Deborah Garofalo

Tuesday, 26 February 2002 12:16

Recovery 101

Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones' story is impressive.

The life-long resident of Cleveland and product of the Cleveland Public School System was one of only 15 minorities in her graduating class at Case Western Reserve University. She was one of the few women elected to the city's prosecutor's office and one of the youngest judges to take the bench in Ohio.

She then went on to be the first African-American woman elected to the Ohio House of Representatives.

In her position in the U.S. Congress representing Ohio's 11th District, Tubbs Jones champions small and minority-owned businesses. SBN Magazine sat down with her to discuss what the government has done and should do to support business owners.

There's been a lot of attention on large national corporations, but what is this administration doing to help smaller business and struggling communities that may not get as much press?
I sponsored an amendment that has to do with disaster loans for small businesses ... to amend that legislation to allow credit unions to administer the disaster loans. Traditionally, member credit unions have not been able to do so, in part because it was believed they had a restricted membership, so it wouldn't allow everyone to come to the table.

My reasoning, however, was that there are many communities where there are no financial or banking institutions as we know it. In some areas, a credit union is the only financial institution. To allow small business to access this money -- that would be the only route.

Also, many traditional financial institutions have taken the position that the loans are too small, that the cost of administration is too great. Therefore, many areas just don't have access to this much-needed help.

Are there other programs that the Committee on Small Business, of which you are a member, is working on?
Helping businesses access government contracts is one of the things we've been battling. The issues include contract bundling. The government makes contracts so enormous that only really large corporations can access them.

In the three years I've been in Congress, I have been working on behalf of small businesses to stop the bundling process so anyone can come to the table. It's not legislation. It has more to do with SBA and government agency procedures than any legislation.

It's the constant reminder to the agencies, the procurement officers, that bundling of contracts has a detrimental impact on the ability of small businesses to work with the government.

What is this administration doing to address minority- and women-owned business issues?
I am committed to economic empowerment. When I leave Congress, I want people to remember it is what I worked on. And the reason economic empowerment is so important to me is because I believe it's the equalizer. I think it's the way to make sure those women and minorities have an opportunity to have equal access.

And I'm working on wealth building in terms of home ownership, in terms of predatory lending.

You're a role model. Talk about how you've been successful.
I was always a hard worker because I knew that how I fared would impact how other women and other minorities would be treated in the process. I sought out and found great support, too, through relationships with city judges, male and female, white and black, to help me through the process.

In my position now, I have a great staff that I rely heavily on. And because I travel frequently between Cleveland and D.C., being able to communicate is extremely important.

I make use of current technology, too. I'm trying to go paperless, which is really a difficult process, but I use this Blackberry (remote network management tool) a lot. It has my schedule on it, my phone numbers, and I can even e-mail from it.

How to reach: Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, (216) 522-4900

Rep. Tubbs Jones Web site

Tuesday, 22 January 2002 05:31

Resources for rest

Each year, millions of people experience disruption to a good night's sleep. If you believe you are experiencing sleep disorders, local area hospitals and sleep centers are available with help or information.

The Cleveland Clinic Foundation
9500 Euclid Avenue
Desk S-51
Cleveland, OH 44195
Phone: (216) 445-2990
Fax: (216) 445-6205
E-mail: foldvan@ccf.org

University Hospitals Sleep Center
University Hospitals of Cleveland
Department of Neurology
11100 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44106
Phone: (216) 844-1301
Fax: (216) 844-8753

Sleep Disorders Program
MetroHealth Medical Center
2500 MetroHealth Drive
Cleveland, OH 44109
Phone: (216) 778-5985
Fax: (216) 778-8215
E-mail: dauckley@metrohealth.org

Sleep Disorders Center
Hillcrest Hospital
6780 Mayfield Road
Mayfield Heights, OH 44124
Phone: (440) 646-8090
Fax: (440) 460-2805
E-mail: sleeplab@meridia.org
Web Site: www.hillcresthospital.org/services/sleep_center.html

Sleep Disorders Center
Akron General Medical Center
400 Wabash Avenue
Akron, OH 44307
Phone: (330) 344-6751
Fax: (330) 344-6186
E-mail: rleon@agmc.org

