Friday, March 6, 2015

POSTED: Thursday, March 5, 2015, 3:38 PM

When, after years of late hours writing it, software works -- when, after months of sales calls, clients start buying it -- then the talk gets big: “Wes are changing the way code is built,” says Chris Gali, cofounder of Enterprise
CloudWorks.

“Right now we are 52 people. By the end of the year we will be 75 or 80. My belief is that in two and a half years we’ll be 350, 400, right here on Market Street, Philadelphia,” says Jim Rourke, the firm’s president.

Enterprise Cloudworks’ chief product is Graphite GTC (Graph To Code, corrected), a software platform Gali says you don’t have to be a programmer to use. 

POSTED: Thursday, March 5, 2015, 1:51 PM

Ten cold protesters from a national group called Fed Up gathered at the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia in the storm this afternoon to urge the Fed to pay more attention to boosting employment and listening to groups representing wage workers and poor people.

The group, which includes labor union and church groups as well as local affilates such as North Philadelphia-based Action United, says its national leaders met with Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen in Washington last year, but they have had a tough time getting Fed officials who oversee regional banks and regulatory teams, such as Charles Plosser, the free-market economist who retired in March (corrected) as the Philly Fed President, to take them seriously. Other Fed Up affilates held protests in New York, Charlotte, St. Louis, and other Fed cities today. More are planned, said Shawn Sebastian of the liberal, Brooklyn-based Center for Popular Democracy, one of the groups supporting Fed Up.

"Plosser never gave us a meeting," said Action United leader Kendra Brooks, who said she's been organziing poor people to press for improved government job, education and housing programs since she was laid off from her management job at an Easter Seals affiliate in 2012. Philly Fed corporate secretary Herb Taylor and other local Fed officials did meet with a Fed Up delegation last fall, and Philly Fed leaders have also held meetings with labor unions and community groups, Fed spokesman Jim Ely reminded the group.

POSTED: Wednesday, March 4, 2015, 1:59 PM

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's new budget proposes several steps he says will trim $10 billion from the $50 billion-plus shortfall between what the state has invested to pay hundreds of thousands of retired teachers and state workers, and the much larger sums it will have to pay them.

(The shortfall forces state Treasury and school district property tax "contributions" to the pension fund higher every year -- which is why ex-Gov. Tom Corbett called pensions "a tapeworm" -- and is a leading reason Pennsylvania has the third-worst Moody's credit rating of any state: only Illinois and New Jersey, which have also over-promised and under-funded pensions, rate worse.) I reviewed Wolf's pension plans here, and sent a copy to Wolf's office with a request for further comment. "Thanks, Joe. I don't have anything to add right now," Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan told me. So I asked around:

1) MONTCO'S VANGUARD WAY: Josh Shapiro, the ambitious head of Montgomery County's Democratic-dominated government, is cheered by Wolf's proposal to fire high-fee "Wall Street" (as Wolf calls them) investment managers and replace them by low-fee "passive" managers like the ones Shapiro and colleagues hired to run Montgomery County's pension fund in mid-2013.

POSTED: Tuesday, March 3, 2015, 3:56 PM

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf in his new budget proposal says he will reduce the $50 billion-plus gap between what Pennsylvania owes current and future retirees, and what it has invested so far to pay them -- a gap that has required large and growing annual taxpayer increases in pension funding -- "by more than $10 billion," through these steps:

- FIRE PRIVATE MONEY MANAGERS: The budget would "institute pension investment reforms to significantly reduce excessive management fees and overreliance on high risk investment strategies," and instead "seek less costly passive investment approaches where appropriate." 

Wolf appears to favor the kind of index funds and other low-fee investments chosen by Democratic-run Montgomery County in 2013 when it fired more expensive "active" investment managers and bought indexed funds from Malvern-based Vanguard Group. Montco says its investments returned 14.2% in 2013, as it was implementing the new indexed approach. The Pennsylvania state pension system, which uses hundreds of high-fee money managers and strategies, returned 13.6%. Both expect to report 2014 numbers soon.

Wolf says these "management reforms would signficantly reduce taxpayer costs." Wolf appears to assume these savings will be passed along to the pension systems with no change in investment returns, as if the only difference between buying actively-managed stock, hedge, real estate or private equity funds, and buying index funds, is that the actively-managed funds cost more and the net, after-fee return from index funds is correspondingly higher.

