SBN Staff

So the construction of your new office is nearly done and you’re getting ready to move in. Have you considered how you’ll populate your space with furniture, what type it will be and where you’ll purchase it?

“Practicality and well-being should be considered first when selecting office furniture,” says Kelly Colamarino, interior designer at SMC Consulting, LLC. “We all want our offices to look cool, but aesthetics should be accompanied by functionality. Choosing the right furniture for your office will increase productivity, employee satisfaction and company profits.”

Smart Business spoke with Colamarino about selecting furniture for your office space — from comfort and aesthetics to styles and finishes, and even where to go for the best prices and service.

What’s involved in the furniture selection process?

The first step in selecting furniture for your office is to hire a design firm to do programming on your current employees’ needs. Programming includes evaluating your existing furniture to find out what is working and what isn’t. It also involves assessing the way your employees and company groups work — whether they need an open, collaborative space to work together or closed spaces for privacy. This will help determine what type of furniture will work best in your office.

The next step is to select a furniture style. A design firm can help to decide if traditional, modern or transitional furniture is best for your office. The firm also will make sure to select finishes that relate well to the atmosphere and functionality of your office. Careful selection of fabrics and finishes will enhance office functionality.

Make sure to keep your future needs in mind while going through the furniture selection process. If your company is projecting growth in the next few years, it might be smart to look into systems furniture that can be easily reconfigured and added to, which will accommodate additional workspaces.

What comes after choosing furniture?

Now that you’ve selected your office furniture, you need to decide where to make your purchases.

There are many furniture stores that sell practical office furniture but do not offer the same benefits as purchasing through a dealership. A design firm can provide expert advice and guidance to help you select a furniture vendor, offering an objective opinion when it comes to vendor selection, and negotiating on your behalf. Your designer will review each vendor’s bid and help you understand the content of each, reading between the lines to provide insight.

Designers at the firm will help you find furniture that is within your budget. However, it is important to hold value over price. With furniture, like most purchases, you get what you pay for. Buying an inexpensive chair might help your immediate budget, but in the long run you must think about the costs of repairs and replacements of cheap chairs. Rather, it’s often better to pay a little extra upfront for something that will last longer.

What are the benefits of hiring a design firm to help furnish an office?

Hiring a design firm establishes a long-term relationship with the firm as well as the dealer. A good design firm will ensure that the dealer will be there for your company long after the point of sale.

After you’ve made your purchase, client support is necessary for any problems that may arise with your furniture. The firm will be there to help with any issues that may arise through the furniture purchasing process. It will work with the dealer to give you warranty information, as well as replacements for damaged or defective purchases. The firm also will keep your furniture selections on file, making it easy for the firm to contact the dealer to purchase additional furniture as needed.

Selecting office furniture is an important process every company should go through wisely. Working with a design firm through the process can ensure a functional and aesthetically pleasing office.

Kelly Colamarino is an interior designer at SMC Consulting, LLC. Reach her at (724) 987-7784 or kelly@smcconsulting.net.

Insights Facilities is brought to you by SMC Consulting, LLC

The growing prevalence of cloud computing has driven astronomical growth in the amount of data center traffic passing through networks. A 2011 survey projects this traffic to hit 468 Exabytes in 2016. To put that in context, worldwide Internet traffic surpassed one Exabyte for the first time in 2003.

The fuel behind this widespread adoption is cloud computing’s cost-effectiveness. With a “pay only for what you use” pricing structure, midsize companies can ramp up or down with minimal startup costs. In addition, there are tax benefits to having cloud computing as an operating expense, rather than a capital expenditure.

However, one factor stands in the way for many businesses — an outdated network infrastructure that is unable to operate efficiently using cloud-based systems.

Smart Business spoke with Kevin Conmy, regional vice president, Business Services, at Comcast Business, about how businesses can use Ethernet to maximize cloud computing, and the competitive advantage it brings.

Why are some companies unable or slow to take full advantage of the cloud’s potential?

The first hurdle to get over is the trust factor. Business owners are hesitant to hand over sensitive information and transactions to a third party. But as the use of cloud applications becomes widespread and the ease of the applications themselves make them harder to resist, more and more companies are jumping on board.

