In March, Zonnevylle was awarded both the "Ohio Business Person of the Year" and the "Republican of the Year" awards by the National Republican Congressional Committee. The awards are given in recognition of business leadership and entrepreneurship. About 50 Ohioans received the "Business Person of the Year" award this year.
Her accomplishments as a business owner over the last few years are undeniably noteworthy: She took over a financially challenged business after her husband's unexpected death, and in seven years, increased sales 50 percent to 70 percent, she estimates.
In 1995, she was faced not only with the sudden loss of her husband, but with the decision of what to do with his ceiling installation business, DeGeorge Ceilings Co. She had worked for the company as a bookkeeper, but otherwise knew little about it.
"I was given a choice by the bank, my accountant and my attorney. It was either sell or try and run it, and I decided to try to run it," she says. "Even some of my children advised me not to do it."
For Zonnevylle, there was little choice.
"I didn't feel I could let it go that easily," she says. "To me, that was not an option. I couldn't see my dad's dream, or my husband's or my dream going down the drain like that."
After many days that started at 6:30 a.m. and didn't end until 2 or 3 the next morning, Zonnevylle learned the business, got a bank loan and turned a fledgling company into a profitable employer.
"I put everything I had into it," she says. "I was very energized and I didn't let anything tear me down. I just hung in there and thought, 'If I can get by death, I guess I can handle anything. Nobody died today, there's nothing that can be any worse than that.'"
Zonnevylle's just not sure, exactly, what she did for the Republican Party during that stressful time to deserve such prestigious honors.
"A year-and-a-half ago, I got a telephone call from (Congressman) Tom Delay's office," she says. "I thought it was a joke."
Delay asked her to sit on the Small Business Advisory Council, which meant a commitment of a few days a year traveling to Washington, D.C., to sit in on congressional meetings. She agreed, but shortly afterward was stricken with an injury that kept her from traveling. She says her involvement on the council amounted to telephone and e-mail correspondence, in which she was asked to share her opinions on issues affecting business owners.
She says that during that time, she adamantly supported the Bush campaign, but primarily voiced her support to family and friends. She may have been able to do more for her party at another time in her life, but her No. 1 priority then was, and still is, her business.
"I didn't feel I had done anything other than work myself to death here trying to keep my business going," she says of the recognition.
In any case, somehow, some way, her accomplishments as a business owner and her understated commitment to the Republican Party were noticed.
The GOP won't tell her who submitted her name for the recognition -- just that it was submitted by more than one person.
In October 2000, Phillips, Robinson's PR director, worked four straight days and nights handling the international attention focused on the hospital after Oscar Andrews was released. (The baby's mother was murdered by a neighbor, who then cut the baby from her body and claimed it as her own.)
Soon after the incident, Phillips turned to the Akron Regional Hospital Association to ask if there was a way member hospitals could call on each other to help with future PR crises.
The ARHA is unique collaboration of hospitals in Summit, Medina and Portage counties -- all 13 of them. The group was created in 1936 to help hospital administrators deal with a nursing shortage.
Since then, it has worked collaboratively on internal issues such as the work force shortage and on community issues such as bioterrorism preparedness, pharmaceutical education and public access to health care. The administrators avoid competitive issues and focus primarily on community issues.
"Every single CEO gets in the room every other month and meets and discusses what's best for the community," says Marianne Lorini, president of the association. "That is very unusual."
The PR arrangement, approved by the association's board last November, should benefit not just hospital staffs, but the media, families and patients, Lorini says.
Now, if a hospital is faced with a PR crisis, its staff can call for immediate, experienced help from other hospitals' PR personnel, who know how to handle the media, take phone calls from families or write press releases.
"They sign a confidentiality agreement, so that for that period of time, they are literally that other hospital's employee, and they cannot reveal anything that goes on while there in that role," Lorini says. "They are at the direction of that head of PR."
Lorini says there are other local and statewide hospital associations, but none, to her knowledge, collaborate to the extent that the Akron association does.
"We even tried to share our PR plan with some of the other cities around the state, and they said, 'This would never work.' But here, it does," she says.
She attributes that to the sense of community that has existed in the Akron area since the rubber industry dominated the town.
"There really is something unique and valuable down here that doesn't seem to be in other places," she says. How to reach: Akron Regional Hospital Association, (330) 668-6180
"How we go in our local counties is how the state goes and how the nation goes," he says. "We are a pretty good representation of what's going on across the country."
Normally, there are 55 plans on an average day for members of the commercial construction industry association to check out. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, that dropped to 20, and didn't improve for six months.
