SBN Staff

The number of absent workers regularly spikes between December and March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, last January marked a five-year high for the number of U.S. full-time workers taking sick days — an estimated 1.3 million stayed home and 3.3 million worked part time.

Although some of this is related to seasonal illnesses, what can you do this winter to make your workplace safer and cut down on the number of absences and injuries?

Smart Business spoke with Christine Hopkins, client advisor at TriCountry Insurance Agency, a member of the SeibertKeck group, about cold weather safety.

How can you decrease wintertime injuries to employees and customers?

Encourage employees to wear snow appropriate shoes, including rubber soles and boots. Those wearing dress shoes and high heels have a notably higher chance of injury in snowy, icy and wet conditions.

Keep all walkways, sidewalks and parking lots shoveled and clear of ice and snow with regular salting and shoveling. According to the Worker’s Compensation Fund, almost 80 percent of slips and falls due to snow and ice occur in parking lots and on sidewalks, with more than 50 percent occurring between 6 a.m. and noon. Snow removal must be done properly and promptly. A local snow removal business can be contracted for the winter months to keep walkways safe.

Customer safety should continue inside. Be sure floor mats and runners are at all entrances to absorb excess snow, water and salt. This prevents puddles or a build-up of salt, which cause slips, trips and falls.

What about employees who work outside?

When the snow falls and the temperature dips, it’s important to keep warm and stay dry, especially for any workers who are outdoors for any amount of time.

Recognize that working conditions have increased danger with the extreme temperatures, wet conditions and windy locations. Any signs of uncontrolled shivering, clumsy movements, disorientation, fatigue, slurred speech and/or confused behavior require immediate medical attention. Frostbite and hypothermia are serious conditions. Teach employees the signs, so at first indication the person can be brought to safety.

Other tips are:

  • Proper attire for cold weather is a hat, gloves, scarf, several layers and a warm coat.

  • Schedule work for the warmest part of the day.

  • Work in pairs so one worker can recognize danger signs his or her partner displays.

  • Drink warm beverages and avoid highly caffeinated and alcoholic drinks.


How can employers winterize vehicles?

When severe weather hits, it’s important to only drive when necessary. More than 50 percent of winter storm deaths are auto-related. If you or your employees must drive, do so when it is lightest out and always inform someone of the schedule, route and destination. Have all employees program emergency numbers and contact information into their phones.

Maintain full levels of fluids in vehicles at all times. Stock vehicles with a cold-weather kit containing a blanket, extra gloves, hat, sweatshirt, bottled water, first-aid kit, flashlight, snack and phone charger, as well as a folding shovel and a bag of salt or sand.

In the event of an accident, remind employees to stay calm, stop safely, turn on emergency lights and watch for oncoming traffic. Then, notify police and call an ambulance if required; be sure to always cooperate with authorities and police. Employees should take photos if it is safe to do so, exchange information with the other driver, and write a complete description of the accident while it is fresh in their mind.

You or your employees shouldn’t discuss accident details with anyone other than the police and your insurance company. Never agree to a phone recording or to give a signed statement to another driver’s insurance company without consulting your agent first. Never allow vehicles to be towed to an unfamiliar repair shop or authorize repairs by signing a tow release unless you’ve decided to have the vehicle repaired by the shop to which it is being towed.

Taking precautions early, and knowing the danger signs help prevent injury and loss.

Christine Hopkins is a client advisor at TriCounty Insurance Agency, a member of the SeibertKeck group. Reach her at (330) 336-3564 or chris@tricoinsuranceagency.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by SeibertKeck

The number of absent workers regularly spikes between December and March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, last January marked a five-year high for the number of U.S. full-time workers taking sick days — an estimated 1.3 million stayed home and 3.3 million worked part time.

Although some of this is related to seasonal illnesses, what can you do this winter to make your workplace safer and cut down on the number of absences and injuries?

Smart Business spoke with Cliff Baseler, a vice president at the SeibertKeck Insurance Agency, about cold weather safety.

How can you decrease wintertime injuries to employees and customers?

Encourage employees to wear snow appropriate shoes, including rubber soles and boots. Those wearing dress shoes and high heels have a notably higher chance of injury in snowy, icy and wet conditions.

