Monday, September 28, 2009

Recordkeeping

As we meet with clients just starting a business or existing business clients, a common question they have is: What kind of records should I keep?

The answer it that you have the ability to choose any recordkeeping system that suits you and your business as long as it clearly shows your income and expenses. Except in a few cases, the law does not require any special kind of records. However, the business you are in affects the type of records you need to keep for federal tax purposes. Your records need to show your gross income, as well as your deductions and credits. For most small businesses, the business checkbook is the main source for entries in the business recordkeeping system. We advise that you keep a SEPARATE checking account from your personal account for business purposes.

What are supporting business documents?
Purchases, sales, payroll, and other transactions you have in your business will generate supporting documents such as invoices and receipts. Supporting documents include sales slips, paid bills, invoices, receipts, deposit slips, and canceled checks. These documents contain the information you need to record in your books. It is important to keep these documents because they support the entries in your books and on your tax return. You should keep them in an orderly fashion and in a safe place. For instance, organize them by year and type of income or expense. For more detailed information refer to the IRS publications, specifically, Publication 583, Starting a Business and Keeping Records.

The following are some of the types of records you should keep:
Gross receipts are the income you receive from your business. You should keep supporting documents that show the amounts and sources of your gross receipts. Documents for gross receipts include the following:
Cash register tapes
Bank deposit slips
Receipt books
Invoices
Credit card charge slips
Forms 1099-MISC


Purchases are the items you buy and resell to customers. If you are a manufacturer or producer, this includes the cost of all raw materials or parts purchased for manufacture into finished products. Your supporting documents should show the amount paid and that the amount was for purchases. Documents for purchases include the following:
Canceled checks
Cash register tape receipts
Credit card sales slips
Invoices



Expenses are the costs you incur (other than purchases) to carry on your business. Your supporting documents should show the amount paid and that the amount was for a business expense. Documents for expenses include the following:
Canceled checks
Cash register tapes
Account statements
Credit card sales slips
Invoices
Petty cash slips for small cash payments


Travel, Transportation, Entertainment, and Gift Expenses. If you deduct travel, entertainment, gift or transportation expenses, you must be able to prove (substantiate) certain elements of expenses. For additional information on how to prove certain business expenses, refer to IRS Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses.

Assets are the property, such as machinery and furniture, that you own and use in your business. You must keep records to verify certain information about your business assets. You need records to compute the annual depreciation and the gain or loss when you sell the assets. Documents for assets include the following:
When and how you acquired the assets.
Purchase price
Cost of any improvements.
Section 179 deduction taken.
Deductions taken for depreciation.
Deductions taken for casualty losses, such as losses resulting from fires or storms.
How you used the asset. When and how you disposed of the asset.
Selling price.
Expenses of sale.


The following documents may show this information.
Purchase and sales invoices.
Real estate closing statements.
Canceled checks.


Employment taxes. There are specific employment tax records you must keep. Keep all records of employment for at least four years. For additional information, refer to Recordkeeping for Employers and Publication 15, Circular E Employers Tax Guide.

Friday, September 25, 2009

H1N1 and Restaurant Concerns

Theresa Kaplan of the SBDC staff found a great link to some thoughts for restaurants entitled:

"Pandemic Cleaning, Disinfection and Hygiene Considerations" in light of H1N1 news. I'd suggest reading the checklist over, especially the second page which notes specific "touch points" that restaurant staff should be paying attention to in terms of sanitizing.

I've noticed alot of hand sanitizing stations being put up in colleges and universities, malls and other institutional establishments. Hand sanitizers are relatively cheap if bought in smaller bottles from any drug store or health/beauty store. It's a good idea to carry a small container on you and use it just before you eat, before and after you shake hands with someone, and in other situations where you feel you may be exposed to "crowd" bacteria.

Stay safe and healthy out there!

Marcellus Shale Seminars in Carbondale

MARCELLUS SHALE BUSINESS BREAKFAST SEMINARS IN CARBONDALE

As development of Marcellus shale natural gas grows in Pennsylvania, businesspeople statewide are being invited to a series of breakfast seminars to learn how it may create opportunities for their businesses. Energy firms are flocking to the Commonwealth to extract natural gas from Marcellus, and are creating significant business opportunities for local businesses and entrepreneurs.

The University of Scranton Small Business Development Center and Carbondale Technology Transfer Center (CTTC) are hosting a "Your Business & Marcellus Shale” educational program at CTTC in Carbondale to help entrepreneurs and established small- and medium sized businesses understand and respond to Marcellus shale-related business opportunities. The series will consist of five weekly early morning webinars, with sessions including how businesses can establish working relationships with natural gas and service companies, how other businesses already are responding, and business planning skills necessary to evaluate and implement possible new business ventures.

Session 1 - Wednesday, October 14: Economic Implications of the Marcellus Shale
Session 2 - Wednesday, October 21: Identifying Local Business Opportunities
Session 3 - Wednesday, October 28: Success Stories
Session 4 - Wednesday, November 4: Preparing Your Business for Success
Session 5 - Tuesday, November 10*: Your Business Working with Others

*In observance of Veteran’s Day, the final session will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 10.
Cost is $10 per session or $40 for all five. Space is extremely limited; pre-registration and pre-payment are required. Call the SBDC at 800-829-7232 to register.The series is co-sponsored by a consortium of universities, chambers of commerce, local planning commissions and regional economic development boards from across the commonwealth, with leadership from Penn State Cooperative Extension. Presenters and panelists will include successful local businesses, a natural gas industry representative, and experts from Penn State.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tips for Restaurants To Improve Operations



Jim Sullivan wrote an excellent article in Nation's Restaurant News on the steps restaurants need to take to improve their operations, especially in today's economy. We'd like to feature a few of them here.
  1. Today, commit to hiring noticeably better people. Don't just hire--assemble a cast.

  2. Don't train "in general", train "in specific". Ask yourself, "who (or what) is my training target today?"

  3. Prune underperformers, that you should have let go, from your staff.

  4. Re-evaluate how you interact with customers.

  5. Conduct a purchasing audit. Assess every vendor's service, quality and resources.

  6. Recharge your business plan, especially your holiday plan.

  7. Teach your team the basics of Food Costs 101.

  8. If quick service time has anything to do with what you do, work on improving it.

  9. Start a plan today to sell more gift certificates/cards before the holidays. Why wait?

  10. Assess your entire team of hourlies today. Assign a yellow light to the ones doing the job, a green light to the ones doing more than the job, and a red light to the ones doing less than the job.

  11. Using the above outcome, decide whether you will "groom 'em" or "broom 'em". Send a message to low performers.

  12. Walk in stupid today. What is your restaurant teaching you?

  13. Write thank you notes to three customers today.

  14. Improve one facet of service today. As author Chris Peck says, "If the only thing to purchase at a restaurant were food, it would be called a grocery store."

If you enjoyed this article, there are plenty more in Nation's Restaurant News magazine. This is one of the magazines we have on our list of "must haves" for anyone opening a restaurant or already in the business. To find out more, go to http://www.nrn.com/.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Seven Not to Start

If you've thought about leaving your present job to start your own business, it's important that you select a business that can be realistically turned into a profitable operation. Recently, some experts predicted that profitibility might be an issue if you chose one of the following types of establishments noted below....especially in today's economy.

  • Restaurants: Managers must wrestle with low profit margins and seasonal fluctuations
  • Direct Sales: High earners are often just sitting atop pyramid schemes
  • Online Retail: Good luck competing with eBay or Amazon
  • High-End Retail: The recession has thwarted conspicuous consumption
  • Independent Consulting: Many consultants spend so much time scouting work that it’s very difficult to earn steady income
  • Franchise Ownership: It’s a myth that franchises are far more successful than independent businesses
  • Traffic-Driven Web Sites: You’ll need a million page views a day before you can make a living off advertising

So what do you think? Do you agree with the experts? Do most entrepreneurs end up launching businesses that are the cheapest and easiest to start, not necessarily the ones best suited to thrive in the marketplace? Share your comments on this subject.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

So Much Info, So Little Time...

