Pittsburgh (2550)

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:46

The lasting impression

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The special event is a marketing technique that can make a favorable and long-lasting impression.

Annual meetings, open houses, dinner meetings with customer groups, sales meetings, even having a hospitality suite at a trade show, all qualify as a special event.

Pulling off a special event in memorable fashion comes down to a single point: Taking care of the details.

The invitation list

Staging the event is only half the effort. Convincing the right people to attend is the other half. Many companies leave this detail until the last minute.

If you do, some people will receive their invitations too late to place your event on their schedules. Start working on the list as soon as you begin planning the event.

Location

If the location isn’t predetermined, select one that is convenient to most of the people attending. Making it easy for your audience to get there will increase attendance.

Don’t forget to consider road construction schedules. Deal with construction by letting everyone know it’s there, giving them details on how to get around it and urging them to get an early start to the event site. Provide something to do for those who arrive early.

Speakers

Consider bringing in a speaker to liven up the event and help get your message across. An organization moving from one downtown location to another not long ago wanted to prepare its employees and customers for the move.

We brought in the producer/narrator of a local television series about Pittsburgh people and places. He had delightful, behind-the-scenes stories which he interspersed with film clips from the series. We arranged for him to focus on the people and places that make the Strip District unique. So, much of what he said focused on his film about the Strip.

It was a little detail, and it paid off. The audiences loved the presentations. And they began to get a subtle message that the move was going to be good for everyone.

You don’t always have to budget large sums of money to get them onto the stage. The TV producer didn’t charge anything for his appearances. He liked the opportunity to promote his films, and he absolutely delighted in telling stories about how he made them.

With any speaker, consider budgeting for audio/visual support. Your location can be ideal and the speaker may be great, but if you need A/V support, and the A/V system isn’t up to par, you’ll lose the opportunity to tell the audience what you want them to know.

Consider hiring a local A/V firm to bring in a system. Your site already may have its own A/V system, but if the sound or projector fails during your event and you can’t switch over to the second system, the party’s over. Use the hotel system as a back-up. The professional A/V firm is going to have better equipment — and it will work.

The size of the room dictates when you need a microphone and screen. If you’re talking to a group of 50 or more people, you may need the mike, and you’ll likely need a screen as well.

The evaluation

At the end of the event, don’t forget to ask the members of your audience to fill out an evaluation form and ask them to provide you with suggestions for the next gathering. It may provide you with surprising information.

Attention to detail. Every detail. That’s what makes a special event special.

Jeff Krakoff is the president of Krakoff Communications, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications and public relations agency. KCI is the agency of record for First Night Pittsburgh, the region’s largest annual special event For a free copy of KCI’s meeting/special event check list, call Jeff Krakoff at (412) 434-7718.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:46

Paying the piper

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One of the first things that students learn in a writing or journalism class is to avoid using clichés and jargon in their writing.

Unfortunately for us writers, we are bombarded with both on an almost daily basis by people who are determined, it seems, to help us fall from grace.

Covering business exposes us to lots of clichés and jargon, both spoken and in press releases, that grow ragged with overuse. It should come as no surprise that these are most often used when companies or their public relations agents are attempting to get our attention. Ironically, they usually end up shooting themselves in the foot. Whoops!

Here are the ones we hear most often:

  • We’re a unique company. Unique should be stricken from the English language. Despite the fact that they know it drives us nuts, or maybe because it does, public relations and marketing writers continue to use this word. A letter to us is almost certain to hit the trash can if you use it.

  • We are doing a lot of interesting things. Interesting to whom? If you want to increase your chances of getting our attention, ask yourself the hard questions before we do. Who would want to hear this story? Why would anyone care about what you’re doing?

  • We’ve been in business for (10, 20, 100) years. Quite frankly, the length of time a company has been in business is of only passing interest to most people, let alone us. We might be interested, though, in how you managed to stay in business. But don’t mention the following as one of the reasons:

  1. We exceed our customers’ expectations. That’s good, but why is it that so many businesses disappoint me? I just want to go away feeling like I got my money’s worth. Besides, I haven’t met anyone who ever said, “Our customer service isn’t too good.”

  2. It’s a win-win. We’ve been laughing up our sleeves for a couple of years at this one. I don’t know too many people who would say, for publication at least, that they beat the pants off the other guy. And most of us find it hard to admit that we got a bad deal. Besides, we’ve seen too many win-wins degrade quickly into lose-lose.

