Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

Mobile e-commerce

You’re on your way to a sales meeting when your phone beeps. You have an urgent e-mail from the office, your favorite stock is at a record high and you were just outbid in an online auction for a collectible Swiss watch.

You sell the stock and up your bid, all using only your phone.

Far-fetched? Hardly. It’s all possible now, and you’ll being seeing more of it. The only question is how many devices and which applications will stick, and which will not.

If you’re trying to determine which wireless weapon to add to your road warrior armory, you might want to consider a digital phone. A recent report by Mark Zohar of Forrester Research predicts that digital wireless phones will be the big winners of the mobile device race because:

Users reject mutant devices. Users will choose one device that is optimized for the primary function of making phone calls but also offers new data features.

Alternate devices are capped. Mobile consumers won’t carry around a utility pack of multiple devices. Other devices, such as wireless PDAs and video terminals that don’t provide the mobility or core voice function that mobile consumers demand, will remain niche products.

The information provided by these devices will also be simple in nature, and get to the point quickly. Zohar says users will demand devices that:

Provide timely information. Mobile consumers will want to receive customized information that is timely and time-sensitive. Consumers will not spend the time to read general news on their phones when they can do that at the office.

Enable simple transactions. Consumers won’t use their phones to conduct complex and time-consuming transactions like ordering a new computer or researching products. Rather, they will focus on simple transactions that are easily actionable.

Are location relevant. By 2001, wireless carriers will implement Automatic Location Identification technologies, including GPS solutions from SnapTrack and SiRF. Content providers such as MapQuest will capitalize on these technologies to provide personal navigational services. With a simple query, smart Yellow Pages will locate the nearest Hilton hotel or Vietnamese restaurant.

Personal information, including credit card numbers, will be pre-entered and stored. Users can choose who they receive alerts from and be notified accordingly. For example, Ticketmaster might alert you when your favorite artist schedules a concert in your area and enable you to purchase tickets with the touch of a button.

You can also expect instant messaging, similar to what online providers AOL and Yahoo! offer on the computer, to move over to phones as well.

This means you’ll have more and more of the features you have on your office computer contained — albeit in a simpler format — on your mobile phone. E-commerce will be in the palm of your hand no matter where you are — airport, sales conference or lunch.

Other predictions by Zohar include:

Billing will become profitable. Customers and merchants seeking simple and secure methods of payment for mobile e-commerce will turn to carriers for the solution. Customers will be able to add their purchases to their wireless bill, and have the carrier act as the billing and collections agent for the merchant.

New safety issues will arise. Israel and Spain already ban the use of cell phones while driving and Japan is in the process of implementing such as law. As mobile Internet services emerge, pressure will mount on U.S. state and federal governments to ban the use of mobile phones in cars. To avoid new legislative action, the wireless industry will roll out voice XML services that will let consumers use voice access to browse Internet content on a hands-free basis.

How to reach: Forrester Research, www.forrester.com

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

Healthclips

Depressed about the flu

Experiencing an illness, such as the flu, causes psychological stress that can make people feel mildly depressed. It can also trigger depression in those who are prone to it.

“If someone is already depressed, that person is less likely to take care of themselves, such as getting a flu vaccine,” said Dr. Toby Goldsmith, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Florida. “Like any stress, the stress associated with being ill, such as missing work, may trigger depression in someone who is prone to depression.”

Goldsmith said a study shows those who are chronically stressed do not respond to the flu vaccine as well as others, and may be more vulnerable to the flu.

Warning signs can indicate if you are heading down a slippery slope toward being overstressed and include not sleeping well, fatigue and avoiding your usual day-to-day activities, such as watching television and eating.

If you are not back to your normal routine one month after having the flu, Goldsmith recommends talking with your physician to make sure something else might not be causing your symptoms. Source: Dr.Koop.com

Stress kills

A recent study by Canadian scientists showed that highly stressed heart patients did not respond as well as others to medication for angina and chest pain. The American Heart Association says patients with heart failure should take steps to reduce and manage stress to reduce strain on their hearts.

Of stress management in general, though, the American Heart Association (AHA) says that “the available data do not yet support specific recommendations for its use as a proven [prevention or treatment] for heart disease.”

