Cleveland (5895)

As we emerge from the worst recession in memory, employers are cautiously rebuilding their workforces. Many long-term unemployed are starting to get interviews and offers, and some are seeing a new wrinkle: credit background checks.

Those checks might unearth financial problems that would cause an employer to reject a candidate. But beware of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act and additional state laws.

It is important to protect the company’s bank account by ensuring that access is limited to those who can be trusted. So how can you tell for sure? While there is no fail-safe guarantee, credit background checks can raise red flags early in the process.

“The wisest course for employers is to make the best hires they can, using all of the legitimate, nondiscriminatory information accessible to them within the law,” says Karen C. Lefton, a partner in the Labor & Employment group at Brouse McDowell.

Smart Business spoke with Lefton about her recommendations on conducting credit background checks.

What steps should a company take as it makes hiring decisions?

1) Get the candidate’s consent for the credit check in advance and in writing. Work with your attorney to create a clear consent form. It should state that the candidate acknowledges and agrees that the consumer-reporting agency will furnish a report to the employer, and that the employer intends to use the information for employment purposes.

2) Engage a reputable consumer-reporting agency, one well versed in the limitations of the FCRA, to conduct the review.

3) Provide the agency with reasonable criteria for its review, such as verification of the applicant’s Social Security number, balances totaling $2,000 or more that are at least 60 days past due, lack of credit, current garnishments on earnings, overdue child support or other outstanding collections of $2,000 or more.

4) Make sure the report is limited to the criteria sought. If the search turns up information that the employer should not know about — the candidate’s disabled child, for example — that information should be withheld to insulate the employer from any allegation of discrimination in the hiring process.

5) Before taking adverse action, provide the candidate with written notice that a copy of the report is available, as is a summary of his or her rights under the FCRA.

Keep in mind that errors occur. The ‘John Smith’ applying for a job may not be the same ‘John Smith’ with a horrendous credit history. Fairness requires that all candidates be given the opportunity to contest black marks. Only then can you ensure that hiring decisions are based on bona fide qualifications, or the lack there of. The hiring decision should be based largely on whether there is increased company risk, whether that risk is outweighed by the benefit of the candidate’s other credentials and the specific access his or her new position gives him or her to company funds.

Can credit checks be used as a basis to not hire or promote someone?

Yes, if you have followed the steps outlined. You are not required to hire a CFO mired in debt to collect your receivables or to pay your bills. Further, the FCRA does not distinguish between job candidates and current employees, meaning that consumer reports may be used to evaluate a person for promotion, reassignment or retention. But, again, employees must give conspicuous consent to the performance of credit checks.
What should be part of a background check, and does it vary by position?

Good credit and sound financial history are absolutely essential when an employee has access to money, whether yours or a customer’s. And don’t be lax because the sums aren’t huge. A local library employee, fired after $350,000 was discovered missing, goes on trial for aggravated theft later this month, accused of stealing nickels and dimes regularly over six years. Criminal background and driving records also might be relevant. A history of violence or criminal behavior are disqualifying for employees working in secluded areas with customers or in the customers’ homes. A bad driving record can knock out a delivery position candidate. Employers must be vigilant to avoid putting customers, co-workers or the public in peril due to bad hiring decisions.

Karen C. Lefton is a partner in the Labor & Employment practice group at Brouse McDowell. Reach her at (330) 535-5711 or

Find out more about Brouse McDowell’s Labor & Employment law services.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Brouse McDowell

A few simple steps you can take now will pay dividends when tax time rolls around next April, says Steve Gross, CPA, a partner at Skoda Minotti.

“Start now as opposed to waiting until late December and rushing to accomplish your goals. There are some very simple strategies you can follow now to reap the benefits when tax time arrives,” Gross says.

Smart Business spoke with Gross about tax tips, including a credit that is scheduled to expire this year.

What are some basic things to consider to reduce tax liability?

