Thursday, 06 September 2012 11:51

Driving global sales for manufacturers

When Andrew Dorn, Industry Leader, Information Intensive Business, Acxiom Corporation, was recently researching the top manufacturers in the United States, one topic kept coming up — the strong growth expectations focused on the world's emerging markets. With the economies of the U.S. and Europe in flux, Dorn felt that, now more than ever, manufacturers need to be attentive to those emerging markets.

"The world is now flat," says Dorn. "Competition comes from everywhere, so manufacturers need to be everywhere."

Because of that, Acxiom has partnered with Smart Business to present a special one-hour webinar: "Driving Global Sales for Manufacturers: Why global growth for manufacturers is more important than ever."

During the webinar — on Wednesday, September 19 at 1:00pm EST — we will discuss why global sales for manufacturers is critical, what factors should be considered in developing or refining the  international strategy, and, finally, present a roadmap that can be employed to optimize chances for success.

Featured panelists will be Zia Daniell Wigder, Vice President and Research Director, Forrester Research; Jennifer Barrett Glasgow, Global Privacy and Public Policy Executive, Acxiom; and Michael Biwer, Managing Director, Acxiom.

"As you enter the global market, it is imperative you understand the privacy laws in each country as they are quite complex and some are very stringent, for example, having criminal penalties for some violations," says Barrett Glasgow.

Other topics to be discussed include:

  • How to determine which countries to enter and what data to gather to understand regional customer requirements
  • Recommended approaches to building country-specific strategies that can help facilitate smooth transitions, lowest possible cost-of-entry, and consistent performance
  • Considerations for navigating the complex web of country-specific data protection and privacy laws companies must adhere to in their efforts to connect with customers and prospects
  • Best practices used by leading companies that have successfully entered new markets

"The U.S. and European economies are still recovering and the balance of growth is constantly shifting," says Dorn. "For example, China and Brazil have been experiencing strong growth. They are encountering a maturity curve, but that doesn't lessen the importance of the issue — manufacturers need to be diversified and have a presence in all major world markets."

The webinar, "Driving Global Sales for Manufacturers: Why global growth for manufacturers is more important than ever" will be held at 1:00 pm EST on Wednesday, September 19.

Click here to register for this free event!

Published in Akron/Canton

When times are tough, the temptation for employees to dupe the system and steal cash or assets increases. The economy is a key driver in fraud activity, and over the last several years, organizations of all sizes have been victimized.

So is the fraud environment improving now that there’s news of an uptick in the economy? Not yet, says Jason Buhlinger, a supervisor in financial advisory services at Brown Smith Wallace LLC, St. Louis, Mo.

“While there may be signs of the economy getting a little better, people still feel uncertain — and as long as that feeling is in the back of their minds, there is motivation and a rationalization to steal,” Buhlinger says.

Companies are running leaner, which means there is less management oversight at some firms, and others have eliminated internal audit personnel. One person may be doing the job of two or more employees, so the work force is spread thin. And that may mean that no one is watching should an employee decide to commit fraud.

“Imposing internal controls becomes harder to accomplish with less staff,” Buhlinger says.

Now is not the time to let your guard down as a business owner.

“The longer the economy trickles along, we’ll continue to see people who are looking for easy ways to get cash,” Buhlinger says.

Smart Business spoke with Buhlinger about the types of fraud being committed and how to establish strong internal controls to protect your business.

What specific economic factors drive individuals to commit fraud?

The recession began in December 2007, and at one point, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down as much as 50 percent. People had to become more frugal. Those who planned on retiring early had to re-examine that goal as they watched their investment savings dwindle. And home prices dropped significantly in some areas of the country.

All of a sudden, the asset values that many people counted on were gone and they had to figure out a way to supplement that. This is where the fraud triangle comes into play — opportunity, rationalization and pressure. All three of these stress points have increased in the past several years, and this continues to be the case.

