• WisBusiness

Monday, September 27, 2010

While most stimulus money trickles out, broadband dollars find a faster pipeline


By Tom Still
MADISON – From the floor of the Grand Canyon to a 49-square-mile island near Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge, TDS Telecom’s 30-state service territory offers no shortage of places where high-speed Internet coverage is out of reach today. With the help of federal stimulus dollars, a better-connected tomorrow is within sight for even the most remote web users.

Amid reports that two-thirds of the $787 billion in total federal stimulus spending approved in February 2009 remains mired in red tape, it appears about $7.2 billion set aside to jumpstart extending “broadband” coverage to rural America is finding its way to hundreds of private-sector applicants such as Madison-based TDS.

It will still take time before many customers in Wisconsin and elsewhere can stop using dial-up Internet service and switch to high-speed broadband coverage, but the process of deciding which projects get federal help and which don’t will be completed by Oct. 1. In Wisconsin so far, that means $157 million in broadband grants for projects fully inside Wisconsin and another $254 million in grants for broadband projects at least partially within the state’s borders.

Some southern states will see larger per capita shares, in part because telecom companies there have done less on their own to extend broadband coverage, but Wisconsin’s slice of the broadband stimulus pie will be relatively high. Those broadband grants will leverage private investments by companies such as TDS, which has won 44 broadband grants so far – including 11 in Wisconsin that will serve about 8,500 dial-up customers.

Now comes the part that really matters: Building the physical infrastructure and getting people connected.

“We’ve been extremely tenacious about our involvement in this (broadband stimulus) program so far, and now we’re actively involved in the execution,” said Drew Petersen, director of external affairs and corporate communications for TDS Telecom.

Petersen said federal rules require two-thirds of the broadband improvements to be deployed within two years and all of the connections made to business, homes, schools and more within three years. But he expects many dial-up TDS customers to have access to high-speed Internet service within a year, providing state and federal permitting processes go as planned. About 94 percent of TDS customers have broadband access today; the broadband grants would make access all-but-universal within that company’s service areas.

Why is improved broadband access vital to rural America, including much of Wisconsin?

* It allows small businesses, which account for two-thirds of new jobs in Wisconsin, to expand their markets and customer bases to the national and even international levels.

* It creates more opportunities for creation of businesses related to information technology, one of the fastest-growing sectors in the U.S. economy. Wisconsin is 21st among the states in IT employment, but poised for growth if the right “highways” are opened to all parts of the state.

* It enables hospitals and clinics to better utilize telemedicine applications. An example might be rapidly locating digital medical records and medical images that can be easily transmitted to doctors or clinics in remote locations. Wisconsin is a hotbed of electronic medical record innovation, and it should capitalize on that.

* It provides rural Wisconsin residents with greater access to higher education through distance learning systems. Those systems themselves could become an export industry for Wisconsin, which could better leverage its K-gray educational system.

* It makes rural Wisconsin more likely to attract large data centers, which are part of many of today’s virtually integrated businesses and corporations.

Opponents of stimulus spending for any purpose might question if the broadband grants are worth the cost, or if the benefits will come in time to pull the nation out of its economic slump. Petersen believes the investment is worthwhile in part because it requires companies such as TDS to invest their own dollars, side-by-side, to help customers get connected.

“Broadband service is fundamentally changing people’s professional and personal lives,” Petersen said. “It will change economic development patterns in some areas. It will change how people telecommute. It will improve the flow of information about health and wellness. It will even change how parents in rural school districts get ‘real-time’ information about their kids. If we couldn’t be strong advocates for our customers through this program, we would have seen it as a missed opportunity.”

While parts of the federal stimulus package is bogged in bureaucracy or targeted in ways unlikely to produce private-sector jobs, the broadband dollars appear on track to connect even the most remote parts of America, including Wisconsin, to the global economy. That’s a connection worth making.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

GreenBiz: Milwaukee ready to shine during Solar Week


By Gregg Hoffmann
Contrary to stereotypes of the gloomy, cloudy Midwest, Milwaukee, and Wisconsin in general, are very conducive to effective use of solar energy, and in fact have developed into leaders in the country in that field.

That fact will be highlighted during Milwaukee Solar Week, Sept. 28- Oct. 2. Milwaukee Shines, the city of Milwaukee's solar program, will team with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) and other organizations and businesses to showcase renewable energy successes and opportunities during the week.

We Energies and Focus on Energy also are hosting solar events during the week. Milwaukee Shines is coordinating the week.

