• WisBusiness

Tom Still: Amidst latest job loss figures, startup numbers offer reason for hope

By Tom Still
The latest job loss figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics may have been just a snapshot in time, but it wasn't a pretty picture.

The feds reported this month that Wisconsin was the only state in the nation with "statistically significant" job losses between March 2011 and March 2012, a time span in which the state lost 6,100 private-sector jobs.

Yes, much of that loss took place in 2011. Yes, there was a noticeable uptick in private job creation in the first few months of 2012. Indeed, the state's unemployment rate is actually lower than it has been since 2008. All that aside, it's hard to paper over the news that Wisconsin had lost more jobs than 49 other states – at least for that particular stretch of time.

If there's a rainbow behind this cloud, it's that Wisconsin may be finally getting better at starting and retaining young companies. That's a trend that could turn job losses into gains in the coming years.

A string of recent reports suggest Wisconsin may be shedding its historic bottom-dweller status when it comes to company creation.

Wisconsin ranked 40th among the 50 states in the latest business startup index published by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a national group that encourages entrepreneurial activity and education.

Kauffman's figures for 2011 showed 232 of every 100,000 Wisconsin adults started new businesses in each month of the year, compared with 180 out of 100,000 each month in 2010. The increase moved Wisconsin up from a second-to-last place tie with Pennsylvania that year.

While national rates of business start-ups were higher – led, as usual, by California and other West Coast states – Wisconsin's performance pulled it even with the Midwest average for the first time. In fact, Wisconsin was one of only two states in the region to show an increase in startups while bucking the national trend of an overall decrease of 5.9 percent.

State government figures show the number of new businesses formed in Wisconsin in the first quarter of 2012 increased by more than 12 percent compared to the same period in 2011. In fact, according to the state Department of Financial Institutions, business startups in Wisconsin have increased in 10 of the last 12 months.

An annual study by Boston's Suffolk University ranked Wisconsin 29th among the 50 states for its ability to incubate businesses, up from 43rd the previous year. Its overall competitiveness study ranked Wisconsin 22nd.

For a state that has bounced along the 50-state bottom for years, that's progress – even if it must be followed by more of the same.

The reasons for the uptick begin with people creating their own jobs rather than waiting for someone else to hire them. That's a byproduct of the recession and nagging unemployment. There are signs that women, who have historically been a major part of Wisconsin's hourly and salaried workforce, are now starting their own businesses at higher rates.

Another factor is less tangible but no less important: The rebirth of an entrepreneurial culture.

Only after the state began losing manufacturing jobs in the early 2000s did efforts get under way to build support and information systems for entrepreneurs – people who want to build new companies and opportunities for themselves and others. That corresponded with a rise in angel investing, from a reported $1.7 million in 2003 to $61.1 million last year.

That work is beginning to pay off. Some recent examples of success stories include Spill, a Madison online company that earned the $25,000 top prize in the Global Social Venture Competition in Boston, where it competed against about 600 other entries. Study Blue, also a Madison digital company, was featured in a recent Forbes story on seven startups that are changing how people learn. Offermation, a Milwaukee startup that offers an online advertising platform, became the first Wisconsin company selected for the SXSW Festival's Accelerator for Innovation in Austin, Texas.

A number of those innovative companies have been on display recently through events such as Startup Weekend Madison and the Wisconsin Innovation Network, or through recent business plan competitions on college campuses in Madison, Milwaukee and beyond. Some of the best of those contests will join the Governor's Business Plan Contest, which culminates June 5-6 at the 10th annual Wisconsin Entrepreneurs' Conference in Milwaukee.

As older companies shed jobs or fade away, newer firms and industries rise up to take their place. It won't fill the gap overnight, but those companies and the jobs they create can help put Wisconsin back on track.

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


Dan Danner: Tax limbo hurting small business, weakening economy

By Dan Danner
The IRS needs money. It's struggling to get by on about $12 billion a year, an agency official told Congress, warning that insufficient funding prevents adequate enforcement. The result is a $400 billion "tax gap," caused by some taxpayers under-reporting what they owe.

Washington's solution? Give revenuers more money. But a better use of the nation's cash is reflected in the views of American small-business owners desperate for a tax system that is less confusing, allows greater certainty and returns capital to Main Street for growth and job creation.

And just to warm up for the long overdue but essential task of overhauling tax regulations, Congress could immediately ease the burden for small firms and inject some much-needed cash back into the economy where jobs are desperately needed. How? By extending or restoring critical tax provisions that it failed to renew at years' end.

The National Federation of Independent Business says there are many of these extenders languishing in limbo that could be revised retroactively if lawmakers act quickly. If not, small firms can expect a steep tax increase.

One vital way to improve cash flow, bolster investment, and simplify taxes is on the verge of becoming irrelevant, depriving small firms of money they could feed back into operations for growth. Officially dubbed Section 179, it allows small businesses to immediately deduct the full value of equipment investments in the year they are made rather than over several years. This allowance could shrink from its current $139,000 level to $25,000 by 2013. NFIB recommends returning it to its 2011 point of $500,000.

Health insurance equity is a challenge facing self-employed business owners. Under current law, they aren't allowed a 100-percent deduction for premium costs. Expanding the deductibility of coverage to apply to employment taxes would remove that burden.

Many businesses established as "S" corporations could grow and hire more workers if given access to assets tied up by outdated tax rules. Currently, the lengthy holding period for built-in gains prevents these corporations from using assets. By modernizing these antiquated rules, Congress could ease access to essential capital.

There's no greater country in which to launch a small business than the United States. But those who take the leap face significant start-up costs such as advertising, legal fees, rent and employee training. An increase in the deduction for start-up costs would allow new entrepreneurs to funnel capital back into their businesses faster, boosting local economies and creating more jobs.

