• WisBusiness

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book review: "It's Your Biz: The Complete Guide to Becoming Your Own Boss"


By Terri Schlichenmeyer
"It's Your Biz: The Complete Guide to Becoming Your Own Boss" by Susan Wilson Solovic with Ellen R. Kadin, foreword by Edie Weiner
c.2011, Amacom $22.95 / $25.95 Canada 227 pages

You're not going to do it anymore.

You're not going to haul your carcass out of bed at 5 o'dark in the morning, throw down some coffee and dash out the door so you can make it look like you slept at your desk. You'll no longer grin til your lips ache at a co-worker you never really liked. You will not ever play office politics again.

That's because you've decided to open a business of your own. You'll be your own boss from here on in - as soon as you figure out how to get started. In the new book "It's Your Biz" by Susan Wilson Solovic (with Ellen Kadin), you'll get useable tips from an entrepreneur who's done it.

Before you get too excited, though, first examine your motivation: are you passionate about this endeavor? Do you have a "burning desire" and the right personality to build and maintain a good business? Can you work by yourself, manage time wisely, and take responsibility? Or are you a play-it-safe kind of person who's just looking for a way out of a bad situation? If your motivation leans toward the latter, you'll want to re-think entrepreneurship for now.

Still excited? Okay, then, take a look at your finances. It might be awhile before you get a paycheck, so Solovic recommends that you put things in order before taking the self-employment plunge. And if you're having second-thoughts about now, she says that's good. It shows that you're "thinking carefully."

You might also want to consider dipping your toe in the waters by going part-time in the business you're considering. Start slow, do research, "test drive" things first, and begin with something you know. Oh, and be careful not to burn bridges by "stealing" time or resources from your current employer.

Write a business plan and remember the "cornerstones" of business and the "seven P's of business success." Know your business' purpose, your customers, and your competition. Don't waste money on things you don't need, but do learn to hire good employees, CPAs, and lawyers (no friends or family, please!).

Above all, says Solovic, use MACS: "massive amounts of common sense."

At a time when workplaces are squeezing every possible energy molecule from the employees they have left, it's natural to dream about being self-employed. "It's Your Biz" might help make that dream a reality, or it might make you change your mind by sanely applying the brakes before you make a dreadful mistake.

Author Susan Wilson Solovic, herself a business owner, fills her book with caveats, straight talk, reminders, and common sense that serves to winnow out the determined from the dreamers. I particularly appreciated Solovic's thoroughness here: included in this book are points and tips that are important, but that many neophyte entrepreneurs might not have realized.

I think that, if you have the passion and see a need you can profitably fill, this book will get you started on self-employment. If you're ready to be your own boss, grab "It's Your Biz"… and do it.

-- 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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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tom Still: JOBS Act can spur small business growth, but there are some risks


By Tom Still
President Obama endorsed it. The Senate passed it by a 3-to-1 margin. The margin of victory in the House of Representatives was even higher. Interest groups such as the National Venture Capital Association and the Biotechnology Industry Organization have praised it.

"It" is the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, or JOBS, which now appears poised to become federal law.

If all these politicians and industry leaders support the JOBS Act, why are some skeptics still jittery about the bill's long-term implications?

Perhaps it's because they still hear their mothers whispering: "Things that look too good to be true sometimes aren't."

The JOBS Act represents a good-faith effort by Congress to make it easier for startups of all descriptions, from Main Street retailers to biotechnology companies, to raise money. Because startups account for the lion's share of all net job creation in the United States, Republicans and Democrats alike want to increase the odds those new businesses will succeed.

The JOBS Act proposes to help startups in two major ways:

* It allows entrepreneurs to solicit funds from middle-income individuals without having to adhere to existing Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, which generally limit such fundraising to relatively wealthy "angel" investors.

* It takes some of the cost, regulation and risk out of preparing a startup company for an "initial public offering" of stock. And, for those startups that don't want to go public, it quadruples the number of individual investors who are allowed before an IPO is required.

The first trend is often called "crowd funding" because, as the name suggests, it allows startups to raise money from a crowd of small investors. Currently, the law says only "accredited investors" may invest in private offerings. Accredited investors in the United States must have a net worth of at least $1million exclusive of their primary residence or meet other income tests.