How you cope with stressful situations may make a difference, especially if you habitually react to stress in ways that feed physically harmful emotions such as chronic hostility. Stress management is not about avoiding stress but, rather, learning to manage its recurring effects.

Everyone who drives gets cut off in traffic now and then and gets a burst of adrenaline produced by fear or anger. Some people can quickly relax and return to a normal physical state. Others stew about the incident, and make things worse by discussing it with others who share their hostility and feed it with stories of their own.

In heart failure, the heart muscle is weakened and the patient needs to take care not to make it work harder than necessary. It’s important to reduce physical symptoms of stress — a pounding heart and heavy breathing — as much as possible. Though avoiding all stress may be impossible, you may be able to adjust your activities to avoid stress triggers such as rush-hour traffic or long hours at work. Source: Lifescape.com

Smokers die

While cigarette smoking has been well established as a major cause of heart disease and stroke, some studies have suggested that its harmful effects are muted in smokers with low cholesterol levels.

Now, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that cigarette smoking significantly increases the risk of these diseases — even in low-cholesterol populations.

Look in the bottom drawer

Don’t skip meals. Eat a variety of foods every four or five hours. Keep snacks such as power bars, trail mix or dried fruits handy to fill in when time doesn’t permit a real meal.

Breathing uneasy

For some people, asthma is a minor annoyance — just a cough or two after they run. For others, it’s a life-threatening condition they live with every day. The number of cases is on the rise — more than 17 million people in the U.S. have the disease, an increase of more than 75 percent since 1980. As the number of patients has risen, so have the larger consequences of the disease.

Today, asthma is one of the top reasons for hospitalization of children, causing kids to miss more than 10 million school days a year and adults to miss 3 million days at work. It is responsible for more than 10 million doctor visits a year and will be responsible for more than 5,600 deaths this year, more than twice as many as 20 years ago.

Smoke is not a nutrient

Secondhand smoke, also called passive smoking, can have terrible effects on kids. Children who are exposed to smoke have more ear infections, asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis and a respiratory virus called RSV than children of nonsmokers. Children exposed to smoke have lower lung capacity and slower lung development than unexposed children, says Dr. Nancy Snyderman.

Over the long term, these kids are at increased risk of developing lung cancer and other conditions associated with smoking and stand a much greater chance of becoming smokers themselves.

Many parents may be unwilling or unable to quit smoking. But if they understand the dangers to their child, they may at least be willing to stop smoking around their children and inside the home.

The piercing truth

The American Dental Association doesn’t sugarcoat its opposition to oral piercing, which it deems a public health hazard. In fact, oral piercing would be obsolete if the decision rested solely in the hands of the ADA, according to Dr. Gary C. Armitage, a dentist and chairman of the ADA’s Council on Scientific Affairs.

That the topic had a place on the agenda of the group’s 139th annual session, held recently in pierce-happy San Francisco, says a mouthful about the widespread popularity of the practice, even among folks who floss every day. Oral piercing can result in a number of adverse oral and systemic conditions, according to the ADA.

Common symptoms after piercing include pain, swelling, infection, increased salivary flow and gum injury. In addition to the risk of infection, which is especially high due to the vast amounts of bacteria in the mouth, problems include airway obstruction after swallowing jewelry, prolonged bleeding, chipped or cracked teeth after biting jewelry, scar tissue, speech impediment and interference with X-rays.

The ADA joins other venerable medical institutions and organizations that have seen fit to address a wide range of concerns about puncturing body parts, including — but by no means limited to — ears, eyes, mouths and noses, as well as necks, nipples, navels and sundry genitalia.

The American Academy of Dermatology has taken a position against all forms of body piercing with one exception: the ear lobe. Skin specialists cited nickel allergies, cyst formations, chronic local infections and granulation tissue (fleshy bumps that form during the healing process of some wounds) as reasons not to pierce.

The ear lobe has been singled out because it's made of fibro-fatty tissue and has a good blood supply, which is crucial in case infection sets in, says Dr. Ronald Wheeland, a Santa Fe dermatologist. The piercing sites deemed especially problematic by the academy involve cartilage which, once infected, can whither and shrink because of a paltry blood supply, and complex tissue structures such as the nipples, which are more than simple skin and fatty layers.