“The city is fortunate to be hosting two premier professional solar conferences, which will highlight all Milwaukee has to offer a growing solar market,” said Matt Howard, director of Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability.

Professionals and the general public will both find things of interest during the week.

“Milwaukee Solar Week has something for everyone,” said Amy Heart, Milwaukee’s Solar Coach and MREA’s Milwaukee Director. “This is a perfect chance to get information on installing solar on your home, find out how to get in the solar business or establish business connections in this growing industry.”

Heart emphasized that Milwaukee and Wisconsin do get an average of 4 ½ hours of sunlight per day. “That’s more than Germany, and Germany is an energy exporter,” she added.

Solar technology today allows for more efficient storage of energy, to be used at a later time when the sun is not shining.

Milwaukee has been named a Solar America City by the U.S. Department of Energy. In 2008, the city and region had two installers of solar technology. Today, there are 22, and the number continues to grow.

“Milwaukee is seeing an increase in solar installations,” Howard said. “We have a growing solar workforce, and we have a number of companies starting or expanding that are strengthening our local solar supply chain.”

Heart said professionals and business people interested in solar will be interested in Wisconsin’s Solar Decade on Wednesday, Sept. 29. Industry experts from around the country will be on hand for the one-day conference.
Solar Thermal ‘10 will be held on Thursday and Friday of Solar Week. It is a national conference and expo geared to the solar thermal professional and devoted to solar heating and cooling. The Milwaukee Metro Solar Hot Water Business Council will unveil the results of a national solar thermal supply chain research project during that event.

MREA also will be offering five workshops on Saturday, Oct. 2, at the Waukesha County Technical College. They will range from Basic Photovoltaics to a new workshop for commercial real estate investors.

A three-hour Solar 101 seminar will give an overview of solar systems for the general public on Tuesday, Sept. 28, at the Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park.

The Milwaukee Solar Tour on Saturday will highlight homes and other buildings that are using solar and other green technologies. Among those are the Krepel home in the Bay View neighborhood, which has achieved net zero energy use through the use of solar electric and retrofitting.

Another tour highlight is the Amaranth Bakery on Lisbon Street which has cut its energy costs by using a 120-gallon solar hot water storage tank. “Small businesses like bakeries, coffee shops, brew pubs can realize a saving and return very quickly,” Heart said.

Two churches -- First Unitarian in downtown Milwaukee and First Congregational in Port Washington -- also are on the tour. “They have participated in a We Energies program for non-profits that is growing,” Heart said.

Milwaukee Shines is led by the City of Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability. Partners include We Energies, Focus on Energy, Johnson Controls, MREA, UW-Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Area Technical College.

In October, 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that Milwaukee Shines won a special projects award to further support Milwaukee’s solar market. Under this award, additional partners, including community groups and schools were brought into the program.

“Solar Week provides us with a great opportunity to highlight all that is going on in solar in Milwaukee and to reach out to the public and professionals,” Heart said.

Find out more about Milwaukee Shines and Solar Week by going to
http://www.ci.mil.wi.us/milwaukeeshines.

-- Hoffmann has written many columns and features for WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com over the years. He will write the GreenBiz column monthly.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Economic growth is vital part of efforts to reduce state budget deficit


By Tom Still
Some political wonks are questioning how Wisconsin’s candidates for governor can even think about investing in economic development strategies when the state is facing budget deficits of more than $1 billion a year.

A better question is: How can Wisconsin’s next governor hope to reduce the deficit without specifically encouraging the private sector to create more jobs?

Controlling state spending must be a part of any state deficit-cutting strategy, but there’s little chance the $1.3-billion deficit projected for the budget year beginning July 1, 2011, can be eliminated on cuts alone. Unless Wisconsin citizens are willing to accept Draconian reductions in high-profile programs such as prisons, transportation, K-12 education, higher education, Medicaid and state aid for local governments, the next governor and Legislature won’t slash their way to a balanced budget.

“Even if spending for all state programs was absolutely frozen for two years and we had normal revenue growth, the budget gap would still be $778 million” over two years, wrote former Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler in an analysis for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

“Normal” revenue growth of 3.2 percent per year – the Wisconsin average in the 10 years preceding the 2008 recession – is no longer good enough. Wisconsin must aspire to join a highly competitive cohort of states that have driven revenue growth at nearly twice that rate and eventually grow its way out of the deficit.

