Merck Files Notice Of 500 Montco Layoffs

Location of Upper Gwynedd Township in Montgome...

Location of Upper Gwynedd Township in Montgomery County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The drugmaker Merck & Co. will lay off 500 people from its facility in West Point, Montgomery County, between Dec. 23 and Jan. 5.

Merck said on Oct. 1 that it would eliminate 8,500 jobs from its worldwide workforce beyond the 7,500 it had not yet cut from an earlier restructuring plan, but company officials were not specific about where and when.

Several big pharmaceutical companies with operations in the area are cutting jobs. Message boards devoted to Merck have been full of discussions about which units would lose people, but official public notice of the 500 job cuts at the West Point facility came because of a federal law called the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN).


Refinancing Deadline Extended Third Time For Lancaster County Convention Center

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lancaster County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lancaster County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the third time, the deadline for the refinancing of the Lancaster County Convention Center’s debt has loomed and for the third time the deadline has been extended.

On Thursday, board members of the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority approved a 120-day extension of the terms of the $64 million debt agreement. The September 3 deadline was extended to January 2.

County Commissioner Scott Martin has been negotiating on the authority’s behalf with Wells Fargo, the sole bond holder, on the terms of a subsequent agreement.

“We’re going to need some additional time to dot the i’s and cross the t’s,” authority board chairman Kevin Fry said in announcing the extension.

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Stripped-Down Harley Rebounds From Recession

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting York County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting York County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some motorcycle enthusiasts feared Keith Wandell might be the outsider who drove Harley-Davidson into the ground.  Instead, he may be remembered as the guy who kept the motorcycle maker on the road.

Wandell grabbed the handlebars at the motorcycle maker in the heart of the economic crisis in 2009.  Harley lost $55 million that year, as buying a motorcycle stopped being an option for many consumers.

“We had to make, quickly, some big, bold, decisions,” he said in a recent interview.

Wandell was the first CEO from outside Harley, so those decisions were watched closely.  Not all were well-received.  He got the union’s approval to use temporary workers, which enabled Harley to time its production closer to the peak bike-buying season, saving time and money.  He relied less on middle-aged men in the U.S. to buy the bikes.  And he focused the company on doing what many say it does best: making big, powerful, premium-priced Harleys.  But that meant getting rid of some popular secondary brands.

The company made $624 million last year, the best annual profit since 2008.  It also boosted profit by 30 percent in this year’s first quarter, compared to the same period in 2012.  With lower costs and more efficient production, analysts say Harley is in a good position to grow as the global economy improves and in better shape to weather any future downturn.

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Armstrong’s Yearly Profit Climbs

Armstrong World Industries today reported a small drop in net profits for the fourth quarter but a sizable increase for the year.

For the quarter, net profits slid 1.2 percent to $8.4 million (14 cents a share) from $8.5 million (14 cents a share) in the 2011 quarter.

Sales dipped 1.6 percent to $612.8 million.

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American, US Airways Announce $11 Billion Merger

London Heathrow Airport (LHR/EGLL), London Bor...

London Heathrow Airport (LHR/EGLL), London Borough of Hillingdon, London, United Kingdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

DALLAS — American Airlines and US Airways have agreed to merge in an $11 billion deal that would create the world’s biggest airline.

The combined carrier will be called American Airlines but run by US Airways CEO Doug Parker.

The boards of the two airlines unanimously approved the deal late Wednesday, and the companies announced the agreement early Thursday.

The merger would reduce the number of major U.S. airlines to four: the new American, United, Delta and Southwest.

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Theaters, Playhouses Fear Financial Problems And Technical Demands Will Lower Their Curtains

At Oyster Mill Playhouse, the aging rooftop heating and air conditioning system is threatening to stage a death scene worthy of “King Lear.”

With audiences — and therefore revenues — down, there’s no money for a replacement, so managers of the not-for-profit community theater in East Pennsboro Twp. are hoping the community will donate about $25,000 to keep Oyster Mill going for another year.

“Like many other theaters, we are having our financial problems,” said Howard Hurwitz, vice president of the 91-seat theater’s board of directors. “This year has been kind of a bad year. We just haven’t been getting the attendance. We used to sell out on opening nights, but now we are lucky if we get the theater half-full.”

Oyster Mill is far from alone.

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Bon-Ton Eliminates COO Role

The Bon-Ton Stores said Friday it will eliminate the position of chief operating officer, terminating Barbara J. Schrantz effective Sept. 14.

The York-based department store chain made the announcement in a one-sentence filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Schrantz joined The Bon-Ton in 2005 as a senior vice president, becoming an executive vice president in 2009 and COO last year.

The company did not immediately explain the move or say who will assume Schrantz’s duties.

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Erie Insurance Posts Strong Quarter

Terry Cavanaugh doesn’t see much mystery in the factors that shaped Erie Indemnity Co.’s $43 million profit in the second quarter.

Cavanaugh, the company’s chief executive, said that profit — down 17 percent from the same quarter in 2011 — was boosted by strong management fee revenues but held back by higher operating expenses and lower investment income.

