Times Leader Times Leader Business Feed https://www.timesleader.com/business-feed Wed, 25 Apr 2018 06:33:20 +0000 Wed, 25 Apr 2018 06:33:20 +0000 Plastics manufacturer breaks ground on new Hazleton-area site HAZLE TWP. — IRIS USA, a leading manufacturer of clear plastic storage products, broke ground Friday on a 500,000 square-foot manufacturing and distribution center in the Humboldt Industrial Park, a press release says.

The company, based in Japan, also makes ready-to-assemble furniture and pet products.

It is investing $84 million into the site and expects to hire nearly 100 workers, the release noted.

The company’s website says it chose the Greater Hazleton area “for its abundant workforce and geographic location.”

Construction is expected to begin late this year and finish by early 2020.

CAN DO, a private, non-profit industrial/economic development corporation serving Greater Hazleton, worked for more than year with the Governor’s Action Team on the project, assisted by Hazle Township, the Hazleton Area School District and Luzerne County, which provided tax incentives through the LERTA program.

The Department of Community and Economic Development assisted with funding that includes a $237,500 Pennsylvania First grant, a $42,750 WEDnet grant for employee training and $285,000 in Job Creation Tax Credits to be issued after the new jobs are created.

This will be the company’s fourth location in the United States.

https://www.timesleader.com/business/705530/plastics-manufacturer-breaks-ground-on-new-hazleton-area-site 705530 0 Fri, 25 May 2018 09:54:15 +0000 https://www.timesleader.com/business/705530/plastics-manufacturer-breaks-ground-on-new-hazleton-area-site#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_IRIS-USA-groundbreaking-1-1-1.jpeg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_IRIS-USA-groundbreaking-1-1-1.jpeg IRIS USA officials traveled from Japan and throughout the United States to break ground Friday on a 500,000 square-foot site in the Humboldt Industrial Park near Hazleton. The project will bring nearly 100 jobs to the area. Pictured at the groundbreaking are, from left: Robert Fiume, president of the Hazleton Area School Board; Dr. Gary Lawler, chairman of the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; Jared Grissinger, of the PA Governor’s Action Team; state Rep. Tarah Toohil; state Sen. John Yudichak; Hiroyuki (Doc) Takahashi, president of IRIS USA; Akihiro Ohyama, IRIS Chairman and CEO; Kevin O’Donnell, CAN DO president and CEO; Jim Montone, chairman of Hazle Township supervisors; Eugene Kelleher, vice chairman of the Luzerne County council; Dr. John Madden, chairman of the CAN DO Board of Directors; Chris Perry, of Luzerne County council; Joseph Lettiere, CAN DO vice president; Dennis Dudeck, vice chairman of Hazle Township supervisors, and Gary Lamont, president of the CAN DO Community Foundation. https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_IRIS-USA-groundbreaking-1-1-1.jpeg
Amazon: Echo device sent conversation to family’s contact SEATTLE (AP) — An “unlikely” string of events prompted Amazon’s Echo personal assistant device to record a Portland, Oregon, family’s private conversation and then send the recording to an acquaintance in Seattle, the company said Thursday.

The woman told KIRO-TV that two weeks ago an employee of her husband contacted them to say he thought their device had been hacked. He told them he had received an audio file of them discussing hardwood floors, she said.

In a statement Thursday, Amazon confirmed the woman’s private conversation had been inadvertently recorded and sent. The company said the device interpreted a word in the background conversation as “Alexa” — a command that makes it wake up — and then it interpreted the conversation as a “send message” request.

“At which point, Alexa said out loud ‘To whom?’” the statement said. “At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list.

“Alexa then asked out loud, ‘(contact name), right?’ Alexa then interpreted background conversation as ‘right.’”

The statement continued: “As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”

The woman, who was identified only by her first name in the news report, said every room in her family’s home was wired with the Amazon devices to control her home’s heat, lights and security system.

She said the family unplugged the devices and contacted Amazon after they learned the recording had been sent.

Ryan Calo, a law professor who co-directs the University of Washington’s tech policy lab, agreed that the sort of glitch Amazon described is unlikely. But it may trouble customers nevertheless, he said

“What makes it particularly unfortunate is the sense that Amazon Echo users will have that there’s any prospect that what they say in their private home might end up outside the home,” Calo said. “We feel less reassured about the control we assert over it than we once did. It’s the feeling you have to watch what you say in front of a device that’s supposed to make your life better.”


Follow Gene Johnson at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle

https://www.timesleader.com/business/705433/amazon-echo-device-sent-conversation-to-familys-contact 705433 0 Fri, 25 May 2018 12:06:15 +0000 https://www.timesleader.com/business/705433/amazon-echo-device-sent-conversation-to-familys-contact#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120516406-620f22f0c91d495cb08feeaa4992693c.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120516406-620f22f0c91d495cb08feeaa4992693c.jpg FILE - In this Sept. 27, 2017, file photo, an Amazon Echo Dot is displayed during a program announcing several new Amazon products by the company, in Seattle. Amazon says an "unlikely" string of events prompted its Echo personal assistant device to record a Portland, Ore., family's private conversation and then send the recording to an acquaintance in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, file) https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120516406-620f22f0c91d495cb08feeaa4992693c.jpg
Protests worldwide against US idea of auto import tariffs BEIJING (AP) — China, Japan and the European Union condemned Thursday the Trump administration’s decision to launch an investigation into whether tariffs are needed on imports of vehicles and automotive parts into the United States.

President Donald Trump invoked a provision authorizing the president to restrict imports and impose unlimited tariffs on national security grounds.

The move is seen as an effort to gain a bargaining chip in stalled talks with Canada and Mexico over the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Mexico is the top exporter of passenger vehicles and light trucks to the U.S followed by Japan, Canada, Germany and South Korea, according to the Department of Commerce.

Japan’s minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Hiroshige Seko, said Japan, which accounts for about 40 percent of U.S. vehicle imports, will continue to remind U.S. officials that any trade measures must conform to the rules of the World Trade Organization.

If such a measure is taken, “it would be an extremely far-reaching trade sanction that would put the global market into turmoil,” Seko said. “We are extremely concerned.”

Germany’s association of industry groups said auto tariffs would be a “provocation” and “another nasty blow to our economic relations” with the United States. The EU executive said it would be against the rules of global trade.

In Beijing, Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters that abusing national security provisions would “undermine the multilateral trade system and disrupt the order of international trade.”

“China will pay close attention to the progress of the U.S. investigation, conduct a comprehensive assessment of the possible impact and firmly defend our legitimate rights and interests,” Gao told reporters at a news conference.

Japanese and European automakers did not issue individual comments but some referred to Global Automakers, based in Washington, an industry group of international automakers. Global Automakers Chief Executive John Bozzella said the move would merely hurt American consumers.

“The U.S. auto industry is thriving and growing. Thirteen, soon to be 14 companies, produced nearly 12 million cars and trucks in America last year. To our knowledge, no one is asking for this protection. This path leads inevitably to fewer choices and higher prices for cars and trucks in America,” he said in a statement.

Last week Japan went to the World Trade Organization to warn of possible retaliation for tariffs on steel and aluminum, which Trump imposed in March. Japan is the only major U.S. ally that was not granted a temporary exemption from the tariffs. Japan estimates they will cost it about 50 billion yen ($450 million) a year.

China is a relatively minor player in the U.S. auto import market, ranked 10th in dollar terms, but its massive car industry is eager to expand abroad. In auto parts exports to the U.S., China was ranked second last year.

A person familiar with the discussions said the president has suggested seeking new tariffs of 20 to 25 percent on automobile imports.

Critics fear other countries will retaliate with trade sanctions of their own and question whether the move would ever be effective given the lengthy review required and legal challenges ahead.


U.S. Commerce Department Auto Trade Statistics



Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed.

https://www.timesleader.com/business/705339/protests-worldwide-against-us-idea-of-auto-import-tariffs 705339 0 Thu, 24 May 2018 10:42:12 +0000 https://www.timesleader.com/business/705339/protests-worldwide-against-us-idea-of-auto-import-tariffs#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120508195-aedae913246c4e4b90811e8b110f5d84.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120508195-aedae913246c4e4b90811e8b110f5d84.jpg In this Jan. 14, 2015 photo, Chinese customs officials inspect cars being loaded for export at a port in Qingdao in eastern China's Shandong province. China said Thursday, May 24, 2018, that it will "firmly defend" its rights and interests against what it calls the Trump administration's abuse of national security provisions in trade. The Commerce Ministry's response came after the Trump administration launched an investigation into whether tariffs are needed on automobile imports on national security grounds. (Chinatopix via AP) https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120508195-aedae913246c4e4b90811e8b110f5d84.jpg
Divided Supreme Court sides with businesses over workers WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that businesses can prohibit their workers from banding together in disputes over pay and conditions in the workplace, a decision that affects an estimated 25 million non-unionized employees.