Keep all walkways, sidewalks and parking lots shoveled and clear of ice and snow with regular salting and shoveling. According to the Worker’s Compensation Fund, almost 80 percent of slips and falls due to snow and ice occur in parking lots and on sidewalks, with more than 50 percent occurring between 6 a.m. and noon. Snow removal must be done properly and promptly. A local snow removal business can be contracted for the winter months to keep walkways safe.

Customer safety should continue inside. Be sure floor mats and runners are at all entrances to absorb excess snow, water and salt. This prevents puddles or a build-up of salt, which cause slips, trips and falls.

What about employees who work outside?

When the snow falls and the temperature dips, it’s important to keep warm and stay dry, especially for any workers who are outdoors for any amount of time.

Recognize that working conditions have increased danger with the extreme temperatures, wet conditions and windy locations. Any signs of uncontrolled shivering, clumsy movements, disorientation, fatigue, slurred speech and/or confused behavior require immediate medical attention. Frostbite and hypothermia are serious conditions. Teach employees the signs, so at first indication the person can be brought to safety.

Other tips are:

  • Proper attire for cold weather is a hat, gloves, scarf, several layers and a warm coat.

  • Schedule work for the warmest part of the day.

  • Work in pairs so one worker can recognize danger signs his or her partner displays.

  • Drink warm beverages and avoid highly caffeinated and alcoholic drinks.

How can employers winterize vehicles?

When severe weather hits, it’s important to only drive when necessary. More than 50 percent of winter storm deaths are auto-related. If you or your employees must drive, do so when it is lightest out and always inform someone of the schedule, route and destination. Have all employees program emergency numbers and contact information into their phones.

Maintain full levels of fluids in vehicles at all times. Stock vehicles with a cold-weather kit containing a blanket, extra gloves, hat, sweatshirt, bottled water, first-aid kit, flashlight, snack and phone charger, as well as a folding shovel and a bag of salt or sand.

In the event of an accident, remind employees to stay calm, stop safely, turn on emergency lights and watch for oncoming traffic. Then, notify police and call an ambulance if required; be sure to always cooperate with authorities and police. Employees should take photos if it is safe to do so, exchange information with the other driver, and write a complete description of the accident while it is fresh in their mind.

You or your employees shouldn’t discuss accident details with anyone other than the police and your insurance company. Never agree to a phone recording or to give a signed statement to another driver’s insurance company without consulting your agent first. Never allow vehicles to be towed to an unfamiliar repair shop or authorize repairs by signing a tow release unless you’ve decided to have the vehicle repaired by the shop to which it is being towed.

Taking precautions early, and knowing the signs of danger can help prevent injury and loss.

Cliff Baseler is vice president at SeibertKeck Insurance Agency. Reach him at (614) 246-7475 or cbaseler@seibertkeck.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by SeibertKeck

Expert witnesses are frequently used in the courtroom by attorneys. While many qualified experts exist, the “right” expert can greatly assist counsel and the litigation with his or her testimony.

An expert witness can offer testimony about a scientific, technical or professional issue in a court case. Finding the right expert is often a difficult task, but attorneys generally look for several attributes when selecting expert witnesses.

Smart Business spoke with John T. Alfonsi, managing director, Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC, about the qualities attorneys look for in an expert witness.

What are the key attributes an expert witness should possess?

Attorneys generally seek an expert witness who possesses at least four attributes: Relevant professional experience; a history of testimony in which that person has represented both plaintiffs and defendants; active involvement in his or her field of expertise; credentials.

Why are professional experience and testimony history both key qualities?

Opposing counsel may try to discredit an expert witness by demonstrating a lack of relevant business and/or courtroom experience. Though a potential expert may have years of experience, this does not necessarily mean he or she has a high level of expertise in the specific area of the case, or that his or her experience demonstrates the unbiased nature that an expert must possess.

For example, some experts have only provided their services on behalf of either the defendant or plaintiff. Such a track record might be used by opposing counsel to infer a bias on the part of the expert, even if the bias does not exist.

Why is active involvement an essential quality of an expert witness?

Active involvement often manifests itself in an expert’s writing and speech; both are key elements of his or her testimony. Experts who contribute to their field generally pride themselves on having a thorough understanding of the subject matter. They may be most up to date on recent rulings and opinions regarding relevant analytical techniques, and will generally ensure their testimony complies with these items.

Active involvement may also manifest in the expert’s ability to convey findings to nontechnicians. Experts primarily work with individuals who readily understand the technical terms and analytical methods of the field. This peer group may be quite different from a judge or jury pool.