Chronic Pain Solutions
American Sleep Disorder Center
Beachwood, Ohio 44122
25825 Science Park Drive #100
(216) 766-5707
Web site: www.webmaster@chronicpainsolutions.com

Mercy Sleep Center
Mercy Medical Center
1320 Mercy Drive NW
Canton, OH 44708
Phone: (330) 489-1456
Fax: (330) 489-6039
E-mail: karen.lehmiller@cahealthcare.com

Marymount Hospital Sleep Disorders Center
Marymount Hospital
12300 McCracken Road
Garfield Heights, OH 44125
Phone: (216) 587-8151
Fax: (216) 587-8857
E-mail: gforeman@marymount.org

MGH Sleep Related Breathing Disorders Lab
Medina General Hospital
1000 East Washington Street
Medina, OH 44256
Phone: (330) 725-1000
Fax: (330) 721-4927
E-mail: mmillsap@medinahospital.org

Ohio Sleep Disorders Centers
5590 Lauby Road
North Canton, OH 44720
Phone: (330) 498-5020
Fax: (330) 498-5022

Ohio Sleep Disorders Centers
150 Springside Drive
Montrose, OH 44333
Phone: (330) 670-1290
Fax: (330) 670-1292

Worthington Sleep Wake Center
7811 Flint Road
Suite D
Columbus, OH 43235
Phone: (614) 848-4198
Fax: (614) 848-3717
E-mail: sholt@gradyhospital.com

Doctors Hospital Sleep Diagnostic Services
1087 Dennison Avenue
Columbus, Ohio 43201
(614) 298-2634

Eastside Sleep Diagnostic Center
81 Outerbelt Street
Columbus, OH 43213
Phone: (614) 751-2141
Fax: (614) 866-9131
E-mail: jheffern@ohiohealth.com
Web site: www.ohiohealth.com

Riverside Methodist Hospital Sleep Center
Riverside Methodist Hospital
3535 Olentangy River Road
Columbus, OH 43214
Phone: (614) 566-5270
Fax: (614) 566-6877
E-mail: Rickmam@ohiohealth.com

Regional Sleep Disorder Center
Columbus Community Health
1430 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43207
Phone: (614) 443-7800
Fax: (614) 443-6960
E-mail: flamenco@netexp.net
Web site: www.thesleepsite.com

Findlay Ear, Nose & Throat Associates Inc.
1725 Western Avenue
Findlay, Ohio
(419) 424-1393
Web site: www.findlayent.com

Ohio Sleep Disorders Center
150 Springside Drive #B200
Akron, Ohio
(330) 670-1290

Cuyahoga Falls General Hospital
Falls Sleep Disorders Facility
1900 23rd Street
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
(330) 971-7222

Children's Hospital Medical Center of Akron
Sleep and Apnea Center
1 Perkins Square
Akron, Ohio
(330) 543-8318

Ohio Sleep Center
130 W. Exchange Street
Akron, Ohio
(330) 376-0292

To learn more about sleep deprivation and disorders, see the national resources available via the Internet.

The World Health Report 2001
www.who.int/whr/2001

Mental Disorders in Primary Care
www.who.int/msa/mnh/ems/primacare/eduit/index.htm

The National Sleep Foundation
www.sleepfoundation.org/

Holistic-online.com
www.info@holisticonline.com

Med Help International
www.medhelp.org/

Medline Plus Health Information
A service of the National Library of Medicine
www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus

Wednesday, 02 January 2002 05:20

Lab results

Smokestacks loom over the shoreline, dot the highways and dominate inner-city streets, painting a picture of a production-oriented, manufacturing town. But unlike the 21st Century, today Cleveland is sharing the spotlight with biotechnology, a study that promises to play an important role in driving down healthcare costs.

Biotech may not provide jobs for the masses, but Dr. Gary Procop, head of clinical biology at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, knows his work will affect local businesses and average Americans alike. Procop specializes in pathology, but it's his subspecialty, clinical microbiology, that is creating interest at diagnostic labs.

