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May 2017 Federal Reserve Board's Beige Book

DISCLAIMER: Below are excerpts from the Federal Reserve Board's Beige Book published on May 31, 2017. It "... was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia based on information collected on or before  May 22, 2017. This document summarizes comments received from contacts outside the Federal Reserve System and is not a commentary on the views of Federal Reserve officials."

The excepts were chosen for their relevancy to the recruitment, staffing, employment services, and IT services sectors. The inclusion or exclusion of any sections or wording, the inclusion of each District's service areas (note that sections of some states are divided and end up in more than Fed District), as well as emphasizing certain sections with special typefaces (e.g. bold-faced) was done solely at the discretion of steinbergemploymentresearch.com. The full report can be found at the Federal Reserve Board.

Since there are several references to changes 'since the last report,' our summation of the previous report is here.

The next Beige Book is scheduled to be released on July 12, 2017, at which time we will offer our next summation. If you want to receive notification when it is posted, please fill-in the form above.

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First District -- Boston Fifth District -- Richmond Ninth District -- Minneapolis
Second District -- New York Sixth District -- Atlanta Tenth District -- Kansas City
Third District -- Philadelphia Seventh District -- Chicago Eleventh District -- Dallas
Fourth District -- Cleveland Eight District -- St. Louis Twelfth District -- San Francisco



First District  --  Boston (CT, MA, ME, NH, RI & VT)  return to District list

Reports from business contacts in the First District were slightly less positive in mid-May than in early April or February. The overall pace of growth was modest. ... One-half of responding manufacturers reported year-over-year revenue gains, but most of the others cited decreased sales. With one exception, staffing-firm contacts reported revenue declines, mostly reflecting a dearth of applicants to fill their clients' positions. ... Labor markets remained tight, and employers said wage increases were modest to moderate. ... The outlook generally continued to be positive, although a bit less so than in the last round...

Employment and Wages
Respondents in several sectors mentioned tight labor markets. None of our manufacturing contacts reported any significant hiring moves either up or down. A maker of envelopes said that they expected to hire significantly in the near future but not right now. Several manufacturing contacts said it was hard to find qualified workers. A manufacturer of semiconductors and related goods said that they had to raise starting wages to fill vacant positions in New England. A manufacturer of furniture said that retaining new hires was a major challenge as some workers quit within days of being hired. Staffing firms continued to report strong labor demand and tight labor supply. They singled out the following positions as particularly hard to fill: systems administrator, network engineer, and medical assistant. All contacted staffing firms indicated that bill and pay rates had increased.


Manufacturing and Related Services

Of the eight firms contacted in mid-May, three reported lower sales, one reported flat sales, and the balance reported higher sales. Reasons for weakness were varied. A firm that makes envelopes attributed flat sales to uncertainty among its financial customers about future government policy. A chemical firm said greater exports from China were putting downward pressure on the price of one important chemical and cutting into its international business. A firm that provides veterinary services indicated that patient visits were down due to the weather. By contrast, an industrial distributor said that sales were up year-on-year in April for the first time in two years. A manufacturer of lab equipment reported higher sales but said that uncertainty about government policy was slowing demand. ...


The outlook was generally positive but cautious. One contact said they initially attributed down sales earlier in the year to the fact that the relevant comparison period, the first quarter of 2016, was exceptionally strong, but continued weakness has made them wonder. Several contacts expressed concern about policy uncertainty and said that was holding back spending.

Staffing Services
All of the contacted staffing firms in New England saw revenues decline year-over-year for their temporary placements, while one respondent saw an overall increase in revenue because of strong activity on the permanent placements side of the business. Although one firm recently lost a big client and seeks to broaden its listings, the revenue declines mostly reflect difficulty recruiting applicants. Firms are brainstorming and trying new ways to recruit people to fill their clients' jobs. Two firms are spending more money on recruitment. Two firms are working with non-profits to find and attract more qualified employees. One firm hired an additional internal staff member who will focus on social media as a recruitment tool. Two firms raised their referral and signing bonuses and one firm will pay college tuition for qualified employees to receive a degree related to their job. Looking forward, staffing firms are not as optimistic as they were last quarter.