Erie County’s third-largest employer will likely do what it can to address sagging investment income, which fell 64 percent from $17 million to $6 million.

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At Caterpillar, Pressing Labor While Business Booms

JOLIET, Ill. — When it comes to dealing with labor unions,Caterpillar has long taken a stance as tough as the bulldozers and backhoes that have burnished its global reputation.  Be it two-tier wage scales or higher worker contributions for health insurance, the company has been a leader in devising new ways to cut labor costs, with other manufacturers often imitating its strategies.

Now, in what has become a test case in American labor relations, Caterpillar is trying to pioneer new territory, seeking steep concessions from its workers even when business is booming.

Despite earning a record $4.9 billion profit last year and projecting even better results for 2012, the company is insisting on a six-year wage freeze and a pension freeze for most of the 780 production workers at its factory here.  Caterpillar says it needs to keep its labor costs down to ensure its future competitiveness.

The company’s stance has angered the workers, who went on strike 12 weeks ago.  “Considering the offer they gave us, it’s a strike we had to have,” said Albert Williams, a 19-year Caterpillar employee, as he picketed in 99-degree heat outside the plant, which makes hydraulic parts and systems essential for much of the company’s earth-moving machinery.

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Newspaper Barons Resurface

The Philadelphia Inquirer-Daily News Building ...

The Philadelphia Inquirer-Daily News Building in Philadelphia, PA. Taken from North Broad and Callowhill Streets. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note: If you have followed the sale of the Philadelphia newspapers, this article gives some perspective on what that might mean for Philadelphia from an out-of-town perspective.

Is there anything more forlorn than the American metropolitan newspaper? First readers began deserting in droves, then the advertisers followed. Family owners headed for the exits and then hedge funds and other financial players scooped up newspapers thinking they were buying at the bottom of the market. Greater fools came and went, each saying they could cut their way to former glory and renewed profitability. They got a haircut instead.

Many smaller community newspapers remain stable and newspapers with a large national footprint have generally done better. But quite a few of the midsize regional and metropolitan dailies that form the core of the industry have gone off a cliff: over all, the newspaper industry is half as big as it was seven years ago.

So if most newspapers are an uneconomical proposition incapable of sustaining profits, let alone pay off the debt so many buyers have larded on them, who is left to own them?

Rich guys.

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Report: Sony To Axe 10,000 Jobs In Turnaround Bid


The logo of Sony is not considered a "wor...

The logo of Sony is not considered a "work of authorship" because it only consists of text in a simple typeface, so it is not an object of copyright in respect to US law. However, this logo is still protected by trademark laws. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Japan’s Sony Corp. is cutting 10,000 jobs, about 6 percent of its global workforce, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Monday, as new CEO Kazuo Hirai looks to steer the electronics and entertainment giant back to profit after four years in the red.

The job cuts would be the latest downsizing in Japan Inc where companies from cellphone maker NEC Corp. to electronics firm Panasonic Corp. are trimming costs in the face of a strong yen and competition from rivals like Apple and Samsung Electronics.

TV makers in particular have been hit hard by the tough business climate as well as sharp price falls, with Sony, Panasonic and Sharp expecting to have lost a combined $17 billion in the fiscal year just ended.

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Lancaster-Based Armstrong World Industries Reports 10-Fold Profit Increase

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lancaster County

Image via Wikipedia

Armstrong World Industries today reported a profitable fourth quarter and a ten-fold increase in profits for the full year.

Helping the results were sharply lower restructuring charges, the absence of asset-impairment charges and lower selling, general and administrative expenses.

Lancaster-based Armstrong also announced it will build its first manufacturing plant in Russia, continuing its expansion into what it calls “emerging markets.”

The $100 million mineral-fiber ceiling plant is expected to begin operations in 2015, said Armstrong, although the company did not name the city where the plant will be located.

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More Blockbuster Stores Closing

Say farewell to Blockbuster, the video chain that was once one of the biggest brand names in America.

The chain’s new owner, Dish Network (DISH +1.58%), has said it will close 500 under-performing Blockbuster locations with expiring leases, and it may close more beyond that. There were only about 1,500 Blockbuster stores left, so the announcement is one of the final nails in the coffin for the former video powerhouse.

Not that many people are complaining. Former Blockbuster customers still grumble about the chain’s strict return policies.

Remember the days when you raced to the store to get that movie back on time?

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PPL’s Profit, Revenue Surge

The PPL Building (seen here in the distance) i...

Image via Wikipedia

PPL Corp.’s annual profit surged in 2011 on revenue from recent out-of-state acquisitions.

The Allentown energy company earned $1.44 billion, or $2.61 per share, up from $938 million, or $2.17 per share, in 2010.

The whopping 53 percent increase was largely driven by additional revenue from PPL’s recently-acquired Kentucky and United Kingdom utilities.

“This increase reflects the strength of our business portfolio and our prospects for future growth,” James H. Miller, PPL’s out-going chairman said in a press release. “Our strong 2011 results are due to solid performance across our business segments.”

