Marketplace - American Public Media
Tesla Motors is building the world's biggest battery factory just outside of Reno, Nevada. The company is calling it the “gigafactory,” and when it’s up and running in 2016 it’s expected to make Tesla’s electric cars much more affordable.
“In a single factory we're doubling the worldwide capacity to manufacture lithium-ion batteries,” says J.B. Straubel, Tesla's chief technology officer.
That's significant enough. But the company also plans to develop batteries for use with solar-power generation – giving Tesla a shot at challenging public utilities as an energy source, Straubel says.
“At the price points that we're expecting to achieve with the gigafactory ... we see a market that is well in excess of the production capability of the factory,” says Straubel.
The market for batteries is an offshoot of the booming business for solar panels, particularly in states such as California, where solar is becoming commonplace.
“We sign up approximately one new customer every minute of the workday," says Will Craven, director of public affairs at California-based SolarCity.
Much of the excess energy harnessed by solar panels is returned to the power grid, Cravens says. This means homeowners and businesses may earn a credit from their power companies, but have no say over when and how that energy is used.
The partnership with SolarCity will use rooftop solar panels fitted with Tesla’s battery packs to allow customers to keep that energy in-house. That means they can use it however, and whenever, they want. The concept puts Tesla in direct competition with utility companies.
“Stationary storage, or backup storage, is really being considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of renewable electricity generation,” says Ben Kallo, an analyst with the Robert W. Baird financial services firm.
Kallo points out that the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources makes them less reliable because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. But with the ability to store that energy, renewable energy sources can compete head-to-head with utility companies for customers.
“There are still many utilities out there who kind of have their head stuck in the sand and just hope that this goes away. What we're seeing is really building momentum,” Kallo says.
Forward-minded utilities might look at Tesla’s business model as an opportunity, he says. Energy-storage technology could be used to build capacity in their existing grids, and also build new infrastructure for battery-powered cars and homes.
Most afternoons, Shauntria Davis sits on this street corner in front of a CVS in West Baltimore, waiting for the bus so she can pick up her kids at daycare. Today is no different, though the drugstore behind her is still boarded up and covered with fresh graffiti. If it weren’t, she’d probably stop in and buy something.
“I use this CVS just about every day,” Davis says.
By the latest tally, more than 250 businesses were damaged during the riots in Baltimore last week, which broke out amid protests following the death of Freddie Gray. But this CVS drugstore, which was looted and then set on fire, became something of a symbol of the turmoil in the city — and now, maybe, of its renewal.
City officials have confirmed that the store on North and Pennsylvania avenues will reopen, along with four others damaged in the violence. The pharmacy chain says it has a “long history” of serving inner city neighborhoods.
The area surrounding Pennsylvania and North is known as a food desert, a poor neighborhood without easy access to a lot of fresh produce and healthy food. Davis says she and her neighbors not only fill prescriptions at CVS, but buy staples like food and diapers.
“The chain drugstore has almost become the general store these days,” says Jim Hertel, a food retail consultant with Willard Bishop.
Decades ago, many supermarkets moved out of the inner cities for the abundant real estate and parking of the suburbs. Hertel says pharmacy chains like CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid saw an opportunity to fill the void. In recent years, many of the stores have expanded their grocery aisles and added fresh produce.
“They've got almost a free run, with little competition in those neighborhoods,” Hertel says.
Still, the city had to fight to bring in the CVS at Pennsylvania and North more than two decades ago. More recently, city developers scored a big victory when a Target moved in not far away. It was also damaged during the riots last week.
“It took us at least three, maybe five years, to convince Target that this was a good place,” says Jay Brodie, former president of the Baltimore Development Corporation, which promotes business investment in the city. It also took $15 million in tax breaks to help redevelop the area.
CVS didn't get any incentives to rebuild its damaged stores, says Bill Cole, the current president of the Baltimore Development Corporation.