Second District  --  New York (CT, NJ & NY)  return to District list

Economic activity in the Second District has been essentially flat since the last report, while labor markets have remained tight. ...  Manufacturers indicated that business activity has flattened out, while service-sector contacts have continued to report steady to modestly expanding activity. Consumer spending has been flat since the last report, while consumer confidence has retreated from a multi-year high. ...

Employment and Wages
The labor market has remained tight. Contacts at employment agencies characterized the job market as steady and fairly tight -- especially for engineers and other tech workers, but also for skilled workers more generally. Two major New York City agencies characterized hiring as steady at a moderate level, while an upstate agency notes some pickup in the second quarter.

Manufacturers have continued to add jobs in recent weeks, and employment is also reported to be on the rise among businesses in education & health services, transportation, and finance. Businesses in other service industries report steady employment levels. Looking ahead, firms in manufacturing and most service industries indicated that they expect employment to rise, on balance, in the months ahead.

Contacts across all service industries reported moderate wage growth and expect comparable increases to continue in the months ahead. Employment agency contacts in New York City noted a bit more upward pressure on wages and salaries -- employers were said to be increasingly negotiable on pay, but mainly for highly sought-after, skilled, and specialized workers. An upstate New York agency indicated that wages have held steady.

Manufacturing and Distribution
Manufacturers reported that business activity has leveled off thus far in the second quarter, following brisk growth in the first three months of the year. Businesses in the wholesale trade and transportation industries also reported a pause in growth. Looking ahead, however, manufacturers remain widely optimistic about the near-term outlook, while those in transportation and wholesale trade remain somewhat upbeat.

Businesses in most service industries noted little change in general business activity, while contacts in education & health services continued to indicate steady, moderate growth. Looking ahead, however, businesses in education & health were generally the least sanguine about the outlook, while contacts in the information, professional & business services, and leisure & hospitality industries were fairly optimistic. ...

Third District  --  Philadelphia (DE, PA & NJ)  return to District list


Aggregate business activity in the Third District continued at a modest pace during the current Beige Book reporting period. Manufacturing and homebuilding continued at a moderate pace of growth, but nonfinancial services appear to have slowed to a modest pace. ... On balance, employment, wages, and prices continued to grow at a modest pace; however, tight labor markets are reported in some regions and for some occupations. Contacts noted that some wage pressures have eased as firms substitute technology for labor. Overall, firms continued to expect moderate growth over the next six months.

Employment and Wages
Employment has continued at a modest pace of growth. Manufacturing firms reported increases in employment and in the average hours worked compared to the prior period. Employment indicators from nonmanufacturing firms were mixed, as contacts noted fewer net additions to full-time staff, more net additions to part-time staff, and little change in hours.

On balance, wage pressures continue to be muted; reports of tight labor markets are scattered by region and occupation. Contacts tend to note significant price increases only in association with commodity price hikes that are more readily passed through to customers. Several contacts from banking and finance noted that wage pressures are real and rising but that firms in many sectors are using technology whenever possible to substitute for labor.

Pennsylvania staffing firms have remained very busy since the start of the year. Contacts from staffing firms in labor markets with lower unemployment rates have noted greater wage pressure, while contacts operating in markets with higher unemployment rates report minimal wage pressure.



On balance, manufacturers continued to indicate moderate growth with higher percentages of firms reporting increases in current activity and shipments this period compared with the prior period. However, new orders began to soften late in the current period.


Overall, gains in activity were indicated by many major sectors, including the makers of paper products, chemicals, fabricated metal products, and industrial machinery; some reductions of new orders and/or shipments were noted by the makers of lumber products, primary metal products, and electronic products.


While manufacturing contacts continued to expect growth over the next six months, the breadth of optimism has narrowed. Less than half of the firms are now expecting growth -- down from two-thirds during the prior period. Similarly, the expectations for future employment and capital expenditures also softened.


Nonfinancial Services
Third District service-sector firms reported modest growth in general activity -- slowing a bit from the moderate pace of the prior period. Most indicators, especially new orders, suggested slower growth; however, all were representative of a normal pace for the Third District. One large service-sector firm noted continued growth of its consumer base and improved credit behavior of its base; the firm also noted unexpected weakness from part of its business-oriented sales. Expectations about future growth have also abated since the prior Beige Book period but have remained quite positive with nearly 60 percent of the firms anticipating increased activity.