Legislation favoring these small-business-friendly extenders has been introduced by U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and a similar House bill is being prepared. None of these items requires a new tax cut or budget offsets.

Members of Congress who are uncertain about extending these provisions should ask any taxpaying constituent whether it's better for the nation's economy to put cash back in the hands of small-business owners or to give it to IRS bureaucrats and enforcers. Main Street already knows the answer.

-- Danner is president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents 350,000 small-business owners in Washington, D.C. and every state capital.


Rick Hillmann: I don’t need a land survey

By Rick Hillmann
We hear it all the time, “I don’t need a Land Survey.” The fact is, you do. We hear people say; “I bought a house 30 years ago and the property lines are not an issue”, “I just bought a house and I know where my property lines are”, “My neighbor and I know where the property lines are”, or “My realtor told me where my property lines are”. This list can go on, but these are common perceptions of people who own real estate or are about to own real estate.

The real problem of a property line dispute always stem from the fact that a survey has not been done. Disputes come from different ideas; one from a past property owner, another from an existing property owner, others come from neighboring interpretations or any combination thereof. What was once common knowledge is now a buffet of opinions. Don’t take it upon yourself, your Realtor, or your Landscaper to determine your property lines; hire a licensed professional Land Surveyor to determine them for you.

Looking at property lines in a technical sense, Surveys performed over time assuming they agree in interpretation, perpetuates them. What I mean by perpetuate is that property lines are kept in the proper location for a very long time or even forever. Property lines CAN NOT be perpetuated without a Land Survey performed by a licensed Land Surveyor. To protect the integrity and the intent of property lines as of the day they were created, we as Land Surveyors must follow the footsteps of the surveyor before us. If every surveyor does this and does not try to recreate the wheel, the original intent of your property lines will be protected and perpetuated.

The determination of property lines come from many different sources. Some sources that surveyors must consider in every survey are deeds (they describe your property boundary), title policies (typically a 4-10 page document insuring your property title that includes the most current deed and other legal supporting documents that was given to you at the closing of your real estate transaction), easement documents, roadway maps, shorelines, river banks, past surveys, existing property corners, state monuments and lines of occupation (i.e. tree lines or bush/brush lines). Without the use of these tools, your property boundary may be compromised.

To put the last couple paragraphs into layman’s terms, lets pretend that an asphalt driveway is your property and the tar you treat it with every few years is a Land Survey. If the tar is not applied on a regular basis your asphalt driveway begins to fade to a grey color. Over time your driveway will begin to crack and grass and weeds begin to grow into your driveway, distorting the real shape of your driveway. Make sure your property is getting the required tar so that your boundary does not fade away and become distorted.

Now lets imagine buying your next property with the belief that you own a certain area, to find out years later that you were wrong. Sometimes it is only a few inches, other times it is multiple feet effecting the placement of landscaping, decks, pools, or sheds. Remember the cliché’ “hind sight is always 20/20”—You do not want to find yourself on the wrong end of “hind sight is 20/20”. As a property owner it is one of your duties to protect your property, are you willing to give up inches? Are you willing to give up multiple feet? Defending or initiating a property dispute is many times very costly. Property disputes are only disputes if surveys have not been completed on your property. The more surveys done on a property, the chances of a dispute occurring go down exponentially. Spending thousands of dollars defending a property line can be avoided with a Land Survey.

If you are about to become a real estate owner, you will have a perception of where your property lines are and if a dispute should ever arise, you will wish that at least one survey has been done on your property in the past. When multiple surveys have been completed and all of them are in agreement with each other, it is very difficult to prove them wrong. If during a dispute your neighbor orders a Land Survey, and that survey is the only one of record for his property and it does not agree with the survey you have that mirrors multiple surveys done in the past, chances are heavily stacked in your favor. On the other hand if you are like your neighbor, you are likely going down a path of a spending spree to defend your property. If it comes down to it, courts may ask for other surveys done on the property or surveys done adjacent to it, to verify if any similarities exist among the surveyed properties.

Maybe you will always be like the people I mentioned in the beginning, and that’s ok. But remember there is a solution to every problem and there is a solution to property disputes. Land Surveyors can essentially eliminate future property disputes if you simply order a Land Survey every time you buy or sell a property. The best way to think of a Land Survey is that it is like an insurance policy costing approximately 25¢ a day.

-- Hillmann is the owner of Continental Surveying Services, LLC a locally based land survey company that has helped commercial and residential customers save hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last 25 years. Continental Surveying Services, LLC is the only land surveyor in the state of Wisconsin who is an active member of Milwaukee NARI, the largest chapter in the United States.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book review: "168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think"

By Terri Schlichenmeyer
"168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think" by Laura Vanderkam
c.2010, Portfolio $25.95 / $32.50 Canada 262 pages, includes notes & index

One half hour.

A half-hour a day, that's all you need. If you could somehow cram that extra thirty minutes into your already-overscheduled day, you might have a chance to get everything done. But alas, that's not possible so you're crazy-busy with never enough time. Isn't everybody?

No, says author Laura Vanderkam. As a matter of fact, there are people busier than you, and they find plenty of time to volunteer, start businesses, and run marathons. In the new book "168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think", she explains how savvy people utilize the amount of time we're all given.

Without a doubt, you work long hours. If someone asks you how long, you might guesstimate that you put in a sixty-hour workweek. Nice try, but Vanderkam says that people tend to over-inflate their work-time. In actuality, most of us spend thirty to fifty hours a week working.

So let's do the math: studies show that the average person sleeps seven to eight hours a night. Add that to your hours worked, fudge a little time for commuting, and you've still got a big block of hours left over. Nice!