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A Statement And Upcoming Local Events From Occupy Pottstown

I asked Amy Francis to write a few paragraphs about what Occupy Pottstown’s goals are and what it hopes to achieve.  Amy also talks about the Occupation Movement in general.  If all you know about this movement is what you have seen on television you may want to take a moment and see what this is all about. 

So without further adieu, Amy writes:

The Occupations are a statement against the economic and political systems in this country, which are currently only working only for the most “powerful” (in other words, the richest) 1%. In Pottstown, we have surely seen the trickle down effects from this economic imbalance everywhere: homes going into foreclosure, blight in what were once nice neighborhoods, companies moving out of town or closing, broken-down infrastructure, educational cuts while unfunded mandates continue to increase, skyrocketing taxes, more and more unemployment, etc, etc. What has become painfully clear is that the American Dream has become virtually unattainable for the majority of American people, and certainly for the Pottstown people.

While it is clear is that everyone’s reason why they “occupy” is unique and personal, however, what I perceive to be the common thread of the Occupy Pottstown supporters is a desire to put a spotlight on the inequities that Pottstown bears, along with many other First Suburbs. As history has shown us in Pottstown, ignoring these problems will not make them go away; the Occupy Pottstown group has proven to me to be the people willing to talk openly about the local issues and how they have effected their lives in palpable way; that, I believe, is the only real fist step towards making things better for more people. Simply put; the members of Occupy Pottstown have opened up the discussion and have shown a commitment to do so until change takes hold.

Occupy Pottstown’s first public gathering will be on November 21, 4 – 7 pm at the corner of Hanover Street and College Drive, and all are invited to join us. Occupy Pottstown also wants to increase awareness of the importance of supporting local businesses which, in turn, helps to support our local economy. To initiate this goal, Occupy Pottstown members will be holding our first “Occupy Downtown Pottstown Walk” on November 26th, which is Small Business Saturday; meeting time and place to be announced. Again, all are invited and encouraged to join.

Power to the People (one Pottstown at a time)!

Merck & Company To Layoff 13,000 In Latest Restructuring Round

Although Merck had a higher than anticipated second-quarter profit, stocks are down 2 percent and a new round of job eliminations is planned that could cut as many as 13,000 from the workforce.

Since 2009, Merck eliminated 12,500 positions but only reduced headcount by 6,000.  The latest round of cuts would bring the total number of jobs eliminated by Merck to 30,000, since 2009.  The workforce will drop from 91,000 (July 2011) to about 80,000.  The job cuts are to be completed by 2015.

Merck makes Singulair, Januvia and Janumet (their three top-selling drugs).  Singulair’s patent is expiring next year which will cut profits as generics hit the market.  Adjusted earnings for Merck came to $2.95 billion, up 9 percent over last year.  Revenue was $12.15 billion, up seven percent over analyst’s projections.

Time will tell what this means for the Lansdale plant.

Pennsylvania’s State-Store System Touts Record Booze Sales

Wine Bottles

Image via Wikipedia

Looks like a bad economy is great for the booze biz.  The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced that last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2011, ended with record-breaking profits.  Nearly two BILLION dollars worth of alcohol was sold at Pennsylvania’s state-run Wine and Spirits stores.

It was further reported that the state-store system made a profit of $496 million, which was dumped into Pennsylvania’s coffers.  The PLCB is trying to run the state liquor stores more like a business.  WOW, what an outside of the box concept!

Lancaster General Hospital: Profits Dip But Hosptial Remains 6th Most Profitable Hospital In PA

Lancaster General Hospital showed a $66.6 million profit for the fiscal period from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010.  Only five hospitals in Pennsylvania showed higher profits in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, they were: Thomas Jefferson, CHOP, University of Penn, Lehigh Valley and UPMC –Presbyterian Hospital.  For fiscal year 2006-2007 Lancaster General Hospital showed a profit of $136.8 million.  Salaries and benefits were the number one cost that contributed to lower profits.  Pension expenses were the main culprit.  Lancaster General’s profit margin is 7 percent.  The state average is 4.5 percent.

Lancaster General contributes significantly to the City of Lancaster and the Lancaster City School District.  Each entity receives about $1.35 million a year.  According to Mayor Gray, Lancaster General’s tax contribution equals three-quarters of a mill.  In addition to taxes, Lancaster General gives well over a half-million dollars in grants to various local organizations and provided $83.3 million in charity care for the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

Lancaster General Health is a not-for-profit regional healthcare system with a reputation for excellence. Located in Lancaster,PA, Lancaster General Health has a 600 bed Magnet Hospital as its cornerstone with multiple outpatient facilities.  Twice designated a Magnet hospital for clinical excellence, LGH was named one of America’s 100 Top Hospitals, nine of the past 11 years.  LGH has been recognized regionally and nationally for its intensive care unit and cardiology and orthopedic services.  Other key specialty services include obstetrics, open-heart surgery, neurosurgery and trauma.  Lancaster General Health system is the county’s largest employer with 6,693 employees.  LGH was named as a 100 Best Places to work in PA – the last three years.