Fourth District  --  Cleveland (KY, OH, PA & WV)  return to District list

Aggregate business activity expanded at a moderate pace in the Fourth District during the reporting period. Labor markets continued to strengthen, with wage pressure coming from both low- and high-skilled workers. ... Manufacturing activity grew slightly, with a marked improvement for heavy equipment producers. ...

Employment and Wages
Payrolls grew across a broad range of industries, with continuing wage pressures in some skilled occupations and at the lower end of the pay scale. Staffing firms noted an increase in the number of job openings and placements during the past two months, a situation which they attributed to an improving business climate. Because of difficulties in attracting and retaining employees, companies are placing a greater emphasis on expanding benefits and work-life-balance initiatives, while at the same time increasing wages and salaries. Banking contacts noted significant wage pressure for IT staff and compliance personnel. High turnover remains an issue in the freight transportation industry. In order to retain drivers, one firm increased driver pay by 3 cents per mile, equating to a 7.5 percent wage increase. Attracting qualified applicants for low-skilled manufacturing jobs is difficult, and many newly hired workers prove to be unreliable. That said, competition for low-skilled workers is strong and is driving up starting wages.


Nonfinancial Services

Professional and business services firms generally reported moderate levels of activity during the period. Strongest demand was seen by engineering services and software and IT services firms. Factors contributing to strong demand for software and IT include clients' concerns about cyber security and data protection and a transitioning by many companies from owning and managing software to cloud computing. ...


Fifth District  --  Richmond (MD, NC, SC, VA & WV)  return to District list

The Fifth District economy expanded at a modest pace since the prior reporting period, with broad-based improvement across industry sectors. Manufacturers continued to see strong new orders and increased output. ... The District's labor markets remained tight, and businesses continued to report modest wage increases. Prices were reportedly stable to rising moderately.

Employment and Wages
Labor demand strengthened moderately in recent weeks amidst continued reports of worker shortages. Employment agencies reported a modest increase in new job openings across all sectors, while executives in the services and retail industries noted increases in hiring. Generally, contacts reported labor shortages for computer scientists, computer engineers, data scientists, welders, and technicians. Also, more manufacturers had difficulty finding quality workers for technical roles. Wages increased modestly for firms in most industries, and employment agencies said that clients had started to increase wages for positions that remained unfilled.

Manufacturing firms continued to report strong growth in new orders and shipments. Producers of machinery, plastics and rubber, metal, corrugated packaging, and food manufacturing noted stronger business conditions in recent weeks. Overall, global supplier delivery times were unchanged, while some firms reported shorter domestic lead times. Expectations for the next six months were generally optimistic, with firms anticipating moderate increases in new orders and shipments.

Non-Financial Services
On balance, services firms indicated moderate revenue growth in our most recent survey. Telecommunication, administrative, and hospital services were the most consistently positive sectors. A contact in South Carolina saw a surge in demand for customer service and general office administration services. Strong reports also came from arts, entertainment, and amusement firms. A civil engineering company had an increase in new projects; however, revenue was down slightly as competition drove down bid prices. Meanwhile, a marketing executive in Virginia noted a moderate decline in demand in recent weeks.


Sixth District  --  Atlanta (AL, FL, GA, LA, MS & TN)  return to District list

Sixth District business contacts reported economic activity continued at a modest pace from April through mid-May. The outlook among contacts remains optimistic with most firms expecting growth to accelerate over the next three to six months. District firms continued to report difficulties filling a range of positions, and wage growth remained steady. Non-labor input cost pressures were subdued. ... Manufacturing purchasing managers cited increases in new orders and production.

Employment and Wages
While some contacts noted that demand for mid- to high-skilled professional and business service positions had moderated, many continued to describe a tightening labor market among information technology, skilled craft and technical, and increasingly in entry-level positions, particularly in hospitality and food services. Many contractors and manufacturers from construction-related fields continued to report that their inability to find qualified workers was impeding growth. Contacts from the energy industry mentioned that the lack of available skilled craft labor was a roadblock to petrochemical-related construction. In response to labor shortages and rising turnover, a growing number of firms indicated that they were directing resources towards creating internal training and development programs for both new hires and existing staff, covering technical education as well as company culture and soft skills. Firms also continued to mention workforce development partnerships, apprenticeships, early education training, and dual enrollment programs at high schools. Wage growth remained stable with exceptions in high-growth areas and in high-demand trades.