Under JOBS, anyone may invest up to $10,000 a year, or up to 10 percent of their net income if they earn less than $100,000 a year, in private companies. This means most working Americans could invest in a startup. Advocates say this will lead to more startup funding and, in time, more jobs. It's a phenomenon driven by the explosion in social media, which makes it easier to pitch ideas – and to have those ideas vetted by an online crowd, regardless of geography.

The knock on crowd funding is that not everyone can handle the risk of investing in startups that often fail. Angel investors can afford to lose money on a deal because they often spread their risk over multiple deals – and sometimes get huge returns that wipe out any losses. Joe and Jane Average usually cannot afford to spread their bets, and that means they must pick "The One Sure Deal" or lose their investment.

The second goal of the JOBS Act is to establish a regulatory "on ramp" for young companies that aspire to go public. After a decade in which American IPOs became increasingly rare while the rest of the world forged ahead, policymakers decided to recast some of the more onerous provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Passed in response to the Enron and Worldcom accounting scandals, Sarbanes-Oxley clamped down on startups, as well.

The JOBS Act would give startups five years after going public to focus on research, product development and company building before becoming subject to the provisions of Sarbanes Oxley. That's especially important in the biotech industry, where companies often need years to gain regulatory approvals for new drugs and medical devices.

The act also boosts the number of shareholders a private company is allowed to have (from 500 to 2,000) before the company must publically disclose certain financial information.

Some institutional investors are worried about the on-ramp changes, however, because they see existing rules as protecting against fraud and mismanagement. On-ramp companies will be allowed to raise tens of millions of dollars on public markets without making regular reports to the SEC or giving investors audited financial statements. Previously, companies had to show three years of audited financial statements to go public. The JOBS Act cuts it to two years.

Former SEC Chief Accountant Lynn Turner testified in Congress last year on the risks to the financial markets if investor safeguards are substantially weakened.

"More jobs and a larger number of qualified IPOs is something we all strive for," Turner said, "but IPOs have to be successful for not only those selling stock, but also for those buying shares."

Politicos and industry leaders believe the JOBS Act will fuel startups, boost IPOs and help rekindle the economy. They're probably right, but let's hope Mom keeps a close watch on the unintended consequences.

-- 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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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book review: "Social BOOM!"


By Terri Schlichenmeyer
“Social BOOM!” by Jeffrey Gitomer
c.2011, Financial Times Press $22.99 / $27.99 Canada 190 pages

On your way to work this morning, you checked in with your peeps and your tweeps. You told them you were wearing your lucky shirt, you asked for good wishes, then you hit “send” and posted it on Facebook and Twitter for all to see.

But aside from your followers – who cares? Nobody, says author Jeffrey Gitomer, which means you’re wasting valuable resources. In his book “Social BOOM!” he shows how better postings on social media can mean better postings at the bank.

Every day, you spend a few minutes amusing your friends online with your wryly observant posts. Fun, huh? Now imagine what would happen if you used those same few minutes to reach thousands of prospective clients instead.

According to Gitomer, there are four keys to business social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Use all four efficiently, simultaneously, and with great frequency “…or BOOM! will never happen...”

Facebook, he says, is the easiest to understand and use. Chances are you already have a personal page, but BOOM! requires a second page, on which you’ll post information of value to your clients and prospects. Give them something useful and they’ll run to your door.

LinkedIn is purely a business social site; in fact, you’re not technically allowed to link with someone you don’t already know. LinkedIn is simple to use, and the beauty of it is that you can join groups of like-minded people and search for prospects in the database. Don’t forget, Gitomer says, to completely fill out your profile.

You might think Twitter and YouTube are just for kids, but Gitomer insists that both are important tools for business. If one of your tweets is re-tweeted, it automatically expands your audience (and your prospects) to the hundreds of thousands. And think about how convenient it would be to let new customers see a video of your business any time they wanted.

“… if done correctly, business social media puts you in a direct one-on-one contact with paying customers,” says Gitomer. “That’s a game plan you can take to the bank.”

Undoubtedly, the information you’ll find in “Social BOOM!” is useful. You don’t need a PhD in computers to do it. All you need, author Jeffrey Gitomer says, is time.

But, judging by most indications, it’s going to take a lot of that. Gitomer says you only need an hour a day, but this book advises readers to peruse blogs, post multiple times a day, “follow” people and comment on their posts, make frequent YouTube videos, and update, update, update often. That one hour a day could quickly become all day.

Still, employing just a fraction of what you’ll learn here can only help. Just dipping your toe into the tech pool may lead to some good leads. And most importantly, as Gitomer points out, business social media is free.