A few things you might want to look at are:

  • Charitable contributions. Make any donations before the end of the year — you can put the donation on a credit card, even if the card payment isn’t due until January 2014, and still list the deduction in 2013. If you aren’t an itemized taxpayer, you may consider accelerating your 2014 pledges, whether that is one or several, to reach the totals needed to itemize and take advantage of the deduction. This also applies to pass-through entities; if you’re an owner of a partnership or shareholder in an S corporation, donations are deducted as a separate line item.

    Another opportunity to realize charitable contributions is to donate unused or unwanted — but still in usable condition — household items and clothing to a qualified charitable organization. By doing so, you’ll get a deduction for the fair market value.

  • Estimated tax payments. While fourth quarter estimated federal and state taxes are not due until Jan. 15, you could pay the state estimate by Dec. 31 and get the deduction this year.

    You may also consider accelerating payment for your real estate taxes. Some taxpayers who don’t itemize every year because they don’t have enough in deductions can pay the entire real estate tax bill for one full year in January, and then again in full in December of the same year. This may help you reach the limit to itemize.
  • Capital gains and losses. If you’ve sold stocks and had capital gains, it might make sense to look at your portfolio for any loss positions you might want to sell to offset the gains. The capital gains tax increased from 15 to 20 percent in 2013, and gains may be subject to the 3.8 percent additional Medicare tax on excess passive income.
  • Energy credits. The residential energy credit, which technically expired at the end of 2011, was reinstated through 2013 and provides up to 10 percent of qualified expenses, up to a $500 lifetime limit, for the installation of energy-saving exterior doors, windows or air conditioners.
  • Business property. Under Section 179 of the tax code, you may elect to deduct the cost of qualified business property purchased and placed in service during the year. The maximum deduction allowed for 2012 was $500,000, subject to a phase-out for acquisitions above $2 million.

Under the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA), these limits are extended through 2013. Absent new legislation by Congress, the maximum allowance will plummet to $25,000 in 2014. The ATRA also preserves 50 percent bonus depreciation on any remaining cost of qualified property your business places in service this year.

The bonus depreciation tax break is generally scheduled to expire after 2013.

Are these things you should be reviewing every year?

Yes. In addition, pay careful attention to the fair market value of the non-cash charitable contributions. Many organizations provide guidelines for establishing the fair market value of used property.

Tax rates are not changing in 2014, but when there is a major change in rates, depending on which way they’re going, that might influence what you do in a particular year. Your tax adviser should be in-step with the changes in tax law and if they will affect you. It would be impossible for any taxpayer to fully understand the variety of scenarios, given the complexity of ‘if/then’ situations surrounding deductions.

Steve Gross, CPA, is a partner at Skoda Minotti. Reach him at (440) 449-6800 or

Find out more about Skoda Minotti's tax planning and preparation.

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by Skoda Minotti

Businesses in certain industries frequently overlook the Interest-Charge Domestic International Sales Corporation (IC-DISC) provisions of the tax code, which encourage U.S. manufacturing and exporting. The incentive essentially reduces the top federal tax rate on income from certain qualified goods and services from 39.6 percent to 20 percent.

“Because it is thought of as only a manufacturer’s incentive, many companies in certain eligible industries have never heard of the IC-DISC, or have summarily dismissed the incentive,” says Amit Mathur, CPA, director at WTP Advisors.

Rob MacKinlay, president of Cohen & Company, says, “Distributors, as well as industries that produce certain products and services, repeatedly overlook the IC-DISC. We have helped many of these companies realize that they are indeed eligible for the significant and easy-to-implement savings from this federal incentive that does not disrupt business operations whatsoever.”

Smart Business spoke with Mathur and some of the top accounting firms in the region about the IC-DISC and some of the industries that frequently miss, or underutilize, the valuable incentive.

Can distributors, brokers use an IC-DISC?

Distributors of U.S.-made products are eligible for IC-DISC benefits on those goods that are exported. Since many distributors have been told that they do not qualify for the ‘Domestic Production Activities’ deduction, which does indeed require manufacture by the taxpayer claiming the deduction, they have assumed that they aren’t eligible to use an IC-DISC.

