"We've never had an incident of credit card fraud, but things like that do happen," says Kathy Bower, manager of employee compensation for Highlights for Children.
The company publishes the popular children's magazine, as well as other products for kids, and the Columbus campus houses the business units, including telesales.
"The department has a high turnover," Bower says, "and deals with customers' credit cards."
So the company began using an online background check program developed by OPENonline LLC in Columbus. The OPENonline employment screening service allows Bower to search county and federal criminal and civil records and verify potential employees' Social Security numbers.
"It helps us to confirm that the person is who he says he is," she says.
OPENonline has other programs that help employers obtain driving records and verify educational degrees, work history and professional licenses, but Bowers says Highlights confines its use of the system to criminal record checks and Social Security number verifications.
Highlights has been using the technology for five years, primarily on its new hires in telesales and the distribution center. Before that, it did not perform background checks.
"We did reference checks, and we had a growing awareness of the need to do background checks, too," says Bower. "It really deals with the issue of negligent hiring. We don't want to hire someone convicted of credit card fraud in our telesales department."
While the majority of background checks come up clean, occasionally the company comes across someone with a record.
"We don't automatically eliminate the person from consideration," Bower says. "We handle each incident on a case-by-case basis."
The online program has improved since Bower started using it. "It's faster, but it can still take a few days to get a record," Bower says, "because not all of the states are online."
And it's a cost-effective tool, as well.
"We feel that it does help protect customers and our employees," she says. "It reduces our risk. It's like buying an insurance policy." How to reach: Highlights for Children, (614) 486-0631 or www.highlightsforchildren.com
Are you doing all you can to keep your employees and the money they are delivering safe?
"You really should minimize the amount of cash you take in," says Erich Murray, first vice president, business banking, Bank One, Columbus.
Murray says if you aren't already accepting credit/debit cards, it is worthwhile to start.
"More business-to-business transactions are done through electronic payments like debit cards," he says.
There is a cost associated with this form of payment, says Todd Fulton, Key Bank's senior vice president, business banking, Columbus.
"It runs between 1 and 3 percent of the sales price, but that's a low price to pay to minimize risk," Fulton says.
Although convenient, these forms of payment will never entirely eliminate cash handling. There are steps you can take to keep cash deposits and the employees who carry them safe.
"Basically, you don't want anyone that might be casing your business to see a pattern," Fulton says.
Vary the deposit routine in every way possible; have different employees make the deposits at different times of the day, taking different routes to the bank or going to different branch locations. And find an inconspicuous way to carry the deposit bag, Fulton says. Keep it hidden.
And if your deposits are $10,000 or more, consider making more than one trip to the bank during the day.
"Don't keep the same routine," Murray says.
You might think depositing the money after banking hours is a safer alternative, but there are pros and cons to consider.
"Depositing after hours lends itself to you being alone with no one else around," Murray says. "Some night depositories are guarded or equipped with cameras, but you're really better off to make your deposit during normal bank hours."
On the other hand, says Fulton, some night depositories are accessible from your car, making them safer.
"If you never have to leave your car, your risk is minimized and there is less opportunity for someone getting the money at that point," he says.
If you handle large amounts of cash daily, consider using an armored car service, which you can usually sign up for through your bank.
"There is an economic break point where it will make sense for the owner to use that kind of service," Fulton says.
If your daily deposits approach $50,000, an armored car is recommended. However if deposits are $50,000 in a year, it probably doesn't make sense for your business, and varying your routine and making multiple deposits will work for you.
Sue Connor, vice president with Berwanger Overmyer Associates, says it's surprising how many employers don't take full advantage of laws and insurance plans that can save money or offer additional benefits to employees.
One of these is a Section 125 plan. Under Section 125 of the Internal Revenue Code, employers can deduct insurance premiums from an employee's paycheck before income taxes are calculated.
"Using a Section 125 plan can save both the employee and employer up to 30 percent of the premium if the employer is matching the employee's contribution," Connor says.
Employers can create a Section 125 plan for the health insurance premium only, flexible spending accounts (pre-tax dollars deposited into an account typically used to cover out-of-pocket medical costs) or for the full employer benefit plan.
Another often-overlooked option is the use of voluntary benefits to round out an insurance program. Voluntary benefits are typically long-term care policies or disability insurance. Employees pay the full premium, which is less than it would be if they bought it individually, thanks to the employer's group discount.
"Employers are often surprised how many employees take advantage of voluntary plans," Connor says.