I think there are nuggets of goodness inside “Social BOOM!” but only if used wisely and judiciously. If you’re new to social media or want a few tips on using it, peep this book.

-- 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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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tom Still: Winds of change shift again for Wisconsin's wind-power industry


By Tom Still
Sun Prairie's Wind Power Happy Hour is back on the social calendar.

Unless you're someone who follows the wonky ups and downs of the wind energy business in Wisconsin, the return of these periodic get-togethers at Sun Prairie's Cannery Grill will pass over you like… well, a cool spring breeze.

But if you're an advocate of wind power or working in the state's budding wind industry, next month's return of the happy hour next month symbolizes the end to a very unhappy year.

In March 2011, the Wisconsin Legislature voted to set aside rules that would have allowed continued development of most major wind farms. The rules were crafted by the state Public Service Commission late in Gov. Jim Doyle's tenure. After his 2010 election, Gov. Scott Walker asked if private property rights and public safety could be threatened once the statewide rules took effect.

Wind power critics say turbine towers – up to 40 stories high – are noisy and cause shadow flicker when built too close to homes. Shadow flicker is the repetitive effect produced when turbine blades sweep in front of the sun's rays. Groups such as the Wisconsin Realtors Association and the Wisconsin Towns Association agreed and recommended rejection of the PSC rules.

The Legislature was prepared to do precisely that until this month, when wind energy developers, alternative energy advocates and utilities urged lawmakers to reconsider. They argued the Doyle-era rules were strict enough to avoid clashes between landowners and wind farms. They also claimed Wisconsin was rapidly losing ground to other states in building wind projects – a fact that threatened home-grown manufacturers of wind components.

"Until we get the policies corrected in this state, we're going to see more wind-power jobs leave Wisconsin," said Jeff Anthony, director of business development for the American Wind Energy Association. "Getting the policies right is extremely important right now."

Anthony, who spoke at the March 9 Green Energy Summit in Milwaukee, said surrounding states have continued to build major wind farms. Under construction in the region, he said, are 614 megawatts of wind power in Illinois, 470 in Iowa, 348 in Michigan and 202 in Indiana. That compares to 5 megawatts under construction in Wisconsin.

The construction surge is due in part to a rush to finish wind projects before federal wind power tax credits expire in December, so 2013 won't be nearly as robust unless the credits are renewed. Anthony said Wisconsin has already lost several major projects, but it's not too late to salvage part of the 2012 construction season.

Production of wind turbine components is a manufacturing sector that almost left the United States a decade ago. Today, six in 10 turbine components are made in America – and Wisconsin is home to about 300 suppliers and manufacturers, according to the Wisconsin Wind Works consortium.

Ultimately, the Legislature's reversal reflected a classic policy showdown: Jobs for Wisconsin workers versus tougher protections for homeowners and farmers. In the end, jobs won.

That need not mean Wisconsin will become one giant wind farm, however. The state isn't highly ranked as a place with top-tier wind potential, and some of the best wind sites have already been taken. Smaller wind turbines – often built to serve individual businesses – are seen as more likely construction targets in Wisconsin.

It may also be cheaper, in the long run, to import wind power from states that have welcomed major projects. That's why there are plans to build transmission lines to the west, toward Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas and beyond.

The PSC rules set to take effect will bar wind turbines within 1,250 feet of neighboring residences. Wind advocates say that setback rule should offer ample protection. As part of implementing the rules, the PSC must conduct a survey by October 2014 of peer-reviewed scientific literature examining the health effects of wind energy systems.

For now, however, Wisconsin's wind power industry is back in business – and the organizers of the Wind Power Happy Hour are, once again, happy. And if the wind industry and the PSC follow the spirit of the new rules, people who may live near future wind projects will be happy, too.

-- 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, March 16, 2012

Tom Still: Wisconsin's angel investing foundation grows, but work is far from over


By Tom Still
Lisa Johnson, the Madison entrepreneur who is vice president of innovation for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., had a front row seat at a recent gathering of angel investors from across the United States and beyond.

Her takeaway: Many of those investors envy what Wisconsin has done to stimulate angel investing over time.

"There was no question that we're viewed as being an innovative state when it came to (investor tax credits) and other programs related to angel investing," said Johnson, who attended the March conference of the Angel Capital Association. "At the same time, there's so much more we can do to improve our programs and to help more startups."