Involved experts will recognize this difference and have a profound understanding of their area of expertise so they can better articulate their findings.

Do attorneys generally look for specific credentials in selecting an expert witness?

Attorneys generally engage experts who hold credentials in their field, requiring the expert to pass rigorous tests, participate in continuing education programs and/or possess significant related experience. Multiple credentials adhering to such criteria might exist in some fields.

For instance, business valuation credentials fitting the previously mentioned criteria include: Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV), Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA), Certified Business Appraiser (CBA) and Accredited Senior Appraiser (ASA). No one credential is generally better than the other, but credentials generally emphasize the expert’s commitment to his or her profession and understanding of the technical issues.

Is analytical ability the most important attribute of an expert?

It is a key attribute, but sometimes not the most important. Though an expert may have strong analytical abilities, it is important that he or she be able to articulate his or her findings in a clear and concise manner, both on the stand and in written testimony.

To specifically address this issue, some experts purposefully make liberal use of visual tools, including graphs and flowcharts, and include detailed explanations to ensure findings are well articulated and written at a level that nonbusiness professionals can fully comprehend. These experts might also assume a reader has little- understanding of the technical aspects of the case, or of the analytical methods employed.

This strategy helps ensure a reader or listener will not be confused by necessary technical jargon or methods that might otherwise be nonintuitive to a layperson.

John T. Alfonsi is managing director at Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC. Reach him at (866) 717-1607 or jta@cendsel.com.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC

More legal disputes are being resolved through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in an effort to sidestep the often high cost and long timeline of traditional litigation. ADR is often a mystery, however, because it doesn’t receive the same attention that typical courtroom proceedings do through traditional media. Parties considering ADR should know the differences between and benefits of arbitration and mediation.

In addition to often being less expensive and quicker than litigation, arbitration and mediation both rely on a neutral third party to assist the parties. Both proceedings are usually confidential, and the record and resolution do not become a matter for the public. But the similarities end there.

Smart Business spoke with Brian E. Cohen, an associate at Novack and Macey LLP, about when arbitration or mediation is the appropriate solution.

What is arbitration?

Arbitration is like a typical litigation proceeding in that the arbitrator, or arbitration panel, will, in many ways, act like a judge and determine the respective rights of the parties. An arbitrator’s ruling is a final, binding resolution.  
A growing number of commercial contacts contain arbitration clauses that require the parties to use this ‘stripped down trial’ process rather than litigating their case in court. The specific form of arbitration differs from case to case, but often involves reduced document discovery, limited witness testimony and fewer procedural restrictions than accompany a traditional court case.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a less formal process through which the parties attempt to settle their dispute by mutually agreeing on the outcome. The mediator is there to facilitate a conversation that offers the parties an opportunity to express their interests, listen to the other side’s point of view, and, in some cases, agree to resolve their dispute.  

Mediators do not deliver a judgment, determine the parties’ rights or declare one side the winner and one side the loser. He or she does not have the authority to compel the parties to do anything. In mediation, each party retains control over its fate rather than surrender that control to a judge or jury. At the end of the day, only the parties can decide whether or not they want to agree to a particular set of settlement terms.  

How should clients prepare to enter into either mediation or arbitration?

As with a trial, the goal of arbitration is to ‘win.’ Is there anything the client should know about the arbitrator(s)? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the case? How can the client be helpful during the proceeding? Of course, attorneys and clients should discuss whether the client, or any of its employees, is going to testify at the arbitration, and be sure to go over that testimony.   

Preparing for mediation is different, however, because the goal of mediation is not the same as the goal of arbitration. Attorneys and clients should discuss and agree on their particular goals ahead of time. Is it to settle at all costs? Is it to get close to settling with the hope that the other side’s offer might improve a few days later? Is it simply to have an opportunity to be heard by the other side — to hear their perspective?

After the goal has been established, logistical issues remain. Will the client speak to the mediator or to the other side during the mediation? Will the client or attorney make an opening statement? If the client is going to verbally participate, what kind of message would be best for the client to deliver?

In either case, clients should be sure to talk to their lawyers about what to expect from the process and how to best prepare for whichever form of ADR they are using.

Brian E. Cohen is an sssociate at Novack and Macey LLP. Reach him at (312) 419-6900 or bcohen@novackmacey.com.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Novack and Macey LLP

Benjamin Franklin once stated, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” If he were alive today, he might include on his list of certainties an annual increase in health care costs for employers and employees.