“While the exported goods must be finished in the U.S., both the final manufacturer as well as the distributor that does the actual exporting are eligible to use the IC-DISC. Unfortunately, both parties often miss out on the opportunity,” says Jim Bowen, tax partner at Bober Markey Fedorovich.

Are architects and engineers entitled to claim savings under this provision?

Architectural and engineering services furnished in connection with foreign construction projects and facility expansions can qualify for IC-DISC benefits.

“Regardless where the architectural and engineering services are performed, and even if the project never comes to fruition, such services are eligible,” says Pete Chudyk, senior tax shareholder at Maloney + Novotny.

Can software firms save with the IC-DISC?

Licenses and sales of software programs used abroad, as well as in Canada and Mexico, may be eligible for IC-DISC benefits.

Mike Luxeder, tax director at Libman Goldstine Kopperman & Wolf says, “Software companies should examine where their products are ultimately used. The IRS recently clarified its position that software sales, licenses and royalties can indeed qualify for the IC-DISC.”

How might recyclers use the IC-DISC?

Recycled products, as long as they undergo the requisite amount of U.S. manufacturing and are ultimately exported, can be eligible for the IC-DISC. The IC-DISC tax regulations consider any product to be manufactured in the U.S. if at least 20 percent of the costs to produce the product are related to U.S. labor and factory burden. This includes labor related to destroying, cleaning and treating scrap or waste materials such as metals.

How can food producers and growers get the benefits of this tax provision?

Products that are ‘manufactured, produced, grown or extracted’ in the U.S., and are ultimately exported, are eligible for the IC-DISC. Ohio’s chief agricultural exports, such as soy and corn, are often missed. Raw, processed and semi-processed foods, livestock, pelts, etc., are also eligible.

Many farmers and ranchers, particularly those selling through certain cooperatives, are just now starting to realize the opportunity to participate in the tax savings from the IC-DISC.

If you’ve passed over the IC-DISC before because you’ve bought into the notion that this incentive is only for manufacturers and exporters, you may be losing money. There are many industries that can draw a benefit. However, it’s advisable that you contact a specialist to help your business navigate the complex rules.

Amit Mathur, CPA, is a director at WTP Advisors. Reach him at (216) 292-6732 or

Learn more about the IC-DISC.

Insights Tax Incentives is brought to you by WTP Advisors

Your property manager offers not only convenience, but also cost stabilization and a link to finding creative ways to save money without sacrificing quality of service.

“A qualified property manager should be able to distinguish the needs of both the tenants and landlord to protect the asset — whether it’s office, industrial, retail or multi-family,” says Eliot Kijewski, SIOR, senior vice president at CRESCO.

Another benefit of having a professional property manager is that he or she serves as a singular point of contact for both the tenant and landlord, which allows the property owner to invest his or her time elsewhere.

“Our property management philosophy is to think like an owner to maximize asset value,” says Judy L. Simon, CPM, assistant vice president at Continental Realty.

Smart Business spoke with Kijewski and Simon about how to best utilize property management.

What services does a property manager typically provide?

Traditionally, a property manager’s duties fall under the categories of building operations, financial management and tenant relations. He or she helps keep costs consistent, using his or her contacts to shop out needed services, whether it’s snow removal, landscaping or cleaning services, to get the best price per square foot. The manager uses those same contacts to reach out to contractors and have them bid for tenant improvement work.

At the same time, the manager is a liaison between the tenant and landlord. Many tenants decide to move because poorly managed building issues interfere with their daily operations. An experienced property manager stops potential issues from becoming large problems, which helps with tenant retention. The property manager may be working for the landlord, but he or she must maintain a good relationship with the tenants.

Property owners should have at least 50,000 square feet of space for property management to be cost-effective. Then, you can tailor the services you want your property manager to deliver.

Beyond hiring contractors and dealing with tenants, how else can the property manager assist?

