PBT Transcript (4/25/2008)

MIKE ARMSTRONG: Coming up: a big announcement today from Charming Shoppes, the owner of Lane Bryant Stores. There could be some changes coming. Think coal is dead? Miners in western PA would disagree. We’ll take you there. And it’s Friday which means another episode of Ask Joe D., the segment where Inquirer business reporter Joe DiStefano answers your questions about money, real estate and life. Philadelphia Business Today starts now.

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MIKE ARMSTONG: The owner of Lane Bryant and Fashion Bug stores has hired two investment banking firms to evaluate its catalog business. The news comes as Charming Shoppes is trying to keep activist investors off its board. Those investors have been calling on management to sell some its non-core assets and boost shareholder value. The Bensalem retailer stopped short of saying that it might actually sell any of its clothing catalogs.

Green energy may catch all the buzz, but coal continues to be in high demand around the world. Europe is building 50 coal-fired power plants and uses more coal than the , and the European Union combined. What does mean for PA? Boom times for parts of Greene County, where the Bailey mine is operating at full tilt, supplying coal mostly to Europe. The Inquirer’s Jane Von Bergen and photographer Eric Mensher recently paid the town of Waynesburg a visit.

JANE VON BERGEN: Michael, as you mentioned, I recently spent a few days in Greene County, PA, working on a story about coal mining. You’re looking at a conveyor belt that carts tons of coal out of the Bailey mine. This is Rich Wendell. He’s a union miner and makes close to $80K a year. Not bad for someone without a college degree. Of course, he has to practically live underground. The global demand for coal means round-the-clock mining, mandatory overtime, working six days a week, nine to ten hours a day. Rich got his start in the 1970s. Since then, the mines have been laying off, not hiring, partly because modern technology means dramatically more coal with fewer miners. But Rich and his 50-some pals are retiring, so now, for the first time in years, there’s demand for younger folks, like Rich’s son, . You wouldn’t believe the quantity of coal that is being mined. Solid blocks of coal as long as forty football fields. 42 million tons of coal a year from Greene County alone. When you see that kind of demand, you can see how important it is for the world to figure out energy policies that provide the fuel we need while preserving the environment.

MIKE ARMSTRONG: Thanks, Jane. Jane’s story and more of Eric’s photos will be appearing soon in the Inquirer.

Got a problem? Don’t know where to turn? Maybe you need to ask Joe D.

MAN: Hey, Joe D., I wanna know why the city had, like, 40,000 abandoned houses and now they just gave them up to the housing authority and they still aren’t doing anything with them.

JOE DISTEFANO: That is the Row House Problem. When you’ve got a house that’s worth $30, 40, 50, 60K, but needs $100K worth of work, who’s going to put $100K into a house they can’t turn around and sell for anything like that price? That’s not business. That’s charity.

MAN: Hey, Joe D., can the Federal Reserve save the economy?

JOE DISTEFANO: No.

MAN: Hey, Joe D., I got a question for ya. I live a pretty crazy lifestyle. Should I get some life insurance?

JOE DISTEFANO: The whole question is this: who are you leaving this money for? If you have people you very much care about, yes, go get that life insurance. But be aware: the life insurance companies hate guys like you! They’re gonna ask a lot of questions. They want to know what is it about your lifestyle that is dangerous, that is going to result in you paying little, dying young and making them pay a lot of money. They’re going to try and smoke that out of you. And if they’re successful, they may charge more. So, you got nobody left behind you? Spend that money!

MIKE ARMSTRONG: That’s it for this week. At the Inquirer, I’m Mike Armstrong for Philadelphia Business Today.

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This transcript of Philadelphia Business Today may not be completely accurate and may contain inaccuracies. The original recording of Philadelphia Business Today, not this transcript, is final and authoritative. Philly.com and The Philadelphia Inquirer shall have no liability for errors in this transcript and bear no responsibility for losses, lost profits, direct, indirect, incidental, consequential, special or punitive damages stemming from any actions based solely on this transcript.