The uncomplicated navel, although it has no ducts like the nipple or cartilage like the nose, has not received the same tacit approval from the academy as the ear lobe. However, individual doctors seem not to be as concerned about piercing the umbilicus as they are about other body parts.

As a precaution against the transmission of blood-borne diseases, the U.S. and Canadian Red Cross won’t accept blood donations from anyone who has had a body piercing or tattoo within a year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have deemed nonsterile piercing a serious health risk.

Although HIV transmission is a theoretical possibility — the virus that causes AIDS dies at room temperature — hepatitis is the real worry. Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted in as little as 0.00004 milliliter of blood and can survive on blood-contaminated surfaces, such as instruments and doorknobs.

Cancer or clueless?

An estimated 4 to 6 percent of a doctor’s patients are considered hypochondriacs, says Dr. Brian Fallon, an associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in New York and co-author of “Phantom Illness: Shattering the Myths of Hypochondria.”

For them, a headache is not caused by stress, but a brain tumor. Fatigue is not attributable to a poor night’s sleep, but AIDS. In a desperate quest to reassure themselves, they may visit doctor after doctor. Even after tests rule out a particular disease, they feel little relief.

The new wonder drug.

A recent study suggests that vitamin C may actually help people with hypertension, or high blood pressure.

A report in a recent issue of the Lancet, an international medical journal published in Britain, presents the results of a small trial of vitamin C as a treatment for high blood pressure. Researchers from the Boston University Medical School and Oregon State University studied the effect of daily 500-milligram doses of vitamin C on the blood pressure of 39 people with high blood pressure.

The study subjects included 20 women and 19 men who were approximately 48 years old. At the beginning of treatment, their systolic blood pressure, measured when the heart contracts to pump blood, averaged 155 millimeters of mercury. Their diastolic pressure, measured between heart contractions, was about 87 millimeters of mercury. A person is considered hypertensive if his or her systolic pressure is greater than 140 millimeters and diastolic pressure is greater than 90 millimeters.

Patients were randomly assigned to receive either the daily dose of vitamin C or a placebo. Neither the researchers nor the subjects knew which pills were given to which patient.

Subjects took the pills for one month, after which their blood pressure and vitamin C blood levels were measured. As expected, vitamin C supplementation significantly increased the vitamin’s blood levels. In addition, there was a significant decrease of 13 millimeters of mercury in the systolic pressure of subjects taking vitamin C. Those who received vitamin C also had a small decrease in their diastolic blood pressure, but this decrease was not statistically significant. The greater the change in the blood level of vitamin C, the greater the decrease in blood pressure.

How about a friendly wager?

The following signs and symptoms indicate compulsive gambling:

  • increasing the frequency and the amount of money gambled;

  • spending the majority of free time thinking about gambling;

  • spending an excessive amount of time gambling at the expense of personal or family time;

  • being preoccupied with gambling or with obtaining money with which to gamble;

  • feeling a sense of euphoria, an aroused sense of action or a high from gambling;

  • continuing to gamble despite negative consequences such as large losses, or work or family problems;

  • gambling as a means to cope with uncomfortable feelings;

  • “chasing,” or the urgent need to keep gambling, often with larger bets or greater risks to make up for losses;

  • borrowing money to gamble, taking out secret loans or maximizing credit cards;

  • bragging about wins but not talking about losses;

  • frequent mood swings — higher when winning, lower when losing;

  • gambling for longer periods of time with more money than originally planned;

  • lying or secretive behavior to cover up extent of gambling. Source: Drkoop.com.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

Dealing with catastrophe

Robert Thompson walked into the small manufacturing plant and was amazed.

“This company did some very, very technical types of manufacturing,” says Thompson, COO of Complient Services Group, an organization that provides solutions to workplace compliance issues. “This was a beautiful, pristine, gorgeous facility. You’d walk in there and you’d think it was the safest place in the world.”

It wasn’t. An audit by a Complient safety inspectors revealed serious OSHA violations, not the least of which was a lack of an updated emergency preparedness plan, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirement.

