Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Muppet Wiki!

Muppet Wiki!

Did you know there is a Wiki devoted to the Muppets?

How cool is that?

I like it.

OK, carry on.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What Is It About Nebraska Ave?

What Is It About Nebraska Ave?

A lot of bad news seems to come from Nebraska Ave. in South St. Louis these days.

On the way home from picking up dinner last night, I saw one of those impromptu teddy-bears-tied-to-a-lamppost shrines, so I assumed a child or teenager had been murdered -- isn't it lovely that's what I automatically assume!

I got home and saw the news report about a man shooting his stepdaughter about noon yesterday in the street on Nebraska, so we thought maybe it was because of that.

But it turns out the story is that a 35-year-old man was killed in a hit-and-run in the wee hours of last Saturday morning.

I guess that's why the teddy bears confused me; this happened at Nebraska and Winnebago in front of Froebel Elementary School in the Gravois Park neighborhood, where I worked as a tech spec during the August 2006 primary election. I naturally thought it had something to do with a child who was a student at the school; putting up teddy bears to memorialize a grown person is not something I'd have expected.

The noontime shooting yesterday happened several blocks further south, the 4500 block in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.

Back on June 26, a 19-year-old was shot and killed at 1:30 a.m. in the 2800 block, in Fox Park.

Just over a year ago, on July 12 2006, a police car was stolen (!) by a woman who had just been arrested in the 3300 block. It was quickly recovered.

Exactly 18 months ago, on January 24 2006, a 44-year-old cabdriver shot and killed a 16-year-old who was trying to rob him, in the 3200 block.

Granted, Nebraska is a pretty long street that extends through several densely-populated neighborhoods -- Benton Park West, Compton Heights, Dutchtown, Fox Park, Gravois Park, Mount Pleasant, Tower Grove East, and The Gate District.

Even including Compton Heights, this area has a lower per-capita income, higher rate of poverty, and higher population density than the city as a whole:

Per Capita Income: $15,002 (citywide: $16,108)
Individuals in Poverty: 28.7% (citywide: 24.6%)
Families in Poverty: 26.2% (citywide: 20.8%)
Population Density: 6,133 people per sq. mile (citywide: 5,580)

This is not to excuse anything, but it is true that less wealthy areas tend to have higher crime rates. We could all do more to improve the situation, but sometimes it does seem rather hopeless.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Carlyle Group and You

The Carlyle Group and You

More accurately, this would say "The Carlyle Group and Its Tenuous Connections to St. Louis and My Family History" but that's kind of long.

You know who The Carlyle Group is -- a prominent Washington DC-based private-equity firm that leverages investments in all kinds of businesses and in real estate, with principals that have included prominent politicians of various stripes, most notably former members of the Bush and Reagan administrations.

Like other private equity firms, Carlyle invests in numerous different kinds of businesses simultaneously; but they are not 1960s-style conglomerates inasmuch as they tend to plan for short-term ownership of their subsidiaries.

Anyway, within the past month, two companies with generic-sounding names have come under the Carlyle umbrella: Sequa Corporation and PQ Corporation.

PQ originally was Philadelphia Quartz; but it also has a large subsidiary called Potters Industries. And one of the divisions of Potters is Crestwood MO-based Flex-O-Lite.

Flex-O-Lite makes glass beads for reflective paint used for striping highways and airport runways. They have been located in St. Louis for 60+ years.

My grandfather Albert Frank worked as a burner operator at their former manufacturing plant on Flex-O-Lite Drive in Affton during the 1950s.

Sequa Corporation, meanwhile, is a bit more like the old-line conglomerates. They make automotive parts, printing equipment, tuxedos, and aircraft engines and engine parts through their Chromalloy Gas Turbine subsidiary.

Chromalloy Gas Turbine is the largest component of Sequa, and the only one retaining the name of the former Chromalloy American Corporation, a one-time Clayton MO-based conglomerate that Sequa acquired in 1987. Over the years, Chromalloy owned such things as what is today Washington Ave.-based CPI Corporation (once called Chromalloy Photographic Industries; later changed to Consumer Programs Incorporated).

As best I can tell, though, the only remaining part of Sequa located in St. Louis is Precoat Metals.

Precoat has offices at 1310 Papin Street in the Blanke Building downtown, but their St. Louis manufacturing facility is located at 4301 S. Spring St. in Dutchtown.

4301 S. Spring is a large parcel at the SW corner of Spring and Bingham, so it includes the former Goeke farm at 3860 Bingham Ave.

Anyway, these kinds of bizarre, tenuous connections seem to fascinate me.

Later, maybe I'll share (if I can figure it out myself) how I'm distantly connected to one of Michael Allen's favorite people. ;-)

Friday, July 13, 2007

What is a Sheltered Workshop?