Johnson, who was an executive at Semba Biosciences and Novagen, knows what early stage companies need to grow – and that often involves angel and venture capital. She brings that experience to her new chair at WEDC, the successor agency to the state Department of Commerce, where the importance of startups in Wisconsin's economy is an everyday topic.

The angel conference, attended by investors from 49 states and more than 20 countries, provided the backdrop for a sneak preview of an annual report on Wisconsin's investment climate. Formerly released Wednesday, the 2012 Wisconsin Portfolio charted angel capital deals for 2011 as well as venture capital rounds for the same year.

Wisconsin firms raised more than $152 million in early stage funding in 2011, reflecting a record year for angel investments but a decline in venture capital financing from 2010 totals. The total showed venture capital investments at $91.7 million – down about 30 percent. Angel investments, including angel groups and individual "super-angels," increased to $61.1 million, up about 20 percent.

Total early stage investments charted by the Wisconsin Angel Network for 2010 were $180.9 million, with $130.7 million in venture capital investments and $50.2 million in angel group and individual investments.

The number of venture deals in Wisconsin stayed fairly steady in 2011 with 22 transactions, compared to 24 in 2010, while the number of reported angel deals increased from 54 to 63. Because some companies attracted both angel and venture financing, there were 76 Wisconsin companies that received some type of early stage financing.

Since 2003, when angel network-only investments were pegged at $1.74 million, there has been a 35-fold increase in angel group and individual investments reported through WAN, which is part of the Wisconsin Technology Council. During that same period, the number of angel groups grew from five to 27, one of the highest per capita totals in the nation.

Other states are catching up, however. Minnesota and Nebraska essentially copied Wisconsin's investor tax credits law, which took effect in January 2005, and took it one step further by allowing out-of-state investors to collect credits. About 30 states have created state-leveraged venture capital funds, which are focused on investments that follow angel rounds.

This session of the Wisconsin Legislature will end without action on major venture capital legislation, which would have allowed the state to create a "fund-of-funds" to attract private capital from outside Wisconsin while spurring new venture funds at home.

Venture capital is vital to a startup economy because angel groups and individual investors can only take most companies so far. Venture capital is often required to accelerate company growth – and to create more jobs. Unless angels can pass the baton to venture capitalists or find other exits for their investments, companies can stall out or move to other states in search of additional capital.

"The meteoric growth of angel investment in Wisconsin proves we are doing a lot of things right," said Tim Keane, managing director of the Golden Angels, one of Wisconsin's largest angel networks. "Sustaining this growth will require the concerted effort of investors, entrepreneurs and state policymakers. We are especially concerned about our follow-on capacity for these companies – an issue we need to address."

Wisconsin's support for its homegrown angel investors is a nationally recognized success story. After the smoke clears from the state's political fires, perhaps Democrats and Republicans alike will come together to build on that success – and keep Wisconsin in the lead.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal. -- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison. To read the full report, visit http://www.wisconsinangelnetwork.com

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dan Danner: Attention candidates -- America trusts small business as key to economic recovery


By Dan Danner
The solution to America’s biggest challenge is small. Small business, that is.

Most Americans know and understand that the only way to put the nation’s economy back on its feet is to put people back to work. But that simple message has gotten muddled in the pandemonium that’s engulfed candidates of both parties in their race for the White House.

And most Americans know and understand that the only way to put people back to work is to trust small-business owners to do what they do best: create jobs. Those who own and operate Main Street’s small firms can only create jobs if the federal government learns to trust small business as most citizens do and stop putting obstacles in the way.

It all comes down to trust. That’s where small-business owners stand tall in the minds and hearts of people across this country. “Americans put the most trust in the ideas and opinions of small-business owners and local business leaders on how best to create jobs,” the Gallup polling organization reported recently.

By a wide margin—79 percent—those who responded to pollsters put small-business owners at the top of their list of leaders whose ideas and opinions they trust to create jobs in the United States. Far down the list at 45 percent were executives of major corporations and below them ranked members of Congress.

Gallup noted that the high level of trust placed in small business is not anything new. When researchers studied Americans’ confidence in national institutions, they found greater reliance in small business than any institution other than the armed forces.

Far on the other side of the scale was big business which earns only low levels of confidence. Even a decade ago, a Gallup poll conducted for American Express determined that CEOs of large corporations were trusted by less than one-fourth of those asked, while people who run small businesses held a 75 percent level of trust.