“There are all kinds of emergencies,” Thompson says. “But there are four major categories: weather, nonweather, fire and medical emergency. The types of emergencies are almost unlimited. You can’t be perfect, but you need a prudent and reasonable system for your employees to prevent injuries.”

But in the normal course of a business day, many people take basic safety issue for granted, focusing instead on larger issues, such as whether noxious fumes are escaping in the plant or whether safety rails are properly secured.

“People, in many instances, think that they’re complying with OSHA by posting something on the bulletin board or making sure that they’ve got a written document somewhere, or maybe they’ve shown a safety training videotape,” Thompson says. “All those are elements of a program, but people really should think in terms of having an effective program. And having an effective program is getting a perspective and understanding all the things that you’re required to do and understand how it fits your workplace.”

Every preparedness plan must incorporate four components — a written preparedness program; an employee alarm system to alert employees in the event of an emergency; identification of the types of evacuation used in an emergency; and the training of a sufficient number of persons to assist in safe and orderly evacuation.

This was missing at the manufacturing plant.

“In order to make these little tiny parts out of metal, they had to use a lot of very sophisticated machinery to do it,” Thompson says. “And some of the machinery that they had was very high quality machinery that had been manufactured maybe 40 years ago. These machines, even though they ran well and they did what they were supposed to do, didn’t have some of the safety (devices) on them. They weren’t required 40 years ago.”

There were no shields to protect fingers, hair or clothing from getting caught in spinning cogs or rotating drive belts.

The company had other problems as well. As the business grew, its electrical needs increased. Instead of laying the proper conduits and grounded receptacles, it had simply run heavy-duty extension cords.

It was one of those “things that you learned when you were a kid,” Thompson says. “You’re not supposed to put 15 plugs in an outlet. It will overheat and blow up and potentially cause a fire. It had become so common that they were doing this that they really didn’t notice it anymore.”

That attitude is not unusual, he says.

“It requires a lot of discipline and it requires constant vigilance to ensure a safe workplace,” Thompson warns. “And in some cases, it isn’t high on the list, because people are busy doing other things or distracted. Somebody has to be responsible for safety in the workplace and you want to get that responsibility down to every employee.

“You want everybody to understand that management is concerned about safety in the workplace. And you want the employees to understand that management cares and wants them to care about safety in the workplace.”

If that manufacturing plant did have an emergency, even a minor one, it wouldn’t have been prepared.

“They had a first aid kit,” Thompson recalls. “And there were like three Band Aids, some adhesive tape and a tube of ointment that had been expired for two years. Did they do that because they were mean, bad people? No. They used up the stuff and it wasn’t somebody’s job to go take care of the first aid kit.

“It’s not going to do you any good if somebody slices their hand. What are you going to do? Wrap a dirty rag around it?”

There are other considerations that affect the health of employees, but most people don’t think about the consequences.

“If something bad happens in the workplace, it’s not only going to injure somebody, or perhaps that person will lose their life; what’s going to happen is that it’s going to lower morale, it’s going to lower productivity and it’s going to raise insurance costs,” Thompson says. “There are lots of other things that you don’t really think about. If you have an effective program, people feel that they’ve been trained well, that management cares, and if something does happen and it’s responded to in the appropriate way, they’re going to think, ‘Hey this is great. We did the right thing.’

“People want to do the right thing.”

Thompson suggests that companies bring in a safety expert to complete an audit of the facilities, both internally and externally. It’s important to know not only what hazards your employees face in your workplace, but hazards your neighbors may pose, as well, that might have an effect your operations.

“It’s a real easy thing to not be aware,” Thompson says. “But not being aware isn’t an excuse, particularly if something happens and people don’t respond to it properly.”

How to reach: Complient Service Group, (440) 498-8800

Daniel G. Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

Caller RIP

In the good old days of market research, it used to take a small army of telephone operators calling hundreds of numbers and a flotilla of survey takers drifting through the local mall to get a good sample.

But no more. Technology, as it has so many times in the past, is rapidly making telephone surveys as outdated as eight-track tapes.

“It has to do with the fact that it’s harder and harder to talk to people on the phone,” says Amy Yoffie, vice president of market research with Research Connections, a firm specializing in Web-based research. “People have answering machines and caller ID, and a lot of people are associating market research with sales calls. Response is going down dramatically.”