Ah, when you haven't written a blog in 8 days, you accumulate alot of information to impart. I'm going to synopsize alot of that in this one blog post.

IRS and Small Business Recordkeeping
Wondering how you should prove expenses for your business when it comes to taxes? What are considered to be adequate records? How long should you keep records and receipts? For a good in-depth view of this topic, including a nifty chart you can print out and post, go here.

Home Office Deductions
Here are FIVE important facts about Home Office Deductions you should be aware of if you are running a homebased business.

Hobbyists Ask Yourself Some Questions
Here are eight questions the IRS wants you to ask yourself if you are a hobbyist.

Phishing Scams
The IRS is warning everyone of email "phishing" scams which have become more and more prevalent in recent months. Those involved in the fraud often pose as officials seeking personal and financial information. If you respond, you can become a victim of identity theft. One scam involves the Making Work Pay provision of the stimulus plan. The customer receives an unsolicited email appearing to have been sent by the IRS, saying the consumer is eligible for a tax refund. The IRS notes that it DOES NOT contact or discuss tax account matters with taxpayers via email.

ZIPskinny.com
This truly, dare I say AWESOME, site was brought to my attention by Keith Yurgosky of the SBDC staff. Click here, then enter your zip code. You will get a wealth of U.S. Census data on the zip code area you entered, including comparisons and charts to other areas. LOVELY, especially for those needing demographic information for the development of business plans and marketing information. THANKS KEITH!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

SBA Bill Approved

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the FY 2010 Financial Services Appropriations bill, HR 3170, on July 16. This legislation provides funds for the Small Business Administration and its programs, including the Small Business Development Center/SBDC national program ($110 million for FY 2010). The SBA's entrepreneurial development programs helped generate 73,000 new jobs, infused $7.2 billion into the economy, and offered consulting and training to over 600,000 small business owners and entrepreneurs in 2008. About 900 SBDC offices nationwide provide entrepreneurial assistance to more than 1.2 million small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs annually. FYI: The SBDC's annual conference will be held from September 14-17 in Orlando, Florida. For more information, check the site http://www.asbdc-us.org/conference/conference.html. A wealth of information is imparted in over 80 workshops during the conference. The workshops are attended by both SBDC consultants, to further their training and skill set, as well as outside organizations (such as chambers of commerce, industrial development groups, and others) who want to learn more about working with small firms.

There are 4 SBDCs in the Northeastern Pennsylvania region, including:

The University of Scranton SBDC, covering the counties of Bradford, Lackawanna, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Tioga, Wayne and Wyoming.
The Wilkes University SBDC, covering the counties of Carbon, Columbia, Luzerne, Schuylkill, Sullivan.
The Bucknell University SBDC, covering Juniata, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Snyder and Union counties.
The Lehigh University SBDC, covering Lehigh, Northampton, and a portion of Bucks and Montgomery counties.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Scranton SBDC To Co-Host Stimulus Roundtable Event

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced today that they will be hosting a series of nine events where local small businesses will have an opportunity to learn more about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These events will feature presentations from representatives of different Federal and State organizations on upcoming procurement projects funded by stimulus dollars and how small businesses can take advantage of them. Slated to take place in late July and early August, these events will be held in various locations throughout eastern Pennsylvania and will be free to attendees.

In fact, six major government agencies will be represented at these events, speaking about large upcoming projects that could lead to some substantial revenue for participating small businesses. Government agencies in attendance will include: Pennsylvania General Services; US Army Corps of Engineers; US Department of Homeland Security; US Environmental Protection Agency; US General Services Administration; and the US Veterans Administration. Each representative will present information on their agency, upcoming stimulus projects, and answer questions about how small businesses can get involved.

Since the Philadelphia District Office is responsible for the forty eastern counties of Pennsylvania, events will take place at different strategic locations in that territory. Dates, times, and locations include:


July 21, 2009
9:00am – 12:00pm
Philadelphia Courtyard Downtown
Grand Ballroom
21 N. Juniper Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107


July 23, 2009
9:00am – 12:00pm
Montgomery County Public
Safety Training Campus
1175 Conshohocken Road
Conshohocken, PA 19428


July 28, 2009
9:00pm – 12:00pm
Northampton Community College
Fowler Family Southside Center
6th Floor
511 East Third Street
Bethlehem, PA 18015

July 29, 2009
9:00am – 12:00pm
University of Scranton
Brennan Hall
Scranton, PA 18510
*Please RSVP to Scranton SBDC
570-941-7588 or sbdc@scranton.edu

July 30, 2009
9:00am – 12:00pm
TBD
Reading, PA

August 4, 2009
1:00pm – 4:00pm
TBD
Williamsport, PA

August 6, 2009
9:00am – 12:00pm
TBD
Harrisburg, PA

August 11, 2009
9:00am – 12:00pm
Cyber Center
2101 Pennsylvania Ave.
York, PA 17404

August 13, 2009
9:00am – 12:00pm
TBD
Chambersburg, PA


Please RSVP for all but the Scranton event by contacting the SBA Philadelphia District Office at 610-382-3062 or email phila_do@sba.gov. Please include the date/location of the event you wish to attend along with your name, business name, phone number, and email address.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Late Night TV and Your Wallet

Being on vacation is a lovely thing, even if you don't go to the beach or mountains. I'm a night owl, so one thing being on vacation affords me is staying up late. Sometimes I fall asleep by the television, and wake up to something so ridiculous I actually have to sit up and be sure it isn't a dream.

Such was a recent episode of "out-of-sleep-into-the-world-of-infomercial" where I woke up to a man in a business suit sitting across from two scantily-dressed, low-cleavage women trying to sell a book on how you too could get FREE MONEY from the government!

I'm not going to try to tell this informercial story by myself, so at the end of this blog entry, are other good links to people who have gone before me and realized that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Still, these forrays into the bizarre manage to clip needed dollars from families who feel there might just be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that is easy to get, like taking a pill without exercise and thinking you will actually lose weight.

So here I am groggy and bleary-eyed, wondering exactly where I am and why I am still on the couch, with a dog enwrapped somehow in my throw-blanket, and I see two women with (uh-hum) assets sitting across from Mr. Business as if this were a normal, everyday encounter, and as if they were indeed interested in finding out how they could get money to pay their mortgages, credit card debts and purchase real-estate by simply ordering a book that tells them exactly how to do it. I threw on the coffee and woke myself out of my stupor, because in my day-to-day life as an SBDC person, I knew that soon calls would come rolling in wondering why our office had not been handing out this information like candy.

Without taking you through the A-G-O-N-I-Z-I-N-G (and somewhat ASTONISHING to very smart people) verbage, let it suffice to say that within about two coffee-induced minutes I realized this was a scam. Even if, while in my state of between wide awake and still somewhat sleepy, I hadn't really focused on the purpose of the two women, I could hear loud and clear that the claims being made were inaccurate--this based on my 23 years of experience applying for and searching for specific grants for individuals and our own office (a non-profit, educationally-linked, government-funded agency). But I digress...much like this infomercial.

Please please please please please please please don't believe this stuff. Did I say please? YES, there are agencies who have grant money. NO, they don't give it to you to pay your bills and get out of debt. Grants are very eligibility specific, and many have a dollar limit and reasons why you can use the money. PLEASE don't send away $29.99 + $11.95 shipping and handling to find out you will never be able to use the information. Take your family to a theme park instead. You'll have a better day, get more out of it, and lose stress that way.

Just to show you I'm not the only one who thinks about infomercials the way I do, here's some lovely information to back up my story.

To read Chuck Jaffe's (of MarketWatch) commentary on infomercial land, go here. You'll realize this has been going on a long time, since 2007 and even before that.

To learn more about Kevin Trudeau's history (before finding out all the things that others didn't want us to know) go here and scroll down to the section on "Criminal History and Legal Proceedings." I think he probably didn't want US to KNOW this!

Question: How does Kevin Trudeau find out all the things that the government, doctor's, creditors and banks don't want you to know? My mother doesn't want anyone to know that as a small child growing up during the years just following the depression, she accidentally fell into the outhouse hole (whoops, sorry Mom)...do you think I could write a book about it and get an infomercial?