“Absolutely not,” Cole says, “And CVS hasn’t asked for anything either.”
In the 1980s, Texas Instruments was excited about its microchips in a hot toy called the Speak & Spell.
TI’s Speak & Spell used the first single-chip voice synthesizer, a tiny device that just a few years later gave the beloved alien E.T. a voice.
E.T. took advantage of the microchip, and later so did some Chrysler vehicles.
Despite its reputation for calculators, Texas Instruments isn’t new to the car business. TI’s automotive business is growing faster than the rest of the company, thanks to selling microprocessors and car technology.
“Most of the major car brands have TI tech inside of them that you don’t even know about," says Automotive Processors general manager Curt Moore.
Microprocessors created by TI are in lots of cars, including Fords and BMWs, where they help control everything from car windows to power steering.
Still, it’s no surprise the average driver isn’t familiar with the company’s car accessories. The names don't exactly roll off the tip of your tongue: There's the DRA7XX and the integrated C66X digital signal processor—all part of the Jacinto family of processors.
But break through the technology jargon and you’ll find a multi-billion dollar industry shaping your driving experience.
Infotainment And Heads-Up Displays
Inside TI’s Dallas showroom, music blasts from a new car infotainment system.
"The way people now differentiate cars is via infotainment and active safety," Moore says. "So all the car companies are looking at how you create that unique experience using electronics that are going to be safer, greener and more fun to drive.”
Moore says car companies are turning to chipmakers like TI and demanding newer, faster microprocessors to build safer, more autonomous cars. One feature that's taken off is the heads-up display.
These displays are a sort of alert system for drivers. Cameras outfitted on the car monitor the surroundings and then project images in a corner of the windshield.
In one display car in the showroom, the windshield shows a traffic sign and two pedestrians up ahead. Both are outlined in neon green.
"So the system would recognize this is a caution sign, would recognize there’s two pedestrians in front of you, and then it could automatically help the car stop and prevent an accident,” Moore says.
In 2013, just two percent of cars used heads-up displays, most of them in luxury vehicles. Now, automakers are taking advantage of cheaper cameras and processors from chipmakers, and they’re outfitting more affordable cars with collision avoidance technology and fancy dashboards.
“So for the chip makers it’s an extraordinary opportunity,” says David Sedgewick, a senior writer for Automotive News. He says chipmakers are all fighting to get their silicon in your car first.
"It’s going to be a dog fight because it’s a tremendous growth industry. No one can do this right yet, but they feel they can’t wait,” Sedgwick says.
The largest chipmakers are drawing in billions of dollars from automotive sales. So for TI, investing in smart car technology was easy math—no calculator required.
Negotiations are a lot like chess — you’ve probably heard that one before. But in trade negotiations, instead of two players, there are potentially a dozen, each thinking about their best move, each trying to minimize the threat other pieces on the board may pose to them.
“It’s a long, drawn-out process,” says Eswar Prasad, a trade policy professor at Cornell University, adding that working out these deals can take years.
“Typically, the final points of negotiation are not made public,” he says, though generally, “there is awareness of what the big issues are.”
The closed-door nature of the negotiation process has become one of the major stumbling blocks to advancing trade deals currently in the works, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade deal between the U.S., Japan and 10 other countries.
However, there’s a reason the details are private, says Gary Hufbauer, a former trade negotiator with the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
“To reach an agreement, one party or the other, has to be seen and reported to be giving up, making a concession,” Hufbauer says. “And since negotiations are all about compromise, that really makes compromise much harder.”
Hufbauer thinks pending legislation could open up parts of the process, but he says making negotiations public in real time would essentially kill these kind of agreements.
Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, thinks the public should know what’s in the deals, especially as they become closer to being finalized.
“I can read the deal and go in and see it, as long as there’s a U.S. trade representative sitting there,” Brown says. “I can’t take notes and take them out of the room. When I’m back in Ohio, my staff can’t go in there, even though she has all the clearance necessary to get access to CIA and Department of the Defense documents.”