With the court’s five conservative members in the majority, the justices held that individual employees can be forced to use arbitration, not the courts, to air complaints about wages and overtime. Four dissenting liberal justices said the decision will hit low-wage, vulnerable workers especially hard.

While the complaints in Monday’s decision involved pay issues, the outcome also might extend to workplace discrimination and other disputes if employee contracts specify that they must be dealt with in one-on-one arbitration.

Workers who want to take action against sexual harassment, pay discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and racial discrimination “may now be forced behind closed doors into an individual, costly - and often secret - arbitration process,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center.

Lawyers representing management said the decision protects businesses from endless, costly litigation.

The outcome does not affect people represented by labor unions, but an estimated 25 million employees work under contracts that prohibit collective action by employees who want to raise claims about some aspect of their employment.

The ruling reflected a years-long pattern at the Supreme Court of limiting class actions and favoring employer-favored arbitration over lawsuits in the courts, generally preferred by workers.

The Trump administration backed the businesses, reversing the position the Obama administration took in favor of employees.

The court’s task was to reconcile federal laws that seemed to point in different directions. On the one hand, New Deal labor laws explicitly give workers the right to band together. On the other, the older Federal Arbitration Act encourages the use of arbitration, instead of the courts.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, said the contracts are valid under the arbitration law. “As a matter of policy these questions are surely debatable. But as a matter of law the answer is clear,” Gorsuch wrote.

Monday’s ruling is in line with earlier decisions, he said. “In many cases over many years, this court has heard and rejected efforts to conjure conflicts between the Arbitration Act and other federal statutes. In fact, this court has rejected every such effort to date (save one temporary exception since overruled),” Gorsuch wrote.

In dissent for the court’s liberals, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the decision “egregiously wrong” and likely to lead to “huge underenforcement of federal and state stautes designed to advance the well-being of vulnerable workers.” Ginsburg said that the individual complaints can be very small in dollar terms, “scarcely of a size warranting the expense of seeking redress alone.”

Ginsburg, who read a summary of her dissent aloud to stress her disagreement, said employees do not really have a choice about whether to sign such agreements, labeling them “arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave-it contracts.”

She said “congressional action is urgently in order,” echoing her call in 2007 for Congress to address pay discrimination following a high court ruling from which she dissented.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said she fears the decision will have far-reaching effects. “Today’s decision will make it easier for employers to escape liability for widespread discrimination and harassment. No American should be forced to sign away their right to invoke the meaningful protections afforded by our nation’s critical civil rights laws,” Clarke said.

The National Labor Relations Board, breaking with the administration, argued that contracts requiring employees to waive their right to collective action violate the labor laws.

Business interests were united in favor of the contracts. Gregory Jacob, a former high-ranking Labor Department official in the Bush administration, said the court got it right Monday. “This decision thus will not see a huge increase in the use of such provisions, but it does protect employers’ settled expectations and avoids placing our nation’s job providers under the threat of additional burdensome litigation drain,” Jacob said.

Lower courts had split over the issue. The high court considered three cases — two in which appeals courts ruled that such agreements can’t be enforced and a third in which an appeals court said they are valid.

https://www.timesleader.com/business/704954/divided-supreme-court-sides-with-businesses-over-workers 704954 0 Mon, 21 May 2018 08:43:01 +0000 https://www.timesleader.com/business/704954/divided-supreme-court-sides-with-businesses-over-workers#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120486298-2a96452b2044429ab1a1596d07763ec6.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120486298-2a96452b2044429ab1a1596d07763ec6.jpg The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, April 20, 2018. The Supreme Court says employers can prohibit their workers from banding together to complain about pay and conditions in the workplace. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120486298-2a96452b2044429ab1a1596d07763ec6.jpg
Consumer Reports find fault with Tesla DETROIT — Long emergency stopping distances, difficult-to-use controls and a harsh ride stopped Tesla’s Model 3 electric car from getting a recommended buy rating from Consumer Reports.

While the magazine said the car has exhilarating acceleration and handling, testers were troubled by its 152-foot average stopping distance from 60 miles per hour in emergency braking tests. The magazine said the distance was worse than any modern car it has tested, and is about 7 feet longer than a Ford F-150, a full-size pickup truck that weighs about twice as much as a Model 3.

Tesla said in a statement that its own tests found 60-to-zero braking distances averaging 133 feet. It says stopping distances are affected by road surface, weather, tire temperature, brake conditioning and other factors. It also says it continually does software updates to improve factors such as stopping distance.

The Model 3 is Tesla’s first attempt to appeal to mass-market buyers. The car that starts at $35,000 but can run as high as $78,000 has been plagued by production delays.

Consumer Reports said it tested the car at its track on pavement monitored for consistent surface friction, using industry standard test procedures. The car was tested with the same 18-inch Michelin tires that were used in Tesla’s test, the magazine said.

On the first Consumer Reports test, the Model 3 stopped in about 130 feet, similar to Tesla’s findings, according to the magazine. But testers could not repeat that distance even after letting the brakes cool overnight, it said.

Because of the inconsistency, the testers borrowed a second Model 3 and got results similar to longer distances in testing the first one.

The Tesla’s stopping distance was 21 feet longer than the class average for luxury compact sedans, the magazine said.

Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports, said the first test shows him that the Model 3 has the mechanical ability to stop in 130 feet and that a software change may bring consistently shorter stopping distances. If that happens, Consumer Reports would re-evaluate the car, he said.

Consumer Reports also said that Car and Driver magazine experienced inconsistent and sometimes long stopping distances when it tested a Model 3, including one stop from 70 mph that took 196 feet.

Although it doesn’t happen often, Consumer Reports in the past has decided not to recommend vehicles based largely on long braking distances. Last year the magazine decided not to recommend the Hyundai Ioniq gas-electric hybrid car because of below-average braking. It took the car 144 feet to fully stop from 60 mph on dry pavement.

The magazine also said nearly all of the Model 3’s controls are on a center touch screen direction with no gauges on the dashboard and few buttons inside the car. This forces drivers to take several steps to do simple tasks and can cause driver distraction, the magazine said.

The car also had a stiff ride and excessive wind noise at highway speeds, unlike competitors, Consumer Reports said.

Consumer Reports also said it got a record 350 miles of range per charge with a long-range version of the Model 3 when it’s set on a high mode to recharge batteries with energy from braking.

The magazine said it took delivery of the Model 3 that it purchased on Feb. 8, and it was the latest model available at the time.

Consumer Reports recommends Tesla’s Model S, ranking it No. 1 in the ultra-luxury car category. But its other model currently on sale, the Model X SUV, is not recommended due to low reliability.

https://www.timesleader.com/business/704951/consumer-reports-find-fault-with-tesla 704951 0 Mon, 21 May 2018 08:42:13 +0000 The Associated Press https://www.timesleader.com/business/704951/consumer-reports-find-fault-with-tesla#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120486243-c4c3ee3db7804f339eb0c64efaedd425.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120486243-c4c3ee3db7804f339eb0c64efaedd425.jpg Tesla Motors unveils the new lower-priced Model 3 sedan at the Tesla Motors design studio in Hawthorne, Calif. https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120486243-c4c3ee3db7804f339eb0c64efaedd425.jpg
Please don’t repo Fido ALBANY, N.Y. — How much is that maltipoo in the window? It could end up costing twice what it says on the price tag if the buyer is enticed into signing a pet leasing contract.

That’s what nearly happened to 24-year-old Natalie Sullivan, of Brooklyn. She and her roommate, she said, fell in love with a designer Frenchton puppy at a pet store but couldn’t afford the $1,350 price tag.

“So the salesman talked us into this predatory payment plan,” Sullivan said.