  3. It’s a win-win-win. In an attempt to outdo the win-winners, there are those who insist on finding a third party to win with.

    Of course, not every catch phrase is dismissed so lightly by us. In fact, when an expression reaches wide familiarity, we can put it to work for us. I took advantage of “Show me the money,” coined by a character in the movie “Jerry Maguire,” when I came up with “Show me the service,” the headline for my column last month.

    I used “Only in Amarraca” as the headline for my December 1999 column. In fact, in my never-ending quest to be clever, I often try turning the common expression on its head.

So while I tire of hearing them, I suppose I’ll have to tolerate them for my own good. In the end, I suppose, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

Ray Marano, associate editor of SBN, spends much of his time trying educate SBN’s readers and exceeding their expectations. We could say it’s a real win-win. But we won’t. Reach him at rmarano@sbnnet.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:46

In the wake of Y2K

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The hush of Infoliant Corp.’s Station Square offices is in contrast to the hubbub over the Y2K issue that dominated the news during the waning weeks of 1999.

Yet, in its own quiet way, the company formed in 1997 to offer computer users updates on the Y2K status of their software may very well have helped corporate and government computer users avoid a chaotic, or at least troublesome, New Year’s Day.

With thousands of software products available and in use, it would have been nearly impossible for most companies to assemble the Y2K status information to judge their exposure. Infoliant’s founders realized that and came up with the Year 2000 Network Advisor, a service that helped its clients do just that.

“What we do is aggregate and standardize and package the information for companies that don’t have the resources to do it themselves,” says Kevin Weaver, Infoliant’s executive vice president and co-founder.

Weaver repeats the conventional wisdom that appears to be emerging about Y2K: The likelihood of major catastrophes was remote, at most, and software makers, government and private industry saw the potential for problems and acted decisively — and spent considerable dollars — to head them off. That made the first hours of 2000 uneventful, at least as far as the millennium bug was concerned.

While they are undetectable to most of us, some lingering effects of Y2K do exist; some software did prove noncompliant, which created problems. That will mean weeks or even months of vigilance and ongoing demand for reporting on the status of software fixes.

Weaver says some help desks got swamped, and Infoliant still received status changes during January, something he expects to continue at a brisk pace, at least until the end of February. It also could mean a flurry of litigation coming out of those failures, and that, Weaver believes, may offer opportunities for Infoliant.

In this month’s One on One, Weaver reveals why he wasn’t worried that the world might come to an end at midnight Dec. 31, 1999, and talks about Infoliant’s future in a post-Y2K world.

SBN: What’s in the future for Infoliant?

Weaver: We’re looking at a couple of different strategies. We have prepared something called the compliance archive. Part of our process is to collect information about the Y2K status and keep that record as it changes over time. So we can tell you that this product was originally deemed compliant on May 21, 1998, and that in August, they found an issue, and in September, they found a second issue.

We’ve got all of that kind of information documented. We put that together in anticipation of supporting the legal community if there were a large number of Y2K lawsuits, so we’re exploring some outlets for that information.

The market for that, the need for that, is later, after the lawsuits start to get filed. That’s something that is there and just needs a bit of polish if we need to turn it on. What we’re doing right now is the market research and some product development work.

Many of our customers took it upon themselves to contact us and tell us some ideas they’d like to see us do, and we heard a very common message. What they told us basically is that they absolutely love what we’re doing with Y2K with the Year 2000 Network Advisor, but from their perspective, the year 2000 was just a special kind of bug, and that they would love to see some sort of service expanded, not just to cover a Y2K topic, but the general problems that occur every day with computers.

We’re in the process now of formalizing that in terms of understanding how big the market is and how we price and package it and adapt what we have to cover a broader range of topics. That probably won’t be ready for the market for a few more months.

Are we out of the Y2K woods?

The media attention on midnight, Dec. 31, was unfounded. It was kind of a lightning rod point, but anybody who’s been involved with Y2K and the information technology business understands that really only a small number of the problems were going to occur at that time, and that the nature of the problems was not going to be catastrophic.

According to some of the studies by the Gartner Group and others, a lot of the problems started occurring before Dec. 31, and we knew that from feedback from our customers. They feel about 50 to 60 percent of the problems are yet to be reported, and we’re starting to see that even with the products that we track.