As long as people feel a sense of economic uncertainty, that can evolve into rationalization and pressure to find more money somehow. When the opportunity to commit fraud presents itself, rather than taking the higher moral road, as they might in better times, they justify the act and take that opportunity. Your organization can’t realistically eliminate all rationalizations and pressures, but it can manage the opportunity side of the triangle.

What types of fraud are most common today?

Asset misappropriation remains the most common type of fraud. That includes, but isn’t limited to, cash theft, payroll schemes and inventory theft, to name a few. A worker might file false expense reports and pocket the cash, or take product from a warehouse and sell it for a profit.

Stealing from cash registers $20 at a time can go unnoticed if proper controls aren’t in place. Asset misappropriation tends to involve smaller amounts of money, but those dollars add up over time.

What are the components of an effective fraud awareness program?

Organizations need to take a proactive approach to prevent fraud. Owners need to be involved in the financial aspect of the business rather than passing that role off entirely to a manager. For example, we recently handled a fraud case in which a CFO had complete financial control of the company and could take whatever he wanted. If their company had implemented the critical concept of segregation of duties, it would have been more difficult for him to pull off fraud.

Segregation of duties is critical to prevent fraud, and this can be a challenge in small businesses. That’s why owner involvement is critical at every level of a business, from reviewing financial statements to checking in at the cash registers. It also helps if organizations provide a way for employees to anonymously report fraud through a tip line or even a simple suggestion box.

By keeping fraud at the forefront of your business, you will discourage those who are teetering on the edge of committing fraud. And with internal controls in place, you will be more likely to catch fraud early before it causes significant damage to the business.

How can a business be proactive about creating a culture of honesty?

It’s important to create a fraud prevention program and talk about it regularly with employees. Hold quarterly meetings to discuss fraud and internal controls. Let everyone know your organization has a zero tolerance policy. By making employees aware that fraud is on the radar and no one is going to get away with it, you decrease the rationalization and opportunity for fraud to occur.

Begin a fraud prevention program to learn what areas of your business are susceptible to fraud. A risk assessment will help you zero in on entry points for fraud so you can watch those areas carefully.

A certified fraud examiner (CFE) can help you get that fraud policy on paper, and it’s a good idea to incorporate it into your employee handbook. Secure a commitment in writing from every employee that they understand the policy and the ramifications if fraud is committed.

 

Jason Buhlinger, CFE, AVA, is a supervisor in financial advisory services at Brown Smith Wallace, St. Louis, Mo. Reach him at  (314) 983-1310 or jbuhlinger@bswllc.com.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Brown Smith Wallace LLC

Published in St. Louis

Offense or defense? Which of these wins ball games? Sports fans  have heard this question raised many times. If the offense scores a lot of points but the defense allows more, you lose. If the defense stands tough, allowing very few points but the offense scores none, you lose. The answer may be as random as the opening coin toss, says Dennis Swearingen, a business development representative at Sequent.

“Over the past few years, the economy has affected many businesses to the point that some have reduced their work force, while others have either closed their doors or sold their company,” says Swearingen. “The analysis of what to do has been difficult and the decisions have been twice as hard.”

He says that some executives chose to add sales representatives but slice the expense of advertising and marketing their product or services, while others made reductions in areas that they believed provided no revenue or profit opportunities. In a sense, executives have made a choice to take either an offensive or defensive strategy, and how they view the role of their HR department has played a large part in that.

Smart Business spoke with Swearingen about how to view your HR department and how it can help you increase the profitability of your organization.

Should the human resources function be considered a profit center or overhead?

When it came time for work force reductions, some owners or executives (depending on the size of the organization) started their cuts with the human resources department because it is typically viewed as an overhead function, not adding value to the organization. However that is not the case, and a strong HR department can be critical to the success of your business.

Let’s review some of the offensive strategies to the HR function. There are many facets of human resources that, if managed properly, can help increase the profitability of your organization. There are two basic ways to proactively impact your profits — either increase revenue or decrease expenses. Below are a examples of how a strong HR function can increase the profitability of your organization.

