Stocks & pedestal — Winter 2009

Stocks: Allegheny County airport police; Transit union; Pedestal: PNC; Boyd & Blair
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Three cheers for PNC Financial Services Group for buying National City Corp. and becoming the nation’s fifth-​biggest bank. With this $5.6 billion deal — helped by $7.7 billion in federal funds — Pittsburgh’s banking prominence is rising again. We think concerns about a lack of banking choices in the wake of the deal are overblown. Pittsburgh sports a strong supporting cast of competitive local banks: Dollar, First Commonwealth, First National Bank and others. Some National City jobs will likely be lost, but overall we see this purchase as a big deal for Pittsburgh and one that makes one of our best corporate citizens even stronger. It’s great to see a Pittsburgh business come out on top.

Boyd and Blair: Cheers to entrepreneurs

In a region that has too few, we’re raising a glass to entrepreneurs Prentiss Orr and Barry Young for distilling a good idea into a good, recession-​proof business just when we all need a drink. They’ve created Boyd & Blair, a potato vodka made from Pennsylvania potatoes and distilled in the Glenshaw Glass complex in Shaler. Young provides the science and Orr the marketing in this venture that’s been four years in the making. With capital from friends and family and help from the state — in grants and friendly pointers from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board — the pair bought equipment, gained know-​how and surmounted obstacles on the way to making a sweet, premium vodka that’s good enough to be sipped.

In the stocks

Allegheny County Airport Police: Mr. Mean

It’s great that we’re getting nonstop flights to Paris. Now, if the airport just had a nicer welcome wagon. Try waiting at the curb for an arriving passenger late some night when the airport’s empty. Yours may be the only car, but you’ll find a surly Allegheny County police officer enforcing a move-​along policy with relish. You can’t pull over in that long loop around, and if it’s late, you might not want short-​term parking. So just drive around and around, wasting gas. It’s a shame what’s happened to our airport in the post-​9/​11 era, whether the Air Mall or the lack of nonstops. It’s also a shame that, in the guise of national security, we can no longer expect common courtesy from our public servants.

Transit union: Stick to your guns

We applaud Allegheny Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Port Authority CEO Steve Bland for bringing sane finances and labor practices to public transit. At the same time, the transit union’s intransigence is a thing to behold. They have the highest wages in the country when adjusted for inflation, and the leadership rejects a 3 percent raise in the face of a steep recession? Union members are being asked to work until age 60 and pay 3 percent of their healthcare instead of one? Overtime shenanigans are being eliminated, and workers can no longer get to work late 13 times before receiving a warning? The union is clearly addicted to a gravy train at taxpayers’ expense, and it’s time for withdrawal to begin — in this case, in the stocks.

Douglas Heuck

A journalistic innovator, Heuck has been writing about Pittsburgh for 25 years, as an investigative reporter and business editor at The Pittsburgh Press and Post-​Gazette and as the founder of Pittsburgh Quarterly. His newspaper projects ranged from living on the streets disguised as a homeless man to penning the only comprehensive profile in the latter years of polio pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk to creating a statistical means of judging regional progress that has led to similar projects across the country. Heuck’s work has won numerous national, state and local writing awards. His work has been cited in the landmark media law case “Food Lion vs. ABC news.”

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