How can Wisconsin transform itself from a state that has been losing market share for decades to a place where robust economic activity is creating jobs, opportunity and tax revenues? By embracing an economic development strategy built on innovation.

Making strategic investments in Wisconsin’s global innovation economy, encouraging the entrepreneurial culture so more young companies are created, capitalizing on the state’s research and development strengths and aligning investments in education with the state’s strategic economic plan are strategies that will pay dividends over time.

A recently released study commissioned by Competitive Wisconsin Inc. and other partners noted that Wisconsin lags the U.S. average in per capita income and job creation, a situation that hasn’t really changed for decades during Republican and Democratic administrations alike.

Since 1994, Wisconsin’s population, jobs and gross domestic product have declined as a share of national totals, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. State per capita income almost matched the U.S. average in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but has slipped back to roughly 6 percent below the national norm.

It’s no coincidence that during that same period the state invested sparingly in economic development. In fact, the consultants noted, some U.S. counties spend more each year on economic attraction than the entire state of Wisconsin.

Policies that improve Wisconsin’s economic standing would help close state budget deficits because higher economic output leads to more tax revenue – without raising tax rates on income, property, sales or companies.

Some solid policy choices have been made in recent years. They include building on the state’s research and development foundation, standing by investors who stand by homegrown companies, and working to awaken an entrepreneurial culture that was all but dormant. But more must be done to improve access to investment capital for entrepreneurs, build a more educated workforce, create a stronger business climate and speed technology from the lab to the marketplace.

There must also be a commitment to position Wisconsin to compete in a world where the challenges to prosperity are just as likely to come from Shanghai or Mumbai as they are Chicago or Minneapolis.

That’s why both major-party candidates for governor, Democrat Tom Barrett and Republican Scott Walker, have talked about economic incentives as well as spending cuts. While their economic plans reflect different priorities, and contain varying levels of detail, it’s clear both candidates see economic development as a priority.

So do others. The Wisconsin Economic Summit series will conclude Oct. 5 in Milwaukee with presentation of a “prosperity strategy” developed over the past two months by a wide-ranging group of business, education and labor leaders. It’s a bipartisan plan that could be embraced by either candidate.

As the Nov. 2 election draws closer, voters should pay close attention to the growth strategies outlined by Barrett and Walker. Without a clear commitment to economic growth, which brings good-paying jobs, wealth and reinvestment, Wisconsin will be doomed to chronic budget deficits for years to come.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal. Learn more about the Wisconsin Economic Summit series at http://www.wiroundtable.org/summit/

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Living in the sandwich generation: The pickle in the middle



By Kevin Reardon
Living and coping with today’s troubled economy is certainly no easy task. However, taking care of one’s family at the same time can be overwhelming. If you're helping your parents and trying to meet your own children's needs while looking ahead to your own retirement, you're part of what's called "the sandwich generation."

It’s an unenviable position to be in but don’t feel like you are out on some island. There are ways to deal with this difficult set of circumstances. Here's a recipe to help you cope with being jammed in the middle.

Chart the terrain 
First, conduct an assessment of your current financial situation and financial goals. Make improvements where you can, and develop a realistic, manageable budget. Be sure to monitor your finances so you can adjust to changing circumstances. Then conduct a similar assessment of your parents' finances as well, so that you fully understand their current situation.

Keep your retirement savings plan on track 
First and foremost, resist dipping into your current retirement savings, and try to keep your retirement savings plan on track. Make investing in your financial future a priority by maxing out your 401(k) and/or other retirement savings plan. At the very least, contribute as much as your employer will match.

Put your child's college education on the front burner 
Start saving, and with college tuition soaring, the sooner, the better. There are several college saving options for you to consider. These include tax-advantaged strategies such as college savings plans, Coverdell education savings accounts, and U.S. savings bonds.

If necessary, look into the wide variety of financial aid programs available during college, such as scholarships, grants, work-study employment, and student and parent loans. Financial aid is based on two things: the cost of a college education and your ability to pay. You'll find that an increasing number of families with significant incomes now qualify for aid.

Helping your parents 
If you need to help your parents manage their affairs, you'll need legal authority to do so. Make sure your parents have a durable power of attorney authorizing you to sign checks, pay bills, and make financial decisions.

Also, make sure your parents have health care directives allowing you to make medical care decisions according to their wishes. Make sure your parents have a will that's been updated recently.