These plans are attractive to employees because they can be continued -- at the group rate -- after leaving the employer.
"It's a win-win situation, and it doesn't cost the employer anything except the time it takes to set it up," says Connor.
Other employers make the mistake of not taking full advantage of the employer-insurance broker relationship.
"The insurance broker can be an advocate for the employer in many ways," Connor says. "The broker can help keep the program in balance."
The broker can do a thorough analysis of the company's plan to make sure it meets the needs and budget of the employer and employees.
"Employers are not always considering every aspect when choosing a plan," Connor says. "Price, plan design and service should all be taken into account when developing a program."
And, she says, the broker can also help keep the company in compliance with plan regulations and assist with claims. How to reach: Berwanger Overmyer Associates, (614) 457-7000 or www.e-boa.com
The local plant -- with headquarters in Atlanta -- makes resin that goes on glass fibers used in home insulation and laminating resins for countertops. These processes require the use of two water towers that provide cooling water for heat exchangers. But treating the water can be a challenge.
Len Hayes, assistant plant manager, says conventional water treatment is based on cycles.
"There's a certain amount of dissolved solids -- minerals, biological growth and scale -- in water. Any water tower will build up scale on the inside of the pipes," says Hayes.
To reduce this scale, the company used traditional chemical methods in both towers -- methods that carry safety risks.
"Any time you're handling chemicals, you worry about spillage and the chemicals getting on a person," Hayes says. "Then you have to make sure you're applying the chemicals continuously and store them. We wanted to get away from using them."
Last year, the plant installed new technology produced by Columbus-based Chardon Laboratories Inc., which treats the water electronically instead of with chemicals. After testing the system in one tower for a year, Hayes reports several benefits.
"There are no chemical additives needed in the tower," Hayes says. "And we've reduced our costs. We reduced the amount of water we need to use in the process and have less sewer costs."
Hayes estimates that Georgia Pacific will save between $20,000 and $25,000 annually. He says Chardon's PowerPure system saves the company money because less water is discharged in the cooling process. And that means lower sewer costs.
"It follows that the more water you use, the higher the water bill and sewer charges," he says.
Hayes says that because Chardon's technology removes dissolved solids from the water, the plant has been able to increase the number of cycles the water can be used again.
Hayes says plant managers are considering installing the technology in the second water tower.
"We wanted to use the system a year before making the decision," he says. "We're coming close to making that decision, and we're looking at several other functions of the system that are comparable to traditional water treatment systems." How to reach: Platform Lab, (614) 675-3711 or www.platformlab.org; Edison Welding Institute, (614) 688-5000 or www.ewi.org
"Capital spending is hardest hit during a slow economy," says Chris Barret, tax partner at Crowe Chizek and Co. LLC's Columbus office.
Barret says in order to spark the economy and prevent a slowdown in capital spending, lawmakers offered temporary tax breaks on depreciation.
"These changes will only last a few years," Barret says.
The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 allows companies to take up to 50 percent in bonus depreciation on a capital expense such as equipment or vehicles. But before you sign that large check, make sure you consider other aspects of the tax changes as well, says C. Ricci Obert, tax principal with Ernst & Young LLP's Columbus office.
"The changes in depreciation offer some definite opportunities, but there are also some issues to watch," Obert says.
According to Obert, if businesses did not utilize federal bonus depreciation and did not properly elect out, they may have adopted an erroneous accounting method. Obert says states have decoupled from the federal bonus depreciation, resulting in unique rules in each state jurisdiction. Businesses with operations in multiple states may have trouble keeping track of the various state depreciation rules.
Accounting software offers the least expensive option for tracking these laws, but Obert cautions that they aren't always the best solution.
"I recommend having an expert help the company rather than software, and the company needs to have a protocol in place for immediately entering the correct depreciation information in the company's books and for tax returns," Obert says.
Barret agrees that while the new laws can work in favor of many companies, they're not necessarily right for everyone.
"My best advice is to consider the impact of these changes in the timing of capital expenditures," he says. "In some cases, it might not make sense to accelerate the purchases, and in others, it would."
For example, he says, if your company is experiencing net operating losses, more capital expenditures will only add to the loss, not provide a cash benefit -- all the more reason, he says, to confer with an expert.
"As with all tax issues, having the right professional as a business adviser is critical to staying abreast of recent tax developments," Obert says. How to reach: Crowe Chizek and Co. LLC, (614) 469-0001 or www.crowechizek.com; Ernst & Young LLP, (614) 233-5625 or www.ey.com
Both office and manufacturing environments contribute to these costs, but implementing an ergonomics program can reduce the risk of worker injuries.