From the perspective of everyday life, I think, yes, there certainly still are incidents cropping up here and there where bills get sent out with the wrong date or what have you. What we undertook as a problem was what we call the broad Y2K problem.

It wasn’t so much that there was a big old application that ran a bank written in COBOL 30 years ago that was not Y2K compliant. We took on all the desktop PC-distributed systems, things that companies have thousands of spread out all over the place. [For our customers] it was a logistics issue of, ‘How do I get technicians and people and information out to all these places and pick up all these things?’

So what we were getting feedback on now are people finding pockets of small things, things they had missed, things that vendors didn’t test thoroughly but are not at points that are affecting overall company performance.

There’s been a lot of stuff written in the last week or so asking whether this was a big hoax, did we overspend, was this a waste of money. There’s no doubt in my mind that had we done nothing, we would have seen a lot more significant issues.

We never expected to see lights go off or telephone service interrupted for any significant amount of time or anything that was going to be nationally newsworthy. I wasn’t surprised to see that. I was surprised to see that there were a relatively small number of reports.

How important was the role played by Infoliant and other similar services in averting widespread problems or even disaster?

This is something I told our employees in our wrap-up meetings. We have several hundred global 1000 firms as customers. Granted, they have lots of other resources going into Y2K — we didn’t get a fraction of that $600 billion [estimated worldwide expenditures for Y2K compliance efforts], but we did certainly have an impact on some of the major organizations.

Almost every bank, brokerage firm and investment firm were customers of ours. Many of the leading telecommunications companies around the world are customers of ours.

I want to give some credit to the computer manufacturers and the software manufacturers. I think they did a stellar job of getting information out and available. Without their cooperation, we couldn’t have done our service. It’s unfortunate that it [compliance status] changed frequently.

One of the things our service did was to detect when patch one didn’t really fix the problem, so patch two came out to fix it, or patch one introduced a problem that patch two had to fix.

What was all the hype about with regard to Y2K?

I think what had people concerned was that in the history of technology, there have been a couple of instances where small failures cascaded into bigger problems, problems with telephone systems, where one phone switch in the long distance system goes haywire and all of a sudden things start to go down.

On the Internet in the fall, there was a cut in a fiber optic line in Ohio that pretty much shut down East Coast-West Coast traffic for several days until that got repaired. There was the blackout in the 1960s on the East Coast, where a power generator facility went down and everything started to cascade after that.

We’re talking about billions of lines of code and million of systems and hundreds of thousands of human beings worldwide working on things. It seems difficult to believe that nothing bigger occurred, that somebody didn’t miss something that was important.

That was a little bit of a surprise to us. [Infoliant] is in an odd position; we certainly didn’t hope for a disaster, but at the same time, we’re surprised that things went as smoothly as they did.

Ray Marano (rmarano@sbnnet.com) is associate editor at SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:46

Creating a new environment

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Georgiana Riley relishes being in the thick of things in her business.

“I love to get out with the reps; I love to get in front of the customers,” says Riley, owner and president of TIGG Corp., a Bridgeville-based environmental engineering firm.

Few could doubt the value of a hands-on executive who possesses the sales and marketing know-how that Riley does, and the bottom-line pressure that small businesses feel means that, yes, at times, she has had to step in to smooth over a problem or close a deal with a client.

But making the transition from company executive to business owner has meant that her view had to become more strategic than tactical. Riley says she realizes that to survive in the industry and put TIGG firmly in the black, she’s going to have to resist the temptation at times to throw herself into the fray of the day-to-day.

Riley clearly likes to stay on the fast track. In addition to her responsibilities at TIGG, she serves as a township supervisor in Independence Township and helps her husband run their Foxfire Farm, where they raise purebred Angus cattle.

She spent most of her career selling for big companies in the chemical industry and, more recently, spent four years in sales at TIGG before becoming its president and, ultimately, its owner, last year.

She joined TIGG in 1993 as director of sales, and by 1996 was president, leading the company to a 25 percent increase in revenue. TIGG came off a record year in 1997, only to turn in a disappointing performance in 1998. Last year was better, says Riley, and she expects the company to return to profitability in 2000.

TIGG was founded in 1978 by Don Tigglebeck and his wife, Carole, as a manufacturer’s representative and chemical trader in plastics and intermediates. In 1980, TIGG recognized a growing market for pre-engineered, ready-to-use modular “adsorbers,” particularly in the emerging pollution control market.