  • Periodically review your outsourced vendors, such as your payroll processor and 401(k) provider, mandated by the Pension Protection Act, to determine if you have the best system and product for your organization that provides best service at a reasonable price.
  • Evaluate not only your medical plan design and premiums but educate your employees on consumer-driven health decisions and the use of your preventive and wellness benefits.
  • Manage the unemployment process closely. For example, if a company has 100 employees and its unemployment rate is reduced by 1 percentage point, it could save the company approximately $9,000 in state unemployment taxes the following year.
  • Focus on employee retention. Depending on your industry, the cost avoidance of turnover can save your company thousands of dollars in hidden costs of retraining, production, efficiency and even customer retention.

What is the cost of noncompliance?

What about the defensive side of human resources? In other words, does your organization have a professional, certified HR person who is proactively implementing and managing the risk and compliance programs within your organization?

If you have eliminated or reduced your human resources staff, or have never had one, the probability of your company to be noncompliant in any area of HR is high. Over the past few years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of audits that have been conducted by the numerous agencies enforcing employment regulations.

Following are just some examples of where noncompliance can easily cost your bottom line, and even your company.

  • Payroll tax filing with the IRS. If your provider fails to file your payroll taxes in a timely manner, it is likely that your company will pay the penalty. The IRS views nonpayment of payroll taxes as theft. Verify what certifications your vendor has obtained to protect your liability.
  • Are your job descriptions classified properly as exempt or nonexempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act? If not, you could be liable for unpaid overtime and subject to fines up to $10,000 and possible imprisonment.
  • Cross the I’s and dot the T’s on the I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form. Civil violations alone can range from $110 for each form out of compliance to $16,000 for each person hired knowing the individual is not authorized to work in the United States. Imprisonment could occur for criminal violations.
  • The Department of Labor is monitoring 401(k) fiduciary liability more closely than ever.  Whether the violations occur with the broker, investment advisor or third-party administrator, the ultimate responsibility may lie with the fiduciary, which often is the owner of the company. Penalties could reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Should the human resources function be managed in-house or outsourced?

The most common factor in determining when human resources should be managed internally is typically based on the number of employees a company has but is not the only basis. Additionally, there is not a magical cutoff when a company should hire a professional HR person. In order to provide the most efficient and compliant HR function, many factors must be considered.

With the economic challenges that we face today, cost will rank as one of the leading deciding factors. Another important component is how much valuable time is not being spent on increasing revenue and profitability for the future growth of your organization. So ask yourself whether human resources be managed in-house or outsourced. With the ever-changing compliance issues that employers face, the answer must be one or the other.

Dennis Swearingen is a business development representative at Sequent. For a free consultation, reach him at (513) 535-1970 or dswearingen@sequent.biz.

Insights HR Outsourcing is brought to you by Sequent

Published in Cincinnati

When times are lean, eliminating excess and making do with less is simple common sense. That’s true for households as well as companies. However, the recent economic ups and downs have prompted some companies to cut so much fat that they have become too lean ? they suffer from what some call “corporate anorexia.”

Most Americans are all too familiar with anorexia, a physical and mental health condition that results in otherwise healthy individuals starving themselves. Despite the disorder’s pervasiveness in our culture, we rarely think about anorexia in relation to companies. It is, however, an appropriate description of companies that, perhaps due to managers’ fears of economic unknowns, get overly lean by cutting jobs.

Eliminating jobs, either through layoffs or attrition, is not in itself unhealthy. In a slow economy, it is often an unavoidable maneuver to reduce cost structures and operate more efficiently. However, when companies cut too deep or remain too lean for too long, they can experience languid performance and ultimately stagnate growth.

The damaging effects of corporate anorexia manifest themselves in a variety of ways:

Corporate anorexia can have an immediate and devastating effect on a company’s existing work force. When a company cuts back, remaining employees are often required to work additional hours or take on added tasks with little or no added pay. In a tight job market, employees are unlikely to complain, but over time, they are sure to feel increased stress and job dissatisfaction, and those overworked and underpaid employees will be quick to leave should an opportunity present itself. If you are suffering from corporate anorexia now, it will only get worse if those few key people decide to leave.