A quality property manager will help maximize how your dollars are spent by providing cost savings without losing quality. For example, a manager can help you decide where, or if, you should offer an extra service or two to make the property more attractive to tenants, such as move-in assistance or security. The manager also can find savings through energy management or sustainability programs, which benefit both the landlord and tenants.

He or she can help establish contracts with vendors, whether that’s purchasing carpet, salt, landscaping material, etc., as well as assist with capital budgeting. For instance, beyond getting three quotes for a roof repair, the manager can help you decide if you want a total replacement, patching, or to replace different sections each year, in which case you can allocate funds for each stage of the project rather than write one large check.

Does a property manager have a role in lease negotiations?

Not really, although property managers can assist with lease administration and reporting. However, it’s important to remember if a property is not managed well, it drives off prospective tenants. If they pull into a parking lot full of chuckholes that hasn’t recently been seal coated or stripped, they will assume their space is going to get the same poor attention.

The saying goes: The first impression is the only impression you get. Your property manager helps with that first impression. The manager may not have a direct impact on pricing and lease negotiations, but many times the property manager will hear about expansion/renewal needs during routine tenant visits. Their experience with and understanding of the building will also help you during negotiations.

Eliot Kijewski, SIOR, is a senior vice president at CRESCO. Reach him at (216) 525-1487 or

Judy L. Simon, CPM, is an assistant vice president at Continental Realty. Reach her at (216) 454-2546 or

CRESCO and Continental Realty have joined to offer full-service property management in the Cleveland market

Insights Real Estate is brought to you by CRESCO

Pushing the envelope by implementing new Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services makes sense for forward-thinking companies. After all, streamlining data and communications allows you to become more efficient. And increased productivity translates to the bottom line.

However, it’s important not to jump on board with an inexperienced VoIP provider that hasn’t properly tested its technologies.

“Most people prefer something that is tried and true, regardless if it’s new or not,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at

Smart Business spoke with Desberg about fully hosted and cloud-based telephone systems and what to look for in a VoIP provider.

What are some of the characteristics that make hosted and cloud-based telephone systems more attractive than traditional phone services?

Typically, with traditional premise-based private branch exchange (PBX), you buy a hardware solution and pay for the features that you want upfront. Until you need to renew the licensing or upgrade your system, you are pretty much set. However, adding services can be an arduous task because if you want to add lines or provide call queuing someone has to come out to manage the hardware and update the software at your location.

Hosted VoIP and virtual PBX are cloud-based, so when changes are needed it’s as simple as contacting your VoIP provider to remotely toggle a specific feature or service on or off.

How can companies feel secure about using cutting-edge technologies for their telecommunication needs?

New offerings are constantly coming out in the VoIP world, but the most important thing is that they are properly tested and correctly launched. You don’t want to take a gamble on a new VoIP technology that may or may not work for your business — you want to be sure that it will work.

Make sure you are working with a provider that has a history of telecommunications experience and focuses on staying ahead of the technology curve. It’s important to work with an experienced VoIP provider that can help you navigate through the new technology waters and figure out what will be best for your business.

What resources should a mid-market company evaluate when choosing telecommunication services?

The first resource that should be evaluated is technical talent: What kind of talent do you have available internally to assimilate VoIP technologies into your business model? Some companies prefer to handle their own problem-solving, and if they have capable IT personnel, this is a valid option. If you don’t have the technical expertise available internally, then you can use a VoIP provider that handles everything from setup to recommended upgrades.

Another resource to consider is capital investment versus a service model. If you want to buy a phone system with capabilities for popular services such as call recording, queuing, integration into customer relationship management software and fail-over services, there is going to be a significant upfront investment. However, if you want these services, but don’t want to pay for it all upfront, you can have a VoIP provider incorporate these services on a monthly basis.

How can a business save money by handling VoIP services internally?

If you have talent on-hand with time to spend on implementing VoIP services, then you can realize significant cost savings. Some VoIP providers make the learning curve very easy. For example, you can buy space on a virtually hosted cloud platform and have your personnel learn how to operate the system in a safe and secure environment, rather than trying to figure it out in a brick and mortar location.

