Newsclips Featured

9:50am EDT July 22, 2002
Cable wars

Ameritech New Media, the nation’s largest competitive cable company, recently extended its reach into a 15th city in the Cleveland area. Independence city officials unanimously voted to open the door to local cable television competition, setting the stage for a battle between Ameritech New Media and Cablevision for the community’s 2,500 households.

Leaders of Brecksville, Garfield Heights and Valley View voted to allow the Cleveland-based cable competitor into their cities earlier this summer. Expect the trend to continue. Ameritech New Media is currently negotiating with a dozen other Northeast Ohio cities.

If I had a hammer

Cleveland-based www.callacontractor.com (Call A Contractor.com) is hoping to become the Internet’s one-stop resource for home and business owners looking to hire professional contractors for remodeling or construction work. The site lists all known contractors in the United States and can be searched using a wealth of different variables. For a fee, of course, the site offers banner advertisements and Web development packages to contractors.

Employment ups and downs

After several years of robust employment growth, it appears the number of new jobs created each month is decreasing, says the National Retail Federation. The economy generated an average of 280,000 jobs a month in 1999, 240,000 a month in 1998 and 196,000 a month so far this year, according to figures supplied by the organization.

The last several years of employment growth pushed the unemployment rate to a 29-year low of 4.2 percent in May. However, wage increases have remained tame, despite the ever-tightening labor market. During 1999, wages have increased just 3.6 percent compared to the year before. In 1998, wages were accelerating at a rate of more than 4 percent. However, there is concern that as the labor pool dwindles, wage pressures will build.

Recent victory

The Cleveland office of the law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP won a victory in U.S. district court that has important implications for the nation’s solid waste transporters. The firm successfully defended Waste Management of Ohio Inc. against allegations that a company it merged with disposed hazardous substances in a county incinerator prior to the merger.

VSSP lawyers argued the company was not liable under federal guidelines because use of the site was dictated by local ordinance. For solid waste transporters, the decision means if they do not have a choice about where to dispose of hazardous and nonhazardous waste due to a local “flow control” ordinance, they are not liable for clean-up of the site.

The benefits of the best

Special benefits plans to help attract top executives are now commonplace in corporate America. William M. Mercer Inc. recently surveyed 241 companies to analyze and study how they handled it. Among the nonqualified executive benefits covered in the survey were defined benefit, defined contribution, elective compensation deferral, life insurance, long-term disability and medical plans. Here are the results:

With an increasing portion of executives’ retirement income expected to come from nonqualified plans, almost half the surveyed companies — led by mid-sized firms — have moved to fund their executive benefit plans.

About half the companies require executive benefit plan participants to have pay of at least $160,000, the current federal limit for purposes of calculating retirement benefits.

More than half the employers surveyed include change-in-control provisions in their plans, typically providing for accelerated vesting of benefits or either immediate lump sum payments or accelerated funding.

Copies of Mercer’s Survey on Executive Benefit Plans are available at no charge by calling (800) Mercer9 or visiting Mercer online at www.wmmercer.com/us-news.

Health care in cyberspace

Medical Mutual of Ohio has created SaveWell.com Inc., an Internet-focused subsidiary that will market a variety of health-related products and services to help offset rising health care costs. Ben Zelman, Medical Mutual’s vice president of Care Management, will lead the new operation as president and chief operating officer.

Zelman says the virtual company will allow consumers to save money on health care services and products not typically covered by insurance. In June, Medical Mutual began offering its first product available through the SaveWell card, a prescription drug program that for $52 a year entitles customers to Medical Mutual’s discounts on brand new and generic prescription drugs at participating pharmacies.

Medical Mutual says the card program is being developed to eventually include discount networks for vision care, dental care, alternative health treatments and nutritional supplements. For more information, visit www.savewell.com.

A few facts about women in business

There are nearly 8 million women-owned businesses in the United States, with that number rapidly growing as women start businesses at twice the rate of the general population, according to the American Business Women’s Association. In fact, 74 percent of corporate women indicate they are interested in eventually starting their own business.