The second obstacle is often the company’s network and whether they are using the public Internet or a private Ethernet.

While a public Internet service is cost-effective and accessible from just about anywhere, the flipside to that is increased security risks that are a very credible concern.

Latency — the time it takes for data to make a round trip between two points, such as from your office to the data center where the cloud application is hosted and back — is another problem when using a public connection. Some applications, such as email, can tolerate longer latency, but others like video, are latency-intolerant.

How is private connectivity, Ethernet, better matched to cloud services?

For mission-critical applications hosted at a data center or cloud provider, private connectivity provides secure, high availability and low-latency access.

Ethernet technology, which has been around for 40 years, has become the de facto technology in offices around the world, linking computers and servers together in a high-speed local area network (LAN). A metropolitan area network (MAN) can link computers over a larger area, like between buildings in a metro area, with low latency.

One service provider manages the Ethernet traffic and applications within the private network, resulting in better security and performance. Companies still have the ability to integrate Internet traffic, but the low latency causes remote offices, and even those applications hosted in third-party data centers, to feel like they are on the LAN.

Data centers and cloud providers generally don’t provide dedicated network infrastructure with their cloud offerings, but they are reporting that clients are increasingly purchasing dedicated high-speed fiber connections from separate service providers for accessing these cloud services.

Do businesses leaders understand how important it is to have the right network services?

A recent CIO/Computerworld survey found that 70 percent of IT executives considered reliable, high-capacity bandwidth as a transformational or strategic asset, up from 42 percent two years ago. The majority of respondents believe high-performance connectivity increases productivity and efficiency. It’s clear that business owners increasingly view high-performance network services as a prerequisite for future growth.

Kevin Conmy is a regional vice president of Business Services at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 642-6457 or kevin_conmy@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

Business owners have been watching the slow rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) for a while now. But that doesn’t mean they have a firm grasp on the breadth of the challenges, requirements and decisions that are inherent to its wide-reaching health care and insurance changes.

“If you’re like most business owners, you have already spent significant time gathering and processing information,” says Bill Norwalk, tax partner-in-charge at Sensiba San Filippo LLP. “Very soon, you will make vital decisions that will have significant effects on the future success of your organization.”

Norwalk says it’s critical for business owners not to get too caught up in the political maneuvering and analysis that fills the news coverage.

“Regardless of emotion or political leanings, business owners must understand that the PPACA is a reality and needs to be addressed like any other challenge,” he says. “Taking an unbiased, strategic look at the law and its ramifications for your business will allow you to make decisions that aren’t clouded by emotion or outside factors.”

Smart Business spoke with Norwalk about the PPACA, its ramifications and how businesses can adapt to its effects.

How will businesses be affected by health care reform implementation?

The PPACA will have an impact on benefits planning, tax planning and your ability to compete in a challenging labor market. Making the best decisions will require you to understand all of the decisions and consider their varied consequences.

Taking a decision-and-consequences-based approach to your analysis will help you understand the potential effects of your choices. Many businesses are considering the pros and cons of offering qualifying health insurance versus dropping health coverage and allowing employees to utilize newly established insurance exchanges. While the analysis of direct costs may be straightforward, you need to understand how your employees will view a change in coverage. Changes in health care benefits could have a substantial impact on your ability to attract and retain talent.

What are the potential tax effects and what can businesses and individuals do to plan?

Tax implications of the PPACA are wide reaching for both businesses and their shareholders. New taxes were introduced that could result in significant tax increases — especially for business owners and managers who don’t plan ahead.

Corporation shareholders and shareholders of pass-through entities could both be affected by the 3.8 percent tax on net investment income. An additional 0.9 percent Medicare surtax was also introduced by the PPACA. Shifting from investment income to regular income could be an effective strategy, but the analysis is often far more complex. Depending on your wage level, an additional self-employment tax on regular income could more than offset potential savings from decreasing net investment income. Alternative minimum tax considerations can further muddy the waters. The PPACA simply makes tax planning more convoluted. Fortunately, qualified professionals will have the tools and resources needed to help you consider various scenarios and develop a plan to minimize your liability.