As the masses continue adding bricks to their electronic wall to keep out unwanted calls, they are also going online. Companies are inviting customers to fill out surveys via the Web. Retailers are forming virtual focus groups. Marketers are doing more research while spending less.

Companies using the Web get a higher response and higher quality information,” says Yoffie. “People are able to answer the surveys when they want. They can be thoughtful about the questions, as opposed to being interrupted in the middle of dinner.”

Response to telephone surveys can be 40 percent or less. Web surveys fare worse, with only about 20 percent responding to an invitation.

While this should increase as more people go online, consider one important difference: “You don’t have the labor cost of interviewers making phone calls. The cost of doing another increment of interviews is much lower. To do another 100 interviews is a negligible cost compared to the phone.”

So while phone surveys have a better response rate initially, it’s cheaper to do it by Web.

Research firms use a variety of methods to develop a pool of candidates. Some have the general populace fill out their demographic information and invite them to specific surveys for a chance to win cash or other prizes. A company might have an e-mail list of its customers, or a pop-up window can be utilized to entice visitors at a Web site to fill out a survey.

Turnaround time is fairly quick. A survey can be put up overnight, with thousands of invitations sent out simultaneously. A more specific survey, aimed at a narrow demographic group, might take longer — both in designing the survey and finding enough qualified candidates.

Most of the larger online research firms have established pools of people to choose from to invite to take a survey. If a particular population isn’t on file, there are opt-in e-mail lists that can be purchased to meet the need.

So is the phone survey doomed?

“I think there will always be a certain amount of market research done by phone,” says Yoffie. “It may be for hard-to-find populations, like people that don’t have Internet access. I expect within three to five years that the phone survey industry will be cut in half.

“Door-to-door interviews used to be very common, but now are dead. I don’t believe the phone survey will ever be dead, but people that think it will stay at the level it’s at now are kidding themselves.”

How to reach: Research Connections (which has recently been acquired by Talk City), www.researchconnections.com

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

Who’s counting the money?

As the demands of your business grow, you’ll inevitably face important decisions about staffing and managing your accounting department.

And because accounting requires a broad range of skills, addressing all of them can prove tricky.

Many business owners make the mistake of giving one person two levels of responsibility, such as a controller/bookkeeper. The problem with this is that you can wind up with an overqualified and overpaid controller spending an inordinate amount on straightforward bookkeeping tasks. Expecting a bookkeeper to serve as a controller can result in more serious problems.

So how do you build an effective accounting function for your business? First, you must understand the accounting skills your business requires. Next, you need to evaluate the options for addressing these requirements on an ongoing basis — whether by internal staff or outside vendors.

Understanding the skills

Here are four common accounting titles, with descriptions of their usual areas of responsibility:

Bookkeeper — Performs routine accounting tasks, such as posting bills, writing checks, making deposits and preparing invoices.

Staff accountant — Manages the reconciliation of accounts, posting of journal entries and production of monthly statements.

Controller — Oversees the systems and procedures necessary to maintain the checks and balances on accounting processes. This professional typically manages staff and oversees information systems.

Chief financial officer — Maintains a strategic understanding of the business and is responsible for financial planning and cash flow management.

Most business owners act as the controller or CFO during the early stages of growing their businesses. As revenue increases and time becomes more precious, they hire someone to take away the burden of managing the accounting, as well as other administrative responsibilities.

But a competent controller or CFO, who can command a salary of $60,000 to $100,000, may be beyond the budget of many growing businesses.

The options

In evaluating solutions, many business owners and top executives look at whom they need instead of what they need. As a result, they tend to overlook several sensible and workable solutions that can eliminate or minimize the need to hire additional management staff.

Consider the following possibilities:

Get your accounting firm more involved. Your CPA may be able to take a more active role in budgeting, planning and complex accounting transactions. Since these may only need to be addressed a few times a year, it might be more cost effective to use your CPA than to hire a full-time controller or CFO.

Outsource. Services now specialize in a multitude of accounting functions, including payroll, bookkeeping, billing and collections. Outsourcing means fewer people and less technology to manage, which eliminates some of the duties of a controller or CFO.