The way to use that time wisely, Vanderkam says, is to utilize every little bite of time (listen to audiobooks while exercising, read while commuting), and consider your core competencies. What do you do best? What's important enough to warrant putting on your schedule every week? Is there something you can ignore, minimize, or outsource? Why do your own laundry, for instance, when you can "buy back" your Saturdays for a small service fee?

But let's say you didn't have to work at all. What is your hearts' desire? To know that is to know why you want to seize your calendar. Start by making a "List of 100 Dreams" to help figure out what's really most important to you. Keep a log for a couple weeks so you know where your time is spent. Take a job you enjoy, so that time flies – and if you can't find that job, create it. Strive to only do what you love.

So overall, was this book worth the two nights I spent with it?

Yes, but like every other business-and-lifestyle book, there are some caveats.

"168 Hours" does, indeed, contain a lot of food for thought. There are ideas in here that can truly make an immediate difference in your life, and various statistics that will put your mind to rest. And once you read it, you'll no longer have to struggle to find an excuse for avoiding things: as author Laura Vanderkam says, if you don't like to do something, own the truth.

Conversely, this book is not the panacea that overworked people might wish it was. Vanderkam advocates scheduling pleasurable activities instead of "unimportant" ones and walking away "if you don't get what you want." If only life were that easy…

Still, if you're overloaded, "168 Hours" is a good idea-sparker. It may actually help take some of the "busi" out of "business".

-- 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.

Friday, April 20, 2012

John Arensmeyer: With small businesses' premiums on the rise, health care law must be upheld

By John Arensmeyer
It's hardly news anymore when Wisconsin small businesses see their health insurance premiums spike. But with the healthcare law under fire in the Supreme Court, it's worth noting that excessive rate hikes are exactly what the Affordable Care Act aims to remedy. If the legislation is struck down, small business owners' coverage costs will continue spiraling out of control.

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) identified Wisconsin as one of nine states where, under Affordable Care Act guidelines, insurers had recently proposed excessive premium rate increases that should be blocked by the state. This provision of the law is just one of many that can help small businesses suffering from unfair rate increases.

The scenario is nothing new -- small employers have dealt with astronomical rate hikes for years. Lani Madis, owner of Greater Midwest Mercantile in Eau Claire, is one of them.

Greater Midwest Mercantile has been in business for an impressive 30 years, but the anniversary seems bittersweet. In 2009, after 27 years of offering health insurance, Lani realized she could no longer afford it for the shop's full-time employees -- her son and daughter.

"Having provided employees with health coverage since opening, it was difficult to swallow costs when I saw premium rates increase by 18 percent in 2006, 26 percent the year after and a staggering 40 percent in 2008. My son's deductible increased from $250 to $2,500 -- with a $537 premium," Lani said. "And those increases were due in part to an uncontrollable circumstance: my daughter has a preexisting condition. That's why I look forward to 2014. With full implementation of healthcare reform, insurers will no longer be able to deny coverage or jack up rates just because a group member has a health condition."

The ban on preexisting condition exclusions is just one of many reform provisions small business owners look forward to -- and there are already other provisions hard at work. For example, the small business tax credits in the law are a first step toward helping small employers afford better coverage. But for them to reap the full benefits, the law needs to be implemented in its entirety. The state's health insurance exchange -- an online marketplace where small groups can pool their buying power to drive down costs -- can lower premiums while increasing choice if implemented correctly.

One-third of small employers who already offer insurance said the option of an exchange makes them more likely to continue providing coverage, according to national opinion polling released by Small Business Majority. Of employers who don't currently offer insurance, one-third said having an exchange available would make them more likely to start.

The law leaves it up to state legislators to determine much of what an exchange looks like. If Wisconsin wants to support its chief job creators -- which it should, since the state lost more jobs than any other in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- it must pass legislation to create an exchange and begin tailoring it to the needs of its small businesses.

In 2014, with full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the Badger State's healthcare market should change for the better. But there's still work to do, and we'll only be backtracking if the federal law is overturned. Adding insult to injury, the myriad cost containment measures already starting to rein in premiums might be off the table if the law were struck down.

While there's no sweeping solution to small businesses' health insurance woes, the Affordable Care Act is a good start and we need to work with what we have. That's why we're travelling all over Wisconsin this month holding events to educate small businesses about the law and how they can take advantage of provisions aimed at helping them.

But ultimately it's up to the high court to decide the law's fate, and for the sake of small businesses, we hope they make the right decision.

-- Arensmeyer is the founder & CEO of Small Business Majority

Tom Still: Information can help change the thermodynamic 'equation' for a changing world

By Tom Still
Even when his audience isn't made up of scientists or engineers, David Krakauer usually gets an opening laugh when he warns his after-dinner chat is about the laws of thermodynamics.

The funniest thing is – he's kidding only in part. By the time Krakauer is finished talking, those who have listened can feel the heat.

Now about eight months into his job as director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, Krakauer has brought a combination of intellectual vigor and humor to the UW-Madison's novel experiment in changing how research is conceived, conducted and communicated to markets and people.

His lunch-and-munch speech about "thermodynamics" is a ready example. It captures Krakauer's belief that better use of information – shared among people or exchanged in gigabytes and terabytes of computer data – may help solve Earth's most pressing challenges. And he thinks major research universities such as the UW-Madison are uniquely positioned to help, assuming they break with old habits.

First, the geeky part: The laws of thermodynamics define physical qualities – such as temperature, energy, mass and entropy – that characterize natural and man-made systems alike. Simply put, it's the physics behind how things work.