The initial step in developing an ergonomics program is to quantify the need for and extent of the program. Begin by reviewing the OSHA 300 log and workers' compensation claims for musculoskeletal injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, low back pain, shoulder strains and similar injuries.
Determine the percentage of incidents related to ergonomic factors and total the annual associated workers' compensation costs. These numbers help indicate the need for an ergonomics program and the opportunity to reduce workers' compensation costs.
After reviewing records, identify job tasks that have the following risk factors: awkward work positions such as extended reaching or overhead work; forceful exertions including lifting, pushing and pulling; and repetitive motions, contact stresses or use of vibrating equipment.
Obvious risk factors can be detected during a walkthrough, then do a job analysis of tasks that appear to have significant risk factors. There are checklists available to assist with scoring job features against risk factors. Prioritize jobs based on severity of exposure to risk and develop an action plan to minimize or eliminate them.
If the work environment presents a high risk for ergonomic problems or workers' compensation costs are considerable, an extensive program may be necessary. If the risk appears to be low to moderate, it may be appropriate to begin with a basic ergonomic program that initially includes only an employee education program and an employee suggestion program.
Employees should be educated on ergonomic risk factors, the physical symptoms that may be associated with poor ergonomics, the options available to minimize the risk factors and the elements of the employee suggestion program. Encourage employees to participate in identifying solutions and to report signs of physical discomfort early in an effort to identify ergonomics risks and prevent long-term injuries.
The employee suggestion program should include a formalized response procedure including timeframes for responding and a committee for reviewing outcomes. Once a suggestion is made or a symptom is reported, conduct a hazard assessment of the job task. This is similar to other safety assessments that are routinely completed, but focuses primarily on the ergonomic risk factors. Once the risk factors are identified, the means of reducing them should be prioritized.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, effective and successful ergonomic "fits" assure high productivity, avoid illness and injury risks and increase satisfaction among the work force. Although there is no OSHA standard, ergonomics should be a part of a proactive health and safety program
For more information, contact your safety consultant or insurance provider, or visit www.osha.gov/SLTC/ergonomics/index.html and www.ohiobwc.com/employer/programs/safety/ergnomiclinks.asp. How to reach: Dianne Grote Adams is president of Safex Inc. Reach her at (614) 890-0800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
With more than 200,000 women-owned businesses in Ohio -- the state ranks sixth among the 50 states in the number of women-owned firms -- women business owners are having an increasing impact on business policies and cultures, partly due to the efforts of organizations like NAWBO.
NAWBO's mission is to develop and grow strong, profitable women-owned businesses; build strategic alliances, coalitions and affiliations; transform public policy; and effect changes in the business culture.
Each year, NAWBO recognizes with its Visionary Awards members who have made significant contributions toward these goals. Here are this year's winners.
Managing partner, RMD Advertising
Reninger has been leading this Central Ohio advertising and public relations firm since 1992, when it began operation. Considered an innovator in her marketing and public relations approach, her company has captured clients including Time Warner Road Runner, OhioHealth, Panera Bread and Marzetti Foods.
Reninger credits her company's success to the people who have supported her.
"To be painfully honest, our success has nothing to do with Sue Reninger. It's due to people that I have been blessed to be around all my life," she says, naming her parents and grandparents as her principal supporters during her early years, and her employees since operating the business.
"I've recruited employees that are as passionate about the business and hold the same values as I do."
Her advice to other women business owners is to never compromise your integrity and ethics.
"We're never flawless, and running a business is tough enough," says Reninger. "Why add the additional stress by being dishonest or compromising your ethical standards for business? It's just wrong."
President, Griffin Communications Inc.
This former Columbus City Council member has 20 years of professional and community involvement experience.
She began her full-service, strategic marketing communications firm in 1992 and has earned a reputation as one of Central Ohio's top communications strategists. She is known for listening, then creatively responding with an integrated plan of action that meets her clients' bottom-line needs.
Griffin says women have two big challenges as business owners: balancing business with personal and family responsibilities, and responding to today's slow economy.
"Women tend to try to do it all, and do it all very well," Griffin says.
Griffin's family supported her during the early years of the business.
"We knew it was going to be hard, but that it could be done," she says.
Hiring a committed, caring staff has also contributed to the firm's success.
Griffin says the biggest lesson she has learned is that it is OK to fail.
