Kim Palmer

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:32

It's a people thing

You may think that, at the end of the day, saving lives and caring for the sick would be enough for the staff at Parma Community General Hospital (PCGH).

But the real end goal, as Tom Selden, president and CEO of PCGH says, is "to provide access to affordable, quality health care to everyone in need of our service."

So it should come as no surprise that the doctors, nurses and other staff members don't seem to mind the constant busman's holiday of free clinics, health fairs and immunizations within the walls of the hospital and in the streets of their community. They enjoy it so much that the hospital uses their commitment to the community as an advertising slogan.

One example of the commitment to giving back is the Parma Health Ministry, a free clinic available to poverty-level residents of the Parma and North Royalton school districts. Patients have been treated there by volunteer physicians for everything from a cold to breast cancer, with supplies donated by PCGH. Last year, staff members donated 400 hours to 324 patients with the help of $256,000 from PCGH.

"There are a limited number of places that do this," Selden says. "We have a very giving population here at the hospital and employees take that extra step to go out and help people."

When the staff isn't volunteering at the hospital, it takes the show on the road. Health fairs at senior centers and high schools and immunization programs and blood drives raise awareness and promote disease prevention. The results have been staggering: 6,350 residents have been immunized against influenza and 2,500 against pneumonia in the last three years. In 1999 alone, staff participated in 48 speaking engagements to audiences ranging from preschoolers to senior citizens on topics from diabetes to stress management.

"Awareness is a key element to solving the health problems of a community," says Selden.

PCGH's health fairs tackle everything from the needs of pregnant women to senior health concerns. Selden emphasizes the importance of outreach programs and says they have been extremely successful in educating the community and detecting early stage health problems.

"Invariably we find that in 3 percent to 8 percent of the population, we discover something that needs treated," he says.

PCGH doesn't stop at providing affordable -- often free -- health care and education. For the past several years, employees have donated food to the Northcoast Harvest Food Bank and provided about 100 meals a day at cost to the Meals-on-Wheels program in Parma, Parma Heights, Seven Hills and North Royalton.

Employees also work with area high schools to offer observation and vocational training. Other programs include Take our Daughters to Work Day and an intergenerational penpal program between patients at ElderCenter South, an adult day care facility, and students in the Brecksville school district.

For the past three years, PCGH has been the top contributing hospital to the Alzheimer's Association's annual fund-raising campaign. In the past two years, 115 PCGH employees and members of the hospital's Breast Cancer Support Group, friends and family participated in the Race for the Cure. More than 100 employees and family members have raised money and awareness at the annual American Heart Association's Heart Walk, while the surgery department has raised $2,500 through raffles and other activities.

Selden says that fund-raising for these causes furthers PCGH's goal.

"(We do) anything we can do to contribute to the health of the community," he says.

Selden explains all the time and effort given by PCGH employees inside and outside of the hospital this way: "Our goal is to have the healthiest community in Ohio."

But, it's possible that, if Selden and the hospital get what they wish for, some of them may be out of a job. Selden's response to the risk of putting themselves out of business?

"That's OK." How to reach: Parma Community General Hospital, (440) 743-3000

Kim Palmer (kpalmer@sbnnet.com) is associate editor at SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:32

Form follows function

Much has been written about the ergonomics of the office chair.

The chair has been overdesigned, overdiscussed and overdissected. A useful and comfortable chair is great, but it is only one aspect of a functional office.

Robert Bostwich, partner at Cleveland-based Collins, Gordon, Bostwich Architects Inc. (CBG), and Tim DelMedico, designer and owner of Akron's Chez-Del, both know something about creating functional offices. When Bostwich arrived as a new partner at CBG, the office was a maze of desks and drafting tables, with no place to meet with clients.

As an architecture firm, Bostwich felt CGB should instill confidence in its clients while providing a functional workspace for employees. For 55 years, DelMedico has designed out-of-box executive offices with an eye toward creating warmer, friendlier, personalized workspaces.

Create a nice place to visit

Client or customer comfort is key. As a result of the renovation, CBG boasts three new conference rooms, including one with a breathtaking view of downtown Cleveland. The conference rooms allow clients to enjoy the time they spend discussing projects.

DelMedico sees the comfortable couch gaining popularity in offices. Sitting next to a client on a couch and allowing him or her to be comfortable is replacing the traditional distance and intimidation of the big corporate desk.

"It puts everyone on equal footing," he says.

Open up for light and air

Aesthetics and function should go hand in hand. Bostwich knew something had to been done to make the office look up-to-date, but he also knew he could be opening a big can of worms.

"We didn't know what we would discover," Bostwich says.

What they discovered was 14-foot ceilings, views of downtown, original brick walls and huge wood beams. One of the most important structural changes involved expanding the windows and installing skylights throughout the building to allow the disbursement of natural light.

"We always try to move desks near windows, to be near natural light," DelMedico says.

And, by increasing natural light, coupled with scattered indirect lighting, CGB combined breathtaking views with lower electric bills and less computer glare and eyestrain.

Project a modern office

Bostwich wanted to design a showplace for the firm's skills, but he also wanted to facilitate a better working environment. Architects work in teams, and the team can change with each project.

So, when it came time to choose workstations, CBG opted for smaller, semi-mobile, expandable desks. If an employee needs more room, he or she just removes a divider or adds a drafting board. In addition, the workstation dividers are lower than usual so employees can communicate more easily.

"We work in different ways. Because of the openness, it is much more collaborative," DelMedico says.

The same concept has found its way into the executive office. DelMedico is furnishing more and more offices with writing desks and desks without a front panel.

"We want to be able to get away from the power position."