- BORROW BILLIONS AND BET: "A portion of the current unfunded liability for PSERS would be refinanced to take advantage of historically low interest rates, with all savings reinvested to reduce that liability." Wolf wants to borrow $3 billion and give it to PSERS so it can reduce the recent increase in pension subsidies by school districts and the state treasury.

POSTED: Tuesday, March 3, 2015, 2:52 PM

CloudMine, the Philadelphia software firm that says it is developing the "most secure cloud mobile platform," says it has raised $5 million in its first venture capital fundraising. The funding was led by Wayne-based Safeguard Scientifics. Other investors include MentorTech Ventures, DreamIt Ventures, DeSimone Investments, state-backed Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Mid-Atlantic Angel Group, Robin Hood Ventures.

CloudMine says it will use the money "to enrich its product and expand marketing and sales." Founded in 2011, CloudMine says its system helps developers build, update and secure mobile and networked-device apps for workers and consumers.  

In a statement, CEO and co-founder Brendan McCorkle said CloudMine counts Endo Pharmaceuticals and Digitas Health among its clients.  Cloudmine unites legacy, cloud and mobile "to create scaleable enterprise-grade mobile aplpications," said Safeguard managing director Philip Moyer in a statement.  

POSTED: Tuesday, March 3, 2015, 2:41 PM

Renmatix, a King of Prussia company that developed the Plantrose supercritical water process to speed conversion of organic waste into cellulosic sugars that may be processed into fuels and plastics, is raising around $50 million from investors including Total, the French oil company, and Philadelphia investor David Haas, along with prior investors BASF and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Rather than building its own large refineries as previously proposed, Renmatix has licensed Total, BASF and other manufacturers to use its processes in new refineries, Renmatix chief executive Mike Hamilton, a former executive at Philadelphia’s Rohm and Haas, now part of Dow Chemical, told me. Besides the King of Prussia offices, Renmatix has a lab in Georgia.

Total hopes to develop “fuels, lubricants, special fluids and chemicals,” using Renmatix technology, said Total senior vice president Bernard Clement in a statement.

POSTED: Tuesday, March 3, 2015, 9:54 AM

Cedar Realty Trust Inc., which under boss Bruce Schanzer has acquired shopping centers in Northeast and South Philadelphia and other city  neighborhoods, has agreed to pay $24.5 million for Lawndale Plaza, a 90,000 sf Lawncrest shopping center built in 1998 by Highland Development Ltd., owned by investors Peter Abrams and Fred Levin and equity partner Glenville Group.

Brad Nathanson with CBRE arranged the transaction for seller Highglen Lawndale Associates LP, says Jason Abrams, partner at Abrams Realty and Development LLC, an Elkins Park development and brokerage company he owns with Peter Abrams, his father. 

POSTED: Tuesday, March 3, 2015, 9:48 AM
The AW609 tilt-rotor helicopter AgustaWestland plans to produce at its Northeast Philly plant

AgustaWestland, an arm of the Italy-based Finmeccanica industrial group, says it will make its new AW609 tiltrotor, a civilian aircraft the company compares to the military Osprey made at Boeing's Ridley Park factory, at AgustaWestland's factory in Northeast Philadelphia. (More on Finmeccanica's recent asset sales, reorganization and success growing past past procurement scandals from The Economist here.) 

AgustaWestland announced the plan at the Heli Expo trade show today in Orlando, Florida. The company has also decided to add former Pennsylvania Gov. and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to its board of directors, spokeswoman Lauren Slepian told me.

The company expects to start work on the craft  in Philadelphia this year, and to get Federal Aviation Administration civil certification for the AW609 by 2017. AgustaWestland will be expanding its engineering and supply-chain operations in Philadelphia to accomodate the new craft. Other production will be shared by AgustaWestland plants in Italy, Poland and Britain. A plant at Vergiate in Italy, along with the Philadlephia plant, will do final assemblies of the AW609. The company has been testing prototypes at its Arlington, Texas plant and hopes to build its "fourth prototype" at Philadelphia by 2018. The company currently employs nearly 600 here. 

About this blog

PhillyDeals posts raw drafts and updates of Joseph N. DiStefano's columns and stories about Philly-area finance, investment, commercial real estate, tech, hiring and public spending, which he's been writing since 1989, mostly for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn, taught writing at St. Joe's, and has written the book Comcasted, more than a thousand columns, and thousands of articles, and raised six children with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at JoeD@phillynews.com or 215 854 5194.

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