Alex Desberg is sales and marketing director at Reach him at

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation’s (BWC) Destination Excellence program allows employers to choose programs that best fit their risk management needs. It focuses on safer workplaces, return to work and savings options for administrative functions.

“These programs essentially offer discounts for things employers already do,” says Randy Jones, senior vice president of TPA Operations at CompManagement, Inc.

Smart Business spoke with Jones about Destination Excellence and how it fits with Ohio’s other premium discount programs.

What programs make up Destination Excellence and what are the discounts?

  • Industry Specific Safety Program — Complete one to three loss prevention activities related to your industry, depending on your total payroll, as well as an online safety management self-assessment. Activities include industry specific training classes, attendance at BWC’s Safety Congress & Expo and/or on-site field consulting with a member of the BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene. The benefits are an increase in workplace safety and the implementation of industry best practices. It offers a 3 percent discount.

  • Drug Free Safety Program — Prevent on-the-job injuries by integrating drug-free efforts into your safety program.  The benefits are an increase in workplace safety, productivity and morale. The basic program offers a 4 percent discount, while the advanced program offers 7 percent.

  • Safety Council — Regular attendance at safety council meetings in your community to increase awareness of workplace safety and health issues as well as affecting the frequency and severity of claims in your workplace. It’s a chance to learn best practices, increase collaboration among local business owners, improve public relations and increase safety. It also offers a 2 percent discount each for participation and performance.

  • Transitional Work — Program to return injured workers to productivity in the workplace by providing modified job duties and other methods that accommodate medical restrictions. There are 3-to-1 matching grants available from BWC to start a program. This could lead to lower injury downtime, improved employee recovery time and increased worker morale, all of which protect your workforce. It also offers up to a 10 percent bonus discount for using an established and approved transitional work program with applicable claims that have dates of injury within that policy year.

  • Go Green — Report your company’s payroll electronically and pay premiums in full on the BWC’s website. This reduces paperwork and helps the environment. It also means a discount of 1 percent of your premium, up to a maximum of $2,000 per policy period.

  • Lapse Free — Pay premiums on time without a lapse in coverage during the past 60 months and get a 1 percent discount on your premium, up to a maximum of $2,000 per policy period.

Are the Destination Excellence programs compatible with other BWC discounts?

While participating in the Destination Excellence program, employers can participate in the following programs:

  • Group Rating.

  • Experience Modifier cap.

  • $15,000 Medical-only.

  • Grow Ohio Incentive Program.

  • One Claim Program (private employers).

  • Early Payment Discount (cannot be combined with Go Green).

The Go Green and Safety Council discounts within Destination Excellence are compatible with the above programs, as well as Group retrospective rating, Individual retrospective rating and Large/Small Deductible. Small Deductible also can be used with the Drug Free Safety Program.

What are the enrollment deadlines?  

The private employer deadline is the last business day of February. For public employers, it’s the last business day in October. Employers wishing to participate in a Safety Council must enroll in a local program by July 31.

What’s the best way to calculate savings?

Contact your workers’ compensation third-party administrator to request a ‘feasibility study.’ It can help you evaluate how the programs could impact your costs.

Randy Jones is senior vice president of TPA Operations at CompManagement, Inc. Reach him at (800) 825-6755, ext. 65466, or

Insights Workers’ Compensation is brought to you by CompManagement, Inc.

An infringement on your trademark by another entity through its domain name can affect the strength of your brand. In some instances, a company may benefit from stopping an infringer and seeking damages.

“Ultimately, it all comes down to dollars and cents, and whether a business wants to truly invest and strengthen its brand to prevent others from capitalizing on its goodwill,” says Mark J. Masterson, an associate at Fay Sharpe LLP.

Smart Business spoke with Masterson about the intersection of trademarks and URLs, and what protections are available to help prevent costly trademark infringements.

How might a domain name or URL infringe on a trademark?