Krakauer talks about the metaphor of "mass" to describe the dramatic growth in human population, which didn't reach 1 billion people until 1804 after about 200,000 years of modern human existence. The world hit 2 billion people in 1930, 6 billion in 1999 and 7 billion in late 2011 – with projections of 8 billion by 2027. At current growth rates, the world is adding a city the size of Madison each day; a city the size of New York every week.

That's a dramatic change from what Krakauer calls the "steady state" world of past millennia and eons. As the population grew since 1800, so did the pace of change – in science, biology, industry, engineering, physics and more – as well as the world's thirst for energy.

Not only are there a lot more people on the planet using energy, but they're using a lot more of it. Krakauer says the average human takes in enough energy per day (about 2,500 calories) to power a 100-watt light bulb. Given modern man's thirst for energy to power cars, cell phones, computers and other devices, however, the average person today uses as much energy as it takes for a blue whale to survive.

Not that he's a Luddite and urging everyone to dump their gadgets, but Krakauer says the population J-curve is competing with another thermodynamic principle – energy. All of the world's oil, natural gas and coal was produced within about 200 million years (a time called the "carboniferous period") before the age of the dinosaurs, yet it is being consumed quite thoroughly in a matter of centuries.

Something has to give. That brings us to Krakauer's "entropy" metaphor. Most often used to define wasted or unavailable energy, entropy can also be used to describe the flow of information and innovation. How can what we know – and put that knowledge to work – help close the harrowing gap between population and resources?

That's where the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery enters the picture. Krakauer sees the Institute, which opened in December 2010 alongside the private Morgridge Institute for Research, as a place that can redefine how information drives real-life solutions in a world that is many generations removed from being "steady state."

That will be done, he explains, by building collaborative teams of researchers in life sciences, computer sciences and other disciplines, leaping academic and bureaucratic barriers where necessary, and embracing freedom of inquiry along with the principles of private-sector risk.

Will it work? The $200 million invested in building the Institutes for Discovery is evidence that many campus and private industry leaders believe it can. With a different breed of researchers, the institutes are embarking on a journey that will transcend even the high-tech nature of the building itself.

It's not just idle dinner talk when Krakauer jokes about thermodynamics. The experiment he is helping to lead on the UW-Madison campus could spark results that help power, heal and feed an ever-growing planet.

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


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

GreenBiz: Brewers committed to keeping Miller Park green

By Gregg Hoffmann
The outfield grass isn't the only thing that is green in Miller Park.

The Milwaukee Brewers' home ballpark was certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) facility in March.

It is the first retractable roof stadium and just the fourth Major League baseball stadium overall to receive the certification. The Minnesota Twins' Target Field, San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park and Washington Nationals' Nationals Park also have the designation.

All the other parks are open-air parks. The retractable roof makes it more challenging to meet energy and ventilation requirements of the LEED program.

"It is a challenge to achieve the designation in an existing building of this size and type, but we have all been focused on the end goal," said Bob Quinn, Brewers executive vice-president of finance and administration.

"Earning this designation means that we have significantly improved our sustainability and energy efficiency, and the benefits extend to the organization, our fans, partners, and the environment."

In order to get the LEED certification, a facility must meet rather rigorous standards. It must "use strategies aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health, such as sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality."

LEED-certified facilities are designed to "lower operating costs and increase asset value, reduce waste sent to landfills, conserve energy and water, reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and generally promote health and safety for those using the building."

Some of the projects at Miller Park that led to the certification included retrofitting water fixtures -- saving 3 million gallons of water annually -- and the placement of 40 large recycling containers in parking lots, in addition to 100 inside the ballpark.

Here are some of the other improvements:

-- About 10 tons of waste are recycled from Miller Park from each game. All waste and recycling are now tracked. Since the 2010 season, 35 percent of all waste has been diverted from landfills to recycling. The Brewers also have participated in a "Green Week" e-cycling event through which 40,000 pounds of electronic waste is recycled.

-- The Brewers and the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District implemented a retro-commissioning project, which analyzed and made improvements to heating, ventilation & air conditioning (HVAC) systems, equipment and controls, plumbing systems and electrical lighting and power systems. This resulted in reducing 1,153 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, the equivalent to taking 220 cars off the road each year.

-- The new high-definition scoreboard uses 49 percent less energy than the original scoreboard in the park.

-- More than 50 percent of the cleaning products used in the park meet "green cleaning" criteria.

-- The team runs a "Plant A Tree" program with the Department of Natural Resources. Many of the trees are being planted along the Hank Aaron State Trail that runs from Miller Park through the Menomonee Valley.

Last June, the Brewers launched the "Brewing a Greener Game" initiative, which was cited by http://www.greensportsvenues.com. The event also was presented by the City of Milwaukee's Milwaukee Energy Efficiency (Me2) program.

"The Brewers demonstrate that it's possible to take actions that are good for business and the environment. We hope that businesses and households throughout the City of Milwaukee follow the Brewers example to make a more sustainable city," said Matt Howard, city of Milwaukee director of environmental sustainability.

Johnson Controls Inc. managed the LEED project at the ballpark. Key partners included Performance Clean LLC, Sportservice, Grumman/Butkus Associates, Waste Management and The Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District. Others involved included ImPark, Hunzinger Construction, Mortenson Contruction and Uihlein Wilson Architects.

"LEED certification at Miller Park required a tremendous team effort. Johnson Controls is proud to have facilitated the process to achieve the rigorous goals set by the US Green Building Council's LEED rating system," said Kim Hosken, director of green building services at Johnson Controls. "The Brewers organization deserves the recognition for their commitment to make Miller Park among the most sustainable stadiums in professional sports."

For Johnson Controls, the Miller Park project represented a rather unique, high-profile project.

"Johnson Controls works on sustainability projects around the world and is proud to have facilitated this challenging certification process for its home town team," said Iain Campbell, a vice president and general manager for building efficiency with Johnson Controls.

