connections to the TRRA and Class I carriers. Several locomotives are stationed onsite to accommodate the increasing number of tenants requiring on-demand rail service.

For now, the port’s 6,000-foot North Harbor is the most northerly ice-free port on the Mississippi River. Upon completion of the South Harbor project located just south of Locks #27, that new port will be the most northerly lock-free one on the Mississippi. The project, which involves converting a former 800-acre U.S. Army base, “has been in the dreaming stage for decades,” says Ben McCall, a senior planner at the port. It received financial backing from a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, as well as the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The expanded rail capabilities are expected to attract trains in excess of 100 units. Although the South Harbor isn’t slated for completion until Oct. 1, Union Pacific Railroad already is conducting trial runs on the new track “to see how we’ll work it,” Papa says. “It’s a test for us, and we’ll pass it.”

Port of Duluth-Superior

Ranked among the top 20 ports in the United States based on cargo tonnage, the Port of Duluth is located at the crossroads of four Class I railroads: BNSF Railway Co., CN, Canadian Pacific and UP. Primary cargo includes forest products and steel.

Coda says the port’s current intermodal project will provide new access for BNSF and UP, giving the shipping community new options. Located on property that formerly housed a large grain elevator, the project has been in the works for almost 30 years and took five TIGER grant applications to become reality. In the end, funding came from a $10 million TIGER grant, the Minnesota Port Development Assistance Program, Minnesota’s Contamination Cleanup Grant program and the Duluth Seaway Port Authority itself. Completion is scheduled for September 2016.

The port will have 75 acres of infrastructure in place for one or more tenants. “We didn’t even make the radar screen for site selectors prior to this project,” Coda says, adding that interest from potential lessees is increasing. “We’ve already received some tire kickers.”


Indiana, whose borders are 57 percent water, ranks sixth in the country in domestic waterborne shipping, and the Ports of Indiana operates a system of three ports on the Ohio River and Lake Michigan. In 2014, the oldest of those ports — Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor — handled its highest annual volume since the facility opened in 1970. Total tonnage climbed 30 percent compared with 2013, driven by strong shipments of steel, grain and salt.

Burns Harbor offers a direct interchange with 16 different railroads in nearby Chicago, including Class Is, while Norfolk Southern Railway provides direct service to all sites on port property. The port’s strategic location at the intersection of two of the world’s busiest waterways and all of the nation’s Class Is provides significant competitive advantages for multimodal companies that locate at the Burns Harbor facility, Ports of Indiana officials say.

In fact, all three Ports of Indiana had a banner year in 2014, with collective tonnage surpassing 10 million and involving 60,000 railcars. “That will give you a sense of what role rail plays in our operations,” says Phil Wilzbacher, director of the Ports of Indiana-Mount Vernon. “We view our ports as multimodal transportation hubs, and access to water is obviously important. But that doesn’t override the way we view rail and road.”

To that end, each of the three Ports of Indiana will undergo rehabilitation of existing rail infrastructure, including the laying of additional track and the creation of more railcar storage — beginning at Burns Harbor this year, followed by Jeffersonville and Mount Vernon in future years.

Lane Bryant Owner Buying Ann Taylor For $2.1 Billion

Women’s retailer Ann Inc. has agreed to a $2.1 billion takeover bid by Ascena Retail Group, which is adding over 1,000 stores and more than $2.5 billion in annual sales to the larger company’s portfolio.

The cash-and-stock deal values Ann at $47 per share, with shareholders set to receive $37.34 in cash for each share and the rest in Ascena stock. The deal implies a $47 per share price based on Ascena’s closing price on Friday. After the acquisition, which is expected to close in the second half of this year, Ann shareholders will own about 16% of the combined company.

The Ann acquisition comes at an interesting time for the women’s apparel business. Many players in the sector of retail that caters to older women have found themselves out of fashion with their target audience, and millennials have shunned the sector altogether.

The Ascena offer is a 21% premium to Ann’s closing price on Friday and above any level the stock has ever traded at. The board of directors at both companies have approved the acquisition.

With the addition of the Ann Taylor and LOFT brands, Ascena will become one of North America’s largest and most diversified specialty apparel retailers, with a tremendous set of opportunities to continue to expand its leadership position in the women’s apparel market,” said Ascena President and CEO David Jaffe in a statement.

The deal will add the Ann Taylor and LOFT brands to Ascena Retail’s fleet of stores, already operating about 3,900 stores under the Lane Bryant, dressbarn, Catherines and Justice brands with annual revenue of nearly $4.8 billion. Ann is far smaller, generating consistent sales growth in recent years though profitability was lower in the latest fiscal year. Ascena said the deal will add to earnings and generate “significant cash flow.”

Because women’s apparel-focused retailers and brands have struggled, merger-and-acquisition action has heated up. As a result, competitors in the space have struggled, resulting in acquisitions to private-equity firms or falling into bankruptcy. Coldwater Creek, which landed into bankruptcy, sold its intellectual property to Sycamore Partners while Talbots was also acquired by the private-equity firm in a separate transaction that only amounted to $369 million including debt. Many have speculated that Chico’s could be on the block, while J. Jill was acquired for a reported $400 million by TowerBrook Capital Partners LP earlier this year.

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