Develop public space

The days of the big private office may be coming to an end as more emphasis is placed on teamwork and communication. For example, CBG opted for smaller desks to create pockets of public space throughout the office. The public space is made up of conference or teaming tables with naturally lit wall space for pin-ups.

Employees use these spaces to work on and discuss projects. This, Bostwich claims, fosters teamwork.

"You get a sense of what everyone is working on and it creates a sense of unity instead of territory," he says.

DelMedico suggests adding what he calls a discussion table to offices to create a mobile workspace. The table is 40 inches or 42 inches and moves on castors with four comfortable chairs.

Strut your stuff

Don't be afraid to let clients see what you do. Let people know you're proud of your work.

Bostwich had this in mind when he designed the foyer as an art gallery. As soon as visitors reach the top of the CGB staircase, they're treated to an array of architectural blueprints and renderings.

"We are very proud of our work, and before, it was in corners," he says. "Now, we show respect for the work. It respects those who made it."

Weigh traditional vs. contemporary

Rules were made to be broken, and some traditional office concepts are falling by the wayside. Bostwich himself broke with tradition, forgoing the spacious office and opting to set up his desk in the main workspace with the other employees.

However, when taking an alternative approach to office design, never forget that the office is an important link to the client relationship.

Bostwich explains, "We still need to have conference rooms with doors. We considered this carefully for taking into consideration the comfort of the client."

DelMedico notices a trend toward mixing the traditional with the contemporary. Like having red wine with fish, mixing an antique desk with a Bauhaus chair is acceptable.

Aesthetic, efficient and comfortable, the office must be many things to many people. With Americans spending more time than ever at work, DelMedico says things have changed and personal aesthetics are becoming the norm rather than the exception.

But, he cautions, don't allow personal taste to overcome professional decorum.

"Offices used to be more corporate," he says. "Now, it is whatever makes you happy." How to reach: Collins, Gordon, Bostwich, Architects Inc., (216) 621-4610; Chez-Del, (330) 376-6176 or (330) 867-6100

Kim Palmer (kpalmer@sbnnet.com) is associate editor at SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:32

A roadmap for organization

The paperless office is a hopeful fantasy of many a business in this electronic age.

But according to the HP Internet Printing Index 2000, workers print an average of 32 pages a day from the Internet. Add to that the 40 billion sheets of paper from fax machines each year in the United States and Canada, and the question becomes, what to do with all that paper.

These sheets of paper end up in one of our many ever-growing piles, awaiting an undetermined fate. The piles tend to become familiar and forgotten parts of the office landscape --- that important phone number, the file needed to answer a question, information on next week's seminar, all stacked to oblivion.

Sandra Einstein, president of e=mc2 organizing & coaching consultants inc., is intimately acquainted with the phenomena.

"We are inundated with paper and don't know what to do with it," she says.

Einstein is a professional organizer and consultant who works with businesses and individuals looking to better manage the chaos and clutter. Here are some of her tips to get your office in shape.

Admit you have a problem

Consider flourish, a West 6th Street graphic design firm with three designers who have three different work backgrounds and three different approaches to problems.

"Graphic designers work organically ... very left brain, so our strong points are usually not organization," explains flourish partner Christopher Ferranti.

The problem arose when the company discovered that as workflow increased, so did disorganization.

"We would find a place for things, but we couldn't respond quick enough. Things weren't accessible," explains designer Jing Lauengco.

Magazines found semipermanent homes on someone's desk without being read or catalogued and photographs, slides and artwork were nowhere to be found when a client called about the status of a project. If the business was going to continue to grow its infrastructure and maintain a commitment to customer service, the trio needed some consistency.

"We wanted to grow instead of maintaining a plateau," Ferranti says. "The business was becoming overwhelmed and we wanted to take the business to the next level."

Have you seen my ... time?

Einstein describes organization as "an investment in time." The more a business grows, the faster the pace becomes and the more time that is lost. Disorganization takes time out of the day, whether it's time spent trying to locate information or time lost by not correctly prioritizing tasks.

Flourish was losing time, but its principals weren't ready to cut back on their workload. Instead, they just worked more.

"Our professional and personal lives were blurring," explains Lauengco.

Einstein's answer?

"You need things out, centers and different areas designated," she says. "The best thing is to keep what you're working on close to you."

She suggested that flourish streamline its processes and establish project boxes -- big orange and translucent boxes able to hold everything needed for a project. That put everything associated with a project in a central area and properly labeled.

F.A.T. -- file, act or toss

A place for everything and everything in its place: Knowing where everything is can save time and increase productivity to an extent, but it doesn't matter if you don't know what to do with it when you find it.

That's where F.A.T. comes in.

F.A.T. -- file, act or toss -- is the professional organizer's standard of prioritizing. Everything in an office should go into one of these categories. File and toss are self-explanatory, and anything in the act category goes into the action file.

Once in the action file, the decision becomes placing it in the do, make a call, wait or designate folder.

"For 90 to 95 percent of my clients, I recommend an action file," Einstein says. "Some clients are not focused, always moving from one project to another or working on too many at one time."

You can't go out until your room is clean

A big part of organizing is setting and maintaining goals.

"Organization is a process," says flourish partner Henry Frey. "It helps to be accountable to some one else."

Coaching is only part of Einstein's job. She also helps her clients create and maintain goals. Flourish, for example, has homework. Einstein monitors its progress with follow-up meetings and occasional phone calls.

Skeptical at first, flourish now swears by Einstein's services.

"Sandy has put time back in our day," explains Lauengco. "It is compounded because it's also a lifestyle change."

So what is the key to organization? It's specific to each individual or business.