What is a Sheltered Workshop?

Have you ever looked at your tax bill and wondered "what's that 'sheltered workshop' tax all about?"

Recently I've learned a little more about sheltered workshops in Missouri, and their important role in employing individuals that probably would not be able to get jobs anywhere else. They also provide a valuable service to government and industry in the form of contracts for manufactured goods and certain services like janitorial work.

In short, a sheltered workshop is a small factory where people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities (and in some cases, physical disabilities) work. They do get paid, but have special waivers from the US Department of Labor Wage & Hour Division to pay less than minimum wage; typically, they pay 50% of the prevailing wage for the job.

The Extended Employment Sheltered Workshops program of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Division of Special Education, funds about 20% of workshop budgets in Missouri. The legislation was passed back in the late 1960s, thanks to the efforts of numerous concerned parents of children with mental retardation who were becoming adults.

According to the Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers, the Missouri sheltered workshops operate primarily on an industrial model, where they generate most of their revenues from contracts for manufacturing work and some service contracts. In many other states, the per diem reimbursement rates from state government are much higher, because the program is more of a residential treatment and recreation center, with the work being secondary.

But back to that tax bill: Another 10-15% of most sheltered workshops' budgets comes from local taxes authorized by the voters and administered by county SB 40 boards, called that because of the Missouri state legislature bill number that authorized them in 1968. Over the years, these boards have begun to provide funding for other organizations that provide services to individuals with developmental disabilities; but they started out primarily as a funding vehicle for sheltered workshops. About half of these boards are members of the Missouri Association of County Developmental Disabilities Boards. Each board is an independent body with its own tax rate, and allocates its funds independently.

The local SB 40 boards are as follows:

City of St. Louis -- St. Louis Office for Mental Retardation and/or Developmental Disability Resources (MR/&DD Office)
St. Louis County -- Productive Living Board for St. Louis County Citizens with Developmental Disabilities (PLB)
St. Charles County -- Developmental Disabilities Resource Board (DDRB)
Jefferson County -- Developmental Disabilities Resource Board (JCDDRB)
Franklin County -- Developmental Services of Franklin County

These days, most of the agencies funded by these boards are not sheltered workshops, but community-support organizations. There has been some concern this diminishes the focus on sheltered workshops as a tax-supported employment initiative for the most severely disabled persons who need the programs.

Nevertheless, we still have a large number of workshops in and around the St. Louis area; and several are good examples of regional cooperation in funding.

In the City of St. Louis, there's:
Industrial Aid at 4417 Oleatha Ave. in Tower Grove South;
MERS Goodwill, one of the biggest ones, at 4140 Forest Park Pky. in the Central West End. Of course, MERS Goodwill is jointly funded by the St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and St. Charles County boards.
Project Inc. at 6301 Manchester Ave. in Dogtown (Clayton-Tamm); and
Worth Industries at 4124 N. Broadway on the North Riverfront.

In St. Louis County, there's:
Canterbury Enterprises at 7228 Weil Ave. in Shrewsbury. Canterbury is also jointly funded by the City and County boards.
Lafayette Industries with two locations, the original at 179 Gaywood Dr. in Manchester; and
Lafayette Industries North (formerly ITE Inc.) at 4621 World Parkway Circle in Berkeley.
Valley Industries at 143 B McDonnell Blvd. in Hazelwood; and
W.A.C. Industries at 8520 Mackenzie Rd. in Affton, another very large operation, also jointly funded by City and County.

In St. Charles County, there's Boone Center, Inc. at 200 Trade Center Drive in St. Peters. In addition to Boone and MERS Goodwill, the St. Charles board also funds TEMCO, Inc., a division of Emmaus Homes located on their Marthasville campus at 2245 Highway D in Warren County.
The Franklin County and Warren County boards don't have websites, but they appear to support the TEMCO facility to some extent as well. Warren County also has another workshop, called Warren County Sheltered Workshop (no website?), located in Warrenton at 1760 HGP Ave.

In Jefferson County, there's Jeffco Subcontracting at 2065 Pomme Rd. in Arnold. JSI is the only workshop in the county, and the only workshop funded by the Jefferson County board.

In Franklin County, there's:
Sheltered Workshop, Inc. at 1600 West Main in Washington; and
Sheltered Industries of Meramec Valley located in Sullivan.

The Franklin County board also seems to help fund River Bluff Industries located in Hermann (Gasconade County), and already mentioned TEMCO in Marthasville (Warren County).

Also in St. Louis County you'll find a workshop for individuals who are blind, called Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. which has two locations:
10440 Trenton Ave. in Overland; and
8833 Fleischer in Berkeley.