"There is new technology that is allowing a diagnosis to be made much more rapidly and with an equal or higher degree of accuracy than has ever been possible before," explains Procop.

The Clinic has approximately 125 staff investigators and annual research expenditures of more than $70 million.

It is one of the largest private research facilities in the nation.

The hot technology to hit the Clinic's labs is Rapid Polymerase Chain Reaction, or Rapid PCR. With Rapid PCR, a clinical biologist can identify an organ or gene by amplifying the DNA.

This is the same technology used today in the newly developed rapid anthrax test.

Even a very minute amount of an infecting organism can be detected with Rapid PCR. Quicker DNA analysis means quicker diagnosis and quicker treatment. Says Procop, "It all really hinges on the right diagnosis in the lab."

For example, Legionella, the primary cause of Legionares disease, previously took 10 days for a cultural analysis. With Rapid PCR, doctors can have an answer in less than an hour.

The clinical microbiology lab at the Clinic is conducting tests with up-and-coming equipment, such as the the Smart Cycler by Cepheid, which is designed to provide Rapid PCR results by merging microelectronics and molecular biology.

The Clinic is also developing its own marketable test methodology through its Innovations Department, the marketing side of the Clinic, which protects intellectual property developments.

Tests methods developed in Procop's lab are in use at a Cincinnati hospital and are currently being studied at Ohio State University.

One of the most expensive aspects of healthcare is hospitalization. The quicker patients are able to return home, the lower overall average treatment cost.

"No doubt about it…if you can make a quick, accurate diagnosis, get accurate treatment started, you can get people out of the hospital faster, it translates into cost savings," says Procop.

So where is the future of health care headed?

Better delivery. Faster analysis. Better results. Lower costs. And it's moving there quicker every day.

How to reach:The Cleveland Clinic, www.clevelandclinic.org

Tuesday, 23 October 2001 08:28

Through the looking glass

When North American needed improved technology to remain competitive, Tim Wojciechowski and his marketing team turned to Japan.

North American, a ceramics manufacturer, supplied the steel industry and other capital-intensive industrial firms, so it was no surprise that customers were a little nervous.

"We were the first supplier to those industries to go outside the United States for technology from Japan," recalls Wojciechowski.

But the process improvements that came from the initiative helped North American become more competitive. And, he says, "That's where I learned you have to keep your product technology fresh and go wherever that is."

Throughout his 20-year career, Wojciechowski has been a risk-taker. Some risks led to success, others to failure. It was those triumphs and tragedies that prepared the native Clevelander for his biggest challenge -- taking technology that had only been made in the lab and commercializing it. That same vision has earned him a 2001 Innovation in Business Rising Star award.

Ahead of his time

Through his years in lead roles at manufacturing and engineering firms, Wojciechowski saw one common theme -- the need for consolidated electronics material suppliers.

While running a division of Oglebay Norton, he risked his career by formulating a plan to reduce his division's dependence on the steel industry, which accounted for 80 percent of Oglebay's revenue, and branch out into electronics material supply. He wanted to consolidate the fragmented industry and develop multimillion dollar suppliers to offer bundled packages.

The plan fizzled at the board level; the board not only rejected the idea, it sold Wojciechowski's division.

"It was the right plan at the right time, only we were trying to execute it maybe at the wrong company," he concedes.

So armed with the belief that the greatest worldwide market impact would come from electronics, he trudged forward. An introduction to Neil Lubart and a new liquid crystal display film cemented that idea, and he put his energy source into the creation of Trivium Technologies Inc.

The perfect match

While Wojciechowski was out mastering the corporate world of manufacturing in Ohio, Lubart was busy specializing in the human interface side of technology at IBM.

Lubart co-created the first notebook computer marketed by IBM and says today's laptops have the same design flaw: an inability to use light from two different sources. That means the liquid crystal display screens can be seen only in the most optimum lighting conditions.

Driven to improve on his original creation, Lubart invented an LCD film that utilizes ambient light when it's available and battery generated backlight when it's not. The technology allows users to read a laptop computer screen in the sun and could extend battery life.