He says controls like this make him question what there is to hide.
While this particular final note might not be suitable for younger audience members, it does kind of give you a whole other level of respect for Microsoft.
According to the emoji-tracking website Emojipedia — yes, that's a real thing — the software company that everybody loves to hate is going to introduce a new emoji when it rolls out Windows 10 later this year.
It's technically called: "Reversed hand with middle finger extended."
You can call it what you like.
"For me, Etsy was a great place to start because the marketplace was there. I didn’t have to invest a lot of money into getting people to come to the website organically," says Shaffer.
Shaffer is not a rookie in the small business industry — this is her third business. Her first business was a baby product line and the second was a brick-and-mortar store — both ended and she and her family found themselves in debt.
"In the beginning, this was out of necessity," says Shaffer. "I needed to make money to pay for financial loss that we had had, I didn’t want to lose our house, and I have three kids I needed to provide for."
Shaffer’s entrepreneurial spirit led her to Etsy and says she saw it as a chance to try again, and not make the same mistakes she made in her other businesses.
Shaffer now owns her own e-commerce site for ThreeBirdNest. It's Etsy’s second-most successful handmade goods shop.
Britons go to the polls this week in their most unpredictable general election in decades. No one party seems likely to emerge with an overall majority; a coalition government involving two, three or even four parties is a possibility.
The repercussions of the vote could be enormous, conceivably leading to: the exodus of thousands of wealthy foreigners, the beginning of the end of Britain’s role as a nuclear power, the exit of Britain from the European Union and even the break-up of the United Kingdom.
Here's a breakdown of the key issues:
More than 100,000 people living in Britain today enjoy a special tax status, known as ‘non-dom.’ They may have lived in the U.K. for decades, but they are not regarded as permanent residents — and therefore are not required to pay tax on their overseas income. The opposition Labour Party has promised, if it wins power, to abolish non-dom status.
Labour’s critics say this could trigger the departure of thousands of 'non-doms,' depriving the government of the $12 billion tax they pay on their UK earnings and damaging London as an international financial centre.
Labour will likely form a government only if it has the support of the Scottish National Party. The SNP is vehemently opposed to Britain’s nuclear weapons program, the Trident submarine system based in Scotland, and has indicated that the price of its support for Labour might be Trident’s removal from Scottish territory.
Labour insists it will not do political deals with national security, and at this stage Trident looks safe. But the country must decide next year whether or not to renew the $150 billion system, and pressure to scale down, or even scrap, this costly weapon could grow.
If the Conservatives win power again, they have promised to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership of the European Union and hold an in-out referendum no later than 2017. British business is largely in favor of continued membership if the EU is reformed. Euro-skepticism has declined amongst the general population, and opinion polls show that a majority of Brits would probably vote to stay in. But European referendums have a habit of blowing up in the politicians’ faces; this vote — if it takes place — could herald Britain’s departure with unpredictable consequences, for Britain and for the rest of Europe.
Mind you, one leading British economist, Roger Bootle, author of “The Trouble With Europe,” thinks Britain would be better off out than in.
If the Scottish National Party wins big, as opinion polls suggest they will, the SNP will not only be able to exert undue pressure on the national government in London, the party will also demand a re-run of last year’s referendum on independence for Scotland. And if the political outcome of this week’s election is as messy as forecast, the case for Scottish separation may grow stronger.
Next time by a small majority, the Scots could vote to break up their 308-year-old union with the English.
A report out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says chemicals used in fracking have turned up in drinking water in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. There have been all kinds of suspected and hotly debated claims of such contamination. This is one of the very few that have been put out there on the record.
The state regulator concluded that natural gas from the Marcellus Shale contaminated the drinking water. And the company, Chesapeake Energy, settled with three families for $1.6 million dollars.
The authors aren’t totally sure about how the chemicals got into the water. But they say the most likely path is substandard well construction.