"I tell a lot of women not to be afraid to fail," she says. "It will happen anyway, just learn and move on. You have to have that capability to be a business owner."
And when you hire the best employees, listen to them.
"When your employees have the same level of commitment, you need to trust them, listen to them and let them do their job."
NAWBO member of the year
President, Borchers & Assoc. Inc. DBA My Turf
Borchers is no stranger to awards and recognition. She was the 1994 recipient of the Columbus, Ohio Woman Advocate in International Trade of the Year, and the SBA's Ohio Women in Business Advocate Award in 1986.
Borchers is a former scientific researcher from Battelle Institute and the Mayo Clinic and former associate director for the Ohio Small Business Development Center. Currently, her unique business offers golf seminars and clinics, speaker's bureau, tournament coordination and skill development for golf enthusiasts.
Borchers says becoming a founding member of NAWBO was a smart business move for her.
"NAWBO is by far the most effective advocate on a local and national level for women business owners," she says. "And it helps to talk with people who are in the same situation as you, that have been there and understand what you're going through."
Borchers advises new and small businesses to take advantage of the wealth of resources available to them in Central Ohio.
"There is a prolific base of free resources and training here," she says. "You can get a lot of education quickly."
She advises business owners to join associations such as NAWBO and their trade associations.
"They provide tons of stuff to members," she says. "Business owners should definitely take advantage of these wonderful resources." How to reach: NAWBO, (614) 882-1876 or www.nawbocolumbusohio.com; RMD Advertising, (614) 939-5005 or www.rmdadvertising.com; Griffin Communications, (614) 341-6439 or www.griffincommunications.com; My Turf, (740) 569-3200 or www.myturfgolf.com
Being prepared and having a good, open relationship with your banker makes the process proceed smoothly. If you don't have that comfort level with your banker, it may be time to shop for a new financial institution so your banker can become your business partner in the loan transaction and in future business endeavors.
When applying for a loan, ask your banker to meet with you at your business, especially if he or she has never been there. Give him or her a tour of your operation and explain why you're requesting a loan. Be clear why you're seeking funds, as the reason could range from wanting a line of credit to needing money to purchase new equipment for expansion purposes.
It's helpful to have a complete application package prepared when meeting with your banker. You'll be asked to provide two to three years of business tax returns and/or profit and loss statements and balance sheets, along with your personal tax returns. Your banker will also want to see your personal financial statement.
Since the assets of the business usually secure lines of credit, you'll need to provide a list and the age of your accounts receivable, if applicable. If your business has equipment, you might be asked to provide an inventory list and value of each item.
If applying for a term loan to be used for a specific purpose, provide estimates, actual invoices or purchase contracts, disclosing the prices of the purchases. In most cases, banks won't provide 100 percent of the purchase price, so be prepared to show where your portion of the cost is coming from. This amount usually ranges from 10 percent to 20 percent of the total costs.
If you're seeking a commercial mortgage, you might be required to pay for an appraisal, and possibly, an environment assessment. Ask your banker to make a decision on your loan based on the financial information before you incur these costs. Ask for a list of projected costs that will be involved with the real estate loan so you're prepared for the closing costs.
Once you've submitted your loan package, expect your banker to be creative, providing you with rates, fees and payments. Your request might include a combination of needs. For example, you might need a line of credit along with a term loan for equipment purchases.
Make sure you fully understand the structure of the proposal and are comfortable with the terms and payments, and ask about prepayment penalties and whether your rate is fixed or variable.
If you've decided to shop for a new bank, you may want to move your entire business relationship to get better rates and fees. Ask the banker to provide proposals on all products you'll be using, including deposit accounts, cash management services, retirement plans, investment products and personal accounts. Make sure the bank you select offers products that will meet your business needs as the company grows.
The loan application process shouldn't be long. Once you've provided all necessary information, expect an answer in one to two days. Don't be afraid to negotiate the rates and terms of the proposal.
Having access to cash flow is essential for your business to expand and thrive. Together with your banker as your business partner, you can fulfill its responsibilities and make the most of new opportunities. Jane Bittcher is vice president, business development group, Fifth Third Bank. Reach her at (614) 233-4562 or email@example.com.
"We had a person in-house performing the work but it was getting to be too much," says Smith, president and CEO of Sophisticated Systems Inc.
Once you have more than 50 employees, there are more regulations and government reporting, says Smith. His firm, which specializes in helping clients develop information systems, grew quickly, and he felt it needed to outsource the HR function with a firm that had expertise in many areas.