Johnson Controls has been working with energy-efficient green buildings since 1997, when the company participated with the U.S. Green Building Council to help establish the criteria for the original LEED rating system.

The company's Brengel Technology Center in Milwaukee was one of the first eight pilot projects that pioneered the application of the rating system, receiving a LEED Silver rating in 2001. Johnson Controls has more than 1,350 LEED-accredited professionals around the world.

In 2005, Major League Baseball partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council on the first league-wide greening program in professional sports. Since the launch of this partnership, nearly all MLB franchises have established ballpark sustainability initiatives.

Rick Schlesinger, Brewers' CEO, said the club's commitment to green initiatives will continue because they make business sense and are the right thing to do for the environment and more than 3 millions fans who come to Miller Park.

"Our commitment will continue in 2012 and beyond," said Schlesinger. "We are committed to improving our efficiencies and programs and will look to keep Miller Park as an industry leader in these efforts."

-- Hoffmann writes the GreenBiz feature monthly. He has covered the Brewers for various media since 1977, writes for Game Day magazine and publishes http://www.midwestdiamondreport.com.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Scott Newcomer: Protecting the right to be independent

By Scott Newcomer
Across Wisconsin, thousands of independent contractors are working hard to provide for their families and contribute to our local economy. You may know them as hair stylists, software engineers, package deliverers, home inspectors – even emergency room physicians. Their roles are extremely diverse, but they share an important commitment to earning a living by working for themselves and, in many cases, providing jobs for others.

Unfortunately, tucked away in the president’s 256-page budget proposal is language that would make it difficult for people to have the option of working for themselves. The net effect will be restrictive and unnecessary oversight that would limit job growth and possibly even eliminate existing jobs. Obviously, given our tenuous economic recovery, this is a move in the wrong direction.

Independent contractors work in every city and town in Wisconsin and every other state across the country. Many of the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin’s members work as independent contractors, utilize them or, in some cases, do both. Working as an independent contractor brings additional responsibility, but also allows us to make our own decisions on work schedules to match our personal situations. And, some of us simply like being our own boss.

Independent contractors are essential to our economy, accounting for $473 billion in personal income, or one in every 10 dollars earned. And the sector is rapidly growing. In fact, economists predict that at least half of the total workforce will be independent contractors by 2020.

Just as importantly, many independent contractors eventually expand into small businesses that create jobs for others. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, small companies – many of them arising out of independent contracting beginnings – create three out of every four new jobs. They are the key to job growth and economic recovery.

There’s no question that independent contractors should obey all laws and pay taxes as required. But broad-scale attempts to reclassify independent contractors and turn them into company employees, as some have proposed, is harmful to those who play by the rules.

President Obama’s recent budget submission takes a step in the wrong direction by proposing items that will make it more difficult for people to run their own businesses. One of the president’s recommendations is to spend $14 million to put businesses that use independent contractors under a microscope. That means lots of red tape and time lost that that should be spent making a business more successful.

The president also wants to broaden the ability of the IRS to reclassify independent contractors as employees. If approved, the result will be fewer opportunities for the self-employed because businesses won’t be willing to risk the wrath of the heavy hand of the IRS. And who can blame them?

Independent contractors, like everyone, deserve the right to choose a job and a lifestyle that works for them. The president and Congress should not do anything to risk driving away innovation, job creation, entrepreneurship and the opportunity for greater work-life balance.

-- Newcomer is the executive director of the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin and the president of Newcomer’s Consulting Group. Newcomer has owned several small businesses and has both been an independent contractor and utilized them.


Dan Danner: Dangerous labor ambush set for struggling small employers

By Dan Danner
"If the people don't want to come out to the ballpark," baseball's Yogi Berra once misquipped, "nobody's going to stop them."

Labor bosses must feel the same way about wage and salary workers who are avoiding union halls these days. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest union membership report, only 6.9 percent of private sector workers carried cards in 2011, which is a historically low rate for the private sector.

After failing to ram its "card-check" unionization ploy through Congress recently, big labor sees no future in playing by the rules. That's why bosses have turned to their friends at the National Labor Relations Board. No longer a non-partisan, fair-handed government agency concerned with balancing labor relations in the workplace, NLRB is only too eager to help reverse union members' rush to the exits.

Now dominated by former labor lawyers, the agency is scurrying to rewrite federal regulations before the polls open in November. Its latest gift to labor is an "ambush" rule designed to speed up union elections by shortening the period between petition filing and voting to less than 20 days. The rule would remove a critical 25 day waiting period to give small employers time to seek counsel and talk with their employees.

But U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is rallying colleagues to block the rule's April 30 implementation. He's getting strong support from the National Federation of Independent Business, which played a key role in thwarting labor's card-check assault.

NFIB is ramping up a nationwide grassroots effort among its 350,000 small-business owner-members to build momentum for Enzi's resolution. Concerned that some employers mistakenly believe narrowing the petition-to-filing window might give them an advantage in union elections, the business organization warns the reverse is true: If this change were for bad unions, would they be working to promote it?

Fortunately, the unions have a more-than-able, and powerful, opponent in the small-business community. For example, NFIB was the only business group to legally challenge the constitutionality of President Obama's mandated health reform law, ensuring it would be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Unions already win more than 70 percent of their elections, says Enzi, thus there is no justification for ambushing employers with elections in 20 days or less. He said this regulatory reversal could limit businesses' free speech and other legal rights, calling it a transparent attempt to increase unionized workplaces.

If the NLRB's ambush rule takes effect, small employers will have little time to educate their employees so they could make informed decisions in union elections. And since small firms typically lack labor-relations expertise and in-house legal departments, their disadvantage would be even greater. Add that to employers' inability to compete with professional union organizers who can secretly campaign and unfairly promise workers high wages and better benefits, and small businesses would be easy pickings.