LHB is not a DESE Sheltered Workshop, so it does not get State or Local funding. What it DOES get, as do some of the sheltered workshops, is Federal contracts.

Under legislation dating to the late 1930s, workshops for the blind (and since the 1970s, those sheltered workshops for the severely handicapped) are eligible for special preference in Federal government contracting. (They also qualify for five points extra consideration in State of Missouri contracting, which is why you'll see that Warren County Sheltered Workshop has the maintenance contract for the I-70 rest areas near Wright City, and indeed most rest areas are maintained by workshops in Missouri.)

The Federal program for workshop contracts has long been called JWOD in honor of the sponsors of the legislation, all from New York: Senator Jacob Javits in 1971, and House members Wagner and O'Day in 1938. The name is changing to AbilityOne. The program is administered by a group ominously called "The Committee," a group of top Federal bureaucrats appointed by the President. (Its full title is a mouthful: The Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled.)

Like Federal Prison Industries (aka Unicor), JWOD/AbilityOne is what is known as a "required source of supply" for Federal agencies. This means that if Unicor or a JWOD workshop offers the item for sale, Federal agencies must buy it from them. Unicor often issues waivers to this rule.... but The Committee does not do so as often.

To get on the JWOD Procurement List, workshops must become affiliates of either National Industries for the Blind (NIB) (which happens to have its national technical center in Earth City) or National Industries for the Severely Handicapped (NISH). While there is no fee for affiliation, once a workshop gets a contract, they must pay back 4% of that contract to NIB or NISH.

LHB, of course, is a NIB affiliate -- and they got over $8 million in Federal contracts just in Fiscal Year 2006. Most of the local Sheltered Workshops are NISH affiliates, but only one has the capacity to offer JWOD products/services: MERS Goodwill, DBA MGI Services. In FY '06, MGI Services got about $400k in JWOD contracts, mostly cleaning Federal buildings. JWOD products are marketed to Federal buyers under the brand name Skilcraft.

The world of sheltered workshops is a little-known aspect of the government; arguably, it's not really part of the government at all, but given that these dozens of independent non-profits receive state and local tax dollars, as well as state and federal contracts in some cases, it is surprising how little attention they get. Most seem to be doing a great job in employing individuals who probably would have a great deal of difficulty getting and keeping jobs in traditional settings.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Transitory Trips

Transitory Trips

While it's true I have started driving quite a lot on weekends and sometimes on evenings, I still plan on commuting to work by bus for a while. Of course, I log many times more miles in the car on outings into the suburbs and the suburban-ish parts of St. Louis City (I seem to drive that Gravois-to-Chippewa route out to Hampton Village area a lot lately!), than I do on my little three-to-four mile transit ride into downtown from home.

But I still run occasional errands via transit, preferably in the mornings or at mid-day.

My usual AM transit commute is about 30 minutes total; riding the express bus rather than the local shaves off a few minutes, depending on traffic.

So, for example on June 15 I rode the #10 Gravois local bus:

Left home 7:01; Arrived bus stop 7:07. Waited until 7:14 for bus to show; got off at 7:29 in front of City Hall; arrived at office 2 blocks away by 7:33. Total travel time: 32 minutes.

On June 25, meanwhile, I rode the #11x Shrewsbury express, because I left a little earlier:

Left home 6:47; Arrived bus stop 6:54. Waited until 6:58 for bus; got off at 7:11 in front of City Hall; arrived at office by 7:15. Travel time: 28 minutes.

And yesterday, I rode the #10x South Grand express, because I was running a little late:

Left home 7:16; Arrived bus stop 7:22. Waited until 7:31 for bus; got off at 7:45 in front of City Hall; arrived at office by 7:49. Travel time: 33 minutes.

These just illustrate some typical examples.

Today, to drop off some videos at Hollywood on S. Grand, I made a much longer trip than usual. But I still made it within about an hour.

Left home 6:30; Arrived bus stop on Arsenal 6:37. Caught #30 Soulard at 6:46; disembarked at Grand & Arsenal 6:52. Dropped off videos, got to bus stop on Grand 6:55. #70 Grand bus showed at 6:58. Disembarked #70 Grand at MetroLink station, 7:09. Eastbound train arrived 7:14; exited at Civic Center 7:19, walked to office, arriving by 7:30.

You'll notice, however, that route this morning involved more time walking and waiting than it did actually riding the bus or train! I was only on the #30 for six minutes; on the #70 for eleven; and on MetroLink for five.

There probably are ways to make these systems more efficient and user-friendly. Admittedly, I'm largely illustrating here the one thing that our transit system was originally designed to do: ferry commuters to-and-from downtown St. Louis, at peak-hour. It still does that reasonably well. However, for other destinations, I realize, it can be much more difficult to make the trip by bus.