It wasn’t until they got home with their adorable French bulldog-Boston terrier mix that they read the contract more closely. Little Jane wouldn’t actually be theirs for two years, after they’d forked over monthly payments totaling nearly $3,000 plus a balloon payment of $275. If they failed to pay, it appeared, the lease company could repossess their bat-eared baby as if she were a car.

“It’s a heinous thing,” said Libby Post, executive director of the New York State Animal Protection Federation, which is lobbying for a ban on pet leasing. “This kind of predatory lending should not involve a living, breathing being.”

Pet leasing has been drawing scrutiny from lawmakers and animal welfare groups since media reports last year highlighted consumer complaints against Reno, Nevada-based Wags Lending, which pioneered the practice. Nevada and California have now outlawed pet leasing, and New York lawmakers are proposing legislation prohibiting lease contracts “where dogs or cats are used as collateral.”

“Pet leasing is a predatory practice that preys on people who cannot always afford a companion animal,” said Assemblyman Matthew Titone, a Democrat from Staten Island, in the memo supporting his bill.

Like consumer loans, pet leases are offered to people who want to buy a purebred puppy or a so-called “designer” dog — such as the popular maltipoo, a maltese-poodle cross — but can’t afford prices that often exceed $1,000 at a pet store. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says leasing options are popular with pet dealers because they are under pressure to sell puppies while they are still puppies, when they are at their cutest and most attractive to buyers.

“The concept of leasing a dog is new in our culture,” Wags Lending, launched in 2013, says on its website. “We have carefully crafted a lease purchase agreement so that consumers can enjoy the pet that they have always wanted, when they wanted.” The company, which says it has handled 66,000 pet leases, says it doesn’t charge interest, like that on a loan. Rather, it charges a monthly lease fee comprising rent plus depreciation “compensating the business for the decrease in the product’s fair market value while the customer is using the product.”

The Better Business Bureau in Fresno, California, looked at the cost calculator on one pet leasing company’s website and found that if you bought a dog for $2,000, you could have a monthly payment as high as $293 for 24 months, bringing the dog’s final cost to more than $7,000. And if you stop making payments, “the company has the right to take your animal back and ding your credit score.”

A woman who answered the phone at Wags Lending said “we have no comment,” then referred the call to a supervisor who did not call back. Wags Lending’s parent company, Bristlecone Holdings, filed for bankruptcy last year, but Titone’s office said it’s not the only company offering pet lease contracts.

Sullivan, who works in television casting, said as soon as she understood the costs of her lease, she tapped into her savings and paid off the puppy’s purchase price — plus the $275 payoff fee.

“Thankfully, we got a nice, healthy, well-rounded dog,” Sullivan said. “But I wouldn’t buy from a pet store again.”

Wags Lending assigned some lease contracts to Monterey Financial Services, based in Oceanside, California. Chris Hughes, president and CEO of Monterey Financial, said the company is aware of New York’s proposed legislation and stopped accepting leases from originators more than a year ago. He called assertions of “predatory lending” and holding pets as collateral “patently false and inaccurate.”

“Under no circumstances has Monterey ever repossessed a pet, nor has Monterey ever intended to,” Hughes said via email. He said Monterey works with the consumer to keep their account in good standing. “The animal remains with the consumer even in the case of default.”

https://www.timesleader.com/business/704719/please-dont-repo-fido 704719 0 Sat, 19 May 2018 07:22:14 +0000 By Mary Esch - Associated Press https://www.timesleader.com/business/704719/please-dont-repo-fido#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120471494-8a2db258ed7f426d84298c2a1f46563c.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120471494-8a2db258ed7f426d84298c2a1f46563c.jpg This undated photo provided by Natalie Sullivan shows Sullivan’s French bulldog-Boston terrier mix puppy, Jane. Sullivan, of Brooklyn, says a pet store salesman talked her into a costly lease contract when she bought the dog. Nevada and California have banned pet leasing and New York may also outlaw the practice under legislation proposed in the Assembly and supported by animal welfare organizations. https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120471494-8a2db258ed7f426d84298c2a1f46563c.jpg
Credit card payments evolve beyond the mobile wallet Mobile wallets can make paying by credit or debit card seamless: Tap your phone at checkout and you’re on your way. But mobile wallets are just the beginning. Payment networks and manufacturers are building payment functions into more devices — expanding your options as well as freeing up your hands.

You could find yourself buying gas from the dashboard of your car, groceries from your refrigerator door or dinner by flashing a smile. And you won’t even need your phone with you to make purchases on the go.

More devices add payment capability

Payment options already available or on the horizon include:

• Wearables. Connected “smart” accessories such as watches, bands and rings travel lighter than a phone. To use, the wearer holds a wrist or hand up to a contactless payment terminal. Visa tested these devices at the 2016 Rio Olympics to demonstrate possibilities, says Mark Jamison, global head of innovation and design at Visa.

The market will determine, he says, if fashion designers want to “embed payments into a ring or any other device.” One company privately testing similar tech is Token, whose smart ring — which performs a variety of functions, from opening doors to paying for purchases — has a waiting list.

In 2017, payment capabilities branched out from Apple and Android smartwatches to some Fitbit and Garmin fitness devices, meaning more people could leave their phone behind while working out.

By the end of this year, Visa expects merchants to have tap-to-pay capability at 50 percent of U.S. locations where face-to-face transactions take place.

• Virtual assistants. When voice payments are enabled on virtual assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home, you can multitask and take care of “errands” in the moment with verbal commands.

Connected devices will be the norm

Consider the number of mobile applications with saved payment information on your mobile device. In the future, you could free up some data and save a little battery life by using other connected devices:

• Cars. Visa and Mastercard are working with manufacturers to embed options in car models. Manufacturers are also testing ways to pay for gas, groceries, takeout, metered parking and other things from screens on vehicle dashboards.

“It’s still early, but we are focused on bringing that to life this year, to have the ability for you, as the driver, to not just order from one type of merchant,” says Stephane Wyper, senior vice president of new commerce partnerships and commercialization at Mastercard.

• Appliances. Appliances will get smarter in the future. A glimpse of what’s possible: Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator, which lets you order groceries from the Groceries by Mastercard app; Whirlpool’s Smart Dishwasher, which, when synced with an Amazon account, can estimate when you’re low on detergent and order it automatically.

• Your body. Going totally device-free could also become an option. Biometric payments make it possible to pay by voice, face, iris scan or fingerprint. It’s not a big stretch from the biometric authentication currently used by some phones or applications.

“The technology itself has been around for a while, but consumers were skeptical of it,” Jamison says. They’ve since become accustomed to authenticating using a fingerprint via phone, and their preference has shifted from user ID and password to biometrics, he says.

In January 2018, CaliBurger restaurants launched a pay-by-face pilot program in Pasadena, California. Customers pay for their order by smiling for the camera and entering the three-digit number from the back of a credit card.

More options, fewer passwords

Current devices, apps and websites generally each require a separate profile with payment details. In the future, you could keep payment information in one place and sync it to all devices.

In 2017, Mastercard launched Consumer Control to offer consumers a central view of their cards across different channels. With access through their issuer, cardholders can add their cards to their favorite shopping sites and devices from one location.

The forecast for the future includes more convenient payment options. Visa estimates that 50 billion smart devices will be connected to the internet by 2020.

Merchants won’t begin accepting payments from everything overnight; for certain devices it may take a few years. For now, you can start exploring the options outside of your mobile wallet.

This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Melissa Lambarena is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: mlambarenanerdwallet.com. Twitter: LissaLambarena.

https://www.timesleader.com/business/704717/credit-card-payments-evolve-beyond-the-mobile-wallet 704717 0 Sat, 19 May 2018 07:09:15 +0000 By Melissa Lambarena - NerdWallet https://www.timesleader.com/business/704717/credit-card-payments-evolve-beyond-the-mobile-wallet#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120471364-325b1cb267494c43be123c620726e639.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120471364-325b1cb267494c43be123c620726e639.jpg Team Visa athlete Popole Misenga uses his Visa payment ring at the Copacabana Megastore in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120471364-325b1cb267494c43be123c620726e639.jpg
Retiring to ocean breezes and cheap rent. What’s the catch The world is full of tropical paradises and other exotic places where a couple can live comfortably on $2,000 a month or less. Plus, good health care abroad can cost a fraction of what it does in the U.S.

If living more cheaply is the only reason you’d retire to another country, though, you’re likely to be unhappy.