But, Einstein says, "Think about moving forward, think about what you need to do, don't just put it on your desk." How to reach: e=mc2 organizing & coaching consultants inc., (440) 423-1787

Kim Palmer (kpalmer@sbnnet.com) is associate editor at SBN.

Friday, 19 July 2002 06:22

A fairer disclosure

It would be an understatement to say that the face of investing has changed over the past few years.

Today's market is no longer just for the privileged few. Investment now takes the form of employee mutual funds, 401(k)s or, in some cases, results from the proliferation of stock options and reimbursement plans offered to employees. As a result of this increase in individual investing, more employees are acutely aware of the ins and outs of their company's stock performance.

In response to these new individual investors, Arthur Levitt, director of the SEC, enacted the Fair Disclosure Rule to counteract what was considered an unfair advantage for analysts. The rule was designed to eliminate invitation-only or private meetings, designed to guide earnings projections, between analysts and the public companies.

Levitt says these meetings drove trading and ultimately affected stock prices, smacking of insider trading, but not quite falling under the SEC's insider trading laws.

Whether the new disclosure rule is a populist victory or a corporate logistical nightmare continues to be debated. However, as part of a monthly International Business Communicators Association (IABC) lunch series, James Roop, CEO of The James Roop Co., offered tips for how business owners can adapt to the new rules.

No secrets

The SEC Fair Disclosure rule does not permit the disclosure of material information on a nonpublic basis. If material information is inadvertently disclosed privately,there is a 24-hour amnesty to disseminate the same information publicly.

The SEC reserves the right to judge what constitutes material information, but the ruling definitely includes mergers and acquisitions, divestitures, new products, bankruptcy, customer development and other earnings guidance information.

Who's the boss?

With the proliferation of employees owning stock in the companies they work for, coupled with the fair disclosure rule, many companies have a whole new set of investors to appease. One consequences is the subsequent availability of financial information to employees of all levels.

And, depending on the nature of the information, it may have a profound effect on intracorporate morale. Earnings shortfalls and lower-than-expected stock prices can create "an emotional roller coaster and create problems with management loyalty," Roop says.

Loose lips

Employee morale is not the only issue that may be affected. Roop cautions that any management comments outside of the public forum could be construed as material and therefore merit public disclosure.

As the landscape changes and the media and analysts are looking for nonpublic information, employees may find themselves more susceptible to being asked to make unauthorized announcements. Be aware that chat rooms and the ever-present rumor mill could also be a source for an information leak for which the company is held liable.

What to do?

Whether a company is public or private, communication and well-thought-out policies are always the best bet. Here are a few tips for avoiding unnecessary liability:

  • Include the investor relations department. It needs to be in the loop.

  • Plan management comments and scripts for conference calls and interviews with both media and analysts.

  • Create a disclosure policy to help keep internal communications from being discussed.

  • Monitor what employees say, including everything from press releases to what salespeople say at trade shows.

  • Be prepared to do damage control, even with the smallest misstep.

  • Keep up with communications -- update Web sites and send out internal and external press releases frequently.

  • React publicly. The "hide your head in the sand" approach can backfire.
How to reach: IABC, www.clevelandiabc.com; The James Roop Co., 902-3800

Kim Palmer (kpalmer@sbnnet.com) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.

Friday, 19 July 2002 05:43

Six-hole strategy for sales

A bad day on the golf course is better than a good day at the office, according to the saying.

But if done properly, a day on the golf course can be just a productive as a day in the office.

"Many a deal was cut unexpectedly on the golf course," says Jim Hatfield, an ex-chemical engineer turned corporate golf guru and Northeast Ohio franchise owner of the Colorado-based Premium Links.

Hatfield believes a golf game can be a great business opportunity but stresses the importance of golf etiquette and proper conduct on the course.

"You should approach it like you would any other project," he says. "You should have a plan instead of hoping for a positive result somewhere down the line."

Through Premium Links and his many speaking engagements, Hatfield outlines how to effectively use golf for business using what he calls his "six-hole rule."

Holes one through six

Hatfield suggests spending the first six holes getting to know as much as you can about your partner and his or her company.

"Find out about as much as possible and find out things that are germane to any potential business relationship," Hatfield says.

Holes seven through 12

Once he's found out more about his golf partner and the company, Hatfield uses the next six holes to get more specific about a company's products and operations, or any problems and issues the company may have.

"And, of course I try to tell them about the various types of things that my company can offer them," he says.

Holes 13-18

Spend the last six holes trying to zero in on three to six areas where you might have some potential for doing business and explore them. By now, you should know the person, his or her background, what he or she does and what kind of competitive pressures that person has.

The 19th hole

Don't forget to close.

"Most important is the 19th hole, when you go back to the clubhouse," stresses Hatfield.

This is when you capitalize on the day. At a minimum, you have to have an action plan come out of the 19th hole.

If things went well on the course, you'll be in a position to start evaluating your business opportunities. Develop a concrete plan to meet again and discuss a specific issue. Never leave with someone saying, "I will think about that and get back to you later."

"Don't be surprised by success," Hatfield says.

Instead, be prepared and have an order form available. You never know when a golf partner will become a client.

Hatfield offers one warning.

Don't assume that because you have a strategic plan, a tee time and a group of people that fit your company's prospect profile that you can go out and enjoy a relaxing game of golf, make a business connection and act like a fool.

"It's hard for your clients to have a good time if you are swearing and beating your clubs against the ground," warns Hatfield. "Playing golf for better or for worse -- and it can be either way -- allows people to display what they are really about."

In fact, you can learn a lot about people from the way they conduct themselves on a golf course.

"I'm going to find out how they handle pressure, how they handle stressful conditions and how they handle disappointment," he says.