Labor and the NLRB must play by the rules. This attempt to ambush job-creating entrepreneurs who are already struggling to survive is a dangerous game, especially when the legs of our economy have yet to regain their strength.

-- Danner is president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents 350,000 small-business owners in Washington, D.C. and every state capital.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Tom Still: Wisconsin's biomedical expertise, and collaboration, is spread throughout the state

By Tom Still
MARSHFIELD – Back in 1916, when the Marshfield Clinic was founded by a handful of forward-looking physicians, it didn't seem so isolated. In fact, Marshfield stood at the crossroads of several major railroads – and the passenger lines that passed through were a steady source of people in need of care.

Today, the railroads are just a memory in terms of ferrying people, and Marshfield is accessible mainly by highways that sometimes narrow to two lanes. However, the clinic remains a globally recognized hub for patient care as well as clinical and applied research. Why? Innovation has trumped location.

Through its research foundation, labs and applied sciences arms, the Marshfield Clinic has expertise in genomics, bioinformatics, electronic health records, drug testing, epidemiology and even veterinary science. It routinely attracts federal and industry grants – and manages to lure top-flight researchers to its gleaming facilities in central Wisconsin, even if it's a bit off the beaten path.

The Marshfield Clinic is emblematic of the quality of biomedical research and development throughout Wisconsin – as well as the collaboration that takes place across institutional and geographic lines.

Marshfield is a part of the Wisconsin Network for Health Research, which includes the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, Aurora Health Care and Gundersen Lutheran Medical Foundation. That coalition came together for the specific purpose of moving research results to the bedside more quickly and efficiently.

The clinic is also a part of the Wisconsin Genomics Initiative, which includes the UW-Madison, the Medical College of Wisconsin and the UW-Milwaukee. That initiative works with Marshfield's personalized medicine database that includes about 20,000 genetic records, making it the largest of its type in the nation.

This kind of research excellence – and collaboration – is evident across Wisconsin. Some other examples:

* The UW-Madison Department of Radiology has established enduring partnerships with other research institutions as well as global leaders such as GE Healthcare, which has worked with UW scientists to speed the delivery of medical imaging innovations such as X-ray, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound, positron emission tomography and more. It's a major reason why Wisconsin has emerged as a medical imaging "cluster" with thousands of related jobs.

* In Milwaukee, the collaborations include the Clinical & Translational Science Institute, which is a project of the Medical College of Wisconsin, the BloodCenter of Wisconsin, the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, Froedert Hospital, Marquette University, UW-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and the Zablocki VA Medical Center.

* In western Wisconsin, the La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium is another example of applied research connecting with patient care. The consortium's Health Science Center is home to research and clinical programs involving Gundersen Lutheran, UW-La Crosse, Western Technical College, the UW-Madison School of Nursing and the Gundersen Lutheran.

* Other R&D collaborations in Wisconsin can reach far beyond its borders as well as within. The 7th annual Stem Cell Symposium, held April 11 on the Promega Corp. campus near Madison, included researchers from a number of UW-Madison departments, leaders of emerging companies in Wisconsin and researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Cambridge, the University of California and the RIKEN Center of Developmental Biology in Japan. It was symbolic of the research ties that can be traced, at least in part, to the UW-Madison's global leadership in regenerative medicine and the birth of a related industry.

For state policymakers, the inter-connected nature of Wisconsin's biomedical industry – from lab bench to bedside – should underscore its importance to the well-being of people as well as the economy. Short-sighted laws or regulations aimed at one discipline or institution can and usually do have a rippling effect.

It also demonstrates that Wisconsin, while far from the U.S. coasts, is a leader when it comes to biomedical innovation. Just because the railroads stopped dropping passengers on its doorsteps, the Marshfield Clinic didn't wither away. The same approach holds for Wisconsin in today's global economy. Innovation need not take place in Boston, San Francisco or Tokyo to rank among the world's best.

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


Book review: "Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool"

By Terri Schlichenmeyer
"Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool" by Taylor Clark
c.2011, Little, Brown and Company $25.99 / $28.99 Canada 320 pages

Imagine that everybody's naked.

No, wait, that won't work. That's just going to make you feel more self-conscious. And taking deep breaths only makes you lightheaded.

Why in the world did you volunteer to give a report to the CEOs? Whatever gave you the idea that you could cold-call or do client presentations or organize the company retreat? What were you thinking?

Feeling a little nervous? Then wipe off those sweaty palms, grab "Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool" by Taylor Clark and prepare to boldly bare your bravery.

Long ago, when business suits were made of pelts, nature bestowed the gift of fear upon our ancestors. When faced with danger, their brains took over, adrenaline flooded their bodies, and they were able to flee without dumbly having to consider the sharpness of a raging mastodon's tusks or the accuracy of an incoming javelin.

But talk about pressure! Our ancestors never had to make a cross-town meeting in 15 minutes through rush-hour traffic. They never had a stock market to watch, and the ol' cave probably didn't have a mortgage. Those ancient natural brain reactors are still within us but modern life has made our anxiety keener.

The truth is, though, that fear is all in your head – literally. In both hemispheres of your brain, there's an almond-shaped spot called the amygdala, a kind of Fear Headquarters in the noggin. The amygdala not only subconsciously monitors your surroundings 24/7, but it also decides if it's time for fight, flight or, as Clark points out, freezing - which is the third F in the fear factor.

Telling yourself to relax only makes things worse and you can't avoid stressors in real life, so what can you do to hold off the heebie-jeebies?