Adsorption technology is used in a variety of applications. It can, for example, remove toxic chemicals from ground water, surface water or waste water, or toxic or odorous gasses from storage tank vents or paint spray booths. It also can be used to recover valuable solvents in manufacturing processes.

It involves the use of an adsorption medium, such as activated carbon. TIGG also provides other methods, such as ion exchange and oil/water separation systems.

More recently, the business has evolved into a more comprehensive solutions provider, offering engineering, consulting and turnkey solutions for its customers, in addition to off-the-shelf solutions.

Surviving in a big pond

In the early 1990s, Riley says, the market for TIGG’s products grew increasingly competitive as industry consolidation took place, squeezing margins and hurting small suppliers like TIGG. Meanwhile, the federal Superfund Program, established in 1980, and more stringent environmental regulations are creating a need for remediation efforts, retrofits of older facilities and new installations of pollution control equipment, all expanding opportunities for firms in the environmental industry.

Although TIGG is a relatively small player, Riley says, she realized even before she acquired the company that there were opportunities to improve its performance. She is guiding the company by playing to its strengths and working in collaborative ways with other companies in the industry, as well as improving its information systems, restructuring its marketing effort and ramping up its manufacturing capabilities.

Retooling the plant

Riley saw that one of the strengths of TIGG is its 60,000-square-foot in-house manufacturing facility on a 10-acre site in Heber Springs, Ark., where the company fabricates tanks, ranging in capacity from 20 gallons to 1,600 gallons, and other equipment for treatment systems.

Last year, Riley hired a superintendent for the plant, to not only supervise operations, but to make recommendations for improvements to make the facility more productive. Following his suggestions, TIGG is investing in new welding and handling equipment, which Riley says will increase output without requiring additional labor and bring in house some of the work that was being subcontracted to outside vendors.

Finding the opportunities

TIGG used to rely solely on its in-house sales team to generate leads and identify projects. But Riley found that referrals from manufacturers’ representatives in other, complementary businesses were feeding business to TIGG.

She put together a network of manufacturers’ representatives to identify opportunities for TIGG through their day-to-day selling activities. The company now has 10 such representatives in a variety of related fields, ranging from chemical processing to remediation, concentrated in the eastern United States.

Now, TIGG’s in-house sales team acts in a support role for the manufacturers’ reps. The arrangement has worked well, says Riley, and usually involves TIGG providing some component of the project or taking on management of the entire project.

That allows it to get in on projects it might otherwise not have been able to take on and share the risk with one or more partners. The company manages six to 10 such ventures a year, a number that Riley would like to see grow in the future.

Finding an adviser

Riley realized it was naïve to believe she could lead the company without any outside counseling, and found PowerLink, an organization that assembles groups of business experts to act as boards of directors for growing businesses.

This year, TIGG will have the benefit of a board of directors from PowerLink that will help Riley guide the company. A group of seasoned business executives, she hopes, will help her stay focused on the big picture.

Says Riley: “The hardest thing for me to do is to step back.”

How to reach: TIGG Corp., (412) 257-9580 or www.tigg.com

Ray Marano (rmarano@sbnnet.com) is an associate editor at SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:45

Who’s Who of Conference Speakers

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Janet Crane

Vice president, eBay and chief executive officer, Billpoint, a wholly owned subsidiary of eBay

Janet Crane brings more than 20 years of payment and banking experience both with large financial corporations and small entrepreneurial companies. Prior to joining Billpoint, she was president and CEO of Mondex USA and vice chairman of Mondex International, the smart card companies owned by many of the world’s leading financial institutions.

Before Mondex, Crane held executive positions at Wells Fargo, MasterCard, Transaction Processing Inc., Mellon Bank and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. She has managed businesses responsible for debit, credit and smart cards, as well as corporate cash management.

Crane has served on the Cirrus and Star boards of directors and is a frequent industry speaker and thought leader. She is a graduate of Bucknell University.

Billpoint facilitates efficient person-to-person payment services over the Internet. Focusing on online trading communities such as auction sites, Billpoint allows buyers and sellers to use credit cards to conduct convenient, safe, and reliable transactions online. Billpoint, founded in 1998, is located in San Jose, Calif.

The company was acquired by eBay in early 1999 and operates as a wholly owned subsidiary.