There are a few simple rules and guidelines on how to conduct yourself on the golf course. Besides the basics:

  • Don't make noise while others are shooting.

  • Don't walk in the line of play.

  • Keep up the pace of play.

Hatfield also suggests that if you choose to have a cold beer and bet on the game, keep both to a minimum. The idea is to have fun.

"Betting, as far as I'm concerned, just creates a lot of tension, which is exactly the thing you are trying to break down," he says.

Most often, inappropriate conduct on the course is a result of bad playing. Premium Links teaches good shot planning and strategies so that even a mediocre player can do well and keep stress down and morale up.

Hatfield says that bad golf is often "really a result of making some bad choices and having false expectations. Once you can reconcile what you can expect of yourself, then the bad conduct takes care of itself."

So, one last burning question -- should you ever play customer golf?

Hatfield says never play to lose. If you are going to lose, do it the right way by giving your opponent too many strokes. But never lay down. It's not good sportsmanship ... nor good business. How to reach: Premium Links, (440) 526-7694

Kim Palmer (kpalmer@sbnnet.com) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.

Friday, 28 June 2002 06:30

Honor code

There was a time when buying a house and getting a loan was pretty cut and dried.

You went to a bank, your loan application went in front of a committee, and weeks later you got your answer. But things have changed, and more people are forgoing banks for other lending sources.

"Five years ago 5 percent of all real estate transactions were done by brokers," says Gary Habeeb, CEO of United Mortgage Group Inc. "Now 75 percent of all home loans are done by brokers."

With the rise of mortgage brokers came stories of high commissions and outright fraud. But Habeeb stands by his business ethics and the practices of his brokers. In fact, every United Mortgage loan is seen by four managers before it is finalized.

"In every situation, we are bettering their financial situation, "says Habeeb, as an average refinance can take years off a mortgage and save hundreds of dollars a month.

Aggressive marketing and a savvy customer base have allowed Habeeb to grow his business from $300,000 to more than $3.8 million in three years.

"We create our own business," says Habeeb. "Ninety percent of our business, the people never thought of using us."

He stresses the importance of motivating and retaining good employees in a field that is 100 percent commission-based.

"People decide in the first 30 seconds if they are going to buy from you. It's about trust," he says.

That's what makes the hiring the right employees so important.

"There is no question about it, a house is the largest investment of their life. They have to trust the person they are talking to," he says.

Recently, Ohio passed some of the nation's most stringent laws regarding mortgage brokers. Later this year, all brokers will have to be licensed, and limits will be placed on fees.

Habeeb welcomes the standards because they keep with the standards United already has in place.

"It is legitimizing the business," says Habeeb. "Before, you could have come out of jail and been a loan officer." How to reach: United Mortgage Group Inc., (216) 929-0555

Friday, 28 June 2002 06:24

Lap of luxury

Despite the recession, which normally devastates the industry, 2001 was the second best new car sales year in history, with 17.1 million new cars sold. The highest new car sales number came in 2000, when sales reaching 17.35 million.

Hans J. Wichter, president of Stoddard Imports, an Audi/Porsche dealership, has been in the car business for 26 years and has watched the industry -- especially the luxury car market -- go through a host of changes.

"Horse power used to be really big," says Wichter. "Quality is the big thing now. And the customer is much better informed about what these cars are capable of doing."

Consumers are willing to pay for quality and pay even more for luxury. According to an industry study, the average expenditure for a new car in 1997 was $22,243, an increase of 16.3 percent over 1993; the average price of a luxury car has risen approximately $2,000 a year since the late '80s.

In light of the growing demand for amenities, the luxury market has become more inclusive. Take, for example, Audi, which recently returned to the luxury market with its A4 series.

The automaker covered all its bases, offering models priced as low as $25,000 and up to $75,000. The lower-end models offer fewer horsepower and upgrades, but consumers still get the status of driving a higher-end vehicle without paying for a top-end model.

The move to make luxury affordable to a larger segment of the car-buying market has influenced the auto industry to produce "near-luxury" and "mid-luxury" lines. With these less expensive lines, companies including Audi, Mercedes and Lexus are trying to hook a younger segment of the market to garner brand loyalty.

"There are more car manufacturers that want to get into the luxury car market," says Wichter. "For some models, they have lowered the price to make it more affordable."

It's a win-win situation for manufacturers and dealers. With more affordable models, they increase the market segment and instill brand loyalty that will stick with customers when they want to upgrade.

Luxury automobiles are also targeting baby boomers and marketing to women.

More than 50 percent of new cars are purchased by women, and Wichter says they've done their homework.

"Our average customer is between 35 to 65, but there are many more female customers, and they are very informed," he says.

With the change in the demographics of the luxury car consumer, the focus has moved away from the zero to 60 mentality and toward safety and handling features.

"Safety and handling are the No. 1 priority," says Wichter. "They want to know what will happen to the car in an accident ... but they also want to know how they can avoid an accident."

Luxury cars are usually the first to be equipped with the technology that often trickles down to less-expensive models. Keyless entry, once considered cutting edge, is now standard for even the least expensive Volkwagen.

Luxury now means global positioning systems, brake control and vehicle skid control, charcoal air filters, heated seats and headlight washers. Of course, there are luxury trends that were outdated almost as soon as they hit the market.

"At one time, the big hype was the six-CD changer in the trunk," says Wichter. "But now that would be a huge inconvenience."

One of the benefits automakers find in the luxury car market is that it is relatively unaffected by normal market indicators. Researchers have found that sales of SUVs, sports cars and light trucks fall during recessions and are affected by indicators such as unemployment rates, while sales of luxury cars and full-sized pickup trucks remain unaffected.