Though it sounds pathetically easy, breathe. Many times, after the crisis passes, you'll notice you haven't been doing that. Talk things out, or write them down. Prepare yourself for what could happen, and practice. Act brave. Embrace uncertainty and accept lack of control. Try the STOP method. And if all else fails, learn to laugh at yourself: humor really is a good stress reliever.

Feeling fidgety about the future? Are you a basket-case over business these days? Then you'll want to read this book, because what you'll learn in "Nerve" really can help you feel a little calmer and braver.

Author Taylor Clark isn't afraid to dig deep inside our heads to look at the physiological reasons for fear, and he makes the science easy to understand. He interviewed people who were under tremendous stress, yet had learned to squash their mousiness and summon their moxie. He offers expert advice that will make you feel like an office warrior and through it all, Clark takes his own advice and makes us laugh.

Fear is often irrational. Worrying is a waste of time, since 90% of it won't come true. Anxiety can be overcome with practice. "Nerve" is worth reading – and that's the bare truth.

-- 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.


Kristal Young: Graphic design myth - more is more

By Kristal Young
Welcome to a short series of advice tidbits that can help guide you through the graphic design process. Whether you’re a small repair business with a marketing plan or the VP of an amateur golf league with an annual membership booklet to design, there are some basic art, business and communication principles, that everyone should understand. It might be easier than you think to believe these myths because in the short run it appears to be the cheaper, quicker and overall, easier decision. However, make yourself aware of these pitfalls and trust me, you’ll be better off and more likely to avoid these mistakes.

MYTH: More is More

“I get more for my dollar if I put as much information as possible on this direct mail postcard.” So often it's tempting to cram too much text, graphics and special offers on a marketing piece, whether it's a brochure, advertisement, or even business card. You might think, “After all, I'm spending so much money on this project for design time and paper costs, my customer needs to know everything they can about my business.”

While I will admit there is a time and place for this way of thinking, and believe me, I've had my share of clients to practice with on making a crowded ad work, more often than not, YOU WILL GET MORE OF YOUR MESSAGE ACROSS IF IT CAN STAND ALONE. It needs to pop off the page, and the most efficient way to do this is limiting your information to the most critical facts.

Think of advertising pieces you've looked at that were over crowded. There is so much information, pictures and text that you can't tell what the advertiser wants you to come away with. These often give the impression of cluttered, cheap, and maybe even lower quality. On the contrary, if you see an ad with one dynamic picture, a few words and the company name, there is no confusion as to what the message is, and it leaves you with a much higher impression of a dependable company with high quality products.

So next time you're charged with getting a marketing piece designed, I challenge you to create your company's message using LESS IS MORE and find much better results.

-- Young, owner and graphic designer of Kristal Clear Graphics in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, offers creative services in print, web and beyond. Now specializing in social media design for business identity, you can visit online at www.kristalcleargraphics.com or like at Kristal Clear Graphics on Facebook.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Tom Still: Online toolkit for entrepreneurs provides one-stop resource guide

You've been thinking about starting your own company for quite a while. In fact, the ideas you jotted down on your laptop are haunting you each night as you wonder, "What if someone else does this first?"

The Entrepreneurs' Toolkit may be your first step toward carrying out your idea – and sleeping a bit more soundly knowing you're not missing your own opportunity.

The Toolkit (http://www.WItoolkit.com) is a soup-to-nuts guide for Wisconsin entrepreneurs, especially those with tech-based ideas, as they undertake the hard but exciting work of turning their dreams into reality.

Produced by the Wisconsin Technology Council in partnership with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the Toolkit is designed to give innovators a pathway to resources available in the state and beyond. Some highlighted resources have been available for years, if not decades; some are relatively recent additions to the toolbox and reflect Wisconsin's commitment to building a more entrepreneurial culture and economy.

The existence of an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Wisconsin isn't necessarily well known, even inside our borders, but its growth over the past decade is a major reason why the state is steadily gaining a reputation for being friendly to startups.

The Toolkit itself speaks to that emerging culture. It walks entrepreneurs through a range of resources – starting with online quizzes that helps people answer the core question of whether they're actually suited for starting, financing, running and, quite often, selling a startup venture.

The Toolkit invites entrepreneurs to learn more about Wisconsin – including its history of innovation. It offers first steps that include suggestions from the WEDC, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the U.S. Small Business Administration and more. The state of Wisconsin "Business Wizard," available through WEDC, is a one-stop way to identify necessary permits, licenses and registration requirements that usually come with starting a business.

Entrepreneurs can also learn about a variety of business assistance programs, how to write a business plan, how to choose a business structure, where to find help with marketing and feasibility studies, and how to find a mentor.

The Toolkit's "Finding money" section outlines the basics of qualifying for credit, of selecting a financial institution that can help, and the basics of pursuing private equity investments such as angel or venture capital. It also outlines some of the grant, loan and tax credit possibilities available through state, federal and local sources, such as "revolving loan funds" that operate in many Wisconsin communities.

The redesigned grant and loan programs operated by WEDC are included in this section, as well as a complete list of angel and venture resources available through the Tech Council's Wisconsin Angel Network and national sources.

Because Wisconsin's economy has distinct regional differences, the "Locating your business" tab provides specific information on sites, local business incubators and accelerators and the basics of running a business out of your home. The "Education and technology transfer" section gives tips on how to work with colleges and universities, how to get more training and specific advice, and how to go about patenting and licensing your idea.

The Toolkit also contains information on networking organizations, resources for women and minority business owners, tips on selling to the government, resources for selling overseas and more. The website is also where you can go to learn about selected events and news of interest to entrepreneurs. It's also open for suggestions about new or updated resources.