Smart Business spoke with Jonathan L. Stark, a partner at Brouse McDowell, regarding the increased attention employers are giving to instituting wellness programs to combat spiraling health care costs and the potential issues that may arise when employers structure such programs.

Can employees be required to participate in a wellness program?

Yes, employers can institute mandatory wellness plans, but such plans cannot discriminate against plan participants or beneficiaries based upon eligibility, benefits, or premiums because of a ‘health factor,’ or violate other laws.

Health factors include a participant’s physical and mental illness, claims experience, medical history and genetic information. Discounted insurance premiums or rebates of deductibles or co-payments if the participant abides by health promotion or disease prevention programs are allowed.

What significant changes have the final wellness regulations generated?

The final rules, effective Jan. 1, 2014, implement a change in the Affordable Care Act that increases the maximum award allowed under a wellness program from 20 percent of the total cost of health care coverage (employee and employer cost) to 30 percent. The maximum reward can be 50 percent for wellness programs that prevent or reduce tobacco use. Also, the definition of a ‘participatory’ program has changed slightly. Previously, a program, such as a walking program, was participatory, but now it falls within the category of an ‘activity-only’ program which must offer the five wellness program requirements. Now, participatory programs are more passive, such as attending health education seminars or receiving reimbursement for purchasing a gym membership.

Can a wellness program dictate that employees not use tobacco?

A wellness program can condition rewards on a participant’s non-use of tobacco. However, employers should be aware that some states have laws that protect employees engaging in lawful conduct during off-duty hours, including protections for tobacco use.

If a program offers rewards to participants for achieving a health outcome, what problems could arise?

Employers should be careful in requiring participants to achieve any specific health outcome (e.g., specific cholesterol level or body mass index) to avoid issues in which health factors may lead to discrimination based on health status, genetic information, medical conditions and disabilities. If a specific target is used to measure compliance in a wellness program, or if a certain activity is required, there should be a reasonable alternative standard for a participant who may find the standard difficult to meet due to a medical condition or if the participant’s doctor advises the participant that satisfying the standard is too risky. An option to waive the standard must also be offered.

All outcome-based and activity-only wellness programs must meet the following five requirements:

  • Eligible individuals must have the opportunity once a year to earn health-contingent awards.
  • Available awards must not exceed 30 percent of total health plan coverage costs, however, if there are tobacco cessation rewards, those rewards may increase the reward limit to 50 percent.
  • Programs must be ‘reasonably designed’ to promote health or prevent disease.
  • Plan information must describe how the reward is earned and offer reasonable alternative means to obtain the reward.
  • Participants must have the opportunity to earn the reward. Activity-only programs must offer a waiver of the requirement or a reasonable alternative to the initial standard if an individual’s medical condition makes it unreasonably difficult or medically inadvisable to achieve the initial standard. And outcome-based programs must offer a waiver or reasonable alternative to every participant.

Jonathan L. Stark is a partner at Brouse McDowell. Reach him at (216) 830-6814 or JStark@brouse.com.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Brouse McDowell

On the Chinese calendar, we are currently in the Year of the Snake. For U.S. tax planning purposes, many people will find that they are in the year of the Sticker Shock. Seems to be a curious coincidence of unpleasantness, doesn’t it? 

Most of us who practice in the tax world are quite aware of the myriad tax changes that took effect for the 2013 tax year. Unfortunately, many taxpayers who are directly affected by these changes may not be. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that the tax landscape has shifted sharply for those who are now on the wrong side of the line between “middle class” and “higher earners.” If that does, indeed, describe you, you will now be subject to an array of new taxes, higher rates, and harsh deduction limits.

So, how has your tax landscape changed?

Starting in 2013, a couple of different pieces of legislation took effect that significantly raised taxes on higher earners, increasing the importance of tax awareness and tax planning: the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA). 

Although the ACA is not new legislation, 2013 is the first year in which it really began to rear its ugly head. Among its many health care related provisions, it also imposes a higher payroll tax as well as a surtax on the unearned income of higher-income individuals. For the second half of the one-two punch, the ATRA imposes higher tax rates on ordinary income, capital gains and dividends, while, at the same time, imposing limitations on the availability of both personal exemptions and itemized deductions.

For tax years beginning after December 31, 2012, the following categorical changes now apply:

  • Increased payroll tax for high-earning workers and self-employed taxpayers.

  • Surtax on unearned income of higher-income individuals.