A trademark owner can enforce trademark rights against a domain name that is likely to create source confusion with the trademark owner’s brand or if a domain name dilutes that trademark. However, in some instances, a domain name registrant would not be prevented from exercising its First Amendment rights by registering a domain name that is similar to the trademark. As such, third parties have a right of fair use as well as the right to parody and satirize others’ trademarks. Regardless, domain name registration does not provide a right to violate trademark law or to engage in cybersquatting.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark office (USPTO) and domain registrars operate separately from one another. Generally, registering a domain name is done on a first-come, first-served basis, with the idea that the registrant has a good faith and a legitimate interest to use the name. On the other hand, the USPTO must examine a trademark application for conformity with federal law and trademark rules prior to formally granting a registration.

What’s the recourse against cybersquatters?

The Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act provides a private right of action for trademark owners to bring suit in federal court against the holder of a confusingly similar domain name. Additionally, trademark owners may initiate arbitration procedures under the authority of the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to transfer control of a confusingly similar domain name to the trademark owner without having to go to court.

A trademark owner can avoid federal court by filing a grievance through ICANN, following the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy’s procedure for filing complaints. The arbitration process can take as little as three months and is less costly than litigation. However, filing suit in federal court is usually recommended when market share is affected by the infringing use.

How has Internet commerce affected common-law trademark rights?

A URL or domain name registration does not in itself constitute ‘use’ for purposes of acquiring trademark priority. Common law trademark rights are geographic in nature and have caused a bit of judicial confusion with the broad geographic reach of the Internet.

Although some common law trademark rights may exist due to the creation of a website, the strength of these rights is generally dependent upon market penetration, the nature of the business, and the actual geographic reach of the business’s products and services. However, even in situations that appear to be a strong case for granting broad protections to a common law trademark, the courts have raised various questions and developed fact-based tests that can be expensive to prove and tend to favor a registered trademark holder.

Therefore, it is in the best interest of a common law trademark user to register his or her trademark with the USPTO to take advantage of the strongest commercial protection afforded by law.

How can companies ensure their marks are protected in the market and online?

Fundamentally, companies should select a name or logo for their products and services by keeping such variables as domain name and trademark registration in mind. The key is selecting a mark that can become a federally registered trademark with the USPTO and is marketable to a desired consumer. The trademark prosecution process can take up to a year or more, but it is the best way to ensure that trademark rights are protected, online or otherwise.

When selecting a mark, the company should conduct an informal trademark search online or hire a trademark attorney to conduct an in-depth trademark search. Usually, in-depth trademark searches cover USPTO files, state trademark listings and domain name registries, as well as online and other common law uses.

Selecting a domain name should become a priority only after selecting a trademark that can be validly enforceable. Once granted, it is the responsibility of the trademark owner to actively police his or her mark in commerce to prevent unauthorized uses that would otherwise reduce its strength and value.

Mark J. Masterson is an associate at Fay Sharpe LLP. Reach him at (216) 363-9000 or

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Fay Sharpe LLP

The greatest baseball game I ever saw was Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. The Minnesota Twins defeated the Atlanta Braves 1-0 in a 10-inning nail bitter, adding an exclamation point to what many consider the best World Series ever played.

In that deciding game, Twins’ ace Jack Morris gave one of the gutsiest pitching performances in baseball history — scattering 7 hits over 10 scoreless innings while throwing a staggering 126 pitches.

Morris, who in 1994 spent a short stint with the Cleveland Indians, spent nearly 3 1/2 hours on one of the world’s grandest stages and barely broke a sweat. From first pitch to last, he relentlessly attacked Atlanta’s hitters. Whenever a batter reached base, he dug in his heels and adjusted his approach.

One of the things I love most about baseball is the strategy that unfolds during a game. It’s fascinating to watch as the players make adjustments throughout the game as the situations change.