But Riffle says things are definitely looking up in the plan room. In March, the number of plans topped out at 65, the most there have ever been. When he logs onto the association's online plan room, he finds that 300 projects -- half of all those currently out for bid in Ohio -- are for $1 million or more.
"What I haven't seen here in the last six months that I'm seeing now -- in the last month, let's say -- are big projects," confirms Larry Thompson of Munroe Falls-based Thompson Electric Inc., one of the area's largest electrical contractors.
And according to Donzell Taylor, president and CEO of Fairlawn-based Welty Building Co., one of the area's largest general contractors and construction managers, there's a renewed sense of urgency to complete those projects, which is good for business.
"The year before last, when we got about 80 percent of the information we needed, we were being pushed to start and figure the rest of it out later," he says. "Last year, (customers) wanted all of the i's dotted, all the t's crossed, everything completely understood. And even when we got to that point, it was, 'Well, let's just think about this a little longer. Let's just wait and see what's going to happen.'"
Taylor and Thompson say many of the big projects are for institutions such as universities, hospitals and other health care facilities. Construction of elementary, middle and high schools "is really booming in the area, too, and it's going to continue to boom for the next couple of years."
Thompson mentions Medina County, where population growth has made building new public schools a necessity, and the city of Akron, where replacing aging schools is a state-mandated priority.
Riffle says light commercial projects -- strip malls, detached stores, offices, fast-food restaurants -- are also being built, many in distressed communities making a comeback.
"You need commercial services to support those areas," he says.
Conversely, Taylor has seen "a very severe drop off" in the construction of industrial facilities and warehouses.
Riffle estimates that 60 percent of new construction is "built for obsolescence," either in appearance or function. Institutional buildings usually have a longer useful life. But the use of high-end materials such as marble, terrazzo and solid cherry paneling to create landmark interiors is waning. Taylor says new structures also tend to be smaller.
"We are seeing most of our clients looking for a lower first cost on their buildings," Taylor says. "They want to put less bells and whistles in."
There are, of course, exceptions, such as an addition to the First Congregational Church of Hudson's 138-year-old sanctuary that Taylor's company recently completed. The structure not only matches the original Western Reserve architecture, it is endowed with extras such as 10-foot-high arched doors with large wood casings and detailed brickwork.
Riffle cites a new library to be built in Hudson, a community known for its well-preserved architecture, as an example.
"They are trying to design and build the library so that 300 years from now, not only will it still fit in with the community, but it will not be torn down," he says.
Structures in other communities are also being designed to complement their architectural surroundings. Riffle says a FirstMerit bank and a McDonald's restaurant in Barberton were modeled after the remaining barns built by O.C. Barber in the mid-1800s on his vast estate in the city he founded. Buildings in a new commercial area are being built in the same style.
How long will the building boom last?
"Next year, I think, will be better than this past year," Thompson says, "but I don't think it's going to be as good as what we've seen in the past." How to reach: The Builders Exchange of Akron, (330) 434-5165; Thompson Electric Inc., (330) 686-2300; Welty Building Co., (330) 867-2400
Since Joe Taggart sold the business in 1958, the restaurant has changed hands four times. As ownership changed, so did much of the devotion to the quality, until the Schotts stepped in with a mission to restore the Taggarts name.
So far, the Schotts have increased sales 110 percent since assuming ownership, and grown the employee base from 14 to 38 full-time and part-time workers.
Patti Schott, a nurse for 32 years, attributes the couple's success to their involvement with the community.
"It really has turned the place around, because the people prior to us were not really involved with the community and we have been, and we donate to any of the community organizations. It has come back to us one-hundred-fold," she says.
Along with reconnecting to the community, the Schotts invested $30,000 in restorations to the 76-year-old building, including general cleaning and painting, landscape improvements and repairs to the stucco exterior. They also replaced outdated kitchen equipment, restored much of the dining room furniture and replaced a player piano in the parlor with a more user-friendly model.
Their most noticeable improvement, however, may have been to the menu. Homemade favorites have returned, including 15 regular and 11 seasonal ice cream flavors, all made on the premises twice a week. The Schotts also use many of Taggarts' original recipes for hot fudge and the flavored syrups used in fountain drinks, homemade soups, salads and sandwiches.
Last year, revenue topped $500,000 at the 72-seat establishment, and the Schotts gave about $300 a month to local schools, churches and other nonprofit organizations. How to reach: Taggarts Ice Cream, (330) 452-6844
Fishers Foods, founded in 1933 by Jeffrey's grandfather, Joseph, has survived the Depression, recessions and influxes of national big-box retailers.
"There's been so many changes within the last five to six years that I think it's even strengthened our position to be an independent," Fisher says.