Women-owned businesses generate $2.3 trillion in annual sales and employ one out of every four U.S. workers — 18.5 million employees. The ABWA recently sent out the figures as part of a membership drive for its 11,000-member national organization. For more information, visit www.abwahq.org.

Changing of the guard

The Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce elected Yvonne Sanderson as its new board president. Sanderson, who was the organization’s executive director for seven years, wanted to continue her involvement with the chamber as she grows her two businesses, Focal Pane Photography and Nightwak Signs, a business she owns with her husband. The HRCC represents Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, Richmond Heights, University Heights, Lyndhurst and South Euclid and has served the local business community since 1948.

Shopping for a new system

When shopping for business information systems, there are three things PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the world’s largest professional services firm, suggests you consider. The first is specificity. It sounds simple, but make sure the equipment you are buying can actually perform the functions you need it to. Develop “as-is” models to chart how cash flow, invoices and purchases are handled to be included in proposals sent to vendors.

Secondly, the system must be flexible enough that each person in your organization can access the information needed to complete assigned tasks. It is crucial its capabilities are matched by the comfort of the people using it.

Finally, as businesses put valuable information online to interface with vendors or allow access to staff at diverse physical locations, security becomes paramount. Make sure there are adequate security measures for any information system you purchase, especially if proprietary information relating to your company’s competitive edge is at stake.

A Sunday sundae

In an effort to jump on the bandwagon of good feelings surrounding the return of the Cleveland Browns, Pierre’s French Ice Cream Co. has created Brownie Touchdown Sundae — a mix of chunks of chocolate brownies, fudge sauce and roasted pecans. Hopefully, the Browns’ season will be as sweet.

Let me talk to my lawyer first

In a society which seems ever more litigious, perhaps a backlash has begun. A survey conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide Inc. for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that many Americans oppose the trend toward government-sponsored litigation that targets legal businesses.

When asked how they felt about lawsuit s against gun manufacturers that hold them responsible for crimes committed with their products, 68 percent strongly or somewhat opposed the action. Only 19 percent strongly or somewhat favored the suits.

Now if the only the government would listen to the people.

Leaders on the cutting edge

More than 1,200 individuals and companies involved in software development, contracting or consulting in Cleveland now have a way to recognize leaders in the field. The Northeast Ohio Software Association (NEOSA), a private industry trade association formed in 1998 by the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, has established the region’s first awards to acknowledge excellence in what has been dubbed the “knowledge industry.” The first annual Cleveland-Area Knowledge Industry Awards will be presented by NEOSA Nov. 11.

Electronic taxes, part one

More than 1 million Ohioans filed individual income tax returns electronically last season, putting Ohio second only to California among all 50 states. This includes telephone filing and E-File, a new program allowing citizens to submit returns from a personal computer for the first time. Taxpayers were able to use their personal computers and tax preparation software to file their 1998 tax returns electronically from home, or have their taxes filed by an authorized electronic filing provider. Approximately 13 percent of the 5 million Ohio tax returns were filed using the E-File method.

Electronic taxes, part two

Created by Congress in October 1998 as part of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, a 19-member Commission has been charged with studying the impact of federal, state, local, and international taxation and tariffs on transactions using the Internet and Internet access. Central to the examination of these issues is the fact that the Internet knows no geographical boundaries, and, by its very nature, violates those geographical boundaries that hinder other forms of commerce. The commission is also expected to analyze the implications for personal privacy implicit in the taxation of Internet purchases. Recommendations are due in to Congress no later than April 21, 2000.

Y2 not OK

The Y2K budget at many large nonfinancial companies has quintupled during the first part of the year, according to a study by Weiss Ratings Inc. The belief is that management may have vastly underestimated the scope of the millennium bug. USX-U.S. Steel Group, for example, nearly doubled its budget to $71 million. Due to its slender Y2K budget, and because it had barely used 50 percent of its 1998 budget by the end of the first quarter, the company received a low rating. Other Fortune 1000 companies which have received low ratings for their Y2K preparedness include Intel, Comcast and 3Com. If you’re not ready, at least you’re in good company. For ratings of other companies visit www.weissratings.com.