Even if an anorexic company manages to retain its best, most experienced people, how effective can they be? It is inevitable that when there is too much work, things fall through the cracks. Ultimately, product and service quality, along with customer responsiveness, can suffer. The potential for lost business is obvious.

When a business is “lean and mean,” it is thought to be quick, agile and responsive to market movements. But being too lean can have the opposite effect. When a company is too lean, it does not have the energy (in the form of “manpower”) needed to respond to opportunities quickly. As a result, the anorexic company misses opportunities for new business and potential growth.

Almost all of us binge now and then. We allow ourselves to eat a little more on vacation or over the holidays, knowing we can cut back later to lose the added weight. As individuals, it is relatively easy to change course, but it is not so easy for companies. Just as it takes time to cut back, it takes time to staff up again. Managers can’t decide to staff up for a project one day and have qualified people on site ready to work the following day. They have to recruit and hire the right people, and then those people need time to be trained and get up to speed. When companies become too lean, proactive recruiting efforts are a positive step in the right direction, but the benefits can be months or even years away.

With so much negativity surrounding the current economy, it is natural for managers to think about getting lean. It is smarter, however, for managers to plan wisely so their companies remain healthy in spite of the economy.

John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based HR and Administrative Services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses. For more information about the company, visit www.gnapartners.com.

Published in Houston
Friday, 30 September 2011 21:00

Employment realities

As the U.S. economy continues to falter, unemployment has never been such an influencing factor since the Great Depression. Unemployment stands at between 12 percent and 15 percent, not the 9 percent you hear every day. That number is based on government statistics that come from people registering for unemployment. In reality, it is estimated that there are as many 25 million people who are currently unemployed.

The average monthly paycheck is $3,500. The average monthly unemployment check is $1,000. That means it costs the government as much as $50 billion each month in lost payroll taxes and paid unemployment benefits. The question then becomes, “How does the future look for job seekers, employers and the economy as a whole?” Also, “How does the HR and talent management industry react to the constantly changing landscape during these uncertain times?”

Many manufacturing jobs are simply gone forever. They are not coming back, either as a result of outsourcing overseas or because certain sectors have become obsolete or uneconomic from a production standpoint. Today, more than 50 percent of consumer goods — from semiconductors to washing machines — are manufactured outside of the U.S., and that trend continues to increase. At the same time, new industries are emerging, which are very much technology-driven but will take time to develop their full potential, especially as it relates to employment.

As a result, many companies are outsourcing their help desks and customer service activities to countries like India, which is having the effect of creating something of an unemployable labor pool in the U.S., due to a lack of job training and/or education.

So what this means is that for as far as the eye can see, we risk having a permanent unemployment rate of between 8 percent and 10 percent, compared to what was previously the norm of between 3 percent and 5 percent.

Looking to the future, the private sector of the U.S. economy is going to be far more dependent on service industries than manufacturing. Therefore, the human capital of industry must be re-educated and re-trained to meet this new criteria. Initially, it will be a painful transition that probably will get much worse before it gets better.

Human resource managers are now looking at significant changes in their hiring practices in an effort to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Due to the uncertain economic outlook, companies are relying more on temporary staffing than full-time employees. Fewer companies are outsourcing their search requirements and are scanning the job boards and going to social networks, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and cloud computing to identify job applicants — from CEOs to entry-level trainees. This, in turn, has required talent management firms, such as ours, to essentially reinvent themselves.

No more brick-and-mortar office space. Outsourcing of consultants and virtual delivery has become the norm. And, many client companies have decided not to provide outplacement services when they plan a reduction in their work force.

The retained search business has also become a victim of these changes. Ancillary services, such as executive coaching and leadership development programs, have been put on hold by many employers indefinitely.