"As we become the lone ranger, we're the alternative to the big boxes, who really don't do what the customer wants."
Fisher, who has worked for his family's company for 20 years and as its president for the last 15, says quality and value have kept the chain in business.
Fishers doesn't strive to appeal to a particularly low-end or high-end customer, he says. In fact, he admits, "We don't have a target audience. We're not looking for low end or high end, but everybody in the middle. Then we get a lot of high-end customers and we get a lot of low-end customers."
He says a loose market definition works for the company because it has figured out how to truly deliver value to the customer. Fishers does this by offering everyday low prices that are often lower than the national chains.
"We have adopted an everyday low price strategy," he says. "No gimmicky card is needed. Even though we're a small independent, we buy directly from the manufacturers -- we don't buy through a wholesaler. We ship directly into our warehouse from the manufacturer."
He says the quality of Fishers food is exceptional, adding to the whole value concept.
"We're food people," he says. "The food should look good, the food should taste good, and the food is more important than the décor.
"You don't have to pay $25 a pound for great filet," he adds. "We have certain purveyors that work with us, and our meat cutters are trained to look for the quality, to cut it the right way."
The last key to providing value, he says, is always offering good customer service, no matter how low your prices are. That is accomplished by training employees at every level how to communicate. At the store level, he says, Fishers 1,000 employees are trained to treat the customer the same way they would want to be treated when they are grocery shopping.
At the corporate level, the company maintains a separate a separate customer service phone number, listed in the local phone book. It also is lucky enough to employ many long-term employees, who, as Fisher puts it, "carry the banner every day."
"The thing with this industry is that there's always another competitive force that's going to open up. It could be another independent, it could be a regional chain ... but there's never been a time where we felt that we couldn't deliver value." How to reach: Fishers Foods, (330) 497-3000
In 1995, Wilson founded EZ-Net, a high-speed, wireless Internet provider, running it out of a room filled with 28.8k modems. It soon became one of the area's largest local Internet providers.
As phone companies began monopolizing high-speed Internet access with cable technology, Wilson explored other, faster options. In early 1998, he and his partners started experimenting with high-frequency radio waves and erected a temporary tower in downtown Canton to operate an unlicensed broadband data system for a handful of business customers.
Four years later, with the proper licenses and funding in hand, Wilson's new company, SkyLAN, is attracting customers such as the city of Akron, the city of Canton, Suarez Corp. and several prominent law firms.
The company has purchased 15-year leases on broadband frequencies the FTC granted to PBS 45/49 and the Akron, Copley/Fairlawn and Revere public school systems. He says he was able to purchase the leases by simply "being at the right place at the right time."
While companies such as Sprint and WorldCom control the larger markets, it's the smaller entrepreneurial ventures like SykLAN that are gaining control of markets the size of Akron and Canton. SkyLAN can transmit within a 35-mile radius of the PBS 45/49 antenna in Copley Township, which gives it the ability to reach customers from Cleveland to Dover. But offering the service in Cleveland is not part of the plan right now.
"We don't intend to pursue Cleveland as a market initially, because we think that the green space down here has more opportunity for this implementation," he says.
"If you're in a highly concentrated urban area, your choices are plentiful. Go to Dover and ask them how many choices they have. And besides, we're centered here. We're an Akron/Canton company." How to reach: SkyLAN, (330) 455-4000
Workers who show up on time but whose full attention never clocks in account for absenteeism and lost productivity that's hard to track. Conservative estimates say that in every organization, 15 to 30 percent of employees have serious personal problems that can affect job performance; 17 percent suffer from psychological or emotional problems and 15 percent show serious symptoms of stress.
Costs associated with these problems exceed an estimated $200 billion annually in the United States.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are worksite-based programs designed to assist businesses in addressing productivity issues and help employees resolve problems that can affect job performance. EAPs enable organizations to be proactive instead of reactive regarding job performance problems, and, as a result, companies can build and maintain healthy employee relationships.
Research has shown EAPs can save employers substantial costs by maintaining productivity, reducing on-the-job accident rates and avoiding the termination and associated costs of replacement of a valuable employee. Studies comparing absenteeism and performance before and after EAP involvement show a 4-to-1 return for every dollar invested in EAP services.
Reported savings include absenteeism down 44 percent for chemical dependency; sick time down 66 percent; health care treatment costs down 33 percent; and health insurance claims down 35 percent.
EAP specialists are behavioral health professionals who help people get through hard times. They aid clients with the stress of life-management problems -- relationship issues, family stressors, substance abuse, anger and conflict -- that can impact absenteeism, tardiness, loss of productivity, on-the-job accidents and increased health benefits claims.