Hire part-time controllers and CFOs. The number of professionals offering these services continues to grow. From the consultant’s perspective, working with a multitude of clients is the best way to leverage experience. This is also attractive to those who would prefer to pay a premium for a few days of consulting than to hire a full-time person who might prove to be overqualified, underutilized or unduly expensive.

Change your hiring strategy. If your strength isn’t accounting and you need to hire a manager, consider adding a line manager with financial skills instead of a controller or CFO. Companies that outsource their accounting often can assign financial duties to a qualified operations or sales manager. Under this arrangement, the organization is better served by having a person who spends the majority of his or her time building revenue or servicing customers.

In the tight labor market, your business can’t afford staffing mistakes in accounting. The best hiring decision you make may be the one you avoid.

By closely evaluating all of your of your options, you can arrive at the right accounting solution for your business.

Thomas S. Joseph is president and CEO of Bookminders Inc., which provides specialized bookkeeping and other computer-driven accounting services. Reach him at (412) 323-2665.

Published in Pittsburgh
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:43

Healthy buildings

You’ve attended every seminar ever given and read every book ever written on how to motivate and increase your employees’ productivity.

They seem eager and dedicated, but when they walk through the door, they just deflate. Walking through that door may actually be your problem.

Traditional (read: old) buildings do little promote the health of either employees or the environment. That’s why many business owners have begun adopting green building philosophies.

“It’s building design and construction that takes environment and human health into account, that minimizes the impact of buildings on the environment,” says David Beach, director of EcoCity Cleveland, a nonprofit organization that looks at rebuilding communities from an ecological basis. “It is also a building that is healthy and delightful for the building’s occupants.”

Beach says those who have built green office buildings have discovered that productivity dramatically increased. That can be attributed to improvements such as better lighting and better comfort.

“It’s a better feeling building,” he says. “They tend to tend to be more open to the outdoors. There’s more natural daylight. People feel better in those buildings and they work better.”

Taken as a whole, Cleveland isn’t among the leaders in green building design. But the buzz is growing among local contractors and architects, who have learned to embrace the concept and tout the benefits.

“Sometimes these green buildings may cost a little more to design and build, but there’s so much of an increase in productivity, the payback is almost immediate,” Beach says. “And then the building continues to pay well into the future.”

You don’t have to build a new structure from scratch to receive the benefits of green philosophies. But you do need to be careful. One mistake many owners make is applying a Band-Aid approach — trying to fix 10 little things instead of concentrating on one larger area.

Beach says that results in small incremental improvements, at best.

“The key is to think in terms of whole systems and not just one part of the building or the other,” he says. “You tend to get your biggest savings by taking a comprehensive view of how a building works. This is not far out stuff. This is off-the-shelf technology being used all over the world that can make these buildings dramatically better and improve their performance. So it’s not really esoteric kinds of things.”

And it’s not as overwhelming as one might think. Beach says there are many ways to employ green strategies with existing buildings, and when current systems reach the end of their life spans, building owners should consider the green approach. Spending a little bit more now on green windows might mean replacing the current heating and cooling system with a much smaller one when the time comes.

“If you’re going to do a building, I think you’re crazy not to consider these ideas,” Beach says. “Because by doing them, you’ll get a better building, save a lot of money and you’ll also feel better about doing something good for the earth.”

How to reach: EcoCity Cleveland, (216) 932-3007 or www.ecocleveland.org/b/index.html

Daniel G. Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Building for an Internet-ready world

Verne McClelland can’t tell you how his labor-intensive business fits into an e-commerce model, but when technology does force changes to the daily operations, his company will be ready.

McClelland and Bill Tyers, co-owners of Mentor-based Moving Solutions Inc., completed their move in February, delivering 200 truckloads of materials to the new building. McClelland worked with the architect on every detail, right down to “what the window sills will look like.”

And although he didn’t know how his company might use technology in the future, he wanted to be ready to do so.

“We chose the move to coincide with putting our LAN on the Internet,” says McClelland. “Many of our customers want to communicate via e-mail. We weren’t e-mail ready or Internet ready at the old place.”