As a result, our company, ECS, has adopted something of a hybrid approach that incorporates a hi-tech/hi-touch delivery system, providing the best of both worlds to the candidate, including high-quality virtual programs as well as the more personal one-on-one consultation.

Today, the industry is becoming more sophisticated in the development of online career centers and interactive webinars. Consolidation has also begun to create economies of scale. All of the changes now allow candidates a choice to develop their job search from home by accessing the selected service providers’ website, as well as select online certified job training programs. This change has been slow in coming but is now more the rule that the exception. As such, more focus is being given to alternative careers relative to preferred training options and home office environments.

This will not be an overnight recovery. We anticipate unemployment will continue at between 8 percent and 10 percent well into 2012. Political uncertainty, along with tightening of bank credit, concern about higher taxes and the unknowns of health care reform, virtually guarantee it.

Most people in this country want to work and be successful. If we can combine this desire with a re-education program where we have round pegs in round holes, we really can “win the future.”

A viable solution is creating a task force composed of management, government, labor, educators and HR professionals. This group could begin the process of industrial renewal that will put us on a path toward rebuilding our labor pool into a more practical, sustainable level that will launch us into the 21st century and beyond.

In this land of opportunity, there is room for everyone to succeed in their own way.  That’s what makes America great.

Peter Munson is managing partner of Executive Career Services. Reach him at pmunson@ecspi.com or (310) 442-7734.

Published in Los Angeles

With the volatility and uncertainty in today’s economy, should you push ahead with innovation efforts or wait out the turbulence? This is a common problem. After all, innovation has a mountain of uncertainty associated with it, and the current economic climate just adds to the risk.

To make sense of this issue, Smart Business spoke with Dr. Frank Navratil, Professor of Economics and Finance, Boler School of Business at John Carroll University, for an academic perspective. Chip Gear, a master member of the John Carroll University Entrepreneurs Association, provides his perspective as President of The Technology House — which specializes in product development, prototyping and production processes. They offer their views on the economy and their recommendations for other organizations.

Is the volatility in the economy indicating we should hold off on innovation or move forward?

Navratil: There is a lot of psychological pessimism about the future right now and the question is how much of that pessimism is really warranted?

The economy is definitely struggling:

  • The debt crisis in the U.S. is a critical variable in the future strength of the U.S. economy and Washington, D.C. certainly isn’t giving us a lot of confidence about that right now.
  • In Europe, Italy and Spain are in serious fiscal difficulty, which is putting tremendous pressure on Germany and other economically stronger countries in Europe.
  • Here in the U.S. there are signs the economy is slowing: unemployment claims are up and capital spending is down.
  • Funding for expansion is scarce because banks are in a very conservative lending mood.

On the other hand, unlike the last economic disaster that started with the real estate crash, nothing in the current economy is really broken — these problems can be turned around. The real message here is that the current challenges can present opportunities for businesses. Innovative thinking that solves problems is what customers need right now. Adopting a position of cautious optimism and moving ahead with innovation seems warranted, assuming the business has the resources to do so.

How do you recommend businesses handle their innovation efforts in this economic climate?

Gear: Although the economy is messed up, somebody is really going to have to break it to make it worse. I think cautious optimism is the best perspective to have right now. Having said that, based on my experiences during the 2008-2009 slow down, I think that in this economic climate protecting your cash flow is critical.

If the innovation effort is going to significantly increase an organization’s debt burden, then I might suggest holding off. You have to evaluate your financial position in light of the possibility that, if the economy gets worse, some of your customers could push out their production orders six months or more. If you have increased your debt burden, this can crush your cash flow.

On the other hand, if the innovation is focused on new processes or new technology that makes manufacturing more efficient, then push ahead. Customers continue to want innovative solutions to their problems, so you have to think through how to provide those solutions without a substantial increase in risk exposure. Cautious optimism is a matter of moving forward while evaluating the potential impact of a downturn.

What strategies do you suggest for enhancing an organization’s innovation efforts in this economy?

Gear: There are five strategies that can really have an impact on the bottom line in this economy.