"The LCD industry is slow but it's still expanding," Wojciechowski says. "It's a $70 billion business expected to grow to over $100 billion in the next few years."

Recognizing the impact of Lubart's technology -- a decrease in power source dependency could impact everything from watches and road signs to avionics, cell phones and TVs -- Wojciechowski realized he could take the technology to market.

"Neil is a gifted scientist and can communicate with the very sophisticated investor without talking down," Wojciechowski says. "Neil's able to bridge that gap from the technology side to the business side."

Lubart says it is Wojciechowski's passion and experience that has moved Trivium in the right direction.

"There are some business executives that don't have the vision; he does," Lubart says. "If you don't have the vision, you miss the opportunity."

How to reach: Trivium Technologies Inc., (216) 574-6225

Trivium Technologies website

Wednesday, 30 May 2001 20:00

Weathering the storm

John Caldwell put his reputation on the line last year when he made several economic predictions.

Caldwell is no stranger to the world of prognostications; he rides the roller coaster of economic fluctuations every day as director of the Portfolio Strategies Group of Cleveland-based McDonald Investments.

Caldwell's prediction? A slowdown in economic growth because there was no chance the market could sustain 20 percent annual returns. In response, he expected the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates. But, the auto industry would slow and corporate profits would stand at half of those seen in 2000.

Caldwell's forecast came extremely close to reality. Today, he's still prognosticating and people are listening. The low-hanging fruit has been picked, he says. To succeed in today's market, you need to roll up your sleeves and dive into some good, old-fashioned hard work. Companies should stay the course, but stay away from additional debt by borrowing, Caldwell warns.

"What the experience of the past year helped us learn is the importance of paying attention to your balance sheet and not extending yourself too far," he says.

And you must react quickly to adjust your company's strategy to economic changes to diminish negative effects. React too slowly, and Caldwell says you'll build up unnecessary inventory. That could spell trouble if it's accompanied by a decrease in sales.

Most important, do not shy away from technology. The ups and downs of the NASDAQ have made even experienced market-riders nauseous, but looking at stable technology providers to help incorporate high-tech operations into your business model is wise.

"It's not reaching for growth at any price; it's growth at a reasonable price," Caldwell says.

The bottom line is, don't invest in technology for technology's sake.

"If you can find more efficient ways to get the customers to pay, that's going to filter to your bottom line," he says.

Whether it enhances revenue, speeds processes or just keeps a company competitive, there must be a return on investment.

Take, for example, General Electric, an old-line economy type business slow to jump on the high-tech ride. The company saved $1.6 billion by initiating an online auction procedure with its suppliers.

Caldwell predicts there is more negative news to come over the next six months. He points to March, when nonfarm payroll fell by 86,000 jobs and drove the unemployment rate up to 4.3 percent.

"Even in an economic slowdown, there should still be job creation," he says.

But the news is not all bad. The economy generally lags behind Fed movement by anywhere from nine to 12 months, and Caldwell says interest rate cuts from early January may give businesses some relief by the third or fourth quarter of this year.

"Stay on the edge," he says. "You just don't want to be on the bleeding edge." How to reach: McDonald Investments, (800) KEY-2YOU

McDonald Investments

Thursday, 28 June 2001 20:00

Web wise

Mac Productions was not born from a lengthy business plan or a boardroom brimming with high-tech Web wizards. John Stubbs created the Internet solutions provider and Web-design company in 1999 after working on a project for Case Western Reserve University.

Although he may have stumbled into the enterprise, Stubbs put some high-powered thinking, rather than high-interest loans, into the small business that promises to deliver high-end growth.

The native Clevelander was busy running his computer repair company, Digital Systems Inc., and serving its primary customers, the Medical and Dental Schools of Case Western Reserve University. After maintaining a few of the schools' Web sites, Stubbs was drawn into Web design by the lure of a generous salary. Confidently, he offered his services.

''Business just snowballed from there,'' he says.

Ten employees and two years later, Mac Productions is working with small start-ups such as BroadBased Systems Inc. and Robin's Next Jazz Club in downtown Cleveland. Larger accounts include the United Auto Worker's union.