The EPA is supposed to release the final draft of its study on fracking and drinking water this spring. The study will incorporate findings from Bradford County, Pennsylvania.
Growing up in Washington, D.C. can give you a very particular window on the world, especially if you’re the kind of kid who’s fascinated by news or politics.
And in the fall of 1991, in my sophomore year of high school, I became riveted by one thing: Clarence Thomas’s confirmation Supreme Court hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the testimony of Anita Hill.
It was the first time I thought deeply about the concept of sexual harassment. Or heard adults around me, and on the news, openly discussing the dynamics of sex and power in the workplace (a lot more of that would come in the ’92 campaign, of course).
We talked about the hearings at school. I discussed them with my mother. I distinctly remember a column by Dave Barry mocking the male senators present, and their various, shall we say, issues with women. The hearings, the public response to them, and the questions they raised left a profound mark on me as an adolescent girl trying to understand the world of working women - and what it might be like by the time I entered it.
Twenty-four years have passed. Justice Thomas, of course, sits on the Supreme Court. Anita Hill is now a professor at Brandeis who studies these issues, and teaches about them. She recently wrote about the Ellen Pao trial, and what has and hasn’t changed since 1991.
Last week on the show, we had an interview about what the glass ceiling looks like for women in 2015. And this upcoming week, as our theme is “the chase.” Together, those things led us to think of Professor Hill, and to wonder what she’s still chasing.
I suspect that her story, and the issues it raises, will continue to resonate for some time. Especially as it’s revisited in the documentary "Anita," streaming this week on Netflix. And in an upcoming feature film for HBO, where Hill will be played by Kerry Washington.
You'll find an extended cut of our interview with Anita Hill in the media player above. I hope you listen.
Airing on Tuesday, May 5, 2015: The powerful Saudi official was asked today if Saudi Arabia will keep oil prices low by sticking by it's decision not to cut production. Oil minister Ali Al-Naimi said quote "no one can set the price of oil. It's up to Allah," he told CNBC. On Tuesdays we consult our analyst from the heartland, Juli Niemann, at Smith Moore and Company in St. Louis on the latest in the oil market. And this morning two food industry titans face off against federal antitrust authorities in court. The issue: whether a proposed mega-merger in the institutional food business would quash too much competition and hurt consumers. We continue the theme in food with a conversation on flavor. There's a new book out this week titled The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor. We talk to the author Mark Schatzker about the changing landscape in American cuisine.
We chatted with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella yesterday about the company's cloud computing and software business. The second part of our conversation turns to Nadella himself, his roots in India and Microsoft's plans there.
"When I look at my own story, I think it's just 'only in America,'" Nadella says. "We have a lot of work ahead in creating equity between gender and races. But we also have a lot to celebrate, and that's the message,"
We also asked him about the gender pay gap in the tech industry, seven months after he made some comments — then immediately took them back — about the issue. Nadella says he's learned a lot, and he'll be turning his attention to staffing and culture at Microsoft.
"When I think about our own developers and engineers, we have about 18 percent women...we absolutely see this issue where we have to make huge amounts of progress, where we not only provide equal pay for equal work, but we have to create an environment and a culture of inclusiveness that creates equal opportunity for equal work," Nadella says. "And it starts with, I think, looking inside at our own culture and making sure that it cultivates that core that allows women to thrive."
Click on the multimedia player above to hear more from our conversation with Nadella.
This morning two food industry titans face off against federal antitrust authorities in court. The issue: whether a proposed mega-merger in the wholesale business would aggregate too much market power, and quash competition.
The two companies are national giants in food distribution: U.S. Foods and Sysco. They sell meat, produce and paper goods to chain restaurants and hotels.
The Federal Trade Commission sued to block the merger, arguing the combination would control 75 percent the national market. The FTC is seeking a preliminary injunction.
Sysco and U.S. Foods say a merger still leaves a lot of space for competition at the local level.