And for one more take on infomercial heaven, read this.

So, if you wake up in the wee hours and find yourself staring at a television set that has an infomercial promising you the moon, do yourself a favor--get some sleep!!
Elaine Tweedy is the Director of The University of Scranton Small Business Development Center, Coordinator of the Buy Fresh Buy Local Northeast Region initiative, and stays up way too late!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Day On The Road

It's SUMMER! Or at least it's supposed to be. You'd never know it by our weather.

Our SBDC is fortunate in that we serve eight of the most beautiful counties in Northeastern Pennsylvania. As part of our summertime travel series (I just decided that we needed this series) we are going to feature a different spot you might be interested in visiting each week on our blog!
Our first is Historic Milford.

Milford is the county seat of Pike County, PA. It is a revolutionary war community, established by a riding circuit court judge, John Biddis. It lies between the Sawkill and Vandermark creeks and the streets are patterned after the layout of Philadelphia streets. They are named for John's children, and alleys are named after fruit trees found in the area. Milford is the portal to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation area. Milford is 75 miles from New York City and approximately 50 miles from Scranton, PA.

Milford is noted for its architecture. A number of great 19th century American architects have examples of their work in Milford. Grey Towers, designed by Richard Morris Hunt; Forest Hall (the old post office) designed by Calvert Vaux; and most recently the historic restoration of the Hotel Fauchere by Peter Bohlin.

Many presidents, writers and artists visited and worked in Milford. Zane Grey lived and wrote in Pike County, and his home in Lackawaxen is now a museum. The Columns historical museum has within its walls the "bloody Lincoln Flag" which was used to rest President Abe Lincoln's head on after his fatal shooting.

Eagle watching can also be done in Lackawaxen. If you are an eagle fanatic, you'll want to click here for more information.

Milford is a quaint town. I've never had a hard time spending money when I go there. There are plenty of shops, eateries and historic inns to meet almost everyone's needs in terms of gifts, jewelry, clothing and good food, as well as a place to sit a spell and take a break. One of my favorite little stops is the Waterwheel Cafe and my favorite sandwich is the brie and granny smith apple open faced deal with toasted almonds. YUM! For unique gifts, just upstairs from the Waterwheel you can find Giffard and White and browse while letting your food settle.
Milford is one of the most picturesque places you will ever visit. If you haven't been, you need to take a trip....trust me, even if it rains, there are things you will find to do!

Our outreach location in Milford is at the Pike County Chamber of Commerce, who I am sure, would appreciate this blog entry!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Something For Everyone!

I've been away for a week, and oh my how information piles up. So there are a number of interesting things that have crossed my email and desk in the last week that I thought some or all of you might be interested in.

First up, for those interested in local foods and agricultural issues, this website has an interesting audio interview with Jeffrey Smith on genetically engineered crops.

Second, since we are in the climate of possible "extra seasonal help," for those types of businesses who do the bulk of their work in the nice weather (can't say we've had much of that in Pennsylvania...) there is tax information readily available on how to treat seasonal workers. You can find it here.

Third, beginning in late 2009, the IRS will be focusing on employment taxes and will be auditing randomly selected businesses to see if they meet four standards for dealing with employment taxes. To read more, go here.

Now that I've caught up, I feel much better!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What is E-Verify?

E-Verify is an internet based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration. It will allow participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly hired employees. E-Verify is FREE and VOLUNTARY.

Employers can compare employee information taken from their Form I-9 documentation against more than 449 million records in the Social Security Administration's database and more than 80 million records in the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) immigration database.

E-Verify includes naturalization data, which instantly confirms citizenship status. It also includes a photo-screening tool, allowing employers to check the photo on his or her new hire's Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or Permanent Resident Card ("Green Card") against the 14.8 million images stored in DHS immigration databases.

To participate in the program, an employer must register on line and accept a "memorandum of understanding (MOU)" which details the roles SSA/DHS and the employer will play.

To find out more about E-Verify, click here. An Employer Quick Reference Guide as well as a User Manual is available. To register as an E-Verify user, click here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Alternative Financing Resource in Northeast PA

In this difficult economy, with credit being what it is, and access to capital at an all time low if your credit score is less than 700, there are options available which sit outside the realm of conventional financing, and allow you--the small business owner--an opportunity to obtain a loan for your company.

One such option is MetroAction's Micro Loan programs. If you haven't heard of MetroAction and you are unfamiliar with microlending, you may want to choose from the list of training sessions below, being offered over the next several weeks in various county locations, to learn more about the program and your opportunity for financing.

Here is the upcoming schedule:

Business Basics Seminar – East Stroudsburg: Thursday, June 11, 9:00 – 11:00 AM
Business Basics Seminar - Milford: Thursday, June 11, 2:00 - 4:00 PM

MetroAction will provide a free informative seminar designed to take the mystery out developing a successful small business. This program will review the steps needed to develop a successful business and link you to valuable resources to help you grow your business. Attendees will learn how small business loans work, what documents and information are required, and review the requirements to qualify for small business financing. The clinic will also explain about small business grants, what lenders look for, and how you can improve your chances of qualifying for a small business loan. The clinic is free but pre-registration is required.

The East Stroudsburg Program will be held at East Stroudsburg University. Visit www.MetroAction.org to register or call (570) 341-0270.

For more information on the Milford program location, please use the contact information above.


Financial Fitness Seminar – Honesdale: Thursday, June 25, 9:00 – 11:00 AM
Financial Fitness Seminar - Jim Thorpe: Tuesday, June 30, 10:00 AM-12:00 Noon
For many people, the critical path to financial independence is blocked not only by a lack of access to credit, but also by a lack of financial literacy. MetroAction will provide a free informative seminar designed to help individuals harness the power their credit and finances. MetroAction staff will share tips and tools on how to manage money by gaining a better understanding of your financial health, including understanding personal credit, developing a budget, what lenders look for, and how you can improve your chances of qualifying for a loan. The seminar is free but pre-registration is required.

The Honesdale program will be held at The Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, Honesdale. Visit www.MetroAction.org to register or call (570) 341-0270.

For more information on the Jim Thorpe location and program, use the contact information above.

MetroAction provides MicroLoans to small business in northeastern Pennsylvania that do not have access to traditional sources of credit. MetroAction services the counties of Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties.

MetroAction spans some of the counties of The University of Scranton SBDC and the Wilkes University SBDC service territories. If you reside in, or are opening a business in the counties of Lackawanna, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne or Wyoming, you may contact the Scranton SBDC for assistance with your business plan and or other business needs. MetroAction staff members have spent time training both the staff of the Scranton SBDC and the Wilkes SBDC in the protocol and paperwork required by the microlending process. If you reside in, or are opening a business in the counties of Carbon or Luzerne, please contact the Wilkes University SBDC.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Social Media Quick Reference Guide

Ezine articles has a great one on social media, and we'd like to share some of the key points. To read the article in full, go here. Thanks to Keith Yurgosky, of the SBDC staff, for bringing it to my attention.

Many smaller companies have turned to social media networking in light of non-existent marketing dollars for some more conventional approaches. Instead of dropping off the face of the earth, networking through social mechanisms, has afforded an opportunity for small businesses to keep in touch with their clientele.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube seem to be the popular choices. If you have a web page, you can highten its visibility by marketing it through using SMO (social media optimization) tools.

Blogging is another way to have your own personal views, events, news spotted across a wide variety of readers. Blogging affords you the opportunity to show who you are--your own personal views on what you have to offer, your image, your mission and message. By using "keywords" in your blogging efforts, you can tie into search engines and be picked up by customers looking for what you have to offer. Blogging is also interactive and allows those who read to offer comments. You can utilize small surveys as part of your blogging, picking up on key customer trends, wants, and ideas.