The prominent predictors for luxury passenger car and SUV sales are disposable income and the Standard & Poor's 500, while increases in gas prices and interest rates mean weaker sales.

One thing that has not changed is the attitude of the consumer who buys a luxury car. If you've spent a lot of money on a car, you want people to know it. Wichter says automakers know this, and have focused on making each line distinctive.

"The lines are distinctive and identifiable," he says. "When you look in the rearview mirror, you should know what kind of car it is -- that is brand identification." How to reach: Stoddard Imports, (440) 951-1040 or www.stoddard.com

Friday, 31 May 2002 09:49

Smallville

As we look to increase the number of businesses that call Northeast Ohio home, the call has gone out to bring entrepreneurs into the area to increase local revenue and jobs. There are 25 million small businesses in the U.S. Studies show that two-thirds of all new jobs are created by these businesses.

Entrepreneurial endeavors usually start out small and need all the help they can get. Hector V. Barreto wants to give them that help.

"You ask a small business person what they want and they say they want the same thing as the big business wants," says Barreto, the 21st Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. "You ask what is that, they say more business."

SBN sat down with Barreto and asked what the Bush Administration plans to do to help small businesses survive and thrive.

What have been your goals and what have you done in this your first year of serving as Administrator of the SBA?
A lot of the issues were illustrated in the President's small business initiative. There is a lot of benefit for small businesses to increase the expensing they can do with equipment purchases, with regards to regulations and streamlining regulations. Small businesses often times pay as much as $7,000 per employee to comply with all the federal regulations.

As these regulations are being written, we are doing an analysis of what the implications on small business is and making sure that small businesses have access to affordable health care. The President believes very strongly in association health plans and also the expansion of medical savings accounts.

What is the SBA? What services does it offer?
The government spends about $200 billion a year in goods and services. The President wants to make sure that we are providing opportunities for as many small businesses as possible and we are going to do that in a variety of ways. We are going to work together with all the federal agencies and make sure they have plans in place to open up contracts and to create more access. We are also looking at ways that we can unbundle large government contracts.

The SBA has a 50-year history of providing hundreds of billions of dollar of capital access and educating millions of small businesses through technical assistance programs and facilitating significant amounts of government contracting for small businesses. We are continuing with all of that a making sure that we are positioning the agency for the next 50 years, and the next 50 years are going to be different.

What I see a lot of our 'growth' organizations leaning to is facilitating entrepreneurship, talking about start-ups and new technology -- do you see the SBA heading in that direction?
We want to support those kinds of efforts and I think that is an example of how businesses are modernizing. Incubators are a good example, a great model of what can happen. A lot of those entrepreneurs were with large corporations at one time and now they are venturing on their own. Many of them have great prospects for success and eventually they will leave that incubator and create a lot of jobs.

That's why small business is so important, and when we are talking about jobs you know that small business has created two thirds of all new jobs in the country right now. Most of the new jobs aren't going to come from big factories anymore. They have been coming from small businesses. We need to foster an environment where people can go into a small business and have all the tools that they need to succeed.

Let's talk about streamlining getting rid of regulations and an opening up access. How is the SBA going to tackle that?
One of the things that we did is look at all of the requirements for all of our programs. We found out there are a lot of redundancies. There are forms that we can simplify, there are requirements that we can eliminate and get that information from other sources. It should not be as cumbersome, expensive and take as long as it takes to access one of SBA's programs.

The things is that we have been doing that for some time now, and we have loans like SBA express that already simplify the process quite a bit, but we can even do better with our working capital loans and some of our other certification programs. We can streamline it even more. All of the heads of our departments are looking at those initiatives right now.

For example, in the contracting program we hear concern about the volume of documents that are required. Now the SBA is creating an Internet document application so that you won't have to send us any paper documents. A business can register online and it is a simplified process.

You talked about unbundling, what do you see the future of government contracting going?
The federal government's mandate is that 23 percent of all government contracts will go to small businesses. So we need to make sure that we are maintaining that level and the last few years we have done that. But the thing that we are certain about is that it is not getting to enough business. There are some small businesses that are doing very well at it and we are happy about they got some of these large contracts. But that statistic isn't as reflective as we think that it should be. In other words, just because the government is doing 23 percent doesn't mean that it is filtering down to everybody. Especially the fastest growing segment of small businesses – women-owned small business and minority-owned small business.

Why is that?
First of all, if you have a $100 million contract and a small business doesn't have the capacity to compete for that you are out of the game before the start. The thing is that a lot of small businesses are new. They didn't exist five years ago. They don't understand how to navigate the process, and if it becomes too complicated or too costly they just give up and say, 'I don't really want to do business with the government.' It shouldn't be that way. We should have a process where any small business that is capable of providing service and is competitive in price should have an opportunity.

What is the SBA doing to reach out to minority-owned businesses and female-owned businesses?
We are doing outreach and we are working together with our partners and we have relationships with every business organization in the country. We are working with our banks and other resource partners to make sure they understand that this is a very important opportunity.

It is a combination of things it is outreach, it is commitment. We don't need to develop a brand new program, the programs we have already are excellent. We need to make sure that those communities are aware of them and can access those programs.

If you were looking at the issue like a business would, you would say look, the neighborhood is changing and we need to make sure we are responding to those changes. Reaching out to these types of small businesses is the right thing and the smart thing to do. There is a huge market out there. The minority business community represents 15 percent of businesses and is a $1.3 trillion market. And that market is going to double in the next 5 years. It is really an explosion that is going around the country.

How to reach: U.S. Small Business Administration, Cleveland District office, (216) 522-4180 or www.sba.gov

U.S. Small Business Administration

Thursday, 28 March 2002 08:57

On the verge?