Expatriate Dan Prescher says he’s seen such “economic refugees” suffer when they discover how different daily life can be in other places.

“No matter what else the United States is, it is probably the most convenient country on the planet,” says Prescher, a senior editor at International Living who currently lives in Ecuador. “You can get almost anything you want, almost any time you want with a phone call or the click of a mouse. The rest of the world is just not like that.”

Another long-time expat, Kathleen Peddicord, says people who successfully retire abroad leave their expectations at the border and “learn what questions not to ask.” Questions like, “Why is the sales clerk answering her phone in the middle of checking out a customer?” or “How can it take four months to install a new kitchen countertop?”

“Real control freaks struggle,” says Peddicord, publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, who lives in Paris. “I speak from firsthand experience.”

People who do well living abroad tend to have some things in common, Peddicord and Prescher say. Those include:

• They have a sense of adventure — and humor. The best candidates are open-minded, unafraid of change and ready to embrace the new and unexpected, Peddicord says. Plus, “You need to be able to laugh it off when the repairman stands you up for the fourth time in a row,” Peddicord says.

• Their spouses are on board. Often one member of a couple is more enthusiastic than the other, and it may take a vacation in the proposed location to win over the uncertain spouse. But Prescher warns that dragging a truly reluctant spouse abroad is likely to backfire.

“You see one spouse just suffering through it hoping that in a year or two it will be out of the other spouse’s system, and they can go back home and live the way they want to,” Prescher says.

• They have a re-entry plan. Many expat retirees intend to return to the U.S. someday, and even those who expect to live abroad indefinitely can change their minds.

“At some point, they’re going to be 80 years old and they might not want to be away from their family and friends anymore,” Prescher says.

A re-entry plan could mean renting the family home instead of selling it, or setting aside enough money to fund a return. Prescher and Peddicord also recommend signing up for Medicare at 65, even though that government health care program can only be used in the U.S. The reason: The part of Medicare that pays for doctor’s visits and other costs, Part B, has a hefty penalty for not signing up when you’re eligible. Monthly Part B premium increase 10 percent for each year someone could have had Medicare Part B but did not.

• They have a purpose. We all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It can be challenging to find that purpose when you’re struggling with language and cultural differences, Peddicord says.

After 20 years of living abroad, however, she’s convinced having purpose is key to a positive experience in a new place. Every unhappy retiree she’s known failed to find motivation and devolved into what she calls “the complaining expat.”

“You find these folks holding court on barstools across the world,” she says.

The happy ones may take up a long-deferred hobby, learn a new language or start a business, but many expat retirees find their purpose by volunteering.

“I know dozens of expat-retirees in different places who are volunteering as teachers, in orphanages, in single-mother facilities,” Peddicord says. “This can be the best way to become a real part of your new community.”

https://www.timesleader.com/business/704715/retiring-to-ocean-breezes-and-cheap-rent-whats-the-catch 704715 0 Sat, 19 May 2018 07:00:16 +0000 Liz Weston - Guest Columnist https://www.timesleader.com/business/704715/retiring-to-ocean-breezes-and-cheap-rent-whats-the-catch#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_02abc7cfa1954972b2593a59af1ef2a3-02abc7cfa1954972b2593a59af1ef2a3-0.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_02abc7cfa1954972b2593a59af1ef2a3-02abc7cfa1954972b2593a59af1ef2a3-0.jpg FILE - This April 2017 file photo provided by NerdWallet shows Liz Weston, a columnist for personal finance website NerdWallet.com. (NerdWallet via AP, File) https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_02abc7cfa1954972b2593a59af1ef2a3-02abc7cfa1954972b2593a59af1ef2a3-0.jpg
IHop opens in Wilkes-Barre WILKES-BARRE – Area diners have a new choice to choose from when looking for breakfast 24 hours a day.

IHop’s newest location opened on Kidder Street on Monday.

The popular restaurant chain is known for its pancakes and breakfast foods, but it also offers a lunch and dinner menu.

https://www.timesleader.com/news/704138/ihop-opens-in-wilkes-barre 704138 0 Tue, 15 May 2018 02:10:23 +0000 https://www.timesleader.com/news/704138/ihop-opens-in-wilkes-barre#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL051518IHOP.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL051518IHOP.jpg Jonathan Erik and Katie Rocker bring pancakes to diners at the new IHOP in Wilkes-Barre on Monday morning. https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL051518IHOP.jpg
Sears: Committee explores sale of Kenmore, other assets NEW YORK (AP) — Sears Holdings Corp. says a special committee of its board is starting a formal process to explore the sale of its Kenmore brand and related assets.

The move, announced Monday, comes almost a month after the retailer said it received a letter from its largest shareholder ESL Investments, headed by Sears Chairman and CEO Edward Lampert, expressing interest in all or some of the assets, which include Sears Home Services’ home improvement business, and the company’s Parts Direct business.

Sears, based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, said no assurance can be given any formal proposal will be made by ESL or any third party.

The ailing company has sold off other major brands as it struggles to stay afloat with Kenmore a notable reminder of the powerhouse retailer it once was.

In morning trading, shares added 19 cents, or 5.6 percent, to $3.61.

https://www.timesleader.com/business/703993/sears-committee-explores-sale-of-kenmore-other-assets 703993 0 Mon, 14 May 2018 10:31:04 +0000 https://www.timesleader.com/business/703993/sears-committee-explores-sale-of-kenmore-other-assets#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120428891-8d9ca83ddab34bf6ade1e105246e09a5.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120428891-8d9ca83ddab34bf6ade1e105246e09a5.jpg FILE- In this March 28, 2018, file photo, a man walks in front of a Sears sign in San Bruno, Calif. In a move announced Monday, May 14, Sears Holdings Corp. says a special committee of its board is starting a formal process to explore the sale of its Kenmore brand and related assets. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File) https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120428891-8d9ca83ddab34bf6ade1e105246e09a5.jpg
People, power costs keep indoor farming down to Earth SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — There’s a budding industry that’s trying to solve the problem of the limp lettuce and tasteless tomatoes in America’s supermarkets.

It’s full of technologists who grow crops in buildings instead of outdoors, short-cutting the need to prematurely harvest produce for a bumpy ride often thousands of miles to consumers in colder climes.

More than 30 high-tech companies from the U.S. to Singapore hoping to turn indoor farming into a major future food source, if only they can clear a stubborn hurdle: high costs.

These companies stack plants inside climate-controlled rooms, parse out nutrients and water, and bathe them with specialized light. It’s all so consumers can enjoy tasty vegetables year-round using a fraction of the water and land that traditional farming requires. Farmers can even brag the produce is locally grown.

But real estate around cities is pricey. Electricity and labor don’t come cheap. And unlike specialty crops like newly legal marijuana, veggies rarely command premium prices. (It’s tough to compete with plants grown in dirt with free sunlight, after all.)

Even the best-funded indoor farming company on the planet — Plenty, which has raised nearly $230 million so far — has embraced a longtime farmers’ crutch: government handouts. It hasn’t found any takers yet.

“We believe society should consider investing in this new form of agriculture in the way it invested in agriculture in the 1940s,” said Plenty CEO Matt Barnard in a recent interview.

Barnard says public aid — in the form of cheaper power — is one way to turn a good but elusive idea into a sustainable venture.

Last year, the U.S. paid farmers $9.3 billion in direct support, and subsidized weather-related crop insurance to the tune of $5.1 billion. In a nutshell, Barnard argues that some of that money could be diverted to crops that grow in rain or shine.

Plenty grows kale, mixed greens, basil and natural sweetener stevia in a grey, low-rise warehouse complex in the industrial suburb of South San Francisco.

Visitors arriving via the back door must don full-body overalls and rubber boots dipped in disinfecting shoe baths before entering the air-tight workspace.

Seedlings are grown on flatbeds and bathed in purple light that gives them the look of a 3D movie watched without glasses. Maturing plants are stuffed into columns where they grow sideways, fed by drip irrigation, and irradiated by columns of light-emitting diodes.

The plants will be clipped and packaged before heading to stores later this year.

But there are some noticeable gaps in the menu. There are no carrots or tomatoes, because long roots that grow down and vines that require human pruning don’t do well on walls.

For indoor farms, making money has largely meant shipping in bulk to grocery stores, a conundrum if costs aren’t in line.

Investment in indoor farming soared to $271 million last year, up from just $36 million in 2016, according to market research firm Cleantech Group.