When evaluating an EAP, it is important to determine whether the organization's EAP specialists are independently licensed and certified at the masters and Ph.D. level. Michele Morgart, M.A., LPCC, CEAP, is a director/consultant to Mercy Medical Center's Concern: EAP. For more information, call (330) 489-1415 in Canton or (330) 644-7747 in Akron.
Many small business owners worry about what will happen to their company when they die. Some don't want to sell their businesses to family members simply because of the potentially large tax liabilities to them and their loved ones.
When a small business owner passes away, the family may be forced to sell the company because of the estate tax. Uncle Sam and the state want their money nine months after the date of death, and the government gets paid before the family.
There are many techniques and planning options available, and the use of charitable vehicles in conjunction with these can yield a powerful result for a family and leave Uncle Sam with next to nothing.
Normally, the ownership and control of assets have been seen as the same thing. But the government doesn't see it that way. Ownership of assets carries with it maximum taxation.
Control without ownership carries no taxation. If you're willing to give up ownership while maintaining control, you can have even more wealth to control because a significant portion will not be lost to income, capital gain and estate taxes. If you pay minimal or no taxes, you can have control over much more wealth.
Consider the use of a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT). Assume a client has $3 million in closely held stock. Selling will incur $600,000 in capital gain taxes, leaving $2.4 million. When the client dies, the government levies the estate tax and the family ends up owning and controlling about $1.2 million, 40 percent of the original amount. However, if the original $3 million worth of stock is transferred to a CRT, the client receives a substantial income tax deduction, and when the trust sells the stock, there are no capital gain taxes because the client no longer "owns" the stock (the trust does, and since it is charitable, there is no capital gain tax) but the client still retains control of the full $3 million. Clients reinvest the money inside the trust (usually in growth and income producing assets), receive an income stream from the trust for the rest of their lives, and at their death, the assets transfer to a charity estate tax free. This money can be left to a family foundation or donor advised fund.
The client has more than $600,000 more in wealth because the client gave up ownership but not control of the asset. Assume the client uses some of the extra income generated by the trust to set up an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) and funds it with a $3 million dollar policy (the original value of the stock). When the client dies, the children retain the full $3 million of wealth the client originally owned, while the money in the CRT passes to the family foundation.
Instead of paying $1.8 million in taxes, the family pays no taxes. The client retains control of the entire $3 million in his lifetime instead of $2.4 million, and receives an income stream for life from the $3 million. The family, instead of ending up with $1.2 million, retained the original $3 million and control of another $3 million in a family foundation, for $6 million in controlled wealth.
This is just one example of a strategy to increase the amount of wealth a client's family controls. Using traditional estate planning tools such as an ILIT in conjunction with charitable planning techniques can create a powerful one-two punch that benefits the family and charity and leaves Uncle Sam with next to nothing.
Gordon Short, CPA, is an associate with SS&G Financial Services' Akron office. He can be reached at (330) 668-9696.
About six weeks ago, a newspaper reporter called me about an article she was working on for the employment section of The Plain Dealer. I am finishing up my one-year term as board president of the Northeast Ohio chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and she wanted to interview me for a piece she was working on about the current job market for journalists.
It was her job to profile a different profession every week for the front page of the employment section, to give job seekers a glimpse into a career they may be considering. I had to assume that most people who read this section are either out of work or unhappy with their current position. While I felt it was my job to paint the journalism profession in the best possible light, the truth is, I didn't know of a media operation that was growing at the time.
In fact, while I have been lucky to work at a stable company for many years, more and more of my industry peers and fellow SPJ members were finding themselves out of work.
I had to think about how best to answer her questions without painting too dismal a picture of my chosen field. After talking to some of my peers, it became clear that, while media companies may not have been adding positions to their work forces, there were always positions available for the best qualified journalists.
Almost every writer I spoke to knew of a case in which an employee had simply been replaced by a better qualified candidate during recent months. While companies were laying off employees, not every layoff was due to a position being eliminated.
Some were simply upgrades. Employers were taking advantage of the sudden rise in the quality of job candidates, and using this opportunity boost the quality of their work forces.
The side effect of bringing one superstar into a company can be dramatic. Even my perpetually critical journalist friends admit this can motivate an entire staff in a very positive manner if handled with sensitivity.
A talented work force fuels growth, which, in turn, leads to more positions to fill, and, in theory, a lower unemployment rate.
I found that I was able to answer the reporter's questions both honestly and positively, by encouraging job-seeking journalists to hang in there. Since then, many of my peers have found jobs, and admit things are starting to turn around.