Cleveland. The Mistake on the Lake. The Comeback City. Depending on whom you talk with, inside or outside of Northeast Ohio, you'll hear it called either or both.

Over the last 30 years, the Northeast Ohio region has seen a burning river and three new state-of-the-art sports stadiums. Our teams have gone from worst to first and every stop in between. Everything from funding to the administration of Cleveland's public schools has been called into question. And we've watched companies pack up and leave, while at the same time bragging about the ones that remained.

The fact is, the city's population has decreased 5 percent since the 1970s and we lost 11 public companies in the '90s. This is due in part to the fact that the steel industry's employment rates alone have fallen 75 percent since the late '70s, and man-hours per ton of steel have decreased from 10 to 3.5.

The long and short of it is, Cleveland and Northeast Ohio fell victim -- as did many other cities and regions -- to a host of post-WWII problems that included and centered around the decline of the heavy industrial and manufacturing industries.

But there was that comeback. As a result, we now have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Gateway and Gund Arena and the new Cleveland Browns Stadium, and the river hasn't caught fire in more than two decades. Really, these are big things. And perhaps that is part of the problem. We like big things, like big steel, that are no longer viable in today's new economy.

Clevelanders may lack the confidence of New Yorkers, but they don't lack passion. Start a conversation about the city's past, present or future, and there is no dearth of opinions and ideas. In a town where most people are sure they could do a better job coaching the football team, you'll find schemes ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime.

A lot has been said -- and not said -- about where we are and what we need to do. SBN rounded up a handful of business owners and executives, none of whom are running for office, and asked them what, if anything, is wrong with Cleveland and what we should do about it.

They are:

  • Michael DeAloia, director of business development at SS&G Financial Services. He specializes in high-tech companies.
  • Tim Dimoff, former Akron narcotics officer/detective and current president of corporate security firm SACS Consulting and Investigative Services Inc.
  • John Gorman, music/program director of WMMS from 1970 to 1983. Founder and current president of Radio Crow, an Internet radio portal.
  • Grant Marquit, director of entrepreneurial education at Enterprise Development Inc. (EDI) and Cleveland Bridge Builders Class of 2000
  • Tom Slavin, entrepreneur and co-owner of Burke Lakefront Airport's MillionAire

The Cleveland contradiction: It's a great place to live, but ...
If you talk to anyone from the area, you're bound to hear things like, "We don't have this." "There isn't enough that." "Why can't we be more like them?" "What we really need is ... "

Of course, if pressed, the majority of those same people who catalog every Cleveland deficiency will tell you it's a great place to live and they don't plan on leaving any time soon.

Ironically, what this area has is a huge population of people who seem to love to hate and hate to love where they live.

"Today, we are a second-tier city. The single biggest problem is that Cleveland and Cuyahoga County didn't become the same thing. With a larger region, you have more people involved in the development of the city. The other problem with Cleveland is that it is in love with its own mediocrity. I don't know what it is about this region ... we always settle for less. There is this idea that this is as good as we could do." -- John Gorman, Radio Crow

With the stagnation the region has experienced through the last few decades, one of the questions it may be time to ask is whether it's possible to effect change with the existing political, social and economic structures in place.

"We have an inferiority complex. We aren't A-No. 1 right now but look at our progress. We should showcase those things that we have done well. We worry about comparing ourselves. We are playing catch-up ... but this city is about function over form." -- Grant Marquit, EDI

Cleveland remains the 15th largest market in the United States. Numerous large companies are headquartered in the area and the city is within 500 miles of more than 50 percent of the nation's population. We have fresh water, great hospitals, good universities and a bunch of new sports arenas.

But it is not enough. We are losing businesses faster than we are replacing them, and quality jobs and the tax base disappear along with them.

Conventional wisdom says that we can't rely on old economic models for growth. According to the Center for Regional Economic Issues' third report, entitled "Innovation for Regional Advantage," it's a brave new world, and the area isn't in step with the times. REI's report relies heavily on research by the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) and a study called "The Metropolitan New Economy." The report used a set of 16 economic indicators to assess the 50 largest metropolitan areas in terms of post-industrial growth.

The conclusion is straightforward: Not only are the factors that drive growth very different in the new economy, but the entire definition of economic success has changed. Traditionally, the strategy has been to keep taxes down and appear business-friendly. But now the emphasis lies in creating viable, higher-paying jobs with infrastructure-based investment.

"Cleveland is not en vogue right now. The question is, how can we affect and rejuvenate the community to bring it en vogue because there is something that makes you feel good when things are happening. For us, it seems recently there are too few circumstances that reflect dynamism -- we reflect dysfunctionality." -- Tom Slavin, MillionAire

Steel vs. tech
The bad news is that Northeast Ohio is losing big manufacturing and failed to jump on the dot-com bandwagon quickly enough.

The good news? Northeast Ohio is losing manufacturing and failed to jump on the dot-com bandwagon quickly enough.

Manufacturing has always been the region's backbone. No one will argue that. But many believe it has also kept us from developing a new economic base and caused us to waste much-needed resources that could have been deployed elsewhere.

"I know the reasons to save LTV, but (WL Ross) will only make it half of what it used to be. We have to pick the right fights. We should be spending money on providing free rent downtown for high-tech businesses instead." – Gorman

"We are producing the same amount of steel with a 90 percent reduction in work force. LTV was wasting money. But because of its huge economic impact, local and state governments never let the company die a proper death. It's been a political football." -- Tim Dimoff, SACS Consulting

The questions facing regional leaders today are whether to improve the existing manufacturing and industrial factories, court new businesses or walk away from what some consider an Old World economy and look toward new frontiers.