Yet on the campaign trail, the candidates are allowing themselves to be whipsawed by special-interest groups pushing agendas that have nothing to do with restoring the economy. That’s not to say that many of those issues aren’t important, but none even come close to the urgent challenges of steering the economy away from another recession.

Most Americans know and understand that. A February CBS/New York Times poll revealed that 66 percent responding felt that economic issues were far more important than social issues--22 percent--in making their decisions about which candidate to support.

The solution to America’s biggest challenge is obvious. Those running for president would be well advised to put some of the non-urgent issues on the back burner and instill confidence in voters by assuring them that if elected, they’ll get right to work clearing the government obstacles and helping small business do what it does best—create jobs.

And how can the next president of the United States do that? By listening to the people most Americans trust—small-business owners. They’re eager and ready to suggest real solutions. Trust them.

-- 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.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book review: "Better By Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong"


By Terri Schlichenmeyer
“Better By Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong” by Alina Tugend
c.2011, Riverhead Books $25.95 / $32.50 Canada 304 pages

Ooops.

You made a little mistake at work.

Okay, it wasn’t so little. It was gargantuan.

Clients bailed, money was lost, everyone’s mad at you. It was so bad, so colossal an error that you’re sure you’re going to lose your job over this. Which means you’ll lose your house, you’ll lose your family, you’ll lose your dog and your truck, and your life will basically sound like a bad Country-Western song.

That kind of thinking is called hindsight bias, and you can just stop it. Instead, read “Better By Mistake” by Alina Tugend. That “little” error might be a huge opportunity.

So you made a mistake.

Welcome to the club, says Alina Tugend. The truth is that, from the time you wake up until you go to sleep, there are so many choices to make that the chance for error – no matter how small or large – is huge. Therefore, just face it: you’re going to make mistakes.

But we, as a society, don’t make much of a distinction between “good” mistakes and “bad” mistakes. The bigger the boo-boo, the higher the fear of punishment, which is something our parents and teachers might have inadvertently instilled in us, our personalities intensify, and our workplaces perpetuate.

What helps, says Tugend, is to look back and understand where you went wrong and why the mistake happened. Did the aftermath make up for the initial panic? Can it be fixed? Did you learn something from it?

If you learned to avoid everything for fear of making a mistake, Tugend says that’s normal. But fear not: millions of neurons in your brain evaluated the weight of that error, which will cause you to slow down next time. Making a mistake, therefore, automatically changes your behavior. The other good news is that our ability to monitor errors increases as we grow and age.

But what can be done about the mess you made? Tugend says that a real apology – one that’s sincere, acknowledges the offense, admits regret and responsibility, and is offered immediately – goes a long way to patch things up. Saying “I’m sorry” is complex and tricky, but that’s often all the offended person really wants.

So you say you ain’t no saint. Neither were the saints, says author Alina Tugend in this lively, interesting (albeit occasionally off-track) little book.

Through old test results, experiments, expert opinions, and case studies, Tugend explains how mistakes can be both mortifying and fortuitous at the same time. She studies mistakes that can – literally – mean life or death. She looks at how reactions to a mistake can color the perpetrator’s ability to take risks in the future, which is important and helpful information for all managers. When something goes wrong at work, do you question an error or quash an employee?

“Better by Mistake” won’t prevent you from goofy gaffes or spectacular snafus, but it will make it easier to learn from your lapses and put things into perspective. If you need that reminding, it would be a slip-up to slip past this book.

-- 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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Monday, March 12, 2012

Kristal Young: Expand your company's image: branding across social media platforms


By Kristal Young
If you're in business, whether big or small or just thinking about getting started, it's getting to be old news that you should have your company on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Then, once you're set up, you should use it often to reach your clients and customers. But did you know that many of these social media platforms are great opportunities to increase your brand awareness and professional image? A great client of mine, Katie Felten who founded MKELive, gave me my first opportunity to execute this idea when I designed a social media campaign for her. I quickly discovered how valuable this marketing method was and how many more people should be taking advantage of it no matter what stage of business they are in at the moment.

So how does it work? Well, just as you brand your logo and design image on brochures, web site, advertising, etc. ... continue your look onto the social media pages you're using. Instead of using generic or supplied backgrounds from the social media sites that have little or nothing to do with your business, use a custom background and/or profile picture that matches your company exactly. When anyone sees you on the social media page, they instantly recognize your company and you gain extra credibility as a more established, dependable business.