District manufacturers continued to indicate that overall business activity remained strong. New orders and production levels increased at a solid pace and purchasing agents reported that supply delivery times were persistently getting longer. The outlook for future production remained optimistic, with just over half of firms expecting higher production levels over the next six months.


Seventh District  --  Chicago (IA, IL, IN, MI & WI)  return to District list

Growth in economic activity in the Seventh District slowed to a modest pace in April and early May. Respondents' outlooks for growth over the next 6 to 12 months also pulled back some, but remained positive on balance. Employment, business spending, and manufacturing production grew at a moderate rate, while construction and real estate grew modestly and consumer spending decreased slightly. ...

Employment and Wages
Employment growth remained at a moderate rate over the reporting period, and contacts expected it to continue at this pace over the next six to twelve months. Contacts continued to report that the labor market was tight and that it was difficult to fill positions at any skill level. Hiring was focused on professional and technical, sales, and production workers, and there was an increase in the number of contacts hiring sales and production workers. A staffing firm that primarily supplies manufacturers with production workers reported an increase in billable hours after more than a year of little change. Wage growth was modest overall, with increases more likely for high-skilled occupations. That said, a manufacturing firm that was expanding raised wages for unskilled workers 10% and noted a significant improvement in retention and the quality of applicants. A number of contacts reported a rise in benefits costs.

Business Spending
Growth in business spending picked up to a moderate pace in April and early May. Many retailers indicated that their inventories were slightly elevated, while a number of auto dealers thought their stocks were much too high. Manufacturing inventories were generally at desired levels, with the exception of those at steel service centers, which continued to be low. Growth in capital expenditures picked up to a moderate pace, and contacts expected growth to continue at a moderate pace over the next six to twelve months. Outlays were primarily for replacing industrial and IT equipment.

Manufacturing production again grew at a moderate rate in April and early May, and growth was widespread across sectors. Demand for steel continued to grow at a moderate pace, as contacts reported strong demand from auto manufacturers and improving demand from the energy and heavy machinery industries. Heavy machinery manufacturers themselves reported increased demand, led by the energy sector. Specialty metals manufacturers also reported growing order books, and contacts highlighted new orders from the defense and energy sectors. Manufacturers of construction materials continued to report slow increases in shipments, in line with the pace of improvement in construction. Production in the auto and aerospace sectors was unchanged, but remained at high levels.


Eighth District  --  St. Louis (AR, KY, IL, IN, MO, MS & TN)  return to District list

Economic conditions have continued to expand at a modest pace since our previous report. District labor market conditions continue to improve, with modest employment growth and moderate growth in wages. ... Manufacturing contacts generally reported increases in new orders. ... On net, 55 percent of contacts expect District economic conditions in 2017 to be better or somewhat better than last year. This outlook was generally unchanged since contacts were surveyed in mid-February.


Employment and Wages

Employment has increased modestly since the previous report. Of the business contacts surveyed in mid-May, on net, 31 percent reported that second-quarter employment was higher or slightly higher than a year ago and 40 percent expect third-quarter employment to be higher or slightly higher than a year ago. Contacts continued to report difficulties finding skilled or motivated employees. Construction contacts in St. Louis, Louisville, and Memphis reported shortages of workers, with a contact in Louisville noting that the shortage has affected their ability to complete work.


Contacts reported moderate wage growth since the previous report. On net, 61 percent of contacts reported wages and labor costs were higher or slightly higher than a year ago; however, a slightly smaller share expect increases in the third quarter. Contacts in construction, manufacturing, and banking reported increasing wages to retain and attract employees. However, a contact in Louisville noted that a shortage of workers in information technology has not resulted in increased wages. ...

Manufacturing activity has increased at a moderate pace since our previous report. Several companies across a broad range of industries reported capital expenditure and facility expansion plans, including firms that manufacture textiles, nonmetallic mineral products, transportation equipment, and food products. In a recent survey, contacts reported continued improvement in manufacturing conditions. The majority reported that production, new orders, and capacity utilization increased in the second quarter relative to one year ago. The results are generally unchanged from our previous survey in mid-February. Contacts were generally optimistic about the third quarter, with 65 percent, on net, expecting further growth in production, new orders, and capacity utilization. Despite the optimistic outlook, some contacts expressed concerns about regulatory uncertainty and the difficulty of finding employees.