If your parents have limited income, talk to them about their options. For example, can your parents sell their home or access the equity they have in it to increase their income? Will they need to move in with you or another family member? If they're not willing to discuss this with you, you may want to suggest they talk with a trusted professional.

Long-term care insurance 
Since government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, traditional health insurance, and disability insurance may not adequately cover the cost of long-term care, look into long-term care insurance. The cost of a long-term care policy will depend primarily on the ages of your parents (in general, the younger they are when the policy is purchased, the lower the premium will be), but it also depends on the benefits you choose.

Get support and advice 
If you're feeling the squeeze, remember: you're not alone! Don’t be afraid to reach out for assistance. There's plenty of help out there, from local programs to national organizations, from books to websites. And consider discussing the specifics of your situation with your financial professional.

-- Reardon is a financial planner and president of Shakespeare Wealth Management, Inc. in Brookfield. He is also a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). He can be reached at 262-814-1600 or Kevin@ShakespeareWealthManagement.com.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book review: "The Biker's Guide to Business"


By Terri Schlichenmeyer
“The Biker’s Guide to Business” by Dwain DeVille c.2009, Wiley & Sons $24.95 / $29.95 Canada 216 pages
You discovered something intriguing the other day, and there’s no way you’re going to ignore it.

It’s a new road, and it’s enticing. It might be filled with lots of turns and rough spots – roads are like that - but the challenge will be satisfying. Although you can’t see the end of this road, you’ve got a clear vision of where you want it to go. You can’t wait to get started, but you’ll need to be mindful. You don’t want to crash.

Riding? Or business? How about both, says author Dwain DeVille. In his new book “The Biker’s Guide to Business”, he utilizes the language of one to explain success in the other.

Just before he hit “the big 5-0”, Dwain DeVille experienced a few rocky roads, both personally and in business. The fall of the Twin Towers rocked him badly, he’d just had a health scare, and he felt as if he’d hit a plateau in his company. He decided to take time off to ponder what he calls The Question: What do I want my life to look like five years into the future?

On a motorcycle trip through the mountains of Colorado, he had several insights that led him to create worksheets (included in this book) to help determine his next directions. He soon realized that the issues he was struggling with were the same as those that his clients were experiencing.

“Knowledge isn’t power until you apply it,” DeVille says. He began to see business and life as a series of roads and exits. The goal, he says, is to find the direction that will allow you to have fun while you become a success.

Understand that the level of accomplishment you’ll enjoy is parallel to your willingness to make sacrifices. Know that the “key to success isn’t recognizing opportunity, but instead recognizing the opportunities you should not chase.” Sweat the small stuff and remember that the in-between is what’s important. Recognize that wipeouts are a fact and the best entrepreneurs learn from their road-rash. Communicate. Plan. Remember that this is your ride.

For the first twenty-five pages of “The Biker’s Guide to Business”, I was completely mesmerized. While drawing comparisons between black leather-wearing and black gabardine, author Dwain DeVille speaks to the heart of entrepreneurs who need to know where to go when enthusiasm has tempered, the business has plateaued, and goals have been reached. I could’ve sworn he was sitting in my living room.

But then, the advice slowed and skidded to an almost-stop. This business book became more of a memoir, there was a lot of conflicting advice, and DeVille’s “seize the gusto” theme was lost amid boggy advice on getting the most out of employees. My enthusiasm level went from 80 to crawl in about a chapter.

Yes, there are many decent nuggets in this book, and it’s surely worth hitting the highlights if you’re newer to business. For most seasoned entrepreneurs, though, “The Biker’s Guide to Business” just ran out of gas.

-- Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Major pharmaceutical firms showing more interest in Wisconsin research


By Tom Still
The chances are pretty good you’ve never heard of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., unless you read the fine-print labels on your prescription drug bottles a lot more closely than most people.

If you’re a biotech researcher at one of the state’s colleges or universities, however, or you’re building a fledgling drug development company in Wisconsin, the name Teva may mean something: a potential market for your discoveries.

An upcoming visit to Wisconsin by representatives of Teva, one of the world’s 20 largest pharmaceutical firms, is the latest example of a trend within “Big Pharma” to shop for promising drugs far outside its own laboratories – in the labs of innovative start-up companies.

It’s a trend that generally bodes well for Wisconsin, which is among 15 or so states with significant R&D around biotechnology drugs. That’s because offer opportunities for researchers and young companies here to license their discoveries to companies that have the size and experience to bring those ideas to market.