Not only do you have a professionally marketed look, but you can also include important information in the design that might have gotten missed otherwise. For instance, people won't always search your page to find out every detail in your profile, but if your phone number or slogan is smack in front of their faces and highlighted with a unique design they can't miss it. Either way, you'll be able to share your contact information, areas of expertise, or whatever facts you want people to know more easily and quickly.

Still a little unclear? You can see an example of some of our projects on my web site. In this case, Katie's image consisted of her logo, which was an offshoot of MKELive, and the social media icons she used to build her business. Her twitter page resembled her YouTube page, which also stayed consistent with her about me page. As life would have it, in the midst of designing a similar brand image for her facebook page, some new opportunities came up for her career and she decided to change the direction we had been heading. Even though this would mean redoing some of the pages, the good news was this was the Internet we were working with on free social media sites. We hadn't wasted any money in printing, mailing or web hosting costs to reach her target market like we would have in traditional branding strategy methods.

Now I'm not advocating not using those older methods to brand your business, but realize those are just some of the ways we get our company's image into the world. The more opportunities you have to touch your clients with your professional image the better. Each avenue is important and has its own positives and negatives. This social media platform is actually one of the easier ways to brand your image since it's quick to produce and there are no costs for printing or web site hosting. Unlike print media, it has the potential to reach an infinite number of people in your target market at the same design cost similar to a web site. Additionally, when your logo and background images are consistent with the rest of your company's image, it shows the world that your company is modern and keeping up with technology and the times. You're reaching the market segment that is getting most of its information from social media as a trusted, knowledgeable professional.

-- 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 http://www.kristalcleargraphics.com or like Kristal Clear Graphics on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/kristalcleargraphicsllc. If you have any questions about how this works or you're interested in learning more about starting your own social media campaign, contact Young at Kristal@kristalcleargraphics.com.

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Tom Still: Innovations in 'cleantech' are changing mining industry for the better


By Tom Still
Some members of the Wisconsin Legislature wouldn't vote for streamlined state mining rules if The Lorax himself descended from above to run the drilling rig. Others would vote for any bill that makes it easier to extract ore in Wisconsin, regardless of the risks to land, air and water.

Somewhere in between those extremes are Wisconsin lawmakers who might support the return of iron mining to northern Wisconsin – and the jobs that would come with it – so long as modern environmental standards are met.

Unless there's a dramatic turn of events, however, those lawmakers may never get another chance to demonstrate that compromise is still possible in Wisconsin.

After the state Senate narrowly rejected a bill to change how state mining permits are issued, the head of Gogebic Taconite announced the company has dropped plans to build an iron mine southeast of Ashland in northwest Wisconsin.

"We get the message," company president Bill Williams said. "GTac is ending plans to invest in a Wisconsin mine."

Is that the final word? Company executives who spend millions of dollars on a project only to watch it falter don't often bluff when it comes to cutting their losses.

Then again, the mining bill was only one vote shy of winding up on Gov. Scott Walker's desk for his signature. Anything can happen when the clock is ticking toward the end of a legislative floor period, especially if the debate is recast in a way that allows lawmakers to reconsider.

The emerging role of clean technologies in modern mining might provide such a framework.

While opponents of the Gogebic mine are correct to point out the many sins of mining over time, from toxic emissions to acid mine drainage, the industry is undergoing what one expert calls "the quiet, clean mining revolution."

Dallas Kachan, the former managing director and executive editor of the Cleantech Group, is generally credited with coining the term "cleantech" and helping to launch the cleantech investment class. He has written hundreds of reports and articles on clean technologies and speaks at cleantech events around the world.

In a February column for Renewable Energy News, Kachan wrote that technology is helping mining clean up its act. Those technologies are reducing power needs, lowering water requirements and improving remediation strategies, all of which helps mining companies be a lot cleaner while saving money.

"In other words, now that it's starting to be less expensive on net for mining companies to be clean, they're starting to move in that direction," Kachan wrote.

Among examples he cited is an Arizona project by American Manganese, which is preparing to produce electrolytic manganese from low-grade ore while using a fraction of the normal energy and water. Kachan also noted that Canadian companies BacTech Environmental and REBgold are using a patented biological process to remediate toxins and recover gold. BioteQ Environmental Technologies, another Canadian company, is among companies that Kachan believes have developed ways to remove heavy metals, acids and toxins from mine tailings before they seep into groundwater.