Wisconsin has a strong tradition of entrepreneurship. Think of the marquee companies, headquartered in Wisconsin, that are our economic "calling cards" – Oshkosh Crop., S.C. Johnson, Johnson Controls, Manitowoc Company, Harley-Davidson, Briggs & Stratton, Johnsonville, Kohler, Kohl's and Quad Graphics. These companies all have one thing in common: They were named after the Wisconsin community of their founding or the last names of their founders.

Today, a new generation of entrepreneurs and their partners are helping to build Wisconsin's 21st century "knowledge economy" on a solid foundation that has long included expertise in manufacturing, agriculture, medicine and more. With the help of the Entrepreneurs' Toolkit, perhaps the next iconic Wisconsin startup will be your own.


Book review: "You Can't Fire Everyone And Other Lessons from an Accidental Manager"

By Terri Schlichenmeyer
“You Can’t Fire Everyone And Other Lessons from an Accidental Manager” by Hank Gilman
c.2011, Penguin Portfolio $25.95 / $32.50 Canada 224 pages

You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

As far as you can see, that old saying - a reminder that being nice works better than being a jerk - holds true for every boss you’ve ever had.

The manager who compliments while criticizing, privately. The supervisor who surprises the staff with cold treats on a hot day. The boss who just lets you do your job. You’ve worked for them all, and you’ve toiled for their opposites. But what kind of boss are you? Read the new book “You Can’t Fire Everyone” by Hank Gilman and find out.

You don’t get to be deputy managing editor of Fortune magazine without working your way there, and Hank Gilman has done exactly that. Gilman spent time in small local newsrooms as well as with big-city dailies. He’s seen colleagues come and go. He’s seen his share of good managers and bad ones, all of whom taught him to be a better boss himself. In this book, he explains how you can manage to get the best out of your employees.

The first lesson, says Gilman, is that everyone who works for you has flaws. Conversely, everybody has strengths. It’s your job to find those strengths, then get out of the way and let employees use them.

You, of course, want to like the people you work with (otherwise, they wouldn’t be your employees, right?) but understand that being friends isn’t truly possible. There will be hard decisions to make someday and they may then hate you, so keep employees close but keep them at arms’ length, too. And even if you have favorites, don’t practice favoritism.

On that note, keep your stars happy but don’t create a “class system.”

Know the cardinal sins of hiring and avoid them. Think before speaking. Remember that the day a good employee leaves for another job is the day to start recruiting her back. Give the right people the right jobs and give them feedback. Answer all emails and return phone calls. Learn to do the Donald Trump thing correctly and don’t be afraid to be fired yourself. And when you start arriving at work angry, know that it’s time to go.

So “manager” was never in your DNA? No worries ... that’s why “You Can’t Fire Everyone” is around.

With solid advice, a touch of winking snarkiness, and a good dose of droll, author Hank Gilman offers his readers career advice entwined with behind-the-scenes anecdotes straight from the publishing world.

New managers and managers-to-be will appreciate Gilman’s willingness to use his own experiences to illustrate that mistakes are going to be made and that you’ll live through them. And any manager who’s been around the Big Desk for awhile, will find Gilman’s in-the-trenches stories entertaining, no matter what your industry.

If you’re getting ready to move up at work or if you’re already the boss, you’ll find this book to be fun and extremely helpful. For you – and for your employees –“You Can’t Fire Everyone” is a honey of a read.

-- 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.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Scott T. VanderSanden: Helping students aspire to success

By Scott VanderSanden
Did you know that one in four students – more than one million a year – fails to graduate with their class?

This is a troubling statistic – and one we are trying to do something about at AT&T. Through our Aspire program, we’ve worked with organizations across the country over the last four years to help reverse this trend and reach the national goal of a 90% graduation rate by 2020. Although the high school dropout rate has shown improvement, it is still a critical problem, particularly in an era when competition for jobs among people and among nations is intense.

In our continued effort to address this vital issue, we’re excited to launch a new phase of Aspire. We’re investing $250 million over five years to build on our efforts to help more students graduate from high school prepared for careers and college and to ensure our nation is better prepared for global competition. Aspire has already impacted over 1 million students with $100 million invested since 2008, and now we are doubling down on America’s students and future.

In Wisconsin, we’ve always placed a premium on education, and we’re delighted to have played a role in student success.

In the first phase of Aspire, AT&T provided a $227,000 grant to help the Madison Metropolitan School District not only launch the AVID/TOPS program to better prepare students for college, but to also expand it to nearly 500 students in all four Madison high schools.

In Milwaukee, a $360,000 Aspire grant funded the Restorative Justice and Math Achievement programs at Bradley Tech and Vincent High Schools in Milwaukee that have been successful in reducing suspension rates and increasing test scores in math.

With our new Aspire, we’ll take a “socially innovative” approach that goes beyond traditional philanthropy, engaging people and technology to create new and different solutions to social problems.

In today’s world, the mobile Internet is omnipresent. Students of all ages are adept at using this powerful resource, and its potent power must be harnessed for the cause of education. Aspire will leverage technology to connect with students in new and more effective ways, including an emphasis on gamification, mobile applications, video and social media.

But technology alone will not solve the education challenge. It takes people, too.

We plan to take our current Job Shadow program to a new level with the Aspire Mentoring Academy and provide more opportunities for our employees to work with students at-risk of dropping out to help them succeed in the classroom and in life.

Local community organizations will also be vital to the success of Aspire. Wisconsin organizations can now submit applications for Aspire funding until April 18 by visiting www.att.com/education-news.

Our Aspire investment is not only an investment in our children’s future, but in the future of America.

Through Aspire, we can help create a pipeline of diverse talent for all U.S. companies by ensuring our students graduate high school equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to strengthen the nation’s workforce.

-- VanderSanden is president of AT&T Wisconsin.


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