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Why America has so few carpenters

Why America has so few carpenters

When Desmond Collins was in his 20s, he cycled between low-paying jobs at places like McDonald’s and Taco Bell, grasping for any opportunity, he said, to “make enough money where you’re not pulling your hair out.”  Everything changed when Collins bumped into a family friend who introduced him to carpentry. The first few years weren’t easy: The physical labor was taxing, and Collins had to prove himself among more experienced workers. As a Black man, he faced discrimination when applying to jobs.Nevertheless, after a four-year apprenticeship, Collins, who is now 57, embarked...

May 20
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The secretary who turned Liquid Paper into a multimillion-dollar business

The secretary who turned Liquid Paper into a multimillion-dollar business

On a warm Texas night in 1956, Bette Nesmith — later known as Bette Nesmith Graham — sat in a garage surrounded by buckets of white tempera paint, empty nail polish bottles, and handmade labels. She didn’t know it then, but she was on the brink of something magical. The product she would eventually create — Liquid Paper, a white correction fluid used to conceal handwritten or printed typos — would become one of the world’s most popular and enduring office supplies. Graham wasn’t a chemist or an engineer. She was a single mom from Texas who had a brilliant idea while working a 9-to-5 job...

April 23, 2021
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Why a small town in Washington is printing its own currency during the pandemic

Why a small town in Washington is printing its own currency during the pandemic

In a bid to lessen the blow of COVID-19, the town of Tenino has started issuing its own wooden dollars that can only be spent at local businesses. Will it work? Wayne Fournier was sitting in a town meeting when he had his big idea. As the mayor of Tenino, Washington (population: 1,884), he’d watched the pandemic rake local businesses. Residents couldn’t afford groceries. Long lines snaked outside the local food bank. For more than a month, the downtown area looked almost abandoned. To bring back the economy, Fournier needed to act. “We were talking about grants for business, microloans,...

June 12, 2020
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Sorry Comcast: School buses are internet providers now

Sorry Comcast: School buses are internet providers now

School buses are trundling down the block in some US towns — but please don’t try to hop on board. To reach students without stable WiFi at home, school districts in California, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are sending buses equipped with long-distance routers to poor and rural neighborhoods. One Texas school district keeps its buses in park from 8am to 2pm every weekday. The WiFi connection has a 200-ft reach, and families who lack stable internet access at home pull over in their cars to use it. The tech world is humming with WiFi solutions About 27% of Americans don’t have home...

May 8, 2020
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How COVID-19 could change the future of parking

How COVID-19 could change the future of parking

Across the country, parking lots — once bustling with shoppers, workers, and cars inexplicably parked at a diagonal — have become ghost towns. With businesses shuttered and many people working from home, demand for parking is down 90% since mid-March, according to data from the startup SpotHero. This decline has hit every sector of the industry, from airport lots to privately-owned residential spaces. Parking shapes both the landscape and the economics of our cities: It influences how we commute, how much public green space we have, and even how much we pay in rent. But even in good...

April 26, 2020
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Forget DIY crafts. Rural Colorado is trying out DIY broadband

Forget DIY crafts. Rural Colorado is trying out DIY broadband

In 2018, the internet in western Colorado kept cutting out. Sometimes essential services lost access at the least opportune times — like when hospitals were sending out patient X-rays. So locals decided to take a hammer to the system. A council of local governments gathered to fund a DIY solution. The result: Project Thor, a public and private collaboration to expand broadband services into the most rural parts of the state. A few weeks ago, Project Thor finally booted up. In 2 years, the region built 481 miles of broadband hardware for a slim price tag: $2.6m. Meet the homework gap,...

April 21, 2020
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Craft stores, gun shops, pot peddlers: These days, everyone wants to be essential

Craft stores, gun shops, pot peddlers: These days, everyone wants to be essential

Everybody can probably agree that it’s important for some businesses to stay open in the age of lockdowns — groceries, pharmacies, big-box stores. But unless you’re into stockpiling yarn and googly eyes, arts-and-crafts retailers wouldn’t make the cut. Even so, that hasn’t stopped chains like Michaels, Joann Fabric and Craft Stores, and Hobby Lobby from trying to keep their doors open in large swaths of the US. Their efforts highlight a weird side effect of COVID-19-related shutdowns: When government guidance is unclear, businesses get crafty to show that they’re essential. Even the...

March 30, 2020
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The economics of cruise ships

The economics of cruise ships

Cruise ships are often called “monsters” of the sea. If you’ve ever seen one in action, you’ll understand why: A vessel like Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas is longer than 12 blue whales. At 228k gross tons, it is 5x the size of the once-formidable Titanic. It can hold 6,680 passengers and 2,200 crewmembers, the population of a small American town. In 2018, 28.5m passengers — the bulk of them from America — spent more than $46B on cruises globally. The biggest players see annual profits in the billions. But cruise companies have done more to earn the “monster” moniker than...

March 15, 2020
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The economics of all-you-can-eat buffets

The economics of all-you-can-eat buffets

Few things epitomize America more than the all-you-can-eat buffet. For a small fee, you’re granted unencumbered access to a wonderland of gluttony. It is a place where saucy meatballs and egg rolls share the same plate without prejudice, where a tub of chocolate pudding finds a home on the salad bar, where variety and quantity reign supreme. “The buffet is a celebration of excess,” says Chef Matthew Britt, an assistant professor at the Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts. “It exists for those who want it all.” But one has to wonder: How does an industry that encourages its...

January 25, 2020
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Are virtual concerts here to stay?

Are virtual concerts here to stay?

Last week, MTV announced a new category for this year’s Video Music Awards: best metaverse performance. If that doesn’t say mainstream, then consider the six nominees: superstars Ariana Grande, Blackpink, BTS, Charli XCX, Twenty One Pilots, and Justin Bieber. What are these concerts like? Whether they take place in VR worlds or on gaming platforms, they all involve digital musicians performing for a digital audience. But each one is unique: In Grande’s The Rift Tour in “Fortnite,” players surf on cotton candy-colored waves and fight a giant monster. Twenty One Pilots and Charli XCX...

Aug 1
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