Morris’ performance, as well as the entire 1991 World Series, demonstrates a close correlation between effective adjustments and victory. In the business world, this same ability to swiftly adapt to marketplace fluctuations often means the difference between success and failure. Newton’s Third Law of Motion offers one reason why: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

And though Newton lived long before the Grand Old Game arose, he had the right idea: In business, like in baseball, those who react best win. Adjustments, however, aren’t made in a vacuum. Success depends on two equally important pieces — a leader and a team. The leader has four responsibilities: Develop the game plan; lay out a vision for success; achieve buy-in by inspiring others to step up and follow; and execute on the plan. In baseball, this role falls to the pitcher. In business, that often means the CEO or another senior executive.

The team also must effectively play defense behind the pitcher. They need to collectively grind out base hits on offense and score a few runs — at least one more than the other guys. Victory represents having the ever-so-slightest edge on your opponent. It isn’t necessary to engineer a massacre to secure the W.

As the innings pass, the plan requires continuous adjustment. The leader’s tactics need to be tweaked so they better address what’s happening at any given moment.

Trust is just as important. A leader must trust the team to do its job, especially when that job looks more like a curveball than a straight fastball. And in return, the team must trust its leader to make the right adjustments at the right time.

But just like Morris grinding it out inning-after-inning, batter-after-batter, if you want to make successful adjustment in business, you have to know your end goal. And then, make sure your focus is clear and accept nothing less than success. By doing so, you can rally your team to rise to the occasion and make adjustments.

Then, maybe, just maybe, your organization will end up winning its own version of a World Series ring. ●


Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations of Smart Business Network, publishers of Smart Business magazine. Reach him at dsklein@sbnonline.comor (440) 250-7026.

Twitter:  @DustinSKlein 


Monday, 30 September 2013 20:00

Raising the tide in Northeast Ohio

Written by

ABCO Fire Protection, founder of the Live Safe Foundation, took top honors recently as recipient of the Shatten Civic Distinction Award from The Entrepreneurs EDGE.

Each year, as part of the Leading EDGE Awards Program, The Entrepreneurs EDGE highlights one of 101 companies with the award. The award recognizes a Leading EDGE honoree that exemplifies the spirit of Richard Shatten, who had a strong love for the Northeast Ohio community and gave his time tirelessly in an effort to make it better for everyone. His life was cut short in 2002 when he died of a brain tumor. By shedding light on companies that give back like he did, EDGE honors his memory and continues to build on the ideas that he so passionately supported.

The Live Save Foundation was founded in 2009 by Jill Marcinick of ABCO to provide safety education, awareness and lifesaving tools to the community. It is an Ohio based non-profit devoted to causes that will reduce national fire fatalities and losses.

ABCO employees and volunteers at Live Safe have worked to enhance the missions of such organizations at The Ohio State University Medical Burn Center, Society of Fire Protection Engineers, Center for Campus Fire Safety, Christine Wilson Foundation, Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, Christine’s Christmas, International Association of Fallen Firefighters, Leadership Dublin and others.

As part of the activities at the awards ceremony, EDGE asked attendees to participate in an exercise to demonstrate the power of a dollar. Attendees were asked to place $1 in an envelope. As a result EDGE matched funds and $500 was raised that ABCO could use for the charitable cause of its choice.

Inspired by the exercise and the Shatten Civic Distinction Award, the Live Safe Foundation through a strategic programmatic partnership with ABCO Fire Protection is partnering to provide the “Live Safe with the ABCO-Shatten Education Fund.” The fund has been established to support the communities where ABCO associates live and work. The $500, as a starting point, will offer financial assistance for college students.

The education fund application requires students to submit an essay on creating unique education solutions related to fire safety and living in a fire-safe environment. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there were more than 19 million students enrolled in two- and four-year institutions in fall 2009, and for many, this was their first time living away from home and facing new experiences.

The National Fire Protection Association reports in a fall 2010 survey that U.S. fire departments responded to more than 1.3 million fires and 2 million false alarms in 2009. The data represents a serious problem in the country as home fires caused 85 percent of the civilian fire deaths. ABCO and the Live Safe Foundation believe through leadership and awareness, students can make an impact on their peers.