“The question is, how are they going to scale?” asks Pawel Hardej, CEO of Civic Farms, a vertical farming consultancy in Austin, Texas.

There have been plenty of indoor farming failures already.

FarmedHere shuttered its operations in Louisville, Kentucky, and Bedford Park, Illinois, in January last year due to cost overruns.

Georgia-based PodPonics, which filed for bankruptcy in 2016, cited labor costs as its biggest drag.

Google’s X, the search giant’s secretive “moonshot factory,” killed its indoor farming efforts because it couldn’t grow food staples like grains and rice.

Even fans of the technology aren’t sure it can beat another sheltered alternative: greenhouses.

“Vertical farming to a lot of (investors) is an ‘if’ and a ‘maybe’ versus a ‘when,’” says Cleantech adviser Yoachim Haynes. “The question that needs to be answered is, ‘Can they do it with cheaper electricity and cheaper labor?’ This is not a question that many have been able to answer.”

Barnard says Plenty can prosper if it spends 3 to 5 cents per kilowatt hour on power — well below the 10.4 cents that is the average price nationwide, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

While Plenty announced plans to build a 100,000 square-foot facility in the Seattle suburb of Kent in November, it said it isn’t in talks about power breaks with any U.S. city now.

Most public support has so far been in rebates for energy-efficient lighting, not running costs.

Seattle City Light provided $10,000 worth of energy-efficient lighting to an indoor growing facility that helped feed the city’s homeless. But it already offers the lowest power rate of the top 25 cities in America. “That’s the deal that’s on the table,” says spokesman Scott Thomsen.

Chicago provided some $344,000 in construction grants since 2008 to The Plant , a former pork processing plant that is home to multiple indoor farms.

While that helped with structural improvements, it didn’t help with operations, says John Edel, the president of Bubbly Dynamics LLC, which owns The Plant.

Supplying grocery stores in large volumes is “harder than it sounds,” he says. And other ways of obtaining cheap power — like The Plant’s plan to install a bio-gas guzzling turbine — have faced obstacles that make it uneconomical.

“There isn’t a whole lot in the way of incentives for farms here,” Edel says. “There needs to be.”


Follow AP Technology Writer Ryan Nakashima at https://twitter.com/rnakashi

https://www.timesleader.com/business/703758/people-power-costs-keep-indoor-farming-down-to-earth 703758 0 Sat, 12 May 2018 08:05:51 +0000 By Ryan Nakashima - AP Technology Writer https://www.timesleader.com/business/703758/people-power-costs-keep-indoor-farming-down-to-earth#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120420955-0992cba6872e43ddba473501982be6f7.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120420955-0992cba6872e43ddba473501982be6f7.jpg Production manager Emy Kelty, left, and senior grower Molly Kreykes scan and monitor plants growing on towers in the grow room at the Plenty, Inc. office in South San Francisco, Calif. https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120420955-0992cba6872e43ddba473501982be6f7.jpg
Putting babies to sleep in the Snoo NEW YORK — “I don’t even call it a bed. I kind of think of it as your grandmother.”

So declares Dr. Harvey Karp, a Los Angeles pediatrician whose smart-tech baby sleeper, the Snoo, is a game-changer for some sleep-deprived parents.

The Snoo has earned rave reviews from baby gear experts and parents alike, including Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis. Last year, the consumer products show CES bestowed its coveted baby safety award on the invention.

The Snoo is all about swaddling. Just don’t call it a bed.

In a video on his website, Papa Karp says the Snoo provides a service “more than being a thing.” It gently rocks and jiggles babies from birth to 6 months old, a period he calls the “fourth trimester,” when — he believes — simulating the womb environment is key to calming babies.

Babies are zipped into a mesh sleep sack after a broad cotton swaddle tightly pins the infant’s arms to the side from shoulder to wrist. The sack is then secured to the Snoo’s frame before the rocking and a white-noise lullaby commence.

Karp, who’s also written a book, “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” says infants should be soothed in 40 to 60 seconds. The Snoo increases its motion and noise based on persistent sound from the baby, until it reaches its fourth and final level. If that doesn’t work, it turns off. Parents can adjust settings manually or with an app. The Snoo also comes with an organic cotton sheet and sleep sacks in three sizes.

But at $1,160, the Snoo more expensive than many rocking devices — though designer baby beds can run higher.

New York mom Kathleen Udo heard about the Snoo and “thought, ‘Wow, that sounds great, sign me up,’ until I looked at the price. I was, like, ‘Get out of town.’”

Then her son Jack, now 3 months old, was born. Parental fatigue set in and she found a mommy friend with a Snoo to lend.

“My little terrorist over here wouldn’t sleep. Even with the Snoo, we’ve only gotten to about four hours at a stretch at night,” said Udo, who is an attorney. “I’m going back to work in mid-June and I need to be back on my A-game. The Snoo was a desperation move.”

Karp says babies who aren’t put in the Snoo from birth have a learning curve, and that was the case with Jack. But, says Udo, “It definitely calms him,” so that she doesn’t need to rock him to sleep anymore.

Jamee Zalewski of Denver tried the Snoo with her second child Ruby. “The mental break was really important for me,” she said. “I was able to take it because I knew the Snoo’s soothing would shut off if Ruby needed me. I could watch it on my phone and get an alert.”

Her husband Paul, who blogs about baby gear at Fathercraft.com, said they sometimes wondered, “‘Are we letting a robot do our job?’ There were these moments when we would walk away after Ruby fell asleep and we’d be like, ‘We should be doing something.’”

While the Zalewskis did become Snoo fans, they opted to return the device before the 30-day trial period was up. The reason: Ruby was colicky and congested and needed to sleep on an incline. The company has since added leg lifts so it can be adjusted.

Karp, who worked with designer Yves Behar on the Snoo, says the device also promotes safety, by keeping babies in the supine position recommended for sleep by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and by making it unnecessary for sleep-deprived parents to bring babies into their own beds. About 3,500 infants in the United States die suddenly and unexpectedly each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control, and the causes include accidental suffocation in a parent’s bed.

Getting babies to sleep soundly can also reduce postpartum depression and marital stress. “The No. 1 stress that new parents talk about is exhaustion,” Karp said.

Karp’s team works with companies offering rented Snoos to parents returning to work, foster parents and doctors treating babies born to drug-addicted mothers. He is also working on a plan to offer Snoos for rent at reasonable cost.

At the University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital in Lexington, 10 Snoos are available for babies with the addiction and withdrawal condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome, in a state where 15 of every 1,000 babies is born dependent on opioids. Such babies routinely experience disrupted sleep, said Dr. Lori A. Shook, a neonatologist there. Before she stumbled on the Snoo at a pediatrics conference, she’d notice the babies in the eight-bed unit fussing terribly in their bassinets.

The Snoos are used in addition to aromatherapy and massage for calming, in a unit that focuses on families caring for their babies.

“Now on rounds I see every baby asleep in their Snoo bed,” Shook said. “At first I think the nurses were leery because of the motion, but now we realize it also allows families to sleep better, and hopefully get the babies out of the hospital sooner and with less medication.”

https://www.timesleader.com/business/703726/putting-babies-to-sleep-in-the-snoo 703726 0 Sat, 12 May 2018 03:38:33 +0000 By Leanne Italie - Associated Press https://www.timesleader.com/business/703726/putting-babies-to-sleep-in-the-snoo#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_acdaa288e7b346a391f08da2c8494a3f-acdaa288e7b346a391f08da2c8494a3f-0.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_acdaa288e7b346a391f08da2c8494a3f-acdaa288e7b346a391f08da2c8494a3f-0.jpg Paul Zalewski shows his infant daughter Ruby in a smart-tech sleeper called the Snoo, which gently rocks and jiggles babies to sleep from birth to 6 months old. https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_acdaa288e7b346a391f08da2c8494a3f-acdaa288e7b346a391f08da2c8494a3f-0.jpg
Their view: Don’t let your credit die of neglect Certified financial planner David Rae says he used to think that “anyone who could draw breath” could get an auto loan. Then one of his millionaire clients tried to buy a car — and failed.

The 42-year-old client was turned down for a loan because he had no credit scores , says Rae, who is based in Los Angeles.

Nineteen million American adults are “unscoreable,” lacking enough recent credit history to generate credit scores, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They either have “thin” files, with too few accounts, or “stale” ones that haven’t been updated in a while.