1.     Build a ‘warchest.’ In this economic climate, cash is imperative. You have to have enough of it to be able to respond to potential crises.

2.     Build your employee engagement. When you are getting crunched, you have to have your employees engaged in the decision-making process. I gather my employees together on a regular basis and say, ‘Here’s the situation — how can we make this work?’ The collective wisdom among employees has significantly improved efficiency in our company and has resulted in some really innovative solutions for our customers. An engaged and loyal employee base is critical if the economy takes a downturn.

3.     Strengthen your point of differentiation. You have to identify the most important thing that will bring customers to you instead of your competitors and do that one thing really well. We spent considerable time and effort earning a number of certifications for quality that some of our competitors don’t have. This is one of our sustainable competitive advantages that attract customers to us.

4.     Pursue new markets. Diversifying your customer base is a great hedge against economic volatility and encourages everyone in the organization to think innovatively about the products or services being provided.

5.     Form strategic alliances with competitors. These alliances allow one company to produce more than its capacity without increasing its investment in plant and equipment and the other company to fill its production capacity to gain efficiency. Obviously, this takes some careful selection of alliance partners and due diligence in evaluating each partner’s capabilities.

Dr. Frank Navratil is Professor of Economics and Finance, Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach him at navratil@jcu.edu. Chip Gear is President of The Technology House, which specializes in product development, prototyping and production processes. He is also a master member of the John Carroll University Entrepreneurs Association. Reach him at chip@tth.com.

Published in Cleveland

 

Smart Business spoke to Robert Winningham, Executive Director/CEO of the Allen Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), about the current economic climate in Texas.

With most of the motivation for corporate real estate decisions is still focused on cost reduction and consolidation, the justification for incentives to support business relocations and expansions is stronger than ever. This is at odds with the traditional motivations for granting incentives.

The changing incentive environment is truly the result of today’s “business not as usual” climate. With increased leasing and reliance on landlord tenant improvement budgets versus significant real property investment, many projects fall short of the qualifying thresholds outlined in outdated policies. In response to continuing economic uncertainty, incentive policies are currently in transition in seven states, with others surveying ways to increase their competitiveness.

According to the Texas Comptroller’s Economic Outlook, the “Texas economy has emerged from the recent recession” with job growth and sales tax collections up from business and consumer purchases. Private sector employment benefitted, as expected, from the strong performance of mining and energy industries. The state economy also benefitted from aggressive, flexible incentive programs geared toward recruitment, expansion and retention. In a down economy, retention can be the equivalent of growth and has become increasingly important to municipalities experiencing revenue shortfalls and shrinking budgets. Although most communities’ policies for incentives do not apply to retention projects, the reality today is that many communities are using incentives to retain or expand businesses.  Texas is one of the few states where there are local and state incentives that can be adapted for this purpose. These same flexible programs came under fire this year by some state legislators, however, the argument by proponents is that incentives, whether for retention or new business, are needed to help our struggling economy prevailed.

Texas’ state and local incentive programs survived this year’s 82nd Texas Legislative session despite a massive $27 billion state budget deficit.* Texas added 537,500 nonfarm jobs between June 2006 and June 2011, based on the latest seasonally adjusted figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s nearly 10 times larger than the second-biggest increase by any state over the same five-year span, which is Louisiana’s gain of 55,900 nonfarm jobs. Texas also became the second-largest economy, passing New York and coming in second to California, per data released by the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Texas communities tend to work with performance-based incentives where a project is evaluated based on job creation, capital investment, and/or sales tax generation.  Performance-based incentives are becoming increasingly popular nationally where the long term trend has been to offer tax credits rather than grants. Most of these newer performance-based incentive programs are limited and usually tied to recruitment, screening and job training costs. Texas’ Economic Development Sales Tax, which allows local communities to use up to a half-cent of their sales tax for economic development efforts, serves as the backbone of local economic development efforts in more than 500 communities. These sales tax economic development corporations have become a model program by which communities can provide businesses with cash grants for relocation, tenant improvement costs, job training and assistance with infrastructure costs.