Big Pharma has a big problem. Its internal development pipelines for new drugs have dried up just as patents are expiring on some of their blockbuster drugs. The industry’s biggest companies need fresh ideas before some of their biggest money-makers can be produced by competitors as cheaper generics.

Those companies can replenish their pipelines in several ways. They can acquire small to medium-sized biotech companies that have innovative ideas in the lab but which lack the cash and the corporate expertise to bring them to market. That trend began a few years ago and continued through the recession. A second is to acquire other pharmaceutical companies with portfolios not due for patent expiration, or with drugs on the verge of hitting the consumer markets. That’s been largely limited to larger pharmaceutical firms.

A third is to license early stage compounds from small biotech companies and academic institutions, leaving those companies and researchers free to pursue other projects – or to work more directly with the licensing firm.

That’s why representatives of Teva will scout Wisconsin’s biotech industry in mid-October and to meet with selected companies that must submit executive summaries by Sept. 15. Teva, which operates in 50 countries and had $14 billion in sales in 2009, is known largely for its generics. But its “innovative ventures” division develops new compounds, particularly in areas such as oncology (cancer), neurology and autoimmune/inflammatory diseases.

This isn’t the first such visit by a major pharmaceutical company to Wisconsin – and likely not the last. Pfizer and Eli Lilly have kicked a few biotech tires of their own in Wisconsin, and other companies are planning scouting trips in the coming months.

These exercises have been organized through the Wisconsin Department of Commerce with the help of key industry groups in Wisconsin. They are often rooted in meetings that take place in international conferences, such as BIO International, between industry representatives and state officials – including the governor.

For Wisconsin’s biotech and drug development companies, Big Pharma’s hunt for compounds offers both opportunity and danger. The opportunity comes from being a young drug company with a biotech or chemical compound that can fill a market niche. The danger comes from being acquired as a fire-sale price or compelled to move outside the state. While some Wisconsin biotech firms have been purchased and moved, others have been acquired and stayed – including Roche Mirus, Roche NimbleGen and Hologic-Third Wave, all in Madison.

Although is still produces only a fraction of the world’s drug development start-ups, Wisconsin is becoming a bigger blip on Big Pharma’s radar screen. That’s important because those major companies can provide capital, expertise and sales channels that otherwise aren’t easily found in Wisconsin. The maturation of Wisconsin’s drug-development industry may mean the loss of some start-up companies, but it will keep many more of the state’s most promising firms at home and producing jobs.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. Companies interested in making a presentation to Teva Pharmaceutical Industries should visit http://www.commerce.wi.gov and click on the “Teva matchmaking” icon on the right-hand side of the page. Executive summaries are due by Sept. 15.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

In a world suddenly attuned to food safety, Wisconsin has expertise to offer


By Tom Still
A half-billion recalled eggs are enough to get any consumer’s attention, but the emerging story of food safety in America didn’t begin last month on an Iowa farm – and it certainly won’t end there.

As people think more about what they eat and drink, and from where that food comes, science and technology will play a larger role in helping people determine what’s safe to consume. That may seem contradictory in an era when organic foods, “buy local,” urban gardening and food vetting are changing lifestyles, but it’s a safe bet all this diversity in food sourcing will mean new and more innovative ways to ensure its safety.

About 500 million eggs from two Iowa farms were recalled because the eggs were linked to more than 1,000 cases of salmonella, a bacterium that can cause abdominal cramps, fever, vomiting and diarrhea, usually within 12 to 72 hours of exposure. Federal and state inspections since the recall have revealed potential health violations on the farms.

While the Iowa egg recall is one of the biggest food safety scares, it’s not the first – nor, unfortunately, will it be the last. Other recalls have involved salsa, fish, lettuce and many more products, some from overseas but mainly from our own farms, feedlots and food processing plants. As diligent as nearly all farmers, ranchers and processors are, there’s always the danger that their products can carry hidden food-borne illnesses.

The way food is processed, transported and prepared is important because virtually all foods have the ability to carry microorganisms (such as bacteria and viruses) or toxins that can cause illness. These illnesses can strike if microorganisms or toxins are introduced to food, or if bacteria are allowed to grow in food without being killed – usually by heat – before eating.

A recent study by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine found that food-borne illnesses send more than 300,000 Americans to the hospital each year and 5,000 of them die. That’s a far cry from 100 years ago, when a lack of refrigeration, proper packaging and knowledge about food handling and preparation led to far more serious outbreaks in food-borne illnesses. But recent trends suggest that after decades of food safety improvements, a tipping point has been reached.