"We were struggling to keep up with the day-to-day stuff, much less keep up with constantly changing rules and regulations," Smith says.
Smith interviewed three companies that provide the services he was looking for, and selected Sequent Inc.
"It's important to choose a company that listens to your needs and develops solutions customized to your needs," says Smith. "The other companies we talked to did not offer to do that."
Smith says outsourcing has been a cost-effective way to handle the HR work.
"We have always gotten a return on our investment," Smith says. "Not only did they handle the work, but they have been proactive in helping us in other areas, like leadership development."
Smith says Sequent also helped the company improve the communication of its mission to employees.
Today the company has 90 full-time and up to 60 contract employees. And Smith worked so well with the Sequent employee assigned to handle day-to-day human resource duties for the company that he hired her as a full-time employee of his company.
But Sophisticated Systems still outsources many functions to Sequent -- what Smith calls second-level support -- including hiring executives and developing their compensation plans.
"Executive compensation can be hard to figure out on your own," Smith says. "We recently went through an extensive search and interview process to hire a chief operating officer. Sequent was involved in the interview process."
Outsourcing the HR function with the right company can have long-term positive effects, says Smith.
"We have grown to lean on their expertise," Smith says. "They have become an outside, objective partner." How to reach: Sophisticated Systems Inc., (614) 418-4600 or www.ssicom.com
"It was a very positive experience," says Shumate. "It felt good -- I saw it was important, giving back to the community and improving the quality of life there."
Shumate says his community involvement was thanks to good mentors -- his parents and a city council member named Thom Darden who later became Sandusky's mayor.
"My parents were involved in the community through church activities and outreach," says Shumate.
And Darden, the father of a friend, took the teens to that first beautification project, sparking Shumate's life-long interest in serving his community.
Today his involvement includes chairing the 2002 United Way campaign and serving as trustee of The Columbus Partnership, the John Glenn Institute and the Wexner Center for the Arts. And the American Red Cross of Greater Columbus this year named him its Humanitarian of the Year.
How does Shumate balance his community involvements, career and family time? He says it's a challenge, and "I never take on anything new unless I stop something else."
How did you get involved in the community?
I was always active in extracurricular activities in high school, college and law school. I also got involved in the community through church. When I came to Columbus, I continued my community involvement. My parents were very active through church activities, so my interest really started at home through my parents and Thom Darden, who was my mentor.
Why do you feel it is important to get involved?
I believe that -- to quote scripture -- "To whom much is given, much is required." It's important to give as well as receive, which is something we talked about at the dinner table and church.
And participating in community projects gave me a positive feeling. I felt that I was making a difference, and I saw that serving the community is helpful to all of us.
Do you think the newest generation entering the work force today is as community-minded as past generations?
In a general sense, it seems that they have not been, but I'm also seeing a rebirth of community interest by youth in different organizations like the Youth Corp and John Glenn Institute. Young people have not been as active, but I have a greater sense that participation is occurring today in more organized ways.
I think my generation was community-minded and the generation behind us wasn't quite as active, but there has been a rebirth and focus on the community. I think people 25 and younger have a similar feeling as my generation.
How can we encourage younger generations to become more involved in their communities?
I think you can encourage young people the same way I was encouraged. It is very important to be a model. Don't just talk about helping people and the benefits, take youth out and show them -- here's what needs to be done and this is why it's important to get involved. I think teaching youth is an obligation; we need to pass this spirit along to subsequent generations.
What do you think are the biggest needs in the Columbus area?
Certainly there's a strong sense of community in Columbus. Look at the United Way campaign, the Columbus Foundation.
The city is fortunate to have civic-minded business leaders that set the tone for all of us, and a strong religious community which also has a strong spirit of giving. Anything we can do to assist with economic development, job training and education especially in the public schools -- education is No. 1 and job training is next -- those are very important areas to support in our community.
How do you balance career, community work and family?
We strive for balance -- it's one of the greatest challenges to maintain a balance. I think it's important to pause at different times in one's life and candidly do a self-analysis, assess how much quality time you are spending with family and friends.
There are a lot of demands with work -- the challenges of the economy and its uncertainty; it's easy to get involved in too many things. I do not take on anything new unless I stop something else. That has worked for me. It's important that once you set a balance that you keep it; it's a continuous process.
The American Red Cross award is a tremendous honor. The Red Cross is an organization that emphasizes and models the spirit of humanitarianism, especially in these times that we live in. How to reach: Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, (614) 365-2700 or www.ssd.com