Observations Observations

September 1, 1997

help wanted.com

Looking for a job is easier online. Job seekers no longer have to pound the pavement or even actually apply for a specific job. And employers can often get more high-quality responses than with other methods.

Jobfind.com, an Internet service from the Boston Herald, matches job seekers to firms that are seeking new employees. Job seekers post resumés and firms post job descriptions with as much detail as possible. If a resumé matches a job description, based on keywords in both documents, the resumé is sent to the employer. The process works best for technical positions, and most ads on the web are for such jobs.

Cabletron Systems, New Hampshire's second largest employer, hires a growing number of workers from its web site. With 350 available jobs on any given day, Linda Pepin, director of human resources, needed a new way to manage employment. The Internet provided a timely and efficient means of finding qualified new workers. "We reach 6,500 people each week via our web site. Our web site offers Cabletron the ability to update our employment ads daily."

Posting want ads on the Internet also creates an interactive recruiting environment Ads go up immediately, online resumes arrive the same day, and the first level of interviewing can begin via e-mail.

New England has relatively few unemployed workers today. But employers can readily contact workers who already have jobs by putting their ads online. The Internet has thus created a thicker employment market, which increases the speed, quality, and efficiency of new job placements.



Save the Greenback?

For small denominations of money, coins are more convenient and efficient than bills. So as inflation diminishes the value of money, many nations have replaced their small-money notes with new metallic tokens. The benefits gained have set a shining example -- that America has been unwilling to follow.

Replacement of the dollar bill could save the government an estimated $2.28 billion over five years. The savings stem from greater durability Coins cost more, but circulate an estimated seventeen times longer than bills.

A dollar coin would also benefit vendors who depend on the mechanical collection of money. Parking meters, public telephones, public transportation collection boxes, and commercial vending machines could continue to use devices that don't accept bills. These mechanisms are less expensive and avoid the added labor costs incurred by machines that do accept bills.

Yet the failure of the Susan B. Anthony dollar showed that public opposition to the coin is strong. A coin has a diminutive connotation. And Americans, it seems, just aren't comfortable replacing greenbacks with coins. The withdrawal of the bill thus seems necessary for a dollar coin to succeed, and for the government and vendors to reap the resulting benefits.

Technical progress may render this potential conflict moot. New electronic payment systems, such as stored value cards now used by many transit and telecommunications systems, will grow more pervasive. The greater convenience of automation should cause the demand for hard currency -- both metallic and paper -- to steadily decline.



Down and Dirty

Two centuries of industrial activity in New England have left behind many abandoned sites full of chemical pollutants. Of the nation's approximately 500,000 brownfield locations, roughly one-quarter are found in the region.

Specialized firms, such as Brownfield Realty, of Allentown, PA, are now developing some of the most economically attractive sites. Such companies are skilled in environmental remediation, environmental law, and in real estate development; they can evaluate a site's marketability, assess the contamination, and clean it up. Brownfield is now overseeing the remediation of an oceanfront site, in East Providence, Rhode Island, where underground oil tanks contaminated surrounding groundwater and bedrock.

But most contaminated sites -- as many as 85 percent -- are not candidates for redevelopment. The cost of buying and remediating these properties exceeds their market value. Local residents, however, want to free their neighborhoods of pollutants. State and local governments are also eager to see such "brownfield" sites developed, to help revive their urban economies.

So Rhode Island offers tax incentives to help remediate its numerous old mill sites. Connecticut and Maine will negotiate to protect new owners from future liability. The city of Somerville, MA, took Boynton Yards by eminent domain to clean up the site. The remediation there took more than ten years, and funds from various federal sources. Total costs have run $30 a square foot, and the property will fetch about $5 a square foot when sold.

The cleanup of most contaminated properties will likely require private investment, tax incentives, liability protections, public funding, and public protests. The disposition of these brownfield sites, located at the nexus of economic development and environmentalism, will be critical to the economic futures of numerous cities and towns in New England.