The credit crunch, coupled with the continued pursuit for bottom line revenue and cost reductions, has made locales with discretionary grant and financing-driven incentive programs increasingly attractive. There are new opportunities on the incentive front with nearby states, such as Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas, following the lead of Texas with its discretionary cash grants, tax rebates and deal-closing fund either in place or in discussion.

Incentive programs may also face more scrutiny during the 2013 State Legislative session as a result of the review by the Legislature’s newly created Select Committee on Economic Development, whose role it will be to study and make recommendations on incentives. Add in the potential competition from the surrounding states’ incentive programs and it will mean added pressure for Texas. Continued global economic instability and intense competition abroad and at home for jobs and capital investment will have us watching to see if Texas can stay at the forefront of economic recovery.

*The Texas Legislature meets in odd-numbered years.

Robert Winningham is Executive Director/CEO of the Allen Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), in the Dallas-Ft. Worth MSA. In January 1992, the citizens of Allen passed a citywide half-cent Economic Development Sales Tax in support of economic recruitment, expansion and retention. A board of directors, appointed by the City Council, oversees the corporation’s operations.

Published in Los Angeles

$1.2 billion.

That’s a big number by nearly any standard, and that’s roughly how much University Hospitals spent over a five-year span as it accomplished its Vision 2010 strategic plan.

At a recent Smart Business Power Players luncheon, UH CEO Tom Zenty spoke about this ambitious plan and how UH is playing a key role in the economic development of the region.

[Watch the playlist of videos from the event on YouTube]

“We thought it was critically important to focus on the communities we serve in a variety of ways,” he says.

The plan included construction of new medical office buildings, the Seidman Cancer Center, the Ahuja Medical Center and new ambulatory centers. In addition, the program renovated the neo-natal intensive care unit and invested in other programs and services. On top of all of that, about $140 million was spent on creating an integrated electronic health record system.

It’s a lot of development and a lot of money spent, but what’s interesting was the commitment UH made to helping the region throughout all of these initiatives. The plan called for 5 percent of the money spent to go toward women business enterprises, 15 percent toward minority companies and 80 percent would be spent with local firms.

“We live in not one of the most rapidly growing population regions or one of the most robust business communities in the United States,” Zenty says. “We wanted to make sure we were helping all those who would have an opportunity to work on a project who might otherwise not have the opportunity to do so.”

When all was said and done, 7.5 percent of expenditures had gone to female businesses, 22 percent to minority companies and a whopping 92 percent had been with local companies.

“We didn’t have to do this, but this was something that we committed to the mayor to do, but as well, we want to make sure we’re not only good business partners but good neighbors,” he says.

In addition to local and minority commitments, the Vision 2010 plan had other elements to drive development. One element was to create a project labor agreement that called for a no-strike clause so that even if national unions decided to strike, local work would continue. Another element was calling for participation from local vocational and technical schools to help students in programs like architecture, engineering and mechanics. The agreement created a volunteer program that all contractors participated in to allow students to work on the project from an educational perspective.

“As a company that’s been around since 1866, we wanted to ensure that we would continue to grow and be a good neighbor to the business community,” Zenty says.

The Vision 2010 program also created about 5,200 jobs, of which about 1,250 will be permanent positions. And with 20,000 employees, UH is the fourth-largest private employer in the state. Zenty noted that additionally, the second-largest is a health care company in town as well, and between the two, it shows the prominent role that health care companies can have on a region.

“Hospitals are operational 24 hours a day. We have laundry services, environmental services, business services, pharmacists.”

With so many different people needed to ensure patients get the care they need, Zenty also stressed the importance of developing the next generation of workers. One way UH tackles this issue is by working with nursing programs at nine different schools to make sure there’s a steady supply of nurses entering the work force for them.