Closer to home, institutions such as the UW-Milwaukee and the UW-Madison are leaders in researching clean water technologies. The state's water technology "cluster" of companies, large and small, are producing innovative ways to treat and prevent environmental contamination.

Finally, the mine itself would employ science and technology professionals whose jobs would revolve around ensuring environmental compliance. They include chemical engineers, computer programmers, computer systems analysts, electrical engineers, environmental scientists, geochemists, geo-engineers, geophysicists, drafting technologists, metallurgical engineers and quality control engineers.

There's no guarantee the Gogebic mine will be totally safe, of course, but the combination of new technologies, professional management and continued careful review by the state Department of Natural Resources and the federal government increase the odds of reliably clean operations.

Lawmakers can wait for Dr. Seuss' Lorax to save the day, or trust that innovations in mining technologies and smart regulations will provide northern Wisconsin with a brighter economic future. That choice, if still available at the 11th hour, seems clear.

-- 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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Book review: "Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results"


By Terri Schlichenmeyer
“Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results” by Bill Jensen and Josh Klein
c.2010, Portfolio $25.95 / $32.50 Canada 224 pages

There’s a problem at work, and you know a solution.

You’ve been using it at home for a long time. It’s technologically risk-free, proven, and almost without cost. But you’ve been told by supervisors that “it’s not the way we operate around here” and “we’ve never done things like that”. So you play computer solitaire and waste time when you’d really rather be productive.

Other than growl and grow an ulcer, what else can you do? In the book “Hacking Work” by Bill Jensen and Josh Klein, you’ll learn that there’s a new, unstoppable movement coming…

When you were a kid and Dad offhandedly said “no” to something, the quick fix was to go ask Mom, right? That’s hacking: utilizing an unauthorized alternative to circumvent silly rules to get what you need to get things done.

While the word has unsavory connotations and many businesspeople might gasp in horror at what they perceive as renegade behavior, the facts are that hacking works, it makes a job easier, and employees are more productive. It also keeps you competitive and it can be fun.

Before you start, though, you need to understand that there is a “dark side”. Good hacking benefits everyone and should improve things in the workplace. At the very least, it exposes vulnerabilities. Hacking work should never become an attack or cause malicious harm.

For your first hack, the authors say, choose something easy. It may be a “hard hack”, or something technical. You might attempt a “soft hack” that involves dealing with people and changing a relationship. Most hacks include elements of both. Try hacking something that saps your energy. Hack at the beginning of a project. And if you’re caught and are fired, well, you probably didn’t want to work at that place anyhow, no?

But what if you’re the hackee? If you’re a business owner, you may be sweating right now, pondering your ruination when employees start working willy-nilly without any restraint.

Relax, the authors say. Hacking can solve your most chronic problems at work and it will make your employees happier. Sure, there will always need to be occasional controls, but this is all something you might as well get used to: Millennials – employees born in the early ‘80s and after – hack as second-nature.

As I was reading “Hacking Work”, I waffled between excitement and the sure feeling that this was a good way to get fired. Authors Bill Jensen and Josh Klein address that in this book, named as a “breakthrough idea for 2010” by Harvard Business Review. But is hacking really applicable to your workplace?

Like it or not, yes. Hacking, the authors point out, has been happening in business for years. Your employees are probably doing it right now. Learn to embrace it, they say. Learn to love it. Learn to do it.

For both employee and for the person who signs the paychecks, “Hacking Work” is an intriguing, conversation-sparking (and possibly controversial) book. Take a brave new look - it may be the solution your workplace needs.

-- 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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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pat Goss: Building a bridge to bipartisanship


By Pat Goss
We are all familiar with the partisan environment that seems to be hindering elected officials at all levels of government from working together on solutions that improve the lives of citizens and fostering a economic growth.

Nothing is immune from being packaged as “political artillery” to use against the opposition. Issues are left to fester until they reach crisis stage – at which point some sort of band-aid fix is reached at the last possible moment. The proverbial can has been temporarily kicked down the road. Politicians blame each other for the impasse while citizens shake their heads.

But every once in a while, politicians work together to deliver results for citizens.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved construction of a new bridge over the St. Croix River connecting Wisconsin and Minnesota. It was supported by the Governors of both states – one a Republican, the other a Democrat. A bi-partisan push by the states’ four U.S. Senators led to unanimous approval in that closely divided chamber. All members of Wisconsin’s House delegation – five Republicans and three Democrats – voted for the measure.