Just to illustrate, over the Easter Holiday my family elected me as chief-find-a-place-to-eat-out. Of course, I totally forgot about it until the very last minute when I was sure I would not be able to get a reservation. Facebook to the rescue! A local restaurant on Facebook sent me their Easter menu and easy access to reservations out of the blue. I called it "divine intervention" at the time, which was much better than facing my entire family's wrath. Eleven of us trooped off to the dining establishment where we had a fantastic meal at an affordable price, and I was a super star. The restaurant now has quite a number of new customers (my family) and referrals based on our experience. Sure they have a website...but I didn't even know who they were until they reached me on Facebook.

Don't discount Social Media! Use it to your advantage.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

ATTENTION RESTAURANT OWNERS! (Or Those Interested in Opening...)

For the latest survey results on “hot trends” in the restaurant industry (as identified by more than 1,600 American Culinary Federation member chefs), see the links at
http://www.restaurant.org/research/chef_survey_2008.cfm.

Number one is “locally grown produce” (beating out #3 “organic produce”). Here are the details.

A whopping 89% of the survey respondents agree that “locally grown produce” is “hot.” For perspective, the item at the bottom of the list (ranking 208 out of 208 choices, with only 9% calling it “hot”) is…drum roll please… Potato Salad!

For a “bite-sized” summary of the results, here is an article from Progressive Grocer:

Local, Bite-sized, Organic Are Foodservice Watchwords for 2009, Says NRA
Dec 11, 2008


A new National Restaurant Association survey of more than 1,600 professional chefs - members of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) - revealed that "nutrition and philosophy-driven food choices" will be the hottest trends on restaurant menus in 2009, according to the foodservice trade group. Local produce, bite-size desserts, organics, healthful kids' meals, and new cuts of meat topped the list of nearly 210 culinary items, in NRA's third annual "What's Hot" chef survey. Rounding out the top 10 trends were kids' vegetable/fruit side dishes, superfruits (including acai and mangosteen), small plates/tapas/mezze/dim sum, artisan liquor, and sustainable seafood.

In October 2008, the association surveyed 1,609 chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation, asking them to rate 208 individual food/beverage items, preparation methods, and culinary themes as a "hot trend," "yesterday's news," or "perennial favorite" on restaurant menus in 2009. Nutrition/health as a culinary theme was ranked number 11 in the survey, underscoring the growing trends of consumer interest in healthful living, said NRA. Among the top 20 items, nutritionally balanced children's dishes and side items, produce and fruit items, smaller dishes, fish and gluten-free/allergy-conscious meals, illustrate that restaurant menus will continue to expand options for health-conscious diners.

Several of the top 20 trendy items were related to philosophy-driven food choices, including local sourcing, organics, artisanal items, sustainable seafood, and free-range pork/poultry. Locally grown produce - rated the number-one trend on restaurant menus in 2009 - has grown tremendously in popularity. Several factors drive this trend, including culinary creativity, cost-consciousness, and interest in lean protein, said NRA.The hottest trends in culinary themes included nutrition/health, gluten-free/allergy-conscious, food-alcohol pairings, umami (known as "the fifth taste"), and the slow food movement, the chefs told NRA. In the preparation techniques category, braising tops the list, followed by smoking and sous vide.

If you are a restaurant owner and don't know where to obtain local produce or locally grown and raised food, please visit http://www.localharvest.org; or for those of you in Pennsylvania, visit http://www.buylocalpa.org.

Organic Initiative: EQIP GRANT INFORMATION!!!

For those of you who may be interested in pursuing grant funding via the 2009 EQIP Organic Initiative:

PLEASE JOIN A Q&A WEBINAR SESSION ON Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) ORGANIC INITIATIVE Thursday, Jun 4, 2:00 to 3:00 PM at https://breeze.psu.edu/AgEnvPartnership

A live question and answer webinar session on the new Organic Initiative will be cosponsored by Penn State Cooperative Extension, the Penn State Agriculture & Environment Center and the Pennsylvania Natural Resources Conservation Service. Pennsylvania’s organic farmers – and those transitioning to organic farming – are urged to sign up with NRCS by Jun 12 to have an opportunity to tap $880,000 set aside for conservation practices for organic operations. This Thursday’s Q&A session will feature NRCS’s Dan Dostie, State Resource Conservationist, and Gwendolyn Crews, Resource Conservationist for Organic Agriculture. They will provide a brief overview of the program; however, the primary objective of the session will be to enable participants to interact with NRCS with questions about the new Organic Initiative.

Pennsylvania’s organizations working with organic farmers, are also encouraged to participate in the session. Producers are also welcome to attend.

To Participate: To access the webinar – Obtain a Friends of Penn State Account. Sign up for a free “Friends of Penn State Account” to obtain a user ID and password that will give you access to the webinar the day/time of the program. The Friends of Penn State Account can be obtained by clicking the above link. NOTE: You are encouraged to set up the Friends of Penn State Account prior to the webinar session so that you can easily sign on at the meeting time.

Sign on to the Webinar at the start time: On Jun 4, the webinar site will open at 1:45 PM – and the program will begin at 2 PM. To access the webinar, go to: https://breeze.psu.edu/AgEnvPartnership and sign on using your Penn State user ID and password obtained from Friends of Penn State. NOTE: A high-speed internet connection is needed.

Alternative viewing options. If you wish to view this program live – and are unable to do so at your office or home, please contact your county Extension office. If you need an alternative method (CD or hardcopies of the presentations) for viewing this program, please contact Anna Marie Nachman, amn6@psu.edu, 814-865-9468.

Background: The 2008 Farm Bill created a provision for organic producers and those who are in the process of becoming organic producers. Over $880,000 has been designated by NRCS for Pennsylvania’s organic producers in 2009 in support of conservation practices that protect the Commonwealth’s natural resources. Online resources are available that offer details about the Organics Initiative including:

NRCS’s Organic Initiative Overview: http://www.pa.nrcs.usda.gov/Farmers/Organic/index.html.

A recorded session with key NRCS staff working with the Organics Initiative in Pennsylvania can be viewed at https://breeze.psu.edu/p37532470/ .

The PowerPoint presentation from this session is available at http://www.pa.nrcs.usda.gov/Farmers/Organic/finalNRCSHelpforOrganicAgriculture.pdf

For more information about Thursday’s webinar, please contact Kristen Saacke Blunk, director of the Penn State Agriculture and Environment Center, 814-863-8756, ksaackeblunk@psu.edu.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How Not To Get Run Over By The Recession Bus

I have a friend who has lived in a big city all of her adult life and has never purchased a car. She relies heavily on public transportation, and where she has lived, it has been provided.


But in recent weeks she has complained of how the price of her bus card has increased. I, being the low-on-empathy person that I am, really find that I provide little sympathy, seeing as how gas just went up this week, and I live 23 miles from my place of work (a 46 mile trip each day).


It was as part of that conversation she noted that previously grumpy or non-committal bus drivers, have--miraculously--in the past month or so, become joyful, smiling, "how are you today" kind of folks in her city.


That got me to thinking. Just the other day I went back to a market I haven't frequented in some time to purchase some food shopping items. At the check out I was treated like I had just won the powerball and had decided to leave 1/2 of the proceeds to the store. I went home and asked my husband: "Have you been to X Market lately?" He had not. "Well, you should go," I continued. "I think it would be good for your ego."


Then, just today, I read an article in Susquehanna Business Life entitled "Color Outside the Lines...But Don't Fall Off the Page!" written by Jeff Tobe (Spring/Summer 2009), and decided there were too many coincidental fonts of knowledge leading to the same path, and that I needed to share them.


Mr. Tobe discusses the value of being creative, especially in today's economic environment, and the fact that businesses too often "commoditize" themselves, rather than seeking to break out from the pack in a unique and differentiated model of "how best we can serve you--the CUSTOMER."


I think I liked Mr. Tobe's article as much as I did because he was preaching what we at the SBDC preach every day to our clients:


(1) R-e-a-l-l-y p-l-a-n, and in the process take a look at your financial picture (income and expenses) in a timeline format (ie month-by-month cash flow). What do you need to do in order to survive expense-wise? If you don't examine your expenses, you won't be able to answer this question at all.