One reason is consumer choice. People are buying or growing foods in many different ways, and there’s no guarantee that “local” or “organic” is 100 percent safe. Globalization is another factor. As more consumers seek out foods produced predominantly overseas, it has complicated the processes for certifying safety or compliance with other regulations, such as those determining what’s organic and what is not. What happens in our kitchens is also a factor. In some Americans homes, recent surveys indicate, cooks aren’t taking the right precautions in preparing or serving meals.

Science and technology can help – and a good deal of it exists in Wisconsin, where a long tradition of producing food is matched by a tradition of trying to keep it safe.

At the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, food safety has long been a staple. For example, scientists at CALS are studying how bacteria can hitch a ride on plants to get to humans, how wildlife intrusions in fields where crops are grown can spread disease, and how environmental conditions can affect our food sources.

At the Marshfield Clinic, nearly 100 years of experience in working with human and animals has created services that help improve food safety from farm to table. Researchers at Marshfield offer nationally respected testing systems, consulting and training. The clinic even provides best-practice advice on how farmers and producers can keep their workers safe.

Wisconsin’s food processing industry has also embraced food safety in its labs and on its production lines. Innovation in safety is also guiding how smaller firms, farms and producers do business.

In fact, food safety was at the heart of a debate in the Wisconsin Legislature earlier this year, when Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed a bill that would have allowed farmers to sell unpasteurized, or “raw,” milk to consumers on a limited basis. The risks associated with drinking raw milk are real – between 1 percent and 10 percent of raw milk samples are likely to contain pathogenic bacteria. Then again, some people drink it for health reasons, including many dairy farm families. This clash between public health and consumer choice is emblematic of coming debates.

Science and technology can help. It can provide innovative ways to improve safety while giving consumers more options. In Wisconsin, which produces food for the world and also boasts world-class researchers who know about food, such innovation is a natural.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Make a difference: Support other local small businesses


By Dan Danner
“It's easy to make a buck. It's a lot tougher to make a difference,” broadcaster Tom Brokaw said.

With all due respect, Tom, making a buck in today’s economy is downright difficult for small businesses whose sales are plunging almost as fast as their confidence in Washington’s ability to revive the recovery.

In fact, many policymakers at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are pushing laws that could make things even tougher for small firms and stretch the nation’s unemployment lines longer.

Now that the ballot boxes of November 2 are being dusted off, you’ll hear lots of “we-love-small-business” chatter. Don’t be misled. The names of those who care about small business can be found on NFIB’s list of endorsed candidates.

The ballot box is one way to make a difference. But let’s not wait on Washington to make a difference. There’s a faster and smarter way to have an immediate impact. How? By simply buying the goods and services you need from other local small businesses—wholesalers and retail stores, business services and repair shops, restaurants and more.

We go out of our way to “buy organic” and we certainly are devoted to our often-more-expensive “name brand” products, so why not support your local “mom and pop” shop? Why not show support for your community, for your neighborhood and, instead of heading to the Wal-mart, you head over to the party supply store across the street, or the family-run furniture store around the corner?

Sure, you might get occasional volume discounts from outlets of big corporations whose headquarters are in another state or country even. But have you asked your fellow local small businesses if they can fill your orders? Do those companies help bring more customers in your doors?

Not only will shopping locally make a difference by helping entrepreneurs in your own community, but it could help you gain new customers and increase sales. And when local stores thrive, it helps the entire local economy, maybe helping to lift confidence in these dreary times.

Think of it this way: When you visit the deli a few blocks away, or have them cater your next big meeting, you are supporting that restaurant, but you are also supporting the farm outside of town that provides the produce, and maybe even your neighbor’s son who is the delivery driver for the summer. Small businesses are still the benchmark for high-quality, personalized service – everyone knows their local hardware store is the place to go for advice on the plumbing problem that only “John” (the owner) remembers all the history on. And, your local clothing boutique and tailor are the ones who have had your measurements on file since you were ten years old.

Urge others to take this same step – your employees, your family, and your friends. They too can make a difference locally by supporting nearby establishments. And, when spending cash close to home, offer encouraging words. No one needs their spirits lifted more than small business owners living the same economic nightmare you’re facing.

Shopping locally can make a difference where government stimulus and bailouts haven’t. By supporting your fellow owners and by becoming one voice in support of small business, you can lift the economy and support local businesses…the business you save could be your own.

-- Danner is president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business in Washington, D.C.

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