Where should business owners turn for guidance?

Decisions related to PPACA implementation will affect human resources, tax strategy and the broader organization. Business owners must first identify the key decisions and then weigh the consequences of each. If your strategic plan related to the PPACA isn’t complete, it’s time for you to speak with someone who can help.

Work with an insurance or benefits adviser. He or she can help you understand your coverage alternatives and the associated costs. An experienced accountant can offer assistance with compliance, tax and organizational planning. The right information, advisers and analysis will allow for decisions that can minimize negative consequences and maybe even provide a competitive advantage.

Bill Norwalk is a tax partner-in-charge at Sensiba San Filippo LLP. Reach him at (925) 271-8700 or wnorwalk@ssfllp.com.

For more health care reform information and tax tips, visit Sensiba San Filippo's blog.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Sensiba San Filippo LLP

With so many health care reform law changes and updates, human resources professionals and companies are asking for a boiled down version of some of the main points that need to be highlighted, regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and key pending action items.

Smart Business spoke with Tobias Kennedy, executive vice president, Montage Insurance Solutions, about what you need to know and do with the ACA.

What are a couple of immediate concerns for everyone?

First and foremost, make sure you got your notice out to your employees on their rights to the new marketplaces, or exchanges. Then, make sure the notice gets added to your new hire kit for future staff.

Next, employers need to look at their waiting periods and their compliance with California’s Assembly Bill 1083, which is a state law that expounds a little on the ACA. If this law applies to you, you may need to clip your waiting period if it extends beyond the allotted 60 days. Be aware this is separate than the federal bill and is set for a 2014 start date.

What extra steps do large employers need to take?

To find out if you need to comply with the employer shared responsibility provision, you have to evaluate your employees. Basically, the question is: Do you employ an average of at least 50 full-time people, including full- time equivalents. For some groups, this is an easy question. Others may waiver near the border, so it’s important to know the correct method for calculation.

If you do trigger the shared responsibility provision, you now need to be aware of exactly whom you are supposed to be offering benefits to, and exactly what types of benefits will qualify.

How should large employers keep track of their employees’ hours?

It’s a good idea for employer groups to start doing a regular check — monthly, quarterly, etc. — to see which employees are being offered coverage versus which employees are averaging more than 30 hours per week. Remember, just because you think they’re part-timers doesn’t mean they aren’t a manager’s go-to when someone calls in sick, or the workload gets hefty. It’s not uncommon for overtime hours to add up and alter a person’s average hours worked.

You’ll want to have a handle on the average hours worked by people that are not offered your benefits by running a payroll report and watching out for staff who edge up near the 30-hour average mark.

What’s key to know about insurance renewals?

You will want to note that, beginning with the upcoming January 2014 renewals, this is your last renewal to come into compliance before facing fines. Are your plan designs compliant? Is your employer/employee premium split compliant? If not, you may want to see where you are versus where you need to be. You’ll need to see what, if any, transitional steps you want to take this renewal, so you’re not so far off in 2015 when the potential for fines enters the picture.

Tobias Kennedy is an executive vice president at Montage Insurance Solutions. Reach him at (818) 676-0044 or toby@montageinsurance.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Montage Insurance Solutions

The biggest employer piece of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been delayed until 2015. Unfortunately, it looks like some of the transitional relief rules for the 2013 year went by the wayside with it, so it is incredibly important for employers to know that, as of now, the government is expecting you to use the 2014 gift year to get yourself into compliance — a year in which, technically, the ACA is still the law of the land, although there will be no penalties for the shared responsibility provision.

“Employers should really be aware of the fact that, beginning with the upcoming Jan. 1 renewals, your next renewal is your last renewal to implement the necessary changes before we enter 2015 and you begin to ‘go live’ in terms of facing noncompliance penalties,” says Tobias Kennedy, executive vice president, Montage Insurance Solutions.

Smart Business spoke with Kennedy about what exactly is the employer shared responsibility.

What does the employer responsibility really entail?