  • Higher individual income tax rates apply to higher-income taxpayers.

  • Capital gain and dividend rates rise for higher-income taxpayers.

  • Personal exemption is limited for high earners.

  • Itemized deductions are limited for high earners.

A free guide entitled 2013 Tax Planning: The Year of Sticker Shock is now available for download at www.zinnerco.com to help explain what exactly these changes entail.

While many high earners will certainly pay more taxes this year than in the past, keep in mind that it’s almost never too late to start participating in the tax planning process. Even at this late date, a little planning may be surprisingly effective in minimizing one’s taxes. To explore your tax options, contact one of the tax professionals at Zinner & Co. LLP.

Howard J. Kass, CPA, AEP®, is a Tax Partner at Zinner & Co. LLP. Reach him at (216) 831-0733 or hkass@zinnerco.com.

Here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus Lane. He’s got a bag that’s filled with toys, but does he have coverage for those he employs?

The North Pole is very dynamic — Santa Claus has a personal home, reindeer, a toy factory and a sleigh for business use. Like many business owners, he needs to look at a variety of insurance coverages for all aspects of his life.

Because of the animal exposure from the reindeer, the Clauses need to put their residence on a farm policy, or a home policy with an endorsement that extends to the barn and animals.

A business policy would insure the toy factory, while the sleigh would be added to the business auto policy. Any additional drivers also need to be taken into account. If Mrs. Claus or any elves want to drive the sleigh, they would need their driving records checked first, and, if acceptable, added to the policy.

Santa’s agent may strongly recommend umbrella insurance, which are additional liability limits that extend over the home or business limits. In the unlikely event that Santa is sued, the lawsuit could extend from Santa to jeopardize the toy factory and any related businesses. An umbrella provides an extra layer of liability protection in the event of a loss or lawsuit.

Smart Business spoke with Craig Hassinger, president of SeibertKeck, about how Santa Claus can stay safe this holiday season with the proper insurance coverage.

How should the toy factory be covered?

Santa’s toy factory is a unique risk. Because 100 percent of its inventory is scheduled for delivery on one night, he needs peak season insurance. Peak season insurance automatically provides you with a specified percentage increase in insurance coverage during peak inventory periods when you insure your inventory for its average monthly value. We all know that although the elves have 12 months to make the toys, they really pick up the pace in November and December, significantly increasing the number of toys stored at the factory. Having peak season insurance allows Santa to increase the coverage for the toys for a couple of months while inventory is at its highest.

Santa also should talk to his agent to make sure his business policy has equipment breakdown coverage, in case any of the toy-making machines were to break, and business interruption coverage, which would help Santa if there was a covered loss and he was unable to work in the factory.

What are some additional coverages Santa may need?

An important coverage for Santa as he delivers all the gifts would be cargo coverage. Cargo coverage provides insurance for the goods, in this case gifts as they are in transit on the sleigh, until delivery. For Santa this could include any gifts that fall from the sleigh, are delivered to the wrong child or damaged en route.

Since Santa and his elves make all the toys at the North Pole, another coverage Santa should get is products liability. Products liability coverage is necessary because the manufacturer or maker of the products is held responsible for the injuries those products cause. If a toy were faulty or incorrectly made by an elf, Santa’s factory would be liable if any injury occurred to a child.

Any other tips for Santa — or other insurees — as the year winds down?

Take the time to:

  • Put multiple insurance policies with the same carrier. This can be beneficial in the event of a claim and save on premiums.

  • Review your personal and business insurance with your agent annually.

  • Contact your agent two to three months before your busy season. They will review your risk, make sure coverage is in place and allow you to focus on your business when the rush hits.


It’s critical to have a trusted insurance agent who can advise you how to best bundle your insurance for convenience and premium savings, without sacrificing necessary coverage, to have a happy holiday season and successful year following.

Craig Hassinger is president of SeibertKeck. Reach him at (330) 867-3140 or chassinger@seibertkeck.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by SeibertKeck

Here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus Lane. He’s got a bag that’s filled with toys, but does he have coverage for those he employs?

The North Pole is very dynamic — Santa Claus has a personal home, reindeer, a toy factory and a sleigh for business use. Like many business owners, he needs to look at a variety of insurance coverages for all aspects of his life.
Because of the animal exposure from the reindeer, the Clauses need to put their residence on a farm policy, or a home policy with an endorsement that extends to the barn and animals.