Nonfinancial Services
Reports from the service sector have been positive since the previous report. More than two-thirds of transportation and service contacts reported that sales met or exceeded expectations in the current quarter. On net, 25 percent of contacts expect sales to be higher in the next quarter than they were at that time last year. Firms that provide transportation, utility, and information technology services reported plans to expand facilities and hire employees. Reports from healthcare firms remain mixed. One major hospital announced layoffs in the Louisville area, citing uncertainty around healthcare reform and low patient volumes. Another healthcare provider cited high costs as a reason for lower-than-expected sales over the past quarter. Other healthcare providers in Louisville and Memphis announced expansions.

Ninth District  --  Minneapolis (MI, MN, MT, ND, SD & WI)  return to District list

The Ninth District economy grew modestly overall since the last report. Employment grew moderately, tempered by poor labor availability. Wage pressure was moderate to strong, while price pressure was modest. The District economy showed growth in professional services, construction, manufacturing, energy, and mining. ...

Employment and Wages
Employment grew moderately since the last report, tempered by poor labor availability. Initial unemployment claims dropped by 16 percent over the most recent six-week period compared with a year earlier, and continuing claims dropped by 11 percent. April employment figures were strong, and contacts reported healthy labor demand. Job openings were growing in the oil-producing area of North Dakota, including for jobs outside energy production. A Minnesota staffing contact said, "We can't keep up. I have to say no to clients regularly there is strong demand from our clients for talent," but a lack of available workers. A job fair in exurban Minneapolis-St. Paul saw employer booths sold out for the second straight year and a "much longer" wait list for booths. A job-fair contact in Missoula, Mont., said job openings were plentiful and employers were more anxious to fill openings, with some spot hiring. In northern Minnesota, "some businesses are suggesting they may have to cut back in services if they cannot find more workers," said a regional source. Another said it was "constantly" trying to fill 30 open positions among a workforce of 250. However, there were a number of layoffs, including 200 at a distribution center, 232 at a business services firm, and 250 from an insurer, all in Minnesota. Numerous government agencies also announced labor cutbacks, though many were through attrition.

Wage pressure was moderate to strong since the last report. An ad hoc survey of professional services firms in Minnesota found that average wages were expected to rise about 3 percent in 2017. Anecdotally, contacts said average wages were increasing up to 3 percent, with some technical and health care jobs receiving wage increases closer to 5 percent. In Michigan's Upper Peninsula, construction workers were seeing 3 percent to 4 percent wage increases. A distribution center in southern Minnesota was hiring again and raised starting wages to $17.50 per hour, the third consecutive annual rise in starting wages, according to a local contact. In western Montana, wages were trending upward, but more modestly because "employers tend to tout benefits and working conditions more than wages."

Professional services activity was up modestly. A scanning technology firm saw increased business, due in large part to increased activity in construction and engineering. A law firm with offices across the Ninth District reported increased business associated with security risks and concerns. An electronic health records software firm witnessed an uptick in business since the last report.

District manufacturing activity increased modestly since the last report. An index of manufacturing conditions produced by Creighton University indicated increased activity in April compared with a month earlier in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Respondents to an annual survey of Minnesota manufacturers indicated the highest level of confidence in the 10-year history of the survey. A truck trailer manufacturer was expanding into a recently shuttered boat factory in Minnesota. However, a plant that produces matches was shut down in Minnesota, and a producer of residential construction materials delayed plans to open a new plant.


Tenth District  --  Kansas City (CO, NM, MO, NE, OK & WY)  return to District list

Economic activity in the Tenth District continued to increase moderately in April and early May, and most sectors expected continued growth in future months. Professional, high-tech, and transportation firms reported a strong increase in sales, and manufacturing activity expanded at a moderate pace. ... Employment and employee hours continued to increase at a modest pace in late April and May, and contacts in most sectors reported moderate wage growth. Input prices were up slightly over the previous survey period, while selling prices held steady in most sectors.

Employment and Wage
verall District employment and employee hours continued to increase at a modest pace in late April and May, and expectations were positive for the coming months. Contacts in the retail, wholesale trade, transportation, professional and high-tech, real estate, tourism, and manufacturing sectors noted an increase in employment over the previous survey period, while contacts in the auto, health services, and restaurant industries noted a decline. All sectors except auto, restaurants, and tourism reported positive expectations for employment in the coming months. Average employee hours for the services sector rose modestly over the previous survey period, and the manufacturing sector saw a slight decline but was on par with year-ago levels. Average employee hours' expectations for both the services and manufacturing sectors were positive. Respondents noted a shortage of commercial drivers, skilled technicians, and service workers.

Contacts in most sectors reported moderate wage growth, and anticipated continued moderate wage growth in the coming months.


Manufacturing and Other Business Activity

Manufacturing activity expanded at a moderate pace in April and early May, and most other business contacts reported increased sales. Manufacturers reported continued modest growth in production, particularly for metals, machinery, and aircraft products. Shipments, new orders, and order backlogs expanded slightly, and activity was modestly higher than a year ago. Manufacturers' capital spending plans were mostly positive, and firms' expectations for future activity remained favorable.


Outside of manufacturing, professional, high-tech, and transportation firms reported strong sales increases, while wholesale trade contacts indicated a smaller increase in sales than the previous survey. All firms expected a moderate improvement in sales in the next six months. Professional, high-tech, and wholesale trade firms reported strong capital spending plans, while transportation firms anticipated more modest growth in capital expenditures heading forward.


Eleventh District  --  Dallas (LA, NM & TX)  return to District list

The Eleventh District economy continued to expand at a moderate pace over the past six weeks. Manufacturing output rose, and activity in nonfinancial services increased. ... Employment and wages rose, as did prices. Outlooks generally improved, although a few firms noted they were in wait-and-see mode due to uncertainty surrounding U.S. trade policies

Employment and Wages
Overall employment rose moderately, and upward wage pressures were similar to the last report. Manufacturers added to payrolls, with some noting that labor shortages were putting pressure on wages. Hiring in the services sector continued, including slight job gains in retail. The construction labor market generally remained tight, although a slight easing in the availability of workers and an easing in upward wage pressures was noted. Staffing firms noted a surge in demand for white-collar workers in the oil and gas industry, and energy firms cited upward wage pressures, particularly for certain skills sets and experienced personnel. Leisure and hospitality contacts said they have not been able to fill many entry-level and seasonal positions due to a lower number and inferior quality of applicants compared with past years.



Expansion in the manufacturing sector continued over the past six weeks. Output growth picked up for nondurables, and remained positive for durables, particularly for nonmetallic mineral product, primary metals and fabricated metals manufacturing. Outlooks stayed positive, although a few firms expressed concern regarding trade policy uncertainty. ...


Nonfinancial Services

Demand for nonfinancial services expanded moderately over the past six weeks, and outlooks remained fairly optimistic. Most staffing firms said demand increased since the last report, and all contacts noted that orders were up year over year. Staffing demand remained particularly strong in Dallas, and Houston saw an uptick as well, albeit a smaller one. Professional and technical service firms cited revenue gains, with several firms noting a pickup in activity. ...


Twelfth District  --  San Francisco (AK, AZ, CA, HI, ID, NV, OR, UT, & WA)  return to District list

Economic activity in the Twelfth District continued to expand at a moderate pace during the reporting period of April through late May. Overall, price inflation was steady. The labor market tightened further, while upward wage pressures grew moderately overall. ... Manufacturing activity picked up to a modest pace, and conditions in the agriculture sector were mixed. ...


Employment and Wages

On balance, the labor market tightened further, and contacts reported continued moderate wage gains. In the technology, financial services, and health-care sectors, demand for skilled information technology (IT) labor remained strong, pushing up wages for those workers. Contacts in the hotel industry noted widespread strong upward wage pressure for all positions, with one contact reporting plans to raise workers' wages. ... Several contacts observed that applicants for some low-skilled positions did not meet the minimum job requirements or were unable to pass pre-employment screenings such as drug tests. Cost pressures in the steel industry resulted in employment reductions and slowed wage growth.



On balance, manufacturing activity picked up to a modest pace during the reporting period.... Sales of semiconductors stayed strong; however, concerns remained over the elevated dollar and potential changes in trade policy. ...



2017, Bruce Steinberg.  All rights reserved.

last updated May 31, 2017