But he also pointed out this wasn’t just a key to UH’s long-term vitality but was important for the region as a whole. One of the big issues in the region is losing young people to other cities. He said that most of UH’s 8 percent turnover comes from people who have been there less than a year, and many of those are younger workers coming in out of school who leave for other opportunities.

“If our goal is to keep the youth in Ohio, we can do a much better job, quite frankly, focusing on what various industries’ needs are going to be both today and three, five, 10 and even 15 years from now,” Zenty says. “Let’s begin to true up the educational programs we offer at the community college level, the undergraduate level and the graduate level.”

For example, in health care alone, there are a tremendous amount of areas that he knows they’re going to have a need for while also recognizing there aren’t available resources today. The development and long-term success of our region depends on forecasting needs and making changes now to fill those future needs.

“We should be doing this in every industry here in Northeast Ohio — manufacturing, business, advertising, fill in the blank,” he says. “There are any number of people we know we’re going to be needing, and we can’t guarantee jobs but we can say with certainty these are the kinds of positions we’re going to be needing.”

How to reach: University Hospitals, (216) 844-8447 or www.uhhospitals.org

Published in Cleveland

(Reuters) ? Perkins & Marie Callender's Inc, owner of the Perkins and Marie Callender's restaurant chains, filed for bankruptcy in a Delaware court on Monday, citing a slump in sales due to weak economic environment in its primary markets.

Perkins & Marie Callender's, which is owned by New York-based investment firm Castle Harlan Inc, said in its filing it witnessed a sharp decline in restaurant sales in the Midwest, Florida and Pennsylvania, where it primarily runs its restaurants.

High unemployment and foreclosure rates in Florida and California led to a decrease in discretionary income for many historically loyal customers, resulting in a decline in customer traffic, the Memphis, Tennessee-based company said.

The company listed total assets at $290 million and liabilities at $440.8 million in its Chapter 11 petition. Eleven of its affiliates were included in the bankruptcy filing.

Perkins, which was formerly known as The Restaurant Company, operates or franchises around 600 restaurants in the United States, Canada and Mexico, court papers show.

The company was formed after the Perkins Restaurant & Bakery chain was merged with Marie Callender's Restaurant and Bakery in 2006.

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(Reuters) - Stock index futures edged higher on Monday after six weeks of declines for the S&P 500 left equities at more attractive levels.

The S&P 500 has tumbled nearly 7 percent on the back of a barrage of soft economic data after closing at its highest closing level in nearly three years on April 29.

Worries about a global economic slowdown have continued to hover over equity markets, with investors expecting the S&P 500 to slip toward its March low near 1,250 before the market can come back. The benchmark closed near 1,270 on Friday.

"I think we've come a lot closer to the end of the selloff," said Rick Meckler, president of investment firm LibertyView Capital Management in New York. "We've retrenched quite a bit, and we seem to be finding considerable more support at these levels."

In a sign that valuations are hitting enticing levels, insurer Allied World Assurance Co Holdings Ltd. agreed to buy Transatlantic Holdings Inc. for $3.2 billion in stock.

Also, VF Corp, owner of the North Face and Wrangler clothing brands, will buy shoemaker Timberland Co. in a $2 billion deal. Timberland shares jumped about 43 percent to $42.75 in premarket trade.

"Merger activity is likely (to continue) because of the low interest rates, and it's also attractive from an operational point of view," Meckler said.

"That will be a continued positive (for equities)."

In a positive sign for the consumer, U.S. crude prices fell more than $1 to near $98 per barrel. Growing investor concern about an economic slowdown combined with rising output from Saudi Arabia and have pressured prices lower.

S&P 500 futures rose 3.7 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration of the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures gained 43 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 4.25 points.

The Fed said Friday it will buy $50 billion of U.S. Treasuries, the final series of government bond purchases that marks the last phase of a $600 billion program launched in November 2010 to help jump-start the economy.

European shares were up 0.3 percent as bargain hunters picked through the debris after six weeks of losses. Concerns over the health of the global economy and the lack of consensus from policymakers on how to tackle Greece's debt crisis limited gains.

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