Jennifer Alexander

Vice president of marketing

STORM, LLC

As vice president of marketing, Jennifer Alexander leads STORM’s branding and communications efforts. Before joining STORM, Alexander was a senior vice president at Young & Rubicam in New York.

Her agency experience in establishing large, national advertising and branding programs will be key as STORM aggressively penetrates the Web performance market. During her tenure at Young & Rubicam, Alexander led strategy and campaign development for the Citibank Citi f/i business, the bank’s new Internet product.

In addition, she specialized in business planning and development for Young & Rubicam’s Key Corporate Accounts, including Citibank, Ford and AT&T. Alexander managed the development and global implementation of TeamSpace, a groundbreaking Internet/extranet, workflow tool that enabled Young & Rubicam to share work with client teams globally and across lines of business.

Alexander led the agency’s Detroit office in establishing the brand team structure in place for Lincoln-Mercury. Prior to joining Young & Rubicam, she spent two years with the Agency Management Group in Pittsburgh as senior consultant, then as vice president.

Alexander attended Colby College in Maine and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University’s Graduate School of Industrial Administration.

Linda S. Werner, Esquire

Vice president and estate planning officer

PNC Advisors

Linda S. Werner is a vice president and estate planning officer of PNC Advisors. Her primary areas of practice include estate planning, wealth succession planning and estate and gift tax planning.

She was formerly an associate of the Pittsburgh law firm of Reich, Werner & Alexander, and earlier, an associate counsel in the Trust and Investment Section of Mellon Bank, N.A.’s legal department. Werner is a member of the Allegheny County Bar Association and the Estate Planning Council of Pittsburgh.

She received her B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh and her J.D. from the University of Akron School of Law, Akron, Ohio. She is a native of Pittsburgh.

Michael J. Campbell

Founder and CEO

Michael James & Co.

As a founder and CEO of Michael James & Co., Michael J. Campbell is responsible for managing client services and strategic marketing programs. His focus includes helping clients understand the multitude of channels in the marketplace, specifically business partners and trade groups, and creative ways of leveraging those organizations to establish market leadership.

Previously, Campbell was managing director of public affairs and program development at the Pittsburgh Technology Council, where he managed outside agency relationships, a team of sales managers, account executives and meeting planners. He built from scratch a highly successful million-dollar special-events program including industry conferences and expositions.

Before the Technology Council, Campbell worked for a number of business and industrial organizations, including the Pittsburgh World Trade Association and the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce.

While with the World Trade Association, the United Nations Development Program tapped him to serve on a consulting team working in Beijing. He subsequently participated in other U.N. initiatives in Europe and served on foreign trade missions in Asia.

Campbell earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and political science at Gannon University. He did his master’s work in international policy and finance at the University of Pittsburgh.

Nancy Evans

Co-founder, editor-in-chief

iVillage.com

Nancy Evans is co-founder of iVillage.com: The Women’s Network, and has served as editor-in-chief since the company’s inception in June 1995. The mission of the company is to provide effective solutions to everyday challenges facing women in their many roles as professionals, parents, friends and partners.

iVillage.com utilizes the power of personalized services and peer advice made possible by the Internet.

As co-chairperson and editor-in-chief of iVillage.com, the nation’s largest Web site for women, Evans has created a cyberspace community for more than 7.3 million women per month who get and share information on subjects ranging from current events, parenting and financial and career planning to health care issues that can be life saving as well as life enhancing.

Evans has introduced an environment in which women from all walks of life have access to each other. Full-time career women who spend a lot of time on the road, as well as full-time homemakers and stay-at-home moms, not only have access to previously unavailable expert advice, but also can communicate directly with each other through the Web site’s live, online chats and message boards.

Prior to founding iVillage, Evans founded the magazine Family Life to create a “national kitchen table” for parents of children ages 3 to 12. She published it in a joint-venture with Jann Wenner. Along with overseeing the business, she served as editor-in-chief.

Family Life was nominated for the National Magazine Award in General Excellence in its first year of publication. Subsequently sold to Hachette, Family Life now is owned by TimeWarner.

Robert Albertelli

E-commerce specialist

Concurrent Technologies Corp. (CTC)

Robert Albertelli primarily supports the CTC’s Electronic Commerce Resource Center (ECRC) program. He is responsible for managing the outreach and technical support activities, with an emphasis on communicating the message of the ECRC program to prospective clients.