The vision for the fund is to enable recipients to support their education in areas where ABCO associates live and work. The funds may be used to help purchase supplies and textbooks. In the future, it may provide a “lifeline” to students overcoming the impact of an emergency and helping them stay on track. In addition to the funds provided, students will be given a special Custom Student Fire Safety Kit when going off to college, including a fire extinguisher, photoelectric smoke detector, and access to the Flashpoint online fire safety curriculum from the National Institute of Fire and Safety Training.

The Shatten Civic Distinction Award is presented by The Entrepreneurs EDGE with sponsorship support from Fairmount Minerals and Davey Tree. In addition to recognition at the annual Leading EDGE Awards Dinner and Program, recipients are recognized with a tree-planting ceremony at their company location in the fall. The program has honored eight exemplary companies since its inception, including ABCO Fire Protection, BrandMuscle, Fairmount Minerals, HumanArc, Main Street Gourmet, Marous Brothers, PartsSource and Shearer’s Foods.

The Entrepreneurs EDGE drives growth for companies by bringing together their leadership teams to share best practices and inspire each other to pursue high-value opportunities. EDGE is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and is the only NEO economic development group that is focused on helping midsized companies strengthen their leadership teams in order to take their companies to the next level. ●


EDGE operates with a mission of enhancing the Northeast Ohio community where quality of life and opportunity abound for all. Civic engagement is intertwined in everything EDGE does, from the Leading EDGE Awards Program to their midsized company membership and student programs. For more information on The Entrepreneurs Edge, go to

Thirty years ago, motivated by a desire to be healthier, I quit smoking. That change had an unanticipated outcome that altered the course of my life: I learned that I had the ability to break a habit and replace it with a new one.

That might sound simple, but for me it was transformative. It extended far beyond a physical act and changed the way I thought about not only myself, but also the world around me. 

I started by replacing smoking with new habits — “positive addictions.” If I wanted a cigarette, I would brush my teeth instead, or run up and down a flight of stairs. Eventually, I took up running. In a sense, I was running from a former self to a new self. I came to see myself as someone who could change, no matter how unlikely that change had once seemed.

While we often discuss shifting paradigms in work, we often forget about the need for shifting our individual paradigms. We must actively reshape the mental models we have that tell us what is and isn’t possible.

These models so often condition failure. Deep ruts form in our thinking that lead us to do things as we’ve always done them. Creating new habits helps to steer us into new territory.

When we think about harmful habits, or habits that are limiting our growth, we might think of things like smoking, overeating or disorganization. But there are countless others that can be holding us back.


Out with the old, in with the new

Here are steps for overcoming an unwanted habit and replacing it with a beneficial one.

1.      Identify the triggers

All of our habits have triggers, the hidden motivations that make us engage in the habit. In my case, I smoked when I was stressed, upset or tired. I believed that smoking helped me feel better.


2. Recognize the tradeoffs

I was “trading” stress for a cigarette, or so I thought. Of course smoking didn’t solve anything — it didn’t get at the root of my stress, just momentarily alleviated it. Once you know what you’re trading, ask yourself — is it worth it?


3. Define the possible

In order to quit smoking, I needed to have a vision of my smoke-free life. Who would I be as a non-smoker? What was the value and benefit to me of being smoke-free? I saw my future self as a healthy, vibrant, energetic person. I seized that image and held on to it when I was tempted to smoke.


4. Identify a new habit to replace
the old one

When I had an urge to smoke I replaced that urge by doing something else to occupy my mind, such as running. Find a new habit that will make you a better person.


5. Strengthen the new habit

To become comfortable with a new habit will take time. It’s unrealistic to think you will unlearn one way of doing things and learn a new way overnight. It takes repeated and renewed effort, but with practice you will become more confident.


6. Reward yourself

We all appreciate recognition of a job well done. In this case though, don’t wait for someone else to congratulate you. Do it yourself. Set goals and then reward yourself when you meet them. ●


Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc.®, a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit or contact Smith at


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