A business policy would insure the toy factory, while the sleigh would be added to the business auto policy. Any additional drivers also need to be taken into account. If Mrs. Claus or any elves want to drive the sleigh, they would need their driving records checked first, and, if acceptable, added to the policy.

Santa’s agent may strongly recommend umbrella insurance, which are additional liability limits that extend over the home or business limits. In the unlikely event that Santa is sued, the lawsuit could extend from Santa to jeopardize the toy factory and any related businesses. An umbrella provides an extra layer of liability protection in the event of a loss or lawsuit.

Smart Business spoke with Ryan Clugston, a client advisor at SeibertKeck, about how Santa Claus can stay safe this holiday season with the proper insurance coverage.

How should the toy factory be covered?

Santa’s toy factory is a unique risk. Because 100 percent of its inventory is scheduled for delivery on one night, he needs peak season insurance. Peak season insurance automatically provides you with a specified percentage increase in insurance coverage during peak inventory periods when you insure your inventory for its average monthly value. We all know that although the elves have 12 months to make the toys, they really pick up the pace in November and December, significantly increasing the number of toys stored at the factory. Having peak season insurance allows Santa to increase the coverage for the toys for a couple of months while inventory is at its highest.

Santa also should talk to his agent to make sure his business policy has equipment breakdown coverage, in case any of the toy-making machines were to break, and business interruption coverage, which would help Santa if there was a covered loss and he was unable to work in the factory.

What are some additional coverages Santa may need?

An important coverage for Santa as he delivers all the gifts would be cargo coverage. Cargo coverage provides insurance for the goods, in this case gifts as they are in transit on the sleigh, until delivery. For Santa this could include any gifts that fall from the sleigh, are delivered to the wrong child or damaged en route.

Since Santa and his elves make all the toys at the North Pole, another coverage Santa should get is products liability. Products liability coverage is necessary because the manufacturer or maker of the products is held responsible for the injuries those products cause. If a toy were faulty or incorrectly made by an elf, Santa’s factory would be liable if any injury occurred to a child.

Any other tips for Santa — or other insurees — as the year winds down?

Take the time to:

  • Put multiple insurance policies with the same carrier. This can be beneficial in the event of a claim and save on premiums.

  • Review your personal and business insurance with your agent annually.

  • Contact your agent two to three months before your busy season. They will review your risk, make sure coverage is in place and allow you to focus on your business when the rush hits.


It’s critical to have a trusted insurance agent who can advise you how to best bundle your insurance for convenience and premium savings, without sacrificing necessary coverage, to have a happy holiday season and successful year following.

Ryan Clugston is a client advisor at SeibertKeck, Best Hoovler McTeague. Reach him at (614) 246-7475 or rclugston@seibertkeck.com.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by SeibertKeck

Many Northeast Ohio companies receive raw materials or components from European suppliers, or ship their finished products to European customers. The cargo is transported by truck or rail to New York or Baltimore, and then loaded onto ocean-going ships bound for Europe — a longstanding logistical process for Midwestern businesses. However, this route is also expensive, slow and has lengthy delays, especially at the Port of New York.

An innovative concept is being developed to solve these problems. Small, Seaway-sized ships could be loaded at the Port of Cleveland, located next to FirstEnergy Stadium. The Spliethoff ocean carriers then begin a dedicated round trip to Antwerp, Belgium. Dubbed the Cleveland-Europe Express, its service is scheduled to begin in April 2014.

Smart Business spoke with Bradley Hull Ph.D., Associate professor and Reid Chair, Department of Management Marketing and Logistics, John Carroll University, who together with the Dutch Consul laid the groundwork for this project, to learn more about this project and what it could mean for local businesses.

What are the business advantages of the Cleveland-Europe Express? 

The advantages are the savings that could be realized in time and money. The Cleveland-Europe Express takes four to five fewer days to make the trip to Europe than the existing route. This makes the Cleveland-Europe Express ideal for Just In Time manufacturers or anyone needing quick deliveries.

Money can also be saved using the new route because water is inherently the least costly form of transportation. The existing route incurs excessive costs from the unnecessary and expensive overland transport to the East Coast, double handling at the East Coast port, expensive ocean carrier rates to Europe, and lost time due to East Coast congestion. The Cleveland-Europe Express is all-water and as such avoids many of these problems and costs.