Roughly 7 million of these people are what credit scoring company FICO calls “credit retired.” They no longer actively use credit, but their histories are free from charge offs, collections or other negative marks that might indicate that “their exit from the credit mainstream was involuntary,” says Ethan Dornhelm, FICO’s vice president for scores and predictive analytics.

Having no scores can cost you

These consumers can face a host of potential problems, including:

• People without scores could be shut out of credit they might want in the future, including rewards credit cards and low-cost loans.

• Insurers typically use credit-based scores to set premiums for auto and home insurance, so not having credit could cause those without scores to miss out on lower rates.

• People with no credit scores may not qualify for the best cellphone plans and may have to make bigger deposits to get utilities.

The median age of these credit retirees is 71, Dornhelm says. They may have retired from work, paid off their homes and feel no need to borrow money. But the credit retired also can include younger people, including those who live cash-only lifestyles.

Credit scores can die fast

They may not realize that credit scores can die relatively quickly. While closed accounts in good standing typically remain on credit reports for 10 years, lenders often stop updating those accounts soon after they’re closed. Without updates, scores can’t be generated. The FICO scoring formula used in most lending decisions requires peoples’ credit reports to show at least one account that’s been updated within the previous six months.

The rival VantageScore looks back somewhat further, 24 months, for updated accounts. VantageScore and FICO’s alternative formula, FICO Score XD, also generate scores for people based on their histories paying noncredit accounts, such as telecommunications and cable bills. But applicants typically can’t know in advance if a lender uses VantageScore or an alternative score, so they should assume it will be a traditional FICO score.

Using one credit card can save the day

The key to reviving traditional scores? Having and using a single credit card is enough, as long as the card issuer reports to all three credit bureaus (most do). Balances can and should be paid in full each month, since there’s no credit score advantage to carrying debt.

Rae’s client was a renter whose only credit card was tied to his business. Business credit cards often don’t show up on individuals’ credit reports. Rental payments are included on some credit reports, but they’re not factored into the most commonly used FICO credit scores.

So Rae had his client apply for a secured credit card, which required a $500 deposit to get a $500 credit limit. After four months, the client applied for a regular credit card from his bank. His healthy account balances helped convince the bank he was a good bet, Rae says.

Having lots of assets or making big down payments can help the credit retired get approved for many types of credit, notes Jeff Richardson, vice president of communications for VantageScore. Credit unions, which are member-owned, may also be willing to look beyond credit scores when making lending decisions, Richardson says.

Two months after being approved for the credit card, Rae’s client got a car loan. And a year after that, he got a mortgage to buy a multimillion-dollar home, Rae says.

“It’s all good . but it was rough and a big hassle at the beginning,” Rae says.

https://www.timesleader.com/business/703715/their-view-dont-let-your-credit-die-of-neglect 703715 0 Sat, 12 May 2018 08:20:34 +0000 Liz Weston - Guest Columnist https://www.timesleader.com/business/703715/their-view-dont-let-your-credit-die-of-neglect#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Liz-Weston-1.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Liz-Weston-1.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Liz-Weston-1.jpg
Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority purchases Kingston properties for business offices The Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority has paid $1.135 million to purchase a former bank and three lots in Kingston for a new billing and payment center, property records show.

Once occupied by First Keystone National Bank, the structure at 179 S. Wyoming Ave. contains a drive-thru that will be used for customer payments, authority Solicitor William Finnegan said. The other three parcels are for parking.

Authority officials have been discussing options for years to provide additional space for the business office, which is currently located at the authority’s wastewater treatment plant in Hanover Township, Finnegan said.

When the authority was established in the 1960s, it had 14 participating municipalities, he said.

It now provides wastewater treatment services for more than 200,000 residents in 36 municipalities in addition to handling recycling, garbage and municipal sewer billing for several municipalities, Finnegan added.

“We vastly expanded services but had the same facility,” he said. “This is the most cost-beneficial way to meet needs and is in the best interest of ratepayers.”

Addition ruled out

The possibility of building an office addition at the Hanover Township plant was considered but ruled out because it would have cost significantly more, said Finnegan, stressing the recent Kingston real estate purchase will not cause a rate increase.

The purchase involved three transactions, according to county deed and property records:

• $35,000 to Millet 21st Century Ventures for a 0.28-acre parking lot on Carle Street that is assessed at $122,000.

• $960,000 to Cent’anni LLC for two parcels — the former bank on 0.38 acre, which is assessed at $1.01 million, and a 0.06-acre parking lot assessed at $16,800.

• $140,000 to Cent’anni Duo for an apartment building on 0.21 acre at 17-19 Carle St., which is assessed at $110,000.

Finnegan said the apartment building will be demolished to create additional customer and employee parking.

The former bank is in move-in condition and should be open to accept billing payments sometime next month, he said.

An authority release said the Kingston location is more centralized for customers.

“While the scope of our business services continues evolving, this office will provide more convenience for our visiting customers and sufficient room for our business administration employees,” authority budget/finance director Sandy Bartosiewicz said in the release.

Satellite payment offices in West Pittston and Wilkes-Barre will remain open along with secure payment drop-off boxes in Nanticoke and Plains Township, the release noted.

The new site also frees up space at the Hanover Township building for the authority’s project overseeing regional stormwater management for many municipalities that must comply with federal pollution reduction mandates.

The authority’s proposed solution, which has been estimated at $33 million, involves work on the Toby Creek impounding basin off Division Street in Pringle to make it more absorbent; stream bank restoration along Solomon Creek on the east side of the river; and enhancements at a Plymouth detention basin, Abrahams Creek near the county recreational complex in Forty Fort, and another water collection area in Hanover Township.

https://www.timesleader.com/news/703625/wyoming-valley-sanitary-authority-purchases-kingston-properties-for-business-offices 703625 0 Fri, 11 May 2018 05:45:49 +0000 By Jennifer Learn-Andes - jandes@timesleader.com https://www.timesleader.com/news/703625/wyoming-valley-sanitary-authority-purchases-kingston-properties-for-business-offices#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_wvsa-1.jpeg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_wvsa-1.jpeg This former bank on Wyoming Avenue in Kingston will house the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority business offices and keep a drive-thru for bill payments. https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_wvsa-1.jpeg
Plains Township business cited by OSHA PLAINS TWP. — A federal agency announced Thursday it has cited a township paperboard manufacturing business for failing to correct prior safety hazards.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, commonly known as OSHA, said it cited Midvale Paper Box Co. after inspectors found employees exposed to safety hazards during a follow-up investigation.

Midvale company representatives could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

OSHA has proposed $201,212 in penalties against Midvale, the release said.

The company has 15 business days from its receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, the agency said.

According to the release:

OSHA conducted an inspection at Midvale in October in response to a complaint and to check on the status of its May 2015 investigation.

The agency cited the employer for exposing employees to electrical hazards and failing to:

• Ensure proper machine guarding

• Implement lockout procedures to prevent machine start-up

• Provide forklift operator certification training

Several violations in the 2015 inspection were only partially corrected or continued, OSHA’s Wilkes-Barre area office director Mark Stelmack said in the release.

”The employer’s continued failure to follow basic safety standards places employees at risk of serious injury or worse,” Stelmack said.

Employers must provide safe and healthful workplaces under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the release said. OSHA sets and enforces standards and provides training, education and assistance.

https://www.timesleader.com/business/703497/plains-township-business-cited-by-osha 703497 0 Thu, 10 May 2018 07:02:54 +0000 By Jennifer Learn-Andes - jandes@timesleader.com https://www.timesleader.com/business/703497/plains-township-business-cited-by-osha#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_OSHO-logo.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_OSHO-logo.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_OSHO-logo.jpg
Hirthler of Jacobi Capital Management recognized as top financial adviser WILKES-BARRE — Michael Hirthler of Jacobi Capital Management in Wilkes-Barre was recently recognized among the Top 1,200 Financial Advisers in America by Barron’s.

The investment publication’s annual list highlights esteemed financial advisers who were assessed on varying factors contributing to the quality of their practice.

Hirthler has worked in the financial services industry for more than 30 years. He is founder and chief investment officer of Jacobi Capital Management, a registered investment adviser. The firm provides primarily investment advisory services to its clients, as well as financial planning services and consulting on topics including, but not limited to, corporations, retirement, estates, college and taxes. Hirthler, who has been named to the list for the third time, is the only adviser in Northeastern Pennsylvania to receive this recognition.