To break it down, you need to know the answer to three questions:

  • Are you large enough to trigger it?
  • If so, is your coverage considered affordable?
  • Are you covering all of the people you’re required to cover?

How can employer groups know if they are large enough?

Technically the provision only applies to companies with 50 full-time or full-time equivalent employees. If you have more than 50 full-timers, it’s easy to know that you must comply.

Groups that can be trickier are those with part-timers. Even though you are not required to cover them, you are required to count their hours worked for the purposes of determining large employer status. Basically, most every hour worked by a part-timer goes into the calculation and you assign one full-time equivalent for every 120 hours your part-time staff works. In other words, if you add up all the part-timers’ hours and it comes to 1,200 hours for the month, you would add 10 bodies to your head count because that’s the equivalent of 10 full-timers, per the law. If you average more than 50 for the year, you must offer the people who are truly full-timers affordable coverage or face a penalty.

When is coverage considered affordable?

This actually has two parts to it. The first is the actuarial value of the plan, which is a fancy way of ensuring the plan is not a mini-med plan. So, first and foremost, regardless of what you charge the employees in premium, the plan has to have a 60 percent actuarial value. A Kaiser Family Foundation study set 60 percent at, approximately, a $2,750 deductible, 30 percent coinsurance and an out-of-pocket max of $6,350 — so it’s a fairly lenient plan design to meet.

Apart from that, you have to make sure that the employee-only tier costs less than 9.5 percent of an employee’s salary. You don’t need to worry about dependent buy-ups. There are a few safe harbors for figuring employees’ salaries, including using what’s reported in Box 1 on Form W-2 or comparing the premium to the Federal Poverty Level. You are only responsible for ensuring one of your plan options meets this threshold. In other words, dependent buy-ups can still be done at the cost of the employee, as well as buy-ups to richer coverage/lower deductible plans.

How do you know if you’re offering the plan to the right people?

First, the legislation defines full time as 30 hours or more per week, which might be a change for some employers still using the traditional 40-hour threshold.

Apart from that, one of the more complicated parts of the ACA centers on how employers with variable-hour employees offer coverage. Basically, you have the option of averaging out hours worked over a pre-defined time frame, up to 12 months. You can use that longer time frame to level out spikes in work for employees who toggle between working more some weeks and less in others. You can review their annual average and offer them coverage based on hours worked in the year.

You need to cover at least 95 percent of those the law says you’re supposed to cover, so you’ll want to work with your consultant to be sure you cast an appropriate net over the people that you’re required to make eligible.

Tobias Kennedy is an executive vice president at Montage Insurance Solutions. Reach him at (818) 676-0044 or toby@montageinsurance.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Montage Insurance Solutions.

There has been an overwhelming amount of news surrounding the health care reform bill, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and now there’s more talk that Washington, D.C., might try and kill it. Again.

“As much as companies don’t want to admit, it is truly now time to say, ‘This thing is here to stay and I need to know what to do about it,’” says Tobias Kennedy, executive vice president, Montage Insurance Solutions.

With the employer shared responsibility penalties delayed until 2015, the keyword is delayed — not eliminated.

“With the early Fourth of July present the administration announced for us, there is a bit of a ‘dry run’ opportunity that really benefits a lot of companies,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Kennedy about what the delay of the penalties means for employer groups.

With the delay, what do employers need to keep in mind going forward?

No. 1: This really isn’t the time to hit the snooze button for 12 months. The delay shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity to waste another 12 months in figuring out compliance. It should be used as a practice run to see if you’re in compliance, and if not, what steps need to be taken to correct your course.

No. 2: Just because the employer shared responsibility provision was delayed, it doesn’t mean the ACA was delayed. If you’re an employer group, you still have requirements.

You won’t be penalized for failing to offer insurance or failing to offer affordable coverage, but that doesn’t get you off the hook for the mandatory issuance of the employees’ rights in the exchange notification, or certain plan design changes. Be sure you are working with your consultant(s) to be totally clear on exactly which provisions were delayed and which have action items pending in the near future. 