The two sides will appear in federal court for at least four days.
There was a time in America when the beer tended to be yellow and insipid. That's changed with the craft beer movement and the arms race over hops. But what about a lot of the rest of our food? Mark Schatzker is a food writer who has a new book with a publication date of this week called "The Dorito Effect." We chat with him about the link between taste and nutrition.
Excerpt from the book:
"Flavor, as we will see, is the aspect of the human environment that has changed. The food we eat today still seems like food, but it tastes very different than it used to. For the better part of a century, two complimentary trends have conspired to transform the flavor of what we eat. These two trends were already ascendant when Jean Nidetch was mistaken for pregnant in that Long Island supermarket. And within a year, they would unite in a Dallas suburb with the momentous utterance of a single word: “taco.”"
We shared some flavorful AND affordable tomatoes and chocolate with Mr. Schatzker. You can learn more about research on food and flavors in the following links:
University of Florida: Klee Lab tomatos -- where people can donate $10 to flavor research and get tomato seeds to grow in their garden. http://hos.ufl.edu/kleeweb/newcultivars.html
The cocoa breeder is CATIE: http://catie.ac.cr/en/products-and-services/collections-and-germplasm-banks/international-cocoa-collection
The samples were made by Guittard chocolate, which will be using these cocoa beans once they are grown on a larger scale: https://www.guittard.com
Click the link below to hear our last conversation with Mr. Schatkzer on the shortage of chocolate:
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions more Americans now have insurance that will cover addiction treatment, with spending on addiction treatment expected to almost double by 2020.
But a new report in the journal Health Affairs finds that despite newfound access, many facilities lack the capacity to take on new clients. Even with expanded access, University of South Carolina’s Christina Andrews says that coverage alone isn't getting many new patients in the door.
"The reality is it’s going to take years. And we have people right now who have great need," she says.
Andrews says half of the programs around the country don’t meet basic insurance company requirements.
And as of 2012, 63 percent lacked the health IT they need to communicate with doctors and hospitals. These program will eventually grow, it’s just probably not from an investment at the state level, says Henrick Harwood, with National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors.
"Remember that providers are businesses like any other. They are responsible for making their own investments," Harwood says.
He says given how political Obamacare remains, state spending is a long shot. But given the billions in new money that is available, there’s reason to think someone will find a way to expand treatment and make a bunch of money.
This is how much Shake Shack has grown since the burger chain went public in January, according to Reuters. About half a dozen fast-casual restaurant chains have had big IPOs last year. These companies cater to an emerging generation of younger diners who are looking for alternatives to McDonald's.$2,780
A poor child growing up in Los Angeles County – where Marketplace is based – can expect to earn that much less by age 26 than the national average. Even the children of one-percenters in LA see a drop, $4,460 less than the national average. What does that mean? Compared to the rest of the country, LA County has very poor economic mobility. A new study out of Harvard finds these drop-offs are not limited to Southern California. The Upshot's report on the study will customize to report on your county, or any county you choose.30,000
That's about how many people Carly Fiorina reportedly laid off while she was head of Hewlett-Packard. Someone registered carlyfiorina.org to remind people of that as Fiorina announced her White House bid Monday. Former CEOs who run for office have a few things going for them – knowledge of the economy, proven experience as a leader and often a conservative record that could attract voters. But being head of a large company also means your record as a job creator – or a job cutter – is out in the open.20,588
That's how many complaints of age discrimination were filed last year, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Fortune notes this number has been increasing since the dot-com boom, and some of that growth may be tied to employers looking to hire so-called "digital natives." The phrase is correlated with age, though some hiring managers defend its use as a quick way of describing strong digital skills.
Marketplace’s Scott Tong reported on the fracking ban in Denton last year. He several states are considering similar bills to stop municipal fracking bans.
One of these, in Oklahoma, passed one chamber. The sponsor of that bill said he wants to "get ahead of what we're seeing in other states."