"Wherever possible, we should leverage some of the historical strengths of the region. Entrepreneurial companies could also be given access to professional services that are provided pro bono or at a substantial discount. Manufacturing is part of the new economy, but it is a different type of manufacturing. It's not tubing and steel. It's pharmaceutical, packing (and) medical devices. There is no reason why Microsoft's manufacturing shouldn't be in Cleveland." -- Michael DeAloia, SS&G

Many have adopted a "good riddance" attitude toward heavy manufacturing. Their answer to Cleveland's woes is found in the possibility of creating a regional biotech mecca. Unfortunately, our efforts at attracting high-tech and biotech firms have been about as successful as throwing plastic beer bottles was at getting a bad call overturned at a Browns' game.

"There (was) a law that didn't allow professors to have ownership or equity in commercial inventions. Ohio recently overturned that. That has been a big factor in why Ohio was behind. Also, our money base doesn't have a good understanding of what biotech is. They are too conservative." – Dimoff

Conservative Cleveland -- Brain drain
There's been a lot of conjecture about what it means to lose LTV and TRW, and a lot of talk about biotech, lakefront development and preventing brain drain. The questions are big because Cleveland and Northeast Ohio have to make some very real and very big endemic changes.

Unfortunately, we are bogged down, not only in a tendency to worship the past, but in deciding in which direction to go and the means of getting there.

The other problem, the really big one, is money. Everything has a cost, and we need to come to terms with this fact, and soon.

So we have the brainpower and the money to create new technologically and medically advanced products and services, but we haven't done it. Many blame it on the environment. Cleveland has a reputation, more internally than elsewhere, of stagnant conservatism.

"We have not built a good basis for creating and keeping business. We've become a funnel for other places in the world. There is so much opportunity for new products and new business to be created, but for some reason we don't have the right attitude. We have to bring elements together and create an excitement." -- Dimoff

Just imagine if Bill Gates and Michael Dell had grown up in Cleveland. Would they have picked a local garage to start their business in or would they have joined the throngs of young, educated Clevelanders and left the city for perceived greener pastures?

"We have a reaction nature rather than a creating one. Young people are not given the responsibility like they are in other cities." -- Marquit

Come to Cleveland, get a great education, then leave. In the midst of talking about attracting entrepreneurs, we sometimes forget that not only are we not attracting outside talent, we're not even retaining some of the best educated scientists and biomedical students in the country that we're producing here at home.

"Right now, no leaders are being trained. Can you point to a 30- to 35-year-old and say, 'There is the next leader of Cleveland?' We need a renaissance of thought. We need to stop the perception that Cleveland doesn't have opportunities. And we need to offer living grants for college graduates to stay in Ohio." -- DeAloia

The entrepreneur battle cry is not surprising from a town that to this day touts its old economic connections to the Rockefellers and Carnegies. But that may just be the point. Have we been so enamored for so long with those industrial giants of yesteryear that we would not even notice, let alone support, a modern-day Rockefeller?

"We are not bringing in high-end businesses. We are bottom feeding again, and part of the problem is that we don't have the ability to express harmony between business and government. We think if we ask nicely, they (high-tech companies) will come. But you don't attract state-of-the-art business if you don't have state-of-the-art facilities." -- Slavin

All we need is a plan
Different people have different opinions on what Cleveland is and should be, but one of the most resounding and consistent things you'll hear -- from those brave enough to say it in public -- is that the city, and the area in general, lacks strong leadership.

"There is no direction, and it's not that people don't care. There was a lot of turnover in politics over the last decade. We lost a lot in terms of talent. We need someone to bring leadership and work on projects that can be accomplished. We need someone to say, 'Our next five projects are ...'" -- Slavin

If you think agreeing on what's wrong is difficult, imagine what it is going to be like trying to agree on the solution. We need a plan -- a plan to develop downtown, to bring in business, to grow business, for education, on how to get a plan. This is going to be one hell of a plan.

"We haven't had a unified plan. In the past, each university functioned on its own. We have to create a passion, and we can't be scared to invest in the underlying support system." -- Dimoff

As simple as that may sound, a plan of any sort has been conspicuously missing from the equation. Of course, there have been proposals, drawings of the lakefront, regional development studies and a bevy of articles on what we should and shouldn't do. But the plans are usually vague outlines of some general direction. Even the highly touted Euclid corridor project has been through so many iterations that the general public has forgotten its purpose.

"You can't just wave a magic wand and bring these industries here. We need a business model. We need a forum to talk about the plan. ... We need to get happy about the plan. If we came out with a plan, it would turn the tide for tech." -- DeAloia

Development
The general consensus is that downtown is the foundation of the city. Clearly, it has experienced significant development in terms of new stadiums and malls. But the fact is that there are still numerous and significant vacancies.

"Downtown is empty. There are parking lots where buildings should be. Downtown is so unfriendly. If you are over two minutes on a meter, you get a $20 ticket. They should put tickets on your car that say, 'Thanks for coming downtown.' What we have to do now is pick the right fights. We should be going after a different type of retail downtown.

”Cleveland is a practical area. We could be an outlet capital; forget the high-end stores." -- Gorman

Even if we can all agree that redeveloping downtown is a good thing, problems arise when deciding exactly what to do and what project to tackle first.