Although growth has not been rapid, it has been steady. Fortunately, the company is not heavily in debt and was able to withstand a fluctuating marketplace that saw the demise of many tech businesses. Aside from a frugal budget, Stubbs believes he has done a few things right to help his company grow.

Keep your costs down
''We utilize the Internet to its fullest potential, whereby we can keep our operating costs as low as possible in comparison to our competition,'' says Stubbs.

Mac Productions uses a cost-free, Web-based program for its customer relationship management. Any employee from its virtual office can manage all processes related to the customer, from presale activity to billing.

''It allows everyone to take part in the customer experience,'' says Stubbs.

Work virtually
Using Web-based recruiting sites and job fairs, Stubbs hired his virtual employees from across the United States, from Washington to Massachusetts. Administrative functions such as payroll, check acceptance and human resource functions are done online. Even postage is purchased via the Web.

Team up
Strategic alliances were formed with the same providers that keep costs low for Mac Productions, including Stamps.com, OfficeMax.com, TeleCheck, CheckFree.com, PayMyBills.com, Card Ready International and Register.com.

When customers need these services, Mac Production employees do the set-up work, which brings in a commission from partner companies.

Know your customer
Stubbs says he understands his target market.

Many small offices, mid-sized businesses and home offices have hands-on business owners who are hesitant to work through the Web and need face-to-face interaction. Stubbs has lived on both sides of the fence, as small business owner and as an employee of a larger company.

''Especially when you're dealing with first-time users,'' he says. ''they definitely don't want to let go to a person 1,000 miles away on the other end of the telephone.''

Maximize your reach
By going virtual, Mac has salespeople and developers in targeted areas without the constraints of a centralized office.

''They (the customers) are more likely to be at ease with someone when they can shake their hand and say, 'Hey, you want a cup of coffee?''' says Stubbs.

Mac Productions is accessible in more than 4,600 cities, and Stubbs is hoping to hire several hundred additional V-reps in the near future. That provides high hopes as Mac Productions continues to expand.

The difference, Stubbs says, is that Mac can be local or national and still have that face-to-face experience with the customer.

''In the long run, it will make the difference.''

How to reach: Mac Productions, (877) 877-4878

Mac Productions website

Thursday, 28 June 2001 20:00

Masterfully speaking

Change is an unavoidable reality for every business owner.

To maintain an acceptable level of success, a company must keep pace with advances in technology, internal growth and the competition. The cost of failure is high not only for the business, but for the company leadership as well.

In ''How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation'' (Jossey-Bass: A Wiley Company, December 2000, $24.95, 235 pages), Bob Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, developmental psychology professors at Harvard Graduate School of Education, have compiled examples of individuals struggling to transform the way they work. Kegan and Lahey lay out the importance of using the proper words to facilitate lasting change.

Here are three issues they tackle in their book.

Barriers from within
''There is currently a huge gap between the aspirations for change within organizations and the capacity to create and implement it,'' Kegan explains, adding that he contests the internal obstacle that convinces people they want everything to remain part of the status quo.

Language typically used within the workplace conveys rules and polices rather than public agreement, Kegan argues, thus building an environmental barrier that must be knocked down before change can be attempted. Understanding that internal conflict and learning how to use positive communication to overcome it are the first steps toward creating lasting personal and organizational change.

Personal immunity
Have you ever wondered about that widespread, contagious language used in many organizations that slowly poisons the environment? It's called BMW --bitching, moaning and whining -- and it often develops as a defensive mechanism by employees with unaddressed issues.

Kegan and Lahey say BMW can be defused if leaders recognize and acknowledge employee complaints. By directly facing problems, the real issues can be addressed and removed as impediments to change.

Kegan says the language of personal responsibility is not often used. Acknowledging one's own responsibility in everyday situations promotes productive internal conversations and an opportunity to learn from the stories we tell ourselves.

Maintain a healthy balance
To move forward with productive change, people must not only examine their communication style, they must also disturb the delicate faade they have created to protect themselves against change within their work environment.

Kegan and Lahey say too many adults hold tight to the belief that because they are grown ups, their assumptions must be the truth. That creates a faade that says it's not important to look at alternative options as potential realities.