But hooking into the Internet isn’t as simple as plugging in a modem. McClelland had to decide the ISP, how to connect the LAN to the 25 workstations (they don’t have an IT manager on staff) and even how the company would be connected to the Internet. He eventually settled on a dedicated digital line with a 56K modem (the preferred DSL option is not currently available in Mentor).

Long before those connections took place, McClelland had to decide where the ports should be located. His solution was to make nearly every area Internet accessible.

“When we were rolling out the wiring diagrams, I wired the building to death,” he says. “I’ve got ports where we may never need ports, but I know that I’ve got the ability to plug something in almost everywhere. Phone lines, data lines, modem lines — I don’t think you can have too many of them. We’ve got them everywhere.”

With its frenzied rate of change, it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to plan how companies will utilize technology in the future, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be planned for, says William Nice, principal of Chartwell Group LLC.

“In the last two buildings we have been involved in, we have made accommodations. We have put a conduit going from the street into the building and a second conduit that’s totally empty,” he says. “We’ve done that in anticipation of our clients needing a fiber optic cable at some point or who knows what kind of new technology will come out.

“Things are changing so quickly, it’s much less expensive when you’re building a building to put this pipe or conduit in the ground to bring any kind of new technology in than it is five years out to be digging a trench out to the street to bring it in.” How to reach: Moving Solutions Inc., (440) 946-9300; Chartwell Group LLC, (216) 360-0009

Daniel G. Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Young Entrepreneur

Andi Reiber and Carolla Zap are avid horseback riders and motorcyclists—and good examples of the kinds of transplants that the Pittsburgh business community wants to keep in the region.

The young partners in Blue Rider Design Studio, founded by them in 1995 in a home office with a single computer, are native New Yorkers and high school friends who came to Pittsburgh in 1989 to study at Carnegie Mellon University. Both had job offers in New York after graduation, but decided instead to stay here to practice their craft in their own business.

“We’ve always known that we were going to do something that was art- and design-oriented,” says Zap, who concentrates on Web site design and construction, as well as multimedia projects.

Reiber and Zap say their approach is to combine design and technology in a way that describes precisely what the client does. Rather than overlay their own style on their clients’ image, they say they work with the client to understand what the business involves.

“Our style becomes the way we work with clients,” says Reiber, who focuses on marketing, concept development and print work for the firm.

Adds Zap: “What we don’t do is impose a Blue Rider design on the project.”

Ray Marano

Published in Pittsburgh
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Welfare to work

The path to entrepreneurship can be a strange one for some business builders, but Eugene Ritter’s journey may rank among the most unusual.

Ritter’s path has included alcoholism, divorce, unemployment and an ongoing spiritual search — a quest that once had him considering the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

Ritter, a man with a self-acknowledged gift of gab, nonetheless has managed to build a business virtually from scratch over the past five years. And he gives his wife of five years, Faye, and God the credit for his success.

“I think the key is the relationship with God,” says Ritter.

Ritter realized early financial success as an encyclopedia salesman, and later, as a district manager for the same company. But drinking cost him his job, and he sank deeper into alcoholism. Eventually, he sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous and has remained sober since 1972. He continues to work with recovering alcoholics.

Ritter worked as a group home counselor after he gained sobriety but entered another extended period of unemployment from 1982 to 1992. He spent most of that time surviving on public assistance and help from friends and family.

Still, Ritter is anything but bitter about the 10 years he spent on welfare. That period, he is convinced, was a necessary part of his journey.

“It showed me how insignificant I am,” he says. “It showed me how much I needed God.”

In 1992, Ritter met his wife in church. Faye, says Ritter, is the one who encouraged him to start his own business.

“I laughed, because here I was, on welfare,” Ritter says.

Despite his lack of capital, no credit and a checkered work history, Ritter scraped together about $7,000 to buy a computer company in 1992. The company, DMR Inc., now distributes industrial and medical supplies to hospitals, including a major university hospital, nursing homes and local government agencies. And he has four full-time and several casual employees.

Ray Marano

Published in Pittsburgh
Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Making manufacturing muscle

At Superbolt, a Carnegie producer of mechanical stud and bolt tensioners, plant manager William Myers has often found it frustrating to find and keep entry-level machinists to maintain his 85-employee work force at full capacity.