"The key to any development is creating repetitive income. We need to spend to create a consistent tax base. With retail and recreation and business, we can make a lot of money. The worst thing we can do with the Lakefront is nothing." -- Dimoff

"The cause celebre is to reposition the Shoreway, but this is a misplaced priority. What we need to do is work on downtown and create jobs. We can't afford it when our infrastructure is falling down around us. All of these areas are competing with each other. We need to concentrate on what demand dictates. We don't have a city master plan. We need successful projects that are done sequentially and link together. You need projects that have scale -- you can't just build shit." -- Slavin

If you could do one thing
There's a great deal of work ahead for the area, including fostering regionalism, investing in infrastructure and developing downtown. But if faced with the challenge of being able to do one thing improve the situation or get the ball rolling, what would it be?

"The most important thing is to build a new convention center. The existing convention center lacks the ability to bring in real trade shows. We have to have a symbiotic relationship between the city, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the entrepreneurial hotels. We need development that links downtown with other parts of the city and has scale." -- Slavin

"We have to be able to take advantage and create a couple of areas -- polymers, biotech and software. We have to bridge the gap between academia and business. Those groups have to lead the way. Without them, nothing will follow." -- Dimoff

"What Cleveland needs to do is recruit entrepreneurs from the outside. We need to think about it like the Cleveland Indians. That, and support. I wish people would support entrepreneurs within their own businesses and encourage creative people to implement their ideas." -- Marquit

"Cleveland has to reinvent itself and find how to be important to the rest of the world. We need a young, aggressive voice. Everyone is going to have to lower their guard a little bit; this is going to have to be a bi-partisan effort. But look at the Warehouse district -- people said you couldn't have that many restaurants ... but a rising tide raises all ships." -- Gorman

What does the future hold?
In the end, it seems we are nothing if not hopeful for the future. If Northeast Ohio is at a turning point, there are plenty of people ready to grab the wheel and help the area round the corner. As the late Richard Shatten wrote, "We have to imagine things that on one level are almost impossible to imagine but if we do, what we ought to be able to imagine and shape is a very different future for ourselves."

"Five years ago, there was a wall between Cleveland and Akron, and Cleveland and Youngstown. But recently, those walls have been coming down. In the past, we didn't see the tie-in between the cities, but now the mentality is becoming more Northeast Ohio, not a bunch of entities. The idea is that we are all in it together. Our mistake in the past has been that we are too segmented. We aren't hurting ourselves anymore." -- Dimoff

"There is less of a culture gap between east and west. As long as people stay in their enclaves, we won't get great ideas. There is more hope than there has been in a long time. Younger people are interested in cooperation. We are waking up and saying we don't need conflict. One of the most promising things I've seen is business and activists working together. The leadership model is changing. It might take 20 years, but I see the old turf wars are disappearing. People are waking up and saying, 'We don't need the conflict.'" -- Marquit

"We need a good discussion that comes from opposing views. We shouldn't be frittering away our resources on pie-in-the-sky ideas and focus on the compelling issues that need addressed now. We want to have a legacy. We want to leave something better for the next generation." -- Slavin

So what kind of legacy will we leave? That depends on how soon we're able to understand and accept where we stand and develop the kind of strategic plan that will lead us into the next phase of this regional economy. Without it, we're doomed to remain stagnant.

Monday, 03 December 2001 09:06

You're in PR?

The saying "Charity begins at home" definitely holds true for Edward Stevens, president of Stevens Baron Communications, a 2001 Pillar Award for Community Service winner.

Stevens won't reveal his age, but he will admit he and his wife are a bit beyond the average age of parents who have children ages 5 and 8. In fact, this is a second wave of sorts for Stevens, who has three grown children out of the house; he and his wife decided to go another round, and a few years ago, they traveled to Moscow to adopt two special needs children.

For many, revisiting the child-rearing years would be plenty to satisfy the need to help others. But Stevens has incorporated his personal belief of service above self, which he learned from the Jesuit priests at St. Ignatius High School, into every aspect of his life. That includes his role as president of Stevens Baron Communications.

Stevens Baron is a relatively small public relations and advertising firm, with 15 full-time and six part-time employees. But under Stevens' leadership, the company has leveraged what it does best -- give back to the industry and the community. In addition to donating money, he and his staff have donated countless hours of expertise to a number of organizations.

"We have not had the revenue to make tremendous financial contributions," says Stevens. "But our level of volunteerism is significant."

Time is money, and Stevens and his staff, which includes two of his children, have contributed more than their fair share to promoting and educating the community. Stevens is like a proud parent when he talks about the effort his staff makes.

"Our people work so hard ... sometimes they work longer hours to get all of it done," he says.

The American Advertising Federation, the Cleveland Advertising Association, the AD COUNCIL, IABC and John Carroll University Communication School have all been benefactors of the tremendous amount of time and effort from the Stevens group.

By working with what they know, they have tirelessly promoted Cleveland and educated people about the city.

"It is a typical thing when people find out that you are in PR, they ask for your help in promoting," says Stevens. "We have a track record of saying 'yes' a lot."

Stevens and his staff go beyond just using their talents to promote -- they also teach those skills to others. Over the past few years, Stevens Baron has had a number of interns, from high school and college students to adults from other countries including Bosnia and Senegal.

Stevens takes an active role in recruiting people who can benefit from working in the field.

"We have supported America's Promise by hiring minority students to work with us during the summer to learn communications," says Stevens. "It takes time, but it is a promise to give them real experience so that they can walk away with a portfolio that can help them later."

The firm's latest challenge is getting more businesses and schools involved with the Palmer Chitester Fund to provide teacher's kits to help children learn about free enterprise, business and the economy. Stevens admits everything he does to help and educate his community in many ways comes back.

"We don't do anything philanthropic to get a return," he says. "But if I can help people reach their potential, having gone through the process in the end, it helps the community, and that helps everyone." How to reach: Stevens Barons Communications, (216) 621-6800 or www.stevensbaron.com

Kim Palmer (kpalmer@sbnnet.com) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.