While most companies know, at least in broad strokes, that large employers will soon be responsible for providing affordable coverage, there is more to the employer shared responsibility. Again, the best time to figure out the intricacies is during a practice year — not when there are penalties looming and a hungry IRS over your shoulder. 

What should employer groups specifically be doing in 2014?

Aside from figuring out what you need to do in the short term, such as identifying the parts of the ACA that were not delayed as they relate to your insurance plans, use 2014 to really get a handle on a few questions:

  • Are you a large enough employer that you need to offer coverage?
  • If you are large enough, what type of coverage is compliant and what are you allowed to charge your employees for this compliant coverage?
  • To whom do you need to offer coverage? If it is not as simple as ‘everyone works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,’ then you may have some variable hour employees who straddle the line of part-timer and full-timer. These employees may be technically over the 30-hour threshold, so you’ll want to be sure you know which people in your population you would be legally required to offer benefits to.

Tobias Kennedy is an executive vice president at Montage Insurance Solutions. Reach him at (818) 676-0044 or toby@montageinsurance.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Montage Insurance Solutions

A student is never too young to have a taste of the business world — and the entrepreneurs of tomorrow are fortunate to have Junior Achievement to open the door for them. Since 1919, JA has been instilling the passion in students about being part of a business and seeing first-hand how to operate an enterprise.

JA is the world’s largest organization devoted to that purpose, and has capitalized on its success with its hands-on programs that help prepare young people is all aspects of self-employment. Many alumni of the program have cited their experience in JA as the foundation for their interest in being self-employed.

While getting into business might seem like joining an elite organization with many prerequisites to complete beforehand, JA makes it not so. With the mystery taken away, potential entrepreneurs are eager to open the door their futures.

One of this year’s inductees into the Hall of Fame puts it succinctly: a lot of the work of Junior Achievement is taking the time to expose young people to the kinds of things to help broaden their horizons, to help shape their dreams.

JA Worldwide reaches more than 10 million students each year with 312,954 educators in 121 countries. Volunteers globally come from a wide range of backgrounds: retirees, business people, college students and parents.

Local chapters each year honor distinguished business leaders who have acted as role models for students.

This year’s honorees for Junior Achievement of Central Ohio include Robert H. “Bobby” Schottenstein, chairman, president and CEO of M/I Homes Inc., and John P. McConnell, chairman and CEO of Worthington Industries Inc.

They join the more than 80 business leaders inducted into the Junior Achievement of Central Ohio Hall of Fame in the past 26 years who give inspiration and purpose to young people to succeed in a global economy. 

 

2013 Hall of Fame Honorees

John P. McConnell

Robert H. “Bobby” Schottenstein

When Dennis Oates was named president and CEO of Universal Stainless & Alloy Products Inc. in 2008, he took on the central challenge facing the company — transforming a small specialty metals producer into a global enterprise offering technologically advanced products to the aerospace, power generation, oil and gas and automotive markets.

During the first three years of his tenure as CEO, which included taking on the additional responsibilities of chairman in 2010, Oates substantially increased the company’s efficiency and customer service efforts. He recognized, however, that expanding the sophistication of Universal’s product capabilities would require advanced, multimillion-dollar equipment along with the investment in the capabilities of employees throughout the company.

The transformation currently underway at Universal began with Oates’ decision to acquire Patriot Special Metals, a partially-completed “greenfield” steel facility in nearby North Jackson, Ohio, in 2011. This acquisition was highly strategic and essential for advancing the company’s position within the specialty steel industry.

One of the key assets acquired was the largest hydraulic radial forge in the Western Hemisphere, which immediately expanded the company’s product range and reduced costs by moving formerly outsourced services in-house.

The acquisition also included a Vacuum Induction Melting furnace. Adding Universal’s first VIM furnace enabled the company to enter selected, global markets for high-nickel alloys and super alloys used for aircraft and rotorcraft parts and gears.

With this bold move, Oates put the pieces in place to substantially broaden Universal’s production capabilities, improve the company’s overall profit potential, expand its product range in higher value and higher margin products, and enable its entry into new market niches.