He conducts information technology consultations and training for enterprises throughout New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Albertelli has more than seven years of experience working with e-commerce technologies and assisting organizations in implementing e-commerce into their own operations.

The mission of the ECRC program is to identify and assist industrial enterprises in making the transfer from a paper-intensive environment to one that provides for the generation, exchange, management and use of digital data, both technical and business.

Robert C. Buzzelli

Investment Officer

PNC Advisors

Robert C. Buzzelli is an investment officer with PNC Advisors, specializing in providing expert advice to investment management and trust clients.

Buzzelli’s prior experience includes serving as treasurer for USX Corp. and working as part of the Institutional Trading & Investments group at Mellon Bank. A Pittsburgh native, he received his B.S. in accounting and marketing from Robert Morris College and his M.B.A. from Carnegie Mellon University.

Sandie Akerman

Owner

Akerman Consulting & Training, Inc.

Sandie Akerman’s training and consulting business focuses on effectiveness and productivity of individuals and organizations by improving relationships.

She believes that people are at the heart of the bottom line and that behind every issue is how we relate to ourselves and others. Akerman has more than 22 years of progressive management, training and sales experience. Before starting Akerman Consulting & Training, Inc., she was the director of training and development for PPG Industries, Inc. – Architectural Finishes, where she was responsible for providing training and development for 890 employees and the customers of this division.

Prior to that, Akerman was employed by Dictaphone Corp. in Stratford, Conn., where she was responsible for the development and implementation of extensive training materials for each product for corporate trainers and customers. She was responsible for managing the hiring, training, and evaluation process for more than 50 training professionals.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Butler University in Indianapolis, Ind., where she studied broadcast journalism and political science.

Sharon L. Kuczynski

financial consultant

Hilliard Lyons

Sharon Kuczynski is a financial consultant with Hilliard Lyons, the Sewickley, Pa. brokerage firm acquired by PNC Advisors in 1998. Kuczynski provides investment and financial planning services to clients in various stages of wealth accumulation. Prior to joining Hilliard Lyons, she held related positions with PNC Brokerage Corp., Legg Mason Wood Walker and Parker/Hunter Inc.

She received her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Slippery Rock University and holds Series 7, 63, and 65 licenses.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:45

The art of Plan B

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I visited an office in the Strip District last month, an old warehouse that is being converted into office and loft space. The developers have opted to retain many of the structural and architectural features of the building, such as the exposed brick and wooden beams.

To me, it’s a Plan B approach to development that has become, in recent years, as familiar and natural to the region as rivers and bridges. Instead of a Plan A approach that we often equate with big-time development — razing buildings and replacing them with entirely new structures — developers in some cases are retaining the original character of old buildings and adapting them for modern uses.

Not that new development isn’t desirable or necessary. There is a massive redevelopment project under way on the south bank of the Monongahela River in Homestead where a huge steel mill once stood. The influx of new blood, while it will undoubtedly displace some existing enterprises, seems to be having the effect of polishing up the old business district on and around East Eighth Avenue.

While it takes a considerable degree of creativity to turn a dank warehouse into an attractive and functional office, store or retail center, the result is worth it. Tearing down a building and putting up a new one in its place is essentially a technical exercise. Refurbishing a building is a more creative exercise, one that brings out the artist in everyone involved.

Not every old building deserves to be preserved, but it makes sense to do so when it’s possible. It retains a sense of familiarity and a link to the past while making use of existing commercial stock. It’s environmentally responsible and, judging from its popularity, it must be cost-effective as well.

This is why I like the creative Plan B approach that’s emerging for the Fifth and Forbes corridor. The city’s main retail district as it exists is no showplace. Most of the buildings are unattractive, not because they’re old, but because they’re run down or they bear the bruises of renovations intended to conceal their age, not accentuate their original design features.

Fifth and Forbes could use a lot of fixing up to make it both more appealing and functional, but people are doing business there, despite considerable challenges. With a little help, they could do much better.

Art is really about rewriting the rules, bending and twisting the conventions and coming up with new answers — and, at times, new questions. Keeping any medium vibrant and alive is a matter of doing two seemingly contradictory things: retaining reverence for tradition and the accomplishments of past artists, while at the same time being willing to bend and break the rules so that the form can progress.