But, the authors contend, by looking at your assumptions rather than looking through them, they will no longer be a lens to the world. The assumptions will simply be food for thought, not locks on the doors of change and improvement.

Worth the time?
Although ''How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work'' is loaded with logical theory that is strongly supported by examples, the ideas are, unfortunately, too buried. While trying to focus in on its worth, it's easy to get lost in the book's academic wording.

But good business leaders make time to explore within as they hunt for new productive ideas to move their company forward. And for those readers who have the patience to persevere, Kegan and Lahey offer more than a lion's share of productive ideas designed to help business owners get started on the path to lasting change.

How to reach: ''How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work,'' (800) 956-7739

Jossey Bass website

Thursday, 26 July 2001 20:00

A green thumb for business

Last year, Lake County's nursery businesses accounted for $90 million in sales. With such a large concentration of nurseries in such a small area, the industry frequently pits fishing buddies and old school chums against each other in the competition for sales.

So how did Jim Zampini distinguish his family-owned company and grow it to be one of the largest nurseries in the area, averaging 250 employees during the peak season? According to his daughter, Maria Zampini Pettorini, he did it with good business sense and an expertise in cultivation.

Pettorini and her brother, Joe Zampini, followed their father into the business that his father founded in 1946. Zampini and Sons Nursery started on a quarter acre of land in Painesville and has evolved into three divisions spread across 1,000 acres -- Lake County Nursery Inc., New Plants Inc. and Champion Garden Towne.

Each year, the businesses together generate $8 million in revenue and 1 million plants.

Five years ago, Pettorini found herself rebuilding the company after her father's long illness stagnated its growth. Once back on his feet, Zampini asked his daughter to work on a succession plan, her first project since graduating from Pennsylvania State University.

''We really could have lost the business if something would have happened (to him),'' Pettorini says.

After the reorganization, Joe Zampini was assigned to manage the government, Canadian and house accounts. Pettorini became president of the nursery division and vice president of the retail store. Even with a degree in horticulture, she admits she didn't inherit her father's green thumb.

What she can propagate, however, is a business. Working alongside her father, she created a new management team at both the retail and wholesale divisions, then worked on process changes to increase the company's overall efficiency.

Re-evaluate and update
There was an immediate impact after Pettorini evaluated and redesigned the general and administrative procedures. A close look at the books revealed opportunities to save on phone contracts and health benefits. After a year of rooting around, the result was a 42 percent savings in administrative costs.

Traditionally, the nursery industry employs relaxed business practices that result in significant cash flow problems.

''Nursery customers were averaging 98 days for payment,'' Pettorini says.

Understanding that cash is king, she approached her customer base and set out to change the pattern. Today, payment standards are under 40 days, and only a few customers became casualties of the move.

Innovation
The green industry typically lags behind others in technology, says Pettorini, but the nursery created a Web site and was one of the first in the area to offer online services to customers and employees.

Champion also stays on the cutting edge of the cultivation side of the nursery business as a result of Zampini's flair for plant development. He holds more than 75 trademarks and patents on plant varieties; hybrids are licensed throughout Europe and Canada, and sales from one Oklahoma garden center last year generated more than $25,000 in profit.

The continuous improvements paved the way last year for the highest fall sales quarter in Champion's history, a whopping 33 percent above the company's previous record.

In this male-dominated industry, Pettorini's business savvy has helped her bridge the gender gap, and earlier this year, she became the first woman president of the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association. Ironically, being a woman has worked to her advantage on the retail side of the business.

''I can buy for the store because I am our target demographics,'' says Pettorini. ''I am a working mother that doesn't have a lot of time.''

How to reach: Champion Garden Towne, (440) 259-5571

Lake County Nursery website

Thursday, 26 July 2001 20:00

Providing the link

A local Internet provider is taking the human services industry into the next generation of technology.

MCG Information Exchange Corp., a secure, Web-based provider management system in Beachwood, offers ProviderGateway software, a link between caseworkers and human services agencies.