Glenn Skena, manager, methods engineering at Hamill Manufacturing in Trafford, has had similar problems. So has Bob Kettering, manufacturing manager at DuraMetal Products Corp. in Irwin.

“The last five years it’s been particularly noticeable,” says Kettering.

Myers says he’s had trouble getting applicants to even turn out for interviews. And he’s offered jobs to people, only to have them quit a few months later.

That may come as a surprise, especially when jobs like these pay an average of $8 to $10 an hour to start, plus benefits in many cases — and they’re available to individuals at a high school graduate level, in some cases earlier.

Manufacturing 2000, a training program that graduated its first class of machinists in 1998, has eased the situation for all three companies, bringing them better-trained and more motivated candidates than they’ve been able to draw in recent years from the vo-tech schools and the general work force.

That same model is being expanded to come to the aid of other manufacturing segments experiencing the same kinds of shortages.

A labor legacy

The region’s industrial past has left at least one significant legacy: high-wage jobs for the remaining workers in manufacturing, which still accounts for about 16 percent of private sector jobs in a 13-county area of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

According to figures provided by Manufacturing 2000, manufacturing in Allegheny County leads all categories in annual wages, with $2.8 billion wages paid. The annual salary for manufacturing segment employees is more than $40,000 annually, while the average salary for all other sectors is about $28,600.

Despite the relatively high wages paid for entry-level jobs in manufacturing, however, employers are finding it difficult to find qualified applicants. Companies point to several factors that have created a dearth of available and reliable labor. The educational system, parents and society in general are steering students toward the academic track, they say, encouraging college as a first choice.

“I don’t see a whole lot of push in the schools toward machining,” says Myers.

Moreover, the companies say, a lot of vo-tech schools have not kept up with technology, and students often perceive the machinist and tool-and-die trades as dirty work, not as a field dominated by modern CNC equipment that requires more sophisticated training to operate. And, say the business operators, vo-tech schools are too often a repository for poor academic achievers or students with disciplinary problems.

Skena points out that vocational schools, from which he used to get nearly all of his entry-level machinists, once provided a rich pool of potential employees. A local vocational school that Hamill Manufacturing works with, for instance, has a co-op program that allows students to work part-time while they go to school to prepare for a position as an entry-level machinist. This year, the school could recommend only one student out of a class of 20 to Skena for the program, a far cry from a decade ago.

“I would have had 10 kids 10 years ago,” says Skena.

As heavy industry in the region wound down, it displaced many low-skill workers. The new manufacturing economy, in contrast, requires employees who are better trained, with more exacting skills than were once required in heavy industry.

For the new skilled laborer, the emphasis is much more on skill than on labor. The pool of available workers, however, has shrunk.

New Century approach

The success of Manufacturing 2000 has led to the creation of New Century Careers, a nonprofit umbrella organization that will include the machinist training program and training to qualify individuals in welding and in electronics assembly.

“Manufacturing 2000 embodies the employment goals of businesses and public officials — to attract skilled workers and keep them in the region,” says Paul Anselmo, executive director of the program.

The manufacturers see a different kind of candidate coming out of Manufacturing 2000.

“The group you are dealing with is post-high school,” says Skena.

Most are a bit more mature, many have tried college and found it wasn’t for them or need to get a full-time job that offers a stable future. The screening process culls those with the most aptitude and places them in the appropriate training program at no cost to the applicant.

The hiring companies pay the program $1,250 for each employee they hire permanently, a fee the manufacturers say is well worth it if they get an effective employee.

One strength of Manufacturing 2000, says Kettering, is that it creates a stronger, more direct link between training and employment. The process identifies, screens and trains applicants, then places and develops skill-based talent in partnership with academic and vocational institutions. DuraMetal Products has hired two of the program’s graduates and expects to hire a third.

But while the model has worked well for the machinist trade, what are its prospects for success in the other fields?

The employers appear to have high hopes.

“Given a little bit of time, I think they’re going to be pushing out some quality entry-level people,” says Myers.

And that’s from someone who’s been there.

How to reach: New Century Careers, (412) 258-6620

Ray Marano (rmarano@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN magazine.

Published in Pittsburgh