Hirthler is a graduate of Meyers High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Dickinson College. He is active with many charitable organizations. He resides in Shavertown with wife Kathleen and they have two grown children, Mary and Michael.

Jacobi Capital Management has also added two executives: Robert S. Rolland and Amy Lynott.

Rolland, of Dallas, joined Jacobi in February as a wealth management advisor and will be responsible for originating new business and relationships. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Wilkes University.

Lynott, of Clarks Summit, joined Jacobi in March as a senior client services associate. She earned her bachelor’s from Bloomsburg University and previously worked in client services at a national wirehouse firm.

https://www.timesleader.com/business/703495/hirthler-of-jacobi-capital-management-recognized-as-top-financial-adviser 703495 0 Thu, 10 May 2018 06:52:40 +0000 https://www.timesleader.com/business/703495/hirthler-of-jacobi-capital-management-recognized-as-top-financial-adviser#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Lynott-Jacobi.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Lynott-Jacobi.jpg Lynott https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Lynott-Jacobi.jpg
2018 Indicators Report: Regional approach spurs progress PLAINS TWP. — More jobs, lower pay.

That’s a brief, but telling statistic offered Thursday at the 2018 Indicators Forum released by The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development at Wilkes University.

The report was discussed in detail at the forum held at the Mohegan Sun Pocono Hotel Convention Center with about 175 in attendance.

The report shows that the region’s labor market has improved in recent years, adding more than 5,500 jobs between 2012 and 2016. And the region’s unemployment rate has declined by more than three points since 2012.

That’s the good news.

The report also shows that while wages in the region did grow in 2016, they remain less than 80 percent of statewide averages. More significantly, about 1 in 7 people in the region live below the poverty line.

“​Taken as a whole, the indicators​ show that progress is being made in Northeast Pennsylvania, progress that continues ​due to our regional approach in advancing the area,” aid Patrick Leahy, Wilkes University president and chairman of The Institute’s board.

Teri Ooms, executive director of The Institute, said the increase in the labor force and in jobs with a decrease in the unemployed constitutes a true unemployment rate decrease.

“I expect that we will continue to see job growth in small quantities based upon the sector, but much of our job opportunity is going to be replacement demand,” Ooms said. “This occurs as our baby boomers retire and their positions need to be filled.”

Ooms said the largest income bracket in the region is at $50,000 to $74,999. She said the region still has about 27 percent of heads of household in each county (Luzerne and Lackawanna) earning less than $25,000.

“So there is some reduction in poverty levels,” Ooms said.

Breaking out employment by industry, Ooms said health care, education and social assistance are the broadest categories. She said health care dominates with opportunities at all skill levels.

Other highlights of the report include:

Demographics — Population/fluctuations — the growth we have had was from in-migration, not because births are increasing and deaths are decreasing.

Education — Little fluctuation in graduation rate; mixed dropout rate.

“No clear patterns are emerging,” Ooms said. “We have noted that enrollment in private education has fluctuated with economic conditions. Regardless, enrollment in both have and will continue to see some decline because as we have noted earlier, there is a smaller younger population. So workforce issues are likely to continue. It will be more of an “employee” market. There should be continued pressure on wages and our higher education institutions face more competitive conditions.”

Social Services —Ooms said this is an area that feels the effect of a growing senior population, of impoverished individuals and those with challenges.

“Across the board we see increases in cash assistance and food stamps regionally and we outpace the state,” Ooms said. “There has been some improvement in childhood poverty which is a good sign. But more intervention is needed if almost one-in-four of our region’s children are growing up in poverty. This impacts our future workforce, education systems, health care, public safety, and government systems. There are less children in our foster care system which is a positive sign.”

Housing — Increase in construction costs and building permits for first time in a couple of years. Housing stock composition has not changed significantly, not much new construction despite study last year identifying development opportunities in accessible and senior housing.

Affordability is about 30 to 32 percent of income, hovering slightly above the state average because our wages are low. Foreclosures are down significantly in Luzerne County, slightly up in Lackawanna.

Infrastructure & Environment — Transportation in the region is heavily based on personal automobiles — 80 percent of commuters drive alone, and another 11 percent carpool. Public transit users account for only about 1 percent of trips to work, according to this data.

About three-fourths of households (and rising) have Internet access at home, lower than statewide rate, which is at more than 80 percent. Use of gas and electricity for home heating have been growing, while oil heating has dropped in utilization.

Public Safety — Property crimes have trended down in the region. In both counties, property crimes, which include burglary, larceny theft, arson, and motor vehicle theft, reached 10 year lows in 2016.

Violent crimes have shown a less clear pattern, with small increases in the past several years after more significant declines. Drug abuse offenses have grown significant in the region since 2012; juvenile crime in both counties has improved.

Health — The uninsured rate has dropped by more than half regionally since 2010, an even bigger drop than seen statewide. Cost of care remains a concern. Costs have grown at a pace faster than the rate of inflation. This is a complex long-term problem not unique to Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Adult tobacco smoking stands at 22 percent, higher than the statewide rate. Drug and alcohol use, nutrition, and physical activity are other areas related to health outcomes.

Diseases such as cancer and heart disease, which are often related to some of these behavioral factors, have higher age-adjusted death rates in the two counties than Pennsylvania as a whole. Mental health should be another regional priority.

After a spike in the suicide rate seen in last year’s data, there was significant improvement in both counties. Still, both counties are higher than the statewide suicide rate.

https://www.timesleader.com/news/703489/2018-indicators-report-regional-approach-spurs-progress 703489 0 Thu, 10 May 2018 06:20:30 +0000 By Bill O’Boyle - boboyle@timesleader.com https://www.timesleader.com/news/703489/2018-indicators-report-regional-approach-spurs-progress#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL051118Indicators-Report1.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL051118Indicators-Report1.jpg Dr. Steve Scheinman talks about health care at the indicators report forum Thursday morning at the Mohegan Sun Convention Center. https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL051118Indicators-Report1.jpg
US oil prices top $70 a barrel DALLAS — U.S. oil prices crashed through the $70-a-barrel mark on Monday for the first time since late 2014, foreshadowing costlier gasoline and consumer goods.

It’s not clear that pricey crude will slow down the economy, however.

The stock market closed slightly higher as investors bet that companies and consumers can cope with the increase, although airlines — a big consumer of fuel — slipped.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.01 to settle at $70.73 a barrel on the futures market in New York. The international standard, Brent crude, was up $1.30 to $76.17 in London.

Analysts said the recent rally in oil prices has been driven mostly by strong demand and limits on production. But, they said, a contributing factor is concern that Iranian oil exports will fall if the U.S. withdraws from a 2015 deal that eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. Also, U.S. stockpiles of crude are down from this time last year.

The national average for gasoline is now $2.81 a gallon, according to the auto club AAA, and it’s not even the peak driving season yet. Pump prices are up 15 cents from a month ago and 46 cents from a year ago.

Eventually fuel prices show up in the costs of all sorts of consumer goods that are hauled by plane, train or truck. Online shoppers could see fewer offers of free shipping, said Diane Swonk, chief economist for accounting firm Grant Thornton LLP.

Swonk believes that oil prices are not yet high enough to derail economic growth.

“We are still adding jobs, and that is helping us to absorb it,” she said. “Wages aren’t accelerating as rapidly as we would like, but we are hearing a lot of anecdotal reports of wages picking up and that should help.”

Others are less sanguine. Longtime energy economist Philip Verleger believes the run-up is enough to trim growth “because consumers are going to have to cut expenditures on stuff other than gasoline.” And he believes that oil prices are heading much higher.

Iran produces nearly 4 million barrels a day out of global total of about 98 million barrels per day. Analysts say that sanctions could cut Iran’s sales by between 200,000 and 600,000 barrels a day.

Verleger cited several other signs that could point to higher crude prices, including comments by Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih that current prices aren’t hurting demand, implying that they could go even higher. He also pointed to a report that U.S. oil company ConocoPhillips is trying to seize Caribbean assets of Venezuela’s state-run oil company to recover a $2 billion award for Venezuela’s nationalization of the company’s projects there. Throw in a proposal by a UN agency that wants ships to use less high-sulfur fuel, and he thinks oil might hit $200 — a level never seen — by the end of 2019.