Approval of the St. Croix River Crossing is the culmination of decades of negotiation and litigation by numerous parties.

The current two-lane steel lift bridge was built in 1931, and talk of its replacement has been contentious since the 1970s. As attorneys haggled in court over various replacement alternatives, the bridge became structurally deficient and caused horrendous traffic jams during peak periods.

Finally, in 2002, President Bush issued an executive order establishing an environmental stewardship and streamlined review process for seven transportation projects deemed to be of national significance, including the St. Croix River Crossing. A 28-member stakeholder group then spent four years meticulously discussing the many transportation, environmental and historic preservation aspects of the project before reaching a compromise solution.

That compromise consists of a four-lane bridge on new alignment, preservation of the existing lift bridge and a variety of environmental mitigation measures that will enhance the scenic beauty of the St. Croix River Valley. This proves that transportation improvements to protect safety and enhance mobility can go hand-in-hand with environmental protection and historic preservation.

The lesson here: bipartisanship worked. A Republican president understood the need for a new bridge and accelerated the project and a Democrat president will, in all likelihood, give final approval of the project. It may be rare these days, but Wisconsin and Minnesota have once again shown that politicians are still capable of working together to enact positive change for the people and communities they represent.

Let’s hope the rest of America is watching.

-- Goss is executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Keith Schmitz: Sometimes corporate mergers make sense for consumers


By Keith Schmitz
Health care costs are among the most vexing challenges families and small businesses across Wisconsin. Prescription drugs, which cost more than $300 billion in 2009 and are expected to exceed $450 billion by 2019, are one of the chief sources of high health care costs.

Leaders in Washington have engaged in a fierce debate about how to control health care costs, but there is one thing they can do today that will not cost a dime: Approve the Express Scripts-Medco Merger.

The Express Scripts-Medco merger will combine the expertise of two Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs). They already create enormous savings in our health care system, including bringing savings to Medicare.

Experts predict companies like the new Express Scripts-Medco will save taxpayers $469 billion from 2006-2015. These savings translate directly into more jobs. Each 1 percent reduction in prescription drug costs covers the cost of creating 20,000 new jobs. We all know that the country and Wisconsin in particular are in dire need of more jobs and revenue.

These two companies already manage the pharmacy benefits for more than 1.9 million patients in the state of Wisconsin through the benefit plans of the Milwaukee Public Schools, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Wisconsin, Network Health Plan of Wisconsin and WCA Group Health Trust.

Of course, savings mean nothing if they result in poorer quality of care. The new Express-Scripts-Medco promises to enhance health in our country by combining their years of experience managing benefits and assisting prescription drug users. Studies show that prescription drug users are more likely to take their prescriptions and less likely to suffer harmful interactions among prescriptions if they receive their drugs via home-delivery.

Bringing Express Scripts and Medco together will amplify savings for patients and government, improve quality of care and help curb health care costs that are hurting the economy and costing America jobs. There have been a lot of corporate mergers that I have not been crazy about, because they often result in diminished service, but this is one that makes sense for consumers and business in bringing more of these benefits to more people.

I would like to see myself and others who are in small business have this kind of enhanced service available to us.

-- Schmitz is a small-business owner in southeast Wisconsin.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

National Consumer Protection Week 2012: Relief for Wisconsinites affected by foreclosure abuses


By J.B. Van Hollen
National Consumer Protection Week begins this Sunday, March 4, 2012. This week also marks an important step in providing relief for many Wisconsinites who have suffered abuses of the mortgage foreclosure process.

This week, Wisconsin expects to join 48 other states and several federal agencies by officially filing the $25 billion settlement that was announced a few weeks ago with the country’s five largest residential mortgage servicers -- Ally Bank (formerly GMAC), Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. The settlement follows a national investigation into foreclosure abuses and addresses the abuses by, among other things: prohibiting “robo-signing,” or the mass signing of documents by an employee who has not verified the contents of them; prohibiting the banks from pursuing foreclosure while simultaneously working with homeowners to refinance their loans, a practice called “dual tracking;” requiring the banks to be more transparent in their efforts to prevent foreclosure, called “loss mitigation,” and to respond to consumers in a timely fashion and to identify a contact person who can assist the consumer; establishing an independent monitor to oversee the banks’ compliance with the settlement; and requiring the banks to pay approximately $25 billion. The vast majority of the $25 billion will be directed to homeowners who were victims of abusive foreclosure practices or who