Companies also gain more control over their cargo since this method relies on fewer people handling the products. Businesses are no longer dependent on long distance overland transportation and handlers in New York. This means companies face less risk of loss or damage.

The service will run on a reliable fixed schedule. Initially, the service will run once per month to Europe. As business grows, the service could become bi-monthly or weekly.

What could the establishment of the Cleveland-Europe Express mean to Northeast Ohio? 

Companies contributing to the success of the Cleveland-Europe Express help create jobs in Northeast Ohio. Ports are ‘engines of job creation.’ As business at the Port increases, the downtown area becomes a more attractive location for distribution centers and manufacturers that would benefit from prime transportation access. If successful, the Cleveland-Europe Express could contribute to the revitalization of downtown Cleveland and ultimately Northeast Ohio.

How was the Cleveland-Europe Express developed? 

For the past eight years there has been a strong feeling that such a service could be economically viable. John Carroll University and the Dutch Consul have conducted analyses, held four Seaway conferences, partnered with Erasmus University of Rotterdam to get a European perspective of the project’s practicability, given numerous presentations to local and regional groups, and organized a trade mission to the Netherlands was held this past summer. There is much excitement building for the potential of this shipping route to revitalize Northeast Ohio and increase the viability of Northeast Ohio companies.

Bradley Hull Ph.D., Associate professor and Reid Chair, Department of Management Marketing and Logistics, John Carroll University. Reach him at (216) 397-4182 or bzhull@jcu.edu.

Insights Executive Education is brought to you by John Carroll University

When trying to learn about an individual, many companies turn to online background checks. However, this could be a mistake as much of the available information may not be fully verified, which is why many businesses turn to a licensed investigator to help provide a more complete and accurate picture.

Smart Business spoke with Theresa Mack, CPA, CFF, CAMS, CFCI, PI, a senior manager at Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC, about working with a licensed investigator to help your business uncover the information you need.

Why hire a licensed investigator?

Most online or database-driven background checks are actually ‘record checks.’ In other words, data from records are compiled and the quality of the source information is not thoroughly verified.

This cursory check may be sufficient in some cases. However, depending on the information found, the nature of the background check, the check’s intended use and the access to confidential/proprietary information that a potential employee may have, a complete background due diligence investigation by a licensed investigator may be warranted.

An investigator uses multiple resources to verify data accuracy and corroborate information. Thus, background due diligence investigations help reduce the risk of client reliance on false information.

How do investigators perform background due diligence activities?

An investigator generally works on a six-step methodology: prepare, inquire, analyze, query, document and report. This methodology is highly applicable to background investigations. An accurate and comprehensive investigation is based upon existing, determined and verified information, leaving no rock unturned.

Investigators will tailor their activities to suit the needs of their clients, which typically include attorneys, businesses and individuals. Client needs will define both the records checked by the investigator and the type of documents that can be released to the investigator and the client.

Where does an investigator begin?

An investigator often begins by examining open-source information, which refers to sources that are overt and publicly available. These are available through online data warehouse applications, which house data from disparate sources.

Open-source information includes public documents that are created throughout a person’s lifetime, allowing the investigator to follow a paper trail leading to a complete history of the individual being searched. These may include court filings, property tax documents, vehicle registrations and social media sources. Open-source intelligence is a form of intelligence collection management that involves finding, selecting and acquiring publicly available information and analyzing it to produce actionable intelligence.

How does an investigator evaluate sources?

Any record is only as good as the chain of events involved in its creation. Online record checks simply provide information on an individual. Investigators go further by evaluating the veracity of the source data.

Record maintenance, storage and dissemination procedures can often impact the accuracy of the information. Typos, misprints and mistakes introduced by human error can also affect the accuracy of records. These latter items are often seen on personal credit reports, criminal convictions and even civil litigation histories. While these are official records, they can contain errors nonetheless.

Processes for updating records can also compromise the accuracy of information, as records are only as accurate as their frequency of updates. Some records are never updated and may provide stale data if the user is unaware of this underlying issue.

Finally, the method that data warehouses employ for acquiring information critically impacts information integrity. For instance, the provider may have purchased information from a secondary source. In such an instance, it is essential that the provider have accurate retrieval processes and is knowledgeable about handling special data items.

An investigator evaluates each of these issues over the course of conducting background due diligence activities.

Theresa Mack, CPA, CFF, CAMS, CFCI, PI, is a senior manager at Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC. Reach her at (866) 717-1607 or tbm@cendsel.com.

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