In Pittsburgh, we’re becoming quite proficient at the art of Plan B. At times, we appear to be trying to do things that contradict one another. We want to be a global player while retaining our distinctive small-town character. We want to protect our environment without stifling development. We want to preserve the past even as we know we must plunge fearlessly into the future.

Yet our best efforts seem to be those that emerge out of our desire to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable.

Like an enduring melody or a great painting, an old building can be a pleasure to experience and preserve. When a thoughtful, sensitive and daring artist gives it a new treatment, we are able to hold onto the familiar while embracing the innovative.

If we keep our past in mind while not allowing ourselves to stay stuck in it, we’ll be able to do both. When he’s not prowling through old buildings — some of them inhabited —

Ray Marano (rmarano@sbnnet.com) serves as SBN’s associate editor.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:45

Need an advisory board?

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Seton Hill College’s National Education Center for Women in Business (NECWB) is accepting applications for its Westmoreland County-based PowerLink program, which seeks to assist woman-owned businesses to expand profitably through the use of professional advisory panels.

During its two years of operation, PowerLink has assisted four women-owned businesses, Temporary Employees Most Preferred, Huntingdon; Henry’s Laundry, Dry Cleaning and Linen Services of Greensburg; Neurological Physical Therapy Specialists Inc. of Greensburg; and RE Uptegraff Manufacturing Co. of Scottdale.

“A panel of experts matched to the business’s needs, provides women-owned enterprises assistance in overcoming some of the hurdles they are experiencing as they work to grow their businesses,” says Jayne Huston, associate director of the NECWB.

Volunteer professionals in management, accounting, legal, marketing and human resources are included on PowerLink panels, which serve as advisory boards to the qualifying woman business owner at no charge.

For women entrepreneurs such as Cynthia Molitor, owner of Neurological Physical Therapy Specialists Inc., PowerLink provided invaluable business education and support.

“The PowerLink board members have provided me with an information treasure chest,” Molitor says. “As a physical therapist, I have always focused on providing the best therapy program possible for our clients, yet I didn’t have the business background that it takes today to run a health care practice.

“The board’s practical knowledge in finance, marketing, legal, human resources and other areas of business have helped me make this practice viable and competitive in a very competitive health care market.”

Rebecca Davidson, assistant vice president of Southwest Bank and a PowerLink panel coordinator, has witnessed what she considers remarkable results.

“PowerLink is one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had,” she says. “The advisers are very dedicated and eager to help, and their enthusiasm is contagious. The wealth of information I have personally gained has brought my knowledge of the manufacturing industry to a whole other level, which helps me in my own job.

“[PowerLink] provides invaluable expertise and assistance.”

Says Huston: “Resources we can provide to these women business owners will not only make a difference in their ability to profitably grow their businesses, but to Westmoreland County as a whole. When businesses succeed, the entire county profits.”

Applications for the next “class” of PowerLink-Westmoreland businesses are now being accepted. Women-owned businesses that most likely will be selected are those which meet the following criteria:

  • Minimum of two years in operation;

  • Minimum of two full-time employees;

  • Minimum annual revenue of $250,000 for manufacturing or retail businesses and minimum annual revenue of $100,000 for service businesses;

  • Clearly defined company objectives/goals with explicit reasons for seeking PowerLink’s assistance in meeting those objectives/goals.

For more information about how your business can grow through the use of advisory panels, please contact Jayne Huston at (724) 830-4612.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:45

Law briefs

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e-signature satisfaction

E-commerce in Pennsylvania has been made easier, thanks to a law approved recently by Gov. Tom Ridge.

The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, or EUTA, basically removes barriers to the use of electronic records, electronic signatures, electronic notarizations and acknowledgements and the use of electronic agents in the conduct of business, according to Raymond Pepe and Robert Wittie, attorneys with law firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart.

The law, they say, accepts electronic forms of signatures, notarizations and records as legal when it comes to satisfying contract formation, agency relationships and the retention of records. If a law requires a signature, an electronic signature (defined as a “sound, record or process attached to or logically associated with a record or executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record)” is acceptable. Moreover, transferable records can include the execution and use of electronic notes, bills of lading and warehouse receipts.

Pennsylvania is the first state to accept in virtually its entirety the original act, created by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.

The law does offer protection from misuse of electronic signatures. According to Pepe and Wittie, you can use an electronic signature if you can demonstrate: (1) that you have in place a reasonable security procedure; (2) your good-faith reliance on the procedures in agreement with other parties involved; and (3) evidence that the security procedure indicates that a message was, in fact, from the person to which the electronic signature or record is attributed.