The beneficiaries are people in need of a job, daycare or medical treatment. Caseworkers can conduct more client interviews without sacrificing much-needed report and accountability data. By not waiting until the end of the day to fill out forms and contact health care providers, those critical services can come through faster.

The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 tightened the reporting requirements on federal funds going into state agencies, says Howard Kurop, director of marketing and affiliate development at MCG.

"If you expect more monies or whatever kind of adjustments in the following years, you've got to be able to show the accountability," he says.

Typically, face-to-face contact between caseworker and client generates mounds of paperwork in the health care arena. ProviderGateway loosens the redtape noose around the caseworker's neck. Agencies can focus on being out in the community helping people, while keeping up with administration-laden tasks such as registering clients, tracking provider contracts, doing process referrals and generating reports to meet state and federal compliance guidelines.

ProviderGateway takes the time out of data reporting because throughout the day, information is exchanged between those in need and agencies that can help. The Web site is a security-controlled, private virtual network accessed via personal digital assistants or laptop computers. Internet management of client information breaks down the barriers between client appointments and client files.

According to Kurop, the biggest advantage of the system is its ability to configure to meet the demand of many types of agencies and nonprofit providers.

"It was developed with an understanding of the issues counties and their provider network and configured based on their needs," he says.

Another advantage is the speed in implementation.

"With Web-based applications, we can implement in as little as 90 days," Kurop explains.

MCG has developed Internet-based connectivity engines for the public sector since 1985. Its programs can be found locally in Geauga, Portage, Cuyahoga, Summit and Lucas counties. Research and development occurs in its Lakewood, Calif., facility.

How to reach: ProviderGateway, (216) 202-2800

ProviderGateway

Thursday, 26 July 2001 20:00

The good word

Eighty-three percent of businesses utilize employee handbooks and 56 percent also have a dedicated company intranet to disseminate vital business information and policies, according to the second annual Workplace Practices Survey.

The survey was conducted by the Employers Resource Council and SBN Magazine.

The importance of sharing goes far beyond the old grade school lessons when it comes to using information to drive and implement company policy and culture. For many companies, sharing information is an integral aspect of doing business.

Seventy-six percent of survey respondents distribute job descriptions to workers in an effort to map out company goals and expectations, while 55 percent see an advantage to an organizational newsletter to communicate the current business climate, customer changes and technology improvements that affect the work force.

Recently, Accu-Tech Manufacturing, a 5-year-old Mentor company, felt the pain of failing to communicating. According to office manager Susan Sweigert, employees, for the most part, knew and understood the company's mission statement, but the benefits and expectations were not so clear.

"We had a problem with an employee; that's what really made us go back and look at the existing handbook and modify it," says Sweigert.

The problem, centered around a vague attendance policy, led to the employee's dismissal. One of the problems was that the founders of this young entrepreneurial effort wanted to keep the atmosphere informal, fostering what they thought would produce a team approach. So policy was kept to a minimum.

In theory, a laid-back atmosphere contributes to employees stepping up, but not only did the casual treatment of policies lend itself to abuse, "it kind of backfired. You have to let everyone know what you expect of them," Sweigert says, adding that otherwise, the business relationship deteriorates.

After the incident, Accu-Tech's policy manual was rewritten to be up-to-date and thorough.

CorVel Corp. of Cleveland, with locations in 49 states, also stresses spreading the word to its employees. By incorporating multiple intranet databases into its system, which includes training on information retrieval, the company keeps personnel in the loop. According to CorVel, 15 percent of employees are promoted within the company, proving the success of the communication policy.

Brian Bartunek, an accountant with the 26-year-old firm, says CorVel's communication system is very efficient, with databases set up and categorized by departments. Rather than being inundated with e-mail messages that may not apply to everyone's work, employees are assigned to specific databases determined by their specialty. Information within the databases is updated throughout the organization.

Staff members receive training on the system and on how to incorporate data searches into their workload.

"Everybody gets indoctrinated into it, even if they switch departments," says Bartunek.

How to reach: Accu-Tech Manufacturing, (440) 205-8882; CorVel Corp., (440) 885-7377

Deborah Garofalo (dgarofalo@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Magazine