Hear the full conversation using the audio player above.
McDonald’s new CEO was pretty blunt on Monday.
“We are not on our game,” Steve Easterbrook told investors and customers while unveiling a turnaround plan for the company amid sagging sales. Easterbrook’s plan involves a major restructuring he hopes will make McDonald’s more nimble in responding to consumers' changing tastes. The company will also franchise more of its restaurants and buy back more shares.
Some investors wanted more details about menu and store changes, but there were no sweeping announcements on that. McDonald’s is experimenting with more customized orders and online ordering at a few locations, among other changes.
Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, says the company’s immense size makes any fundamental changes across the board challenging.
“Repositioning a brand is hard and it takes time to do those things," he says. "It means there’s not a quick fix here.”
Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, officially announced on Monday her candidacy for the presidential nomination. She told "Good Morning America" that she understands "how the economy actually works." But being a CEO isn't always an advantage for a political candidate.
Look, for instance, to CarlyFiorina.org. It's a simple site, reading: "Carly Fiorina failed to register this domain. So I'm using it to tell you how many people she laid off at Hewlett Packard." And then: 30,000 frowny emoticons.
George Anders, author of "Perfect Enough: Carly Fiorina and the Reinvention of Hewlett Packard," says layoffs were in the tens of thousands under Fiorina — in large part thanks to a merger with Compaq she pushed through.
This question of how many jobs a CEO created or destroyed is a key one for business executives who become political candidates. Just look at Mitt Romney's campaign for the presidency, and his record at private equity firm Bain Capital.
"Whether Bain Capital created more jobs than it took away was one of the great debating issues," says Mike Useem, professor of management at the Wharton School. "And that obviously is going to be debated in the case of Carly Fiorina. Net-net, was she a job creator?"
One thing Nick Carnes, professor of public policy at Duke University, says we do know about CEOs is their general political tendency: across all levels of government, he says they tend to favor more conservative economic policy choices.
The share price of social media companies – LinkedIn, Twitter, and Yelp, to name a few – have gone on some bumpy rides lately. When LinkedIn told investors the year ahead wasn’t looking as rosy as previously thought, its stock dropped 20 percent in a morning. Twitter saw a similar plunge when it surprised the markets with weak earnings.
If social media stocks seem a bit volatile, “our belief is they should be,” says Rick Summer, an equity strategist at Morningstar.
That’s not because they’re social media companies; it’s that they’re growing fast and their business models are still uncertain.
“Many of these companies are forming new advertising products,” says Summer. “We don’t have a great deal of history in understanding how you and I as users will interact with those advertising products and how advertisers will value that degree of advertising.”
Therefore, the stock price of many social media companies isn’t based on how much they make today, but what investors believe they one day will, says Shyam Patil, a senior vice president with Wedbush Securities.
If suddenly a company’s not growing as fast as expected, investors will reevaluate.
“It’s kind of like compounding, right?” says Patil. “If you’re trying to figure out what $1,000 today is going to be worth in 30 years, a two percentage change in the growth rate is going to have a significant impact."
That’s not unique to social media companies, nor does it mean they’re falling out of favor.
“When you look at the value of these stocks, they’re significant before and significant after,” says Brian Wieser, an analyst with Pivotal Research. “We can argue about whether the market overreacts – absolutely.”
Wieser says a volatile stock price doesn’t change the inherent value of these companies – just want Wall Street thinks that value is.
His reaction to Twitter’s recent drop? “Cheap now, time to buy.”
The good people over at the pop culture website Vulture counted up how much screen time each of the Avengers got in the new movie.
Captain America and Iron Man came in at one and two. Black Widow, that's Scarlett Johansson to those not familiar, was third.
The Hulk was 5th — that's the screen time of Bruce Banner and The Hulk combined, by the way.
And I'd just like to say, speaking for Norwegians everywhere, that Thor totally got the short straw: a lousy 14 minutes of screen time.