Bummer, man

With the prevalence of depression and its costly effects on workplace morale and productivity, what is a company to do?

Plenty, if you’re willing to reach out and help your employees — while still abiding by stringent Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, according to an article in law firm Buchanan Ingersoll’s Pennsylvania Employment Law Letter. If recent studies are correct, one depressed worker can cost an employer as much as $600 in treatment and lost productivity. The main thing you can do, the article outlines, is encourage employees to seek treatment.

Consider the following:

  • Make sure your employee health plan includes mental health coverage.

  • Implement an employee assistance program that provides free, confidential counseling to help employees deal with issues ranging from stress to clinical depression.

  • Offer mental health screening as an employee benefit.

  • Educate supervisors about the signs of depression and what’s available to help employees.

  • Consider Web sites for more information about depression, including NFBR at www.treatdepression.com; National Institute of Mental Health at www.nimh.nih.gov; National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association at www.ndmda.org; National Alliance for the Mentally Ill at www.nami.org; National Mental Health Association at ww.nmha.org; and American Psychological Association at www.apa.org.

Temporary insanity

If your company uses temporary workers, you remain protected from workplace injury lawsuits by them, even if you’re not the one paying Workers’ Compensation premiums for them.

A federal court has joined the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in ruling that companies directing and controlling temporary workers on a steady basis should be viewed as the “real employer” and should be protected from liability under the exclusive remedy provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act – even if the temporary agency is paying the premiums, according to Buchanan Ingersoll’s Pennsylvania Employment Law Letter.

The court ruled in favor of a warehouse facility that had hired a temporary employee from an agency. While the agency paid the insurance, as well as the wages, the warehouse determined the type of work to be performed and had control over the worker’s duties and responsibilities, including the right to fire him. That made him an “employee” of the warehouse, according to the court ruling.

The ruling, from Shaw v. Thrift Drug Inc., 1999, should help you succeed in asserting that your company is immune from a workplace injury lawsuit if a worker gets hurt on the job and tries to file a suit against you.

Clubbed in court

Winner International, maker of the world-famous automobile anti-theft device The Club, once again has defended patent claims in court.

At the end of January, the United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit, reaffirmed the 1998 opinion of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia that upheld all of Winner International Royalty Corp.’s patent claims on the device.

In question were the automatic self-locking ratcheting mechanism, as spelled out in U.S. Patent No. 4,935,047, and claims 9 through 11 of the related patent application. Winner also owns a patent covering the “commercial embodiment” of the original steering wheel anti-theft device known as The Club. And its shape is a registered trademark.

At issue was the obviousness of the design, but the courts all ruled that it was “nonobvious.”

Can you say ergonomics in 300 pages or less?

The Occupational Safety and health Administration sure knows how to get on the good side of business.

Not only did this regulatory agency issue more than 300 pages of new ergonomics rules for business, it allowed only a 70-day comment period. But thanks to U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, who lashed out with a letter signed by 62 member of the House and Senate, OSHA has granted a 30-day extension beyond the Feb. 1 deadline.

Says Bond: “While there is some relief in the extension, it has come so late that it may not help many of the people who need it. This has been typical of the way OSHA has responded to the small business community on this issue.”

He adds that this rule is the most complicated and broadest rule the agency has ever attempted.

“OSHA still appears ready to try and jam this rule down the throats of small businesses who will not have had a chance to register their concerns.”

Compiled by Daniel Bates

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:45

Green money available

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A new low-interest loan program is available to businesses considering equipment or process changes that will have a positive impact on the environment.

Businesses with 100 employees or fewer can borrow up to $50,000 at an annual interest rate of 2 percent for up to seven years. The loans must finance improvements that reduce the use of or reuse raw materials, reduce the production of waste or make a significant reduction in energy consumption. The pay-back period for the improvements must be less than the term of the loan.

Examples of projects that may qualify include the purchase of energy-efficient equipment, reductions in chemical use, closed-loop cooling or process water systems.

The program is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the state Department of Community and Educational Development. Up to $2 million is available annually.

How to Reach: Loan forms are available by calling the Department of Community and Educational Development at (800) 379-7448, at the DEP Web site at www.dep.state.pa.us or at the ENVIROHELP Web site at www.pa-envirohelp.org.

Ray Marano