 

How to reach: Universal Stainless & Alloy Products Inc., (412) 257-7600 or www.univstainless.com

 

2013 PACESETTER CLASS:
(Click below to read their profile.)

Lifetime Acheivement

 

Centurion

 

Mid-sized

 

Emerging

 

Monday, 30 September 2013 08:00

2013 Pacesetter - Emerging - TrueFit

Under Darrin Grove’s leadership, TrueFit has carved out a noteworthy role as a collaborative partner to organizations and entities dedicated to building new ideas, products and startups in Pittsburgh and around the country.

Innovation and entrepreneurial spirit both give guidance to Grove, who serves as CEO. His leadership instills a startup mentality throughout the organization and his insatiable thirst for new, disruptive technologies has positioned TrueFit as a leader in bringing new ideas to market. The company acts as an invaluable partner to companies seeking to operate more entrepreneurially.

For TrueFit’s clientele, Grove leads the proprietary Idea Launch process, ensuring that innovation begins with collaboration. He works closely with TrueFit clients to involve a broad cross-section of stakeholders, company leadership, end users and subject matter experts to bring game-changing new technology products to market.

TrueFit has gone through several changes, each with unique challenges. In the first five years, TrueFit grew primarily through a single client relationship — the challenge was diversification. In the next five years, the company plateaued and continued to experiment with a variety of diversification strategies.

TrueFit has always had strong capabilities in engineering, but Grove identified a challenge to understand the brand and build a strong sales and marketing capability. Due to this realization, TrueFit invested heavily in staff, market, product and technology R&D.

In the last five years, TrueFit has established a brand and added a strong sales and marketing capability to the team, which has led to a solid growth trajectory today. Most recently, TrueFit acquired Gist Design, gaining its downtown Pittsburgh office as well as the company’s expertise in product development, consumer research and design.

 

How to reach: TrueFit, (724) 772-5959 or www.truefitsolutions.com

 

2013 PACESETTER CLASS:
(Click below to read their profile.)

Lifetime Acheivement

 

Centurion

 

Mid-sized

 

Emerging

 

System One Holdings LLC dates back to 1979, but over the years the business was sold from one large corporation to another and was continually mismanaged and misunderstood. It wasn’t until Troy Gregory convinced the company’s last owner, Hudson Highland Group, to sell him the company that System One began to stabilize and gain a foothold in the staffing industry.

As president and CEO of System One, Gregory’s first order of business was to win the trust of employees and to build out his infrastructure to replace the resources that Hudson had provided. Today, Gregory brings out the best in his people because they want to prove that their accomplishments are up to his standards. With Gregory at the helm of the staffing and services company, which is focused on the energy sector, clients see the power of positive reinforcement.

The simplicity of daily feedback loops, rigid reporting structures and the knowledge that the organization cares about them enables Gregory to drive his employees to give their heart and soul from morning to night. Determination is contagious at System One.

A staffing business could be full of reasons why it should not have grown during the Great Recession, but System One grew its bottom line by more than 60 percent. This growth was built on a sales-driven culture that doesn’t take anything for granted and treats its clients, employees and prospects with a level of attentive service that is highly unique for a company the size of System One.

During the Great Recession, the staffing industry was crumbling, but Gregory was a step ahead and thrived by innovating business models. To Gregory, the answer was obvious — apply a cost effective staffing model that provides a full service, high-touch solution.

System One immediately began to offer the best in quality services at more cost-effective rates by maximizing its scalable infrastructure. The company could uniquely provide large-scale solutions requiring tens of millions of dollars of working capital while at the same time treating each client like it was its first one.

The culture of System One is a direct reflection of Gregory’s sensibility, openness and communication. Instilling a sense of mutual respect and appreciation within the organization has brought out the potential in the employees and improved client relationships. Once people have worked with Gregory, they want to continue working with him. It is this self-fulfilling and rewarding cycle that is fueling the growth of System One today and for years to come.

 

How to reach: System One Holdings LLC, (412) 995-1900 or www.systemoneservices.com

 

2013 PACESETTER CLASS:
(Click below to read their profile.)

Lifetime Acheivement

 

Centurion

 

Mid-sized

 

Emerging