U.S. oil production is up about 13 percent from a year ago, but demand has been strong too. The Energy Department’s latest tally put the U.S. stockpile of crude at 436 million barrels as of April 27. That was an increase from the week before and more than analysts expected, but the stockpile was down 17.4 percent from a year earlier.

Saudi Arabia has led a group including OPEC members and other producers to limit production since the start of 2017 in a bid to dry up the glut that caused global oil prices to collapse starting in mid-2014.

The strategy has worked, aided by rising global demand for energy. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s most important member, is pushing to extend the production cuts beyond this year.

https://www.timesleader.com/business/703024/us-oil-prices-top-70-a-barrel 703024 0 Mon, 07 May 2018 08:55:29 +0000 By David Koenig - AP Business Writer https://www.timesleader.com/business/703024/us-oil-prices-top-70-a-barrel#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120384155-cfba54796b8a4c1cae5298b8966cf000.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120384155-cfba54796b8a4c1cae5298b8966cf000.jpg The logo for ExxonMobil appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120384155-cfba54796b8a4c1cae5298b8966cf000.jpg
Microsoft launches $25M program to use AI for disabilities Microsoft is launching a $25 million initiative to use artificial intelligence to build better technology for people with disabilities.

CEO Satya Nadella announced the new “AI for Accessibility” effort as he kicked off Microsoft’s annual conference for software developers. The Build conference in Seattle features sessions on cloud computing, artificial intelligence, internet-connected devices and virtual reality. It comes as Microsoft faces off with Amazon and Google to offer internet-connected services to businesses and organizations.

The conference and the new initiative offer Microsoft an opportunity to emphasize its philosophy of building AI for social good. The focus could help counter some of the ethical concerns that have risen over AI and other fast-developing technology, including the potential that software formulas can perpetuate or even amplify gender and racial biases.

The five-year accessibility initiative will include seed grants for startups, nonprofit organizations and academic researchers, as well as deeper investments and expertise from Microsoft researchers.

Microsoft President Brad Smith said the company hopes to empower people by accelerating the development of AI tools that provide them with more opportunities for independence and employment.

“It may be an accessibility need relating to vision or deafness or to something like autism or dyslexia,” Smith said in an interview. “There are about a billion people on the planet who have some kind of disability, either permanent or temporary.”

Those people already have “huge potential,” he said, but “technology can help them accomplish even more.”

Microsoft has already experimented with its own accessibility tools, such as a “Seeing AI” free smartphone app using computer vision and narration to help people navigate if they’re blind or have low vision. Nadella introduced the app at a previous Build conference. Microsoft’s translation tool also provides deaf users with real-time captioning of conversations.

“People with disabilities are often overlooked when it comes technology advances but Microsoft sees this as a key area to address concerns over the technology and compete against Google, Amazon and IBM,” said Nick McQuire, an analyst at CCS Insight.

Smith acknowledged that other firms, especially Apple and Google, have also spent years doing important work on accessibility. He said Microsoft’s accessibility fund builds on the model of the company’s AI for Earth initiative, which launched last year to jumpstart projects combating climate change and other environmental problems.

The idea, Smith said, is to get more startups excited about building tools for people with disabilities — both for the social good and for their large market potential.

Other announcements at the Build conference include partnerships with drone company DJI and chipmaker Qualcomm. More than 6,000 people are registered to attend, most of them developers who build apps for Microsoft’s products.

Facebook had its F8 developers’ gathering last week. Google’s I/O conference begins Tuesday. Apple’s takes place in early June.

This is the second consecutive year that Microsoft has held its conference in Seattle, not far from its Redmond, Washington, headquarters.

https://www.timesleader.com/business/702913/microsoft-launches-25m-program-to-use-ai-for-disabilities 702913 0 Mon, 07 May 2018 12:53:01 +0000 By Matt O’Brien - AP Technology Writer https://www.timesleader.com/business/702913/microsoft-launches-25m-program-to-use-ai-for-disabilities#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120378487-76a7b723a5a74390a6948dda0fb32554.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120378487-76a7b723a5a74390a6948dda0fb32554.jpg File-This Nov. 29, 2017, file photo shows Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaking at the annual Microsoft shareholders meeting in Bellevue, Wash. Microsoft’s annual Build conference for software development kicks off on Monday, May 7, 2018, giving the company an opportunity to make announcements about its computing platforms or services. The three-day event features sessions on cloud computing, artificial intelligence, internet-connected devices and virtual reality. Nadella will speak to more than 6,000 people who’ve registered to attend. Most are developers who build apps for Microsoft’s products.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File) https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_120378487-76a7b723a5a74390a6948dda0fb32554.jpg
Kombucha business keeps growing for Drums woman Natalie Lynn shows no signs of slowing down.

Her business, Counterpart Kombucha, formerly Natalie’s Craft Kombucha, is being sold in three states, comes in 19 flavors – ranging from herbal and floral to sweet– and has a steady following on social media.

“We call it the ‘booch fam,’” she said.

Kombucha is a fermented beverage that starts with caffeinated black or green tea and sugar, which are ingested by a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, or a scoby, yielding probiotics that can aid in digestion, immune support and other health areas.

Lynn said her customers have experienced improvements in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, colitis and acid reflux disease. She also said kombucha is known to help those suffering from arthritis and skin conditions.

“What I love about being a small business is I get to hear these things,” Lynn said. “Science has been catching up to the trend of kombucha as it’s been happening. I was hoping there would be something to validate what I’ve been saying. A lot stems from gut health.”

Lynn, 30, recently moved to Drums from Elysburg, allowing her easier access to the areas she sells kombucha, as well as close access to Interstate 81.

“This area is amazing,” she said. “In terms of distribution, you’re right by 81.”

Since starting the business four years ago, Lynn has continued to expand the variety of her product, as well as the locations where it can be bought.

“I couldn’t have seen any of this coming,” she said of her continued success.

Lynn said a lot of her success is owed to word-of-mouth in the beginning, but she also uses social media to interact personally with those who are purchasing the product.

“It’s so amazing and I really thrive on that,” she said.

Through this, she said the community between customers has flourished as well.

Currently, her kombucha is sold in cities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. She has expanded into cities such as Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and continues to expand her business in Northeastern Pennsylvania as well.

“The expansion is really fun and exciting,” Lynn said. “I am learning about new areas as I’m expanding into them.”

One of her newest clients in the area is Powerhouse Eatery in White Haven. The restaurant will feature a selection of flavors in their lunch menu, as well as making cocktails using the drink on their dinner menu.

When Red Leaf Salad Company opened their Wilkes-Barre location last year, they announced they would carry all of Lynn’s flavors.

“I couldn’t believe it when they said they were going to do every flavor,” she said.

Lynn said she first tried kombucha 11 years ago, knowing little about it other than its potential health benefits, and began brewing it a little more than four years ago.

She started meeting customers in a parking lot in Bloomsburg on a weekly basis, and her orders were growing in size.

Since then, Lynn said she now has a “booch spot,” where she makes the product, as well as one employee, but the way she approaches the craft is the same.

“We’re still doing everything by hand,” she said. “So every label, lid, seal, flavoring, brewing, still done by hand.”

And as far as choosing flavors, Lynn said she “can never stop.”

“You get really into it, drinking something like the every day,” she said.

“You want to have options.”

So, Lynn said she thinks a lot about flavors for the drinks, taking inspiration from what’s fresh and available locally.

“I like to keep it fun and do seasonal flavors and so many flavors,” she said.

“Forming relationships with local farmers has been so tremendous,” she said. “Because they know what they’re growing, of course, and they can also say ‘oh my gosh you’ll love this.’”

She said the relationships are partnerships between the two passions they share.

In the last year, Lynn had to rename her brand, after learning a company in Florida had her name trademarked.

She said after countless hours of brainstorming and thinking of different possible names, she landed on Counterpart.

“I feel like it’s so much more than a business,” she said. “It feels like it’s a part of me. My counterpart.”

https://www.timesleader.com/business/702707/kombucha-business-keeps-growing-for-drums-woman 702707 0 Sun, 06 May 2018 04:08:28 +0000 By Brigid Edmunds - bedmunds@timesleader.com https://www.timesleader.com/business/702707/kombucha-business-keeps-growing-for-drums-woman#comments https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Boochbottles.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Boochbottles.jpg https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Boochbottles.jpg