(2) Any new goals lately? Most people put a plan on paper and then forget they ever did it. No review, no measurement, no analysis. Did you even reach previous goals you set? If so, how? What were you doing right? Can you do more of it, maybe in a bigger way? If not, why not? Are you the same-old-same-old to your customers? Are you building great relationships with everyone who comes through your doors? Goals don't have to cost much. Let's say the bus driver wore a different funny hat every day. Heck, I'd want to see what s/he had on the next day and might not ride the subway in order to do so.


(3) Don't become a victim. Again, maybe it's my lack of empathy (I must confess I work on this every day....) but whining isn't going to help. If you don't take your business by the seat of its pants and give it a good shake, no one else is going to be able to help you. There may be tough decisions to be made, but you will have to make them. Don't waste time. Time can be money. Examine what you do with a critical eye and how you might make your customer's experience a bit more inviting....better.


(4) Showcase your strong points. In business and strategic planning lingo, this is called "competitive advantage" or "core competencies". What do you do best? What was the rock, the foundation that your business was built on? How far away from it are you now? Have you lost sight of it? If so, head back full speed to that "what you are noted for" aspect of business management.


It's not hard to realize that most of these things relate directly to the customer--how you treat them, their experience, and what will keep them coming back. Sometimes it's not about price-cutting and discounts. Sometimes it's simply about a smile, a helpful discussion and making them feel like they just won the lottery.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Transition to Organic Grant Opportunity

We recently received notification from the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) of the following grant opportunity geared toward those interested in transitioning to organic production.

The Path-To-Organic Program offers funding to eligible for-profit enterprises that produce farm commodities, including agricultural, horticultural, aquaculture, vegetable, fruit and floricultural products; livestock and meats; poultry and eggs; dairy products; nuts; mushrooms; honey products; and forest products. Application deadline is July 31, 2009. For more info, click on the green title above, or call Jared Grissinger at 1-888-PAGrows.

The PASA website is also keeping track of grant opportunities for farmers. To read more on the opportunities available, click here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Money Money Money Money Money Money Money...

Now....THAT got your attention, didn't it?

We just received information on the SBA's new America's Recovery Capital (ARC) loan program, allowing deferred-payment loans of up to $35,000 to "established, viable, for-profit small businesses." For more information on the loan program, click here.

The ARC program was created as a no-interest, deferred payment loan to help small businesses that have a history of good performance, but as a result of the tough economy, are struggling to make debt payments.

ARC loans will be disbursed within a period of up to six months and will provide funds to be used for payments of principal and interest for existing, qualifying small business debt including mortgages, term and revolving lines of credit, capital leases, credit card obligations and notes payable to vendors, suppliers and utilities. Repayment will not begin until 12 months after the final disbursement. Borrowers don't have to pay interest on ARC loans. After the 12-moth deferral period, borrowers will pay back the loan principal over a period of five years.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

2007 Agricultural Census

Well, the results are in! Yes, the 2007 Agricultural Census is available. Some of the results are not at all surprising to us, and others are enough to win a trivial pursuit game, so we'll share those too.

The Census of Agriculture is conducted by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) every five years. It takes a complete count of U.S. farms and the people who operate them. It also examines land use, operator characteristics, production practices, and farm income/expenditures.

The link above provides data on the PA level, however, you can also obtain data on a national level and county level.

Some of the highlights include:
  • There were 63,163 farms in PA in 2007 (up 9% from 2002).
  • The counties with the largest increase in farms were Montour, Philadelphia, and Wyoming (each up more than 80%).
  • The counties who lost farms were Chester, Lehigh, Susquehanna and Washington (down 9% or more).
  • PA farms sold more than $5.8 billion in agricultural products.
  • 51% of the above sales figure occurred in the counties of Adams, Berks, Chester, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York.
  • Farms with sales between $25,000 to $49,999 increased the fastest (25%).
  • Farms with sales between $50,000 to $99,999 had the largest decrease (20%).
  • 40 of PA's 67 counties gained farmland. The counties with the largest increases? Delaware, Forest and Pike (50% or more).
  • 29 counties lost farmland, among them Susquehanna, Washington and Wayne had the greatest decline (more than 15%).
  • In 2002, the average cost of fuel per acre was $16.20...in 2007 it was $31.45 per acre.
  • PA has 680 organic farms (ranking PA 6th in the nation in terms of organic farming).
  • Women were the principal operators of 8,550 farms (13% of all farms)--an increase of 41% over 2002 figures.
  • 46% of all PA farms have barns built before 1960 (being a barn enthusiast, I find this interesting--just in case you are wondering why I threw it in).
  • 379 farms in PA marketed products through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Lancaster and Chester counties had the most CSAs.
  • Bradford County and Fulton County have more cows than people (this is for the trivial pursuit game).

For more information on the Census of Agriculture, be sure to visit the link above.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Specialty Crop Block Grants Available

Pennsylvania is abundant in produce, horticulture, and many specialty crops, which is why we, as residents, look so forward to the growing season and what it has to offer.

Now the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has something to offer specialty crop producers. A new grant program, authorized under the Farm Bill, is available to "enhance the visibility of specialty crops."

It is estimated that $1 million will be made available for awards. Fruit, vegetable, tree nut, dried fruit, nursery crop and horticulture producers are eligible. Projects should be centered around product promotion, nutrition and consumption knowledge, distribution and marketing, crop research, and/or enhancing food safety.

Applications are due by 4:00 p.m. on June 12th and may be delivered or mailed to to Lela Reichart, Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Market Development, 2301 N. Cameron St., Room 310, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9408.

To download an application, visit www.agriculture.state.pa.us and select the “Specialty Crop Block Grants” link under “What’s New.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

HAPPY EARTH DAY!

Take 10 minutes, sit back and watch this video. I can't say it any better, nor would I try.




Please think about the Earth in all you do!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Can Your Company Cover the Cash Flow Needed for COBRA Under the Stimulus Plan?

As part of the recently approved federal stimulus bill, eligible terminated employees can obtain a 65% discount on COBRA coverage. COBRA allows former employees to continue their health insurance coverage for up to 18 months after separation with their company.

The problem here lies with the company, who must pay the 65% premium (the employee pays the other 35%) and then get reimbursed through a payroll tax credit. The up to three-month reimbursement wait can leave a solid cash flow problem for businesses who may already be experiencing "down" time.

Depending on how many "separated" employees elect COBRA coverage under the 65% discount program, may mean that some businesses may not be able to pay the premiums. This backlash could actually cause companies to lay off even MORE employees, freeze salaries, or begin eliminating or downsizing health benefits for regular employees who remain with the company...all for the sake of being able to pay the premiums.

Employers were required to mail out COBRA notices to eligible employees--who have been laid off since September 1, 2008--by April 18th, 2009. Those who fail to notify are subject to fines of $110 per day per former employee. This regulation affects companies with 20 or more employees. The coverage is retroactive until March 1, 2009.

How the new COBRA rules work:
• The federal government will provide a 65 percent subsidy for up to nine months of the COBRA premium retroactive to March 1 for certain terminated employees.
• To be entitled to the subsidy, employees must have been involuntarily terminated between September 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009, and must be eligible for COBRA.
• A special election period exists for individuals involuntarily terminated on or after last September 1 who had not elected COBRA. They will have 60 more days after receiving the notice to elect coverage, which is retroactive to March 1 if they lost their jobs before then.
• The employer pays the 65 percent on the employee’s behalf and is then reimbursed through a payroll tax credit. Large companies may be reimbursed either weekly or monthly, but smaller employers must file for the credit with their quarterly payroll taxes.
• The employee must pay 35 percent of COBRA before the employer can request reimbursement of the other 65 percent. Employers that do not charge the full COBRA premium will not be entitled to reimbursement of 65 percent of the maximum COBRA premium. (SOURCE: Workforce Management - April 13, 2009)

For more information, click here. For IRS information on COBRA, click here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Slow Money

No, I'm not referring to the credit/banking situation. I'm referring to a very different outlook--an outlook that considers investing in local food systems.

On April 28th, the White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia is sponsoring a Breakfast Talk on Slow Money, from 8:00 - 9:30 a.m. The talk, entitled "Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered," will be given by Woody Tasch, author of "Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money."

Woody Tasch is chairman and president of Slow Money, a 501c3 organization formed in 2008 to focus the investment of capital to small food enterprises and to support sustainable agriculture.

In the typical world of investments, the investors want fast returns. Can investors appreciate small scale, aesthetically pleasing and healthfully balanced investments, which do not necessarily provide fast returns? Woody Tasch is out to prove they can, particulary among the socially-conscious investor set.

With a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, Woody is looking to establish a Slow Money Fund. This fund would be used to invest in early-stage sustainable food enterprises. A venture capitalist, Tasch sites the difference between traditional investments and Slow Money investments as the difference between a 20% profit return in 10-12 years on typical investments, to a profit return of 5-14% in possibly 15 years going the Slow Money route. (For more information on sustainable investing, click here.)

Tod Murphy started Farmers Diner in 1999 in Barre, Vermont. He spends 65 cents of every food dollar with farmers who work and live within a 70-mile radius of his diner. Tod's goal is a national franchise of diners following this model. A Johnson School of Business, Cornell University Social Venture study in 2001/2002, calculated significant social returns from this type of diner establishment as follows: "Every 1,000,000 in annual sales at a diner translates into 350 acres of farmland in production, 15 farmers with gross sales of $50,000, 13 new farm jobs, and $1,200,000 in land conservations costs saved. Local production and shortened delivery routes saves at least 10 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually." (For more information on Farmers Diner, click here.)

If you have the chance to attend the Breakfast Talk, let us know what you thought in the comments below. Here's more information on the event: $15, includes a buffet breakfast with farm fresh eggs, French toast, granola, and more, tax, gratuity and program. Reservations required: 215-386-9224.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Industry Specific Tax Information

Whew! We just got through another tax year this week. Hopefully all of you diligently mailed your taxes on April 15th, or applied for your extensions as needed.

In looking through some of the tax information on the IRS website I found some interesting information I thought I would share, which is good for the WHOLE year and not just at tax time.

The IRS has an area called Industries/Professions which provide you with materials for specific industries. For example, you can find an entire menu of items related to the Agricultural industry, which answers questions such as: How do I report farm income and expenses? Are crop insurance and crop disaster payments taxable? When do I deduct the cost of livestock and other items?

There are various industries covered in this way including: automotive, manufacturing, and the newly revamped construction industry. Check it out.

We also receive many questions on the difference between a C corporation and an S corporation in Pennsylvania. The IRS website not only explains this very well, but has the actual forms available for you to get a good idea of the types of documentation required both during and at the end of each tax year. To read through this information, click here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Common Sense Management

Today features the final blog entry from student submissions. It's written by Caleigh Conahan, an Operations Management Major from Hazleton, PA. Caleigh is a Junior.


The economic conditions have unveiled to the public what I like to call "the two faces of management."

First, there is the 9-5 manager who is not concerned with his/her employees or the betterment of his/her company, rather he/she believes by showing up to the office his/her job is done and pay deserved.

Second, there is the manager who has always been--or developed into--the innovative leader.

It is obvious that what management needs, especially in these current economic conditions, is a manager that is willing to go above and beyond to drive his/her company through the recession. Despite all the selfish and negative aspects that have been surfacing in the news these past months, I have been able to witness a manager of a small company that has devoted his full effort to becoming an ideal manager. The manager I know runs a small air freight company here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and although the company is not booming, as in past years, they are surviving by "common sense" management.

First, the manager accredits cost saving by asking employees to pitch in and help the company. The manager asked employees if they would mind cutting their paid lunch breaks by a half-hour (on a voluntary basis), once or twice a week, if the employer would buy the lunch. This has proven effective because, not only is the company getting more work accomplished, but the employees are also saving because they do not have to buy their lunch.

Second, management has cut back on redundant meetings with employees which involved tasks lists. Instead management hosts a monthly meeting and asks employees to dtrop any suggestions to improve the work environment into the suggestion box. Management was surprised to see not only suggestions in the suggestion box, but encouragement to keep up the improvements and changes.

Third, management realized that they must make cutbacks. Management executed the cutbacks by limiting the number of conferences employees attend to two for the year, and will only send one employee per conference. The employees are chosen to attend by those who have the least days called off and the best customer feedback. This incentive, of being able to go to a conference, has encouraged employees to work harder.

Overall, these are examples of three simple things done by management in this particular company to improve the workforce. I think that simplicity will become even more apparent in these economic times. Once managers realize that it only takes a few simple steps to improve the workforce, maybe our economy will see the start of a turn around.

For some additional information on this topic visit the following sites:
http://www.management-issues.com/display_page.asp?section=opinion&id=5201

http://trendsupdates.com/during-recession-is-a-manager-more-useful-than-a-leader/

Not Documented, Not Done

Today's blog features Nicole Cruciani. Nicole is a Junior Marketing Major from Clarks Summit, PA.

The title of this blog represents everything I do every day at my job. "Not documented, not done"--so simple, yet so complex. Seems so formal and time consuming, however, the time and money that it can save is tremendous, and unfortunately, constantly overlooked. At the young age of 21, I've already been exposed to some of the realities of life, one being that documented support of an argument--whether it be a research paper, or dealings with an insurance company, is crucially important. The practice of "not documented, not done" can essentially save many managers in today's recession economy.

What can four silly words do to bolster the reputation and integrity of managers? Simply put--everything! Managers should be tracking and recording everything that's essential to the company, their employees, and employee performance. When it comes time for reports to be given, or employees to be laid off, these managers should have detailed, documented information to support their decisions.

Sadly enough, many managers do not keep their notes updated and are reaping the negative effects. It's almost an ironic situation, because (in a way) managers are mismanaging themselves. (For more documentation to support this claim, see the article from Workforce Management.)

I've seen what becomes of undocumented information. Companies today need to enforce within their management staff how important it is to have clear, concise evidence as to why certain decisions were made, especially when it comes to laying off employees, as has been the trend during this recession. Like the health profession, when a medical malpractice law suit is filed, doctors and staff need to have been staying on top of the documentation! (Instructor's Note: The medical profession, specifically the nursing field, is responsible for the "not documented, not done" mantra, a staple of their industry for years.)

"Not documented, not done." Repeat it to yourself a few times and it will stick with you forever. Let's get our managers out of a rut by incorporating this simple phrase into everyday business. If an inexperienced college student, such as myself, can manage documentation, let's hope the real managers catch on. If not, we'll most likely continue on down this spiral path of loss, turmoil, headache, and essentially being "not done."

And The Winners Are...

A few blog spots ago I mentioned the fact that 41 University of Scranton Management 351 students had submitted potential material for this blog, based on an assignment entitled: Management Issues in an Economic Downturn. The top three, which best "fit" the style of this blog, as well as stuck to the topic, have now been selected and will appear over the course of the next three days.


Today we feature Christopher Baginski's blog entry. Christopher is a Junior Accounting Major from Wallington, NJ.


I am quite sure that we all know about the devastating economic recession that has recently plagued our country. The stock market has taken a tremendous tumble, at one point falling 50% below its previous peak. This has caused terrible problems throughout the world. These problems extend to each and every one of us personally. In addition, this downturn has greatly affected businesses, especially in the areas of management and human resourcs.

Businesses measure success by production and profit. Production here is the key. Production leads to profit. So it comes as no surprise that many business leaders dedicate much time, energy and thought to find ways--or to create situations--where productivity can be enhanced. One such way to enhance productivity and profit is to increase employee morale.

It is a commonly held belief in many companies and amongst many executives that happy employees work harder and more efficiently. The task of increasing employee morale falls to the managers and human resources departments of companies. In the past, when the economic outlook was much brighter, managers didn't have to do a great deal to make employees happy. They were to show employees respect, build friendly relationships with them, and perhaps compensate them (increase/bonus) for good work.

However, we are no longer in good times and the demands of employees have shifted. Managers must now face different issues and work much harder to maintain employee morale. The results of a poll about employees' concerns in the downturn done in November 2008 were featured in the February 2009 edition of Workforce Magazine in an article entitled "HR in the Downturn."

The poll listed the impact of the recession on retirement plan investments as the most significant concern of employees. Also mentioned as concerns of employees were the impact on the organization overall, job security, and the impact on employee merit increases in the coming year.

(Instructor's Note: To add to Chris' blog entry, follow up with a trip to this on-line article on the impact of recession on employee communications.)

While in my Intermediate Macroeconomics class the other day, my teacher said that when people worry about their nest egg, they stop spending, start saving, and the economy goes into a stall. This statement is supported by this poll. People are afraid that they will spend their "golden years" at work. They are also constantly afraid of losing their jobs. Without income steadily flowing into the household, what will they save, and more importantly, how will they survive?

This is where the effect on the field of management can be seen. Managers are spending more and more time assuring their employees that their jobs and their pensions are safe. Several human resource departments are holding seminars for employees designed to educate them about financial planning, focusing specifically on managing retirement plans. With extra time being dedicated to allaying fears of employees, managers are now faced with the difficulty of maintaining production levels and employee morale. These challenges are a direct product of the economic recession and a perfect example of how the management field has been affected by it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What is rBGH and Why Should You Care?

Genetically engineered Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone is a mouthful, and that's just what you could be getting a mouthful of if you don't have clear and concise labeling on your milk products.

Both the General Accounting Office and the Consumer's Union have warned of potential hazards to human health caused by consuming products from rBGH-treated cows. BGH is banned in Europe and Canada. If you'd like more information on this hormone, you can find it here and for a more technical look at the issue, go here.

So why are we bringing it to your attention? As you know we run two Agribusiness and Food Specialty Centers and have become a part of a wide network of farmers across the Commonwealth who truly care about your health and knowledge of how to stay healthy. An entire movement dedicated to local food and growers, the Buy Fresh Buy Local initiative, also promotes putting a face on your food, knowing whom you buy it from, and taking advantage of local produce and commodities in season. For more on the Buy Fresh Buy Local effort, visit: http://www.buylocalpa.org/, then click on the region you are interested in on the map provided.

Recently we were made aware that the Kansas State legislature passed a bill restricting how much information consumers get about the milk they buy. The legislature in that state wants to restrict rBGH-FREE labeling. A bill in Kansas may not mean much to you right now, but could easily become a part of our own state's agenda at some point down the line. Governor Kathleen Sebelius can still veto the bill. The Governor is President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, the agency that houses the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has national rules for rBGH-FREE labeling which have worked well in the past. It has been suggested by Food and Water Watch that the new bill would "water down existing national labeling by requiring a misleading disclaimer on all rBGH-free labels" and that the legislation would place "a financial burden on small dairy producers." It would also "force national producers to have different labels for Kansas, than the rest of the country."

Our job is to keep you informed, so we present this issue here for all of our PA Dairy farmers, who are already struggling with milk pricing issues. 95% of U.S. Dairy farmers have boycotted use of rBGH.

We will keep you posted on what transpires in this area in the future.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Attention ALL EMPLOYERS!

All U.S. employers are required to complete and keep a file copy of the Form I-9 for every person hired within the United States, whether a citizen or non-citizen hire. This form allows the employer to examine the eligibility for employment within the U.S., and verification documents as presented by each person hired.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has a great blow-by-blow of the I-9 requirement, including access to the form itself.

The I-9 Form was recently revised on 2/2/09 in order to revise the list of acceptable documents submitted as part of the I-9 process. From this point forward any documents which have expired will not be acceptable to the process. Previous forms of the I-9 can no longer be used.

Remember that the I-9 process takes place AFTER you have made your selection in the hiring process and an offer has been accepted. On the employee's first day of work, all HR paperwork is completed, with the I-9 being a part of that paperwork. You must retain the I-9 form in your files for three years.

Friday, April 3, 2009

American Recorvery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

It's been a bit of time since we first heard this Act title mentioned. I thought I'd surf the web and see what's being said about the Act.

Senator Harry Reid, from Nevada, has the best explanation of the monies funneled to different areas and how that specifically affects the State of Nevada. My hat is off to him and his staff for being proactive, and getting this out in an understandable way for all concerned.

The SBA's Kansas City District Office has a great PDF piece--which is succinct, concise and understandable--which you can read through here (note, it is very general--so what you read there applies to PA as well).

I highly recommend the umbrella site RECOVERY.gov which is updated regularly and has a wealth of information for all affected by the stimulus and business stabilization programs.

Finally, here is a good outline of what faces SBA as it creates its new Business Stabilization Loan program as mandated by Congress.

I am hoping one of our own legislators takes on the task of putting out a "How ARRA Affects PA" document. I could not find a single source for this information. If you do, please let us know in the comments section.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Something For Everyone

I've been in sunny Florida, which does the heart good when you live in winter-until-May Northeastern Pennsylvania. While there I accumulated a number of topics and corresponding information from SBDC staff and others I'd like to share.

Someday I'll do a blog on customer service and the airline industry....but this isn't the day!

(1) For those who asked...we are still waiting for the specifics on the Business Stabilization Loans to come out of SBA as a result of the stimulus package. As soon as we obtain the information (I have contacted our Philadelphia District Office and let them know we would like to receive that information as soon as possible) we will post all of the data and "how to's" on this blog. Stay tuned in!

(2) Keith Yurgosky found this website, which confirms everything we always say about business planning in a five-step-or-less-format. My only concern....the writer did not recommend the SBDCs as your source for business planning assistance. To read the quick "reasons for" site, click here.

(3) Theresa Kaplan did alot of searching for a client recently on the topic of NEW REGULATIONS FOR HOME IMPROVEMENT CONTRACTORS IN PA. She contacted the Attorney General's office after finding very good information on their site, asking if we might post that information to this blog.

Thank you to the Attorney General's office in Pennsylvania for allowing us to do so!

Here are the FAQs which appear on the site. The responses are too lengthy to post here, so you can go directly to the site by clicking here to read the responses.

The Office of Attorney General has prepared this document to answer commonly asked questions about Pennsylvania's Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act. This document highlights key areas of the law-it is not, however, a complete explanation of the statute and is not a legal opinion. We recommend that you carefully review the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act and consult with a private attorney if you have any questions about the law or need legal advice.
  • What is the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act?
  • What is a home improvment?
  • Is new home building included in the law?
  • Whis is a home improvement contractor?
  • Who must register under the law?
  • How do I register?
  • What information is required to register?
  • When do contractors need to register?
  • Does every employee of a home improvement business need to register?
  • What if a contractor fails to register?
  • Does the law contain a "grandfather" clause for businesses that have been doing work for a long time or do they still need to register?
  • How long are registrations valid?
  • Does someone who only does a few jobs a year need to register?
  • Do subcontractors who are paid directly by a general contractor and who never enter into contracts with consumers need to register?
  • Do hardware stores or businesses that supply products and equipment used in home improvements need to register?
  • Must landscapers register?
  • Do building superintendents or the maintenance staff for apartment buildings, condominiums, or community associations need to register?
  • Do engineers, architects, land surveyros, electrical contractors, master plumbers, locksmiths, burglar alarm businesses, fire alarm businesses and similar businesses need to register?
  • Do contractors need to show their registration to their customers or display the registration in their business?
  • Do contractors need to display their registration number on their vehicles?
  • Is there an exemption for work performed by or on behalf of a charity or a non-profit corporation?
  • Does the law aply to home improvements done on commercial properties?
  • Does the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act affect the licensing or registration of home improvement contractors by counties, cities or towns?
  • Are there additional requirements in the act besides the registration requirement?
  • Does the law apply to out-of-state contractors?

All the info on the regulation, including a link to the online registration as well as to a PDF of the registration form are found at http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/hic.aspx.

A PDF of the Act itself is located here.

To register, click here.

(4) AND FINALLY, students from the Kania School of Management's Management 351 class, Section 1, will be competing to appear on this blog in the next week. Forty-one students have an assignment to read through the blog and create their own blog entry on the issues facing management in a downturn economy. The top three blog entries will be posted here on three consecutive days. We are encouraging our students to participate as much as possible in analyzing the economic issues facing ALL businesses in today's environment. Check in to see who made it to the blog!

Enjoy your weekend!

Monday, March 23, 2009

What's Happening Out There With Small Business Lenders?

A client recently called the office and told me that their long-standing revolving line of credit, which they used sparingly and payed down immediately after use, was pulled by their bank with no notification or explanation. He found out about it because he tried to use the line, only to have someone at the bank tell him the line had been revoked.

Wondering if this was happening to other clients, I checked into our network of 18 SBDCs across the State of PA. The answer is "YES." Other SBDCs have also had clients contact them to relate a tale much like the one above.

I decided to do some research to see if we could answer why this is happening. Here's what I found.

A Senate Hearing held on Thursday, March 19, might give us a clue. To read the article on the results of that hearing, click here.

And here is an interesting piece on SBA's emergency business loans--up to $35,000 to pay down debt. Most debt, except for an existing SBA loan, qualifies.

Finally, here is a great little piece on how to up your chances of getting a loan! To read it, click here.

Happy Monday!

Friday, March 13, 2009

HR 875: The Food Safety Modernization Act

The Scranton SBDC is a member of PASA, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. Recently, as a listserve member, the following information was provided, which may be of interest to our agriculture and food-oriented clients. We have PASA's permission to provide you with the information through our Blog. The original data comes from Food and Water Watch, which I'll discuss at the end of this entry.

PASA Members: The following information about a bill now before Congress, HR 875, was developed by our friends at Food and Water Watch, and forwarded to us by the National Sustainable Ag Coalition (NSAC), of which PASA is a member. This Myth/Fact sheet was developed to help answer some of the rumors that are fairly rampant on the Internet right now. We will keep a close eye on the situation, and share further updates from NSAC as they become available.

Myths and Facts: HR 875 - The Food Safety Modernization Act


MYTH: H.R. 875 “makes it illegal to grow your own garden” and would result in the “criminalization of the backyard gardner.”
FACT: There is no language in the bill that would regulate, penalize, or shut down backyard gardens. This bill is focused on ensuring the safety of foods sold in supermarkets.

MYTH: H.R. 875 would mean a “goodbye to farmers markets” because the bill would “require such a burdensome complexity of rules, inspections, licensing, fees, and penalties for each farmer who wishes to sell locally - a fruit stand, at a farmers market.”
FACT: There is no language in the bill that would result in farmers markets being regulated, penalized any fines, or shut down. Farmers markets would be able to continue to flourish under the bill. In fact, the bill would insist that imported foods meet strict safety standards to ensure that unsafe imported foods are not competing with locally-grown foods.

MYTH: H.R. 875 would result in the “death of organic farming.”
FACT: There is no language in the bill that would stop organic farming. The National Organic Program (NOP) is under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Food Safety Modernization Act only addresses food safety issues under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

MYTH: The bill would implement a national animal ID system.
FACT: There is no language in the bill that would implement a national animal ID system. Animal identification issues are under the jurisdiction of the USDA. The Food Safety Modernization Act addresses issues under the jurisdiction of the FDA.

MYTH: The bill is supported by the large agribusiness industry.
FACT: No large agribusiness companies have expressed support for this bill. This bill is being supported by several Members of Congress who have strong progressive records on issues involving farmers markets, organic farming, and locally-grown foods. Also, H.R. 875 is the only food safety legislation that has been supported by all the major consumer and food safety groups, including:
  • Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention
  • Center for Science in the Public Interest
  • Consumer Federation of America
  • Consumers Union
  • Food & Water Watch
  • The Pew Charitable Trusts
  • Safe Tables Our Priority
  • Trust for America’s Health

MYTH: The bill will pass the Congress next week without amendments or debate. FACT: Food safety legislation has yet to be considered by any Congressional committee.

If you haven't checked out Food and Water Watch's website, you may want to make it one of your favorites. Even if you are not presently farming, there are a number of good, solid resources for consumers as well.

Food and Water Watch is a nonprofit organization whose mission statement (to "ensure clean water and safe food") is a simple one. Newsletters covering the aspects of water protection (Currents) and food protection (Food Alert) are archived on the site for review. There are links to a Blog list and a Consumer Tools list on the home page. It's worth your while to investigate what the site has to offer.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Follow Up on the Stimulus and SBA

I wanted to follow up with our friends at SBA on which items, specifically, we should be aware of that are relevant to small business owners in terms of translating the stimulus package to action.

John Banks, Lead Business Development Specialist in the Philadelphia District Office, was kind enough to spend some time creating an informative email to me, outlining exactly what the American Recovery Reinvestment Act has in store to stimulate lending. John has given me permission to copy his email thoughts to this Blog. You will find them below.

90 Percent Guarantee
The bill allows SBA to raise its loan guarantee from the current levels to as much as 90 percent for some loans. At present, SBA can guarantee loans up to 85 percent on loans up to $150,000, and up to 75 percent on loans greater than $150,000. The 50 percent guarantee on SBA Express loans would remain unchanged. Increasing the SBA guarantee percentage will encourage lenders to extend more capital to small businesses by increasing the share covered by an SBA guarantee.

Business Stabilization Loans
The bill creates a new SBA loan program to provide deferred-payment loans of up to $35,000 to viable small businesses that need the money to make payments on an existing, qualifying loan for up to six months. These loans will be 100 percent guaranteed by SBA. Repayment would not have to begin until 12 months after the loan is fully disbursed. The bill provides $255 million for this new program. These loans will help ensure that small businesses have time to re-focus their business plans in order to succeed in the long run.

Microloans
The bill expands SBA’s Microloan program, which provides small loans (up to $35,000) paired with technical assistance to start-up, newly established or growing small businesses. The bill provides funding to increase loans from SBA to participating Microlenders by $50 million through September 30, 2010, and adds $24 million in grants to provide technical assistance to borrowers. Historically, these loans reach low-income individuals, women and minorities in both rural and urban areas. Expanding this program through the stimulus bill will help ensure these entrepreneurs are not left behind in the credit crunch.

Refinancing
The bill also gives SBA the power to use the 504 Certified Development Company program to refinance existing loans for fixed assets, providing fresh support for small business expansion. This change will help business owners expand their current development projects and create jobs in their communities.

Secondary Market Expansion
The bill authorizes SBA to establish a secondary market for pools of “first lien” loans under the 504 program. These “first lien” loans from commercial lenders currently have no SBA guarantee. The bill authorizes SBA to deploy federal guarantees for pools of these first lien loans, so that they can be sold to investors in a secondary market. Providing liquidity for these first mortgages will help encourage lenders to continue participating in SBA’s 504 loan program, which provides a key source of capital for community development and other projects.

The bill also empowers SBA to set up a Secondary Market Lending Authority that would make direct loans to broker-dealers that participate in the secondary market for SBA-guaranteed 7(a) loans. These broker-dealers would use the funds to purchase SBA-backed loans from commercial lenders, assemble them into pools and sell them to investors in the secondary loan market. This program may help address some of the issues facing the secondary market for SBA loans and may ultimately help SBA lenders make new loans to borrowers.

Investment Program
The bill helps SBA-licensed Small Business Investment Companies (SBICs) and families of SBIC funds better leverage the capital they use to invest in small businesses. The bill sets maximum levels of funding the agency can provide to these companies at up to three times the private capital raised by those companies, or $150 million, whichever is less. It also raises the percentage any one SBIC can invest in a single small business to 10 percent of total capital, and raises from 20 percent to 25 percent the percentage of any licensee’s dollar investments that must be made in “smaller” businesses.

Surety Bonds
The bill also raises the maximum contract amount that can be covered by an SBA guaranteed surety bond from $2 million to $5 million, and, under certain circumstances, for contracts amounting to $10 million, and provides additional funds to cover the costs of expanding this program. Small businesses need surety bonds in order to bid on and obtain many federal and other contracts. SBA guarantees surety bonds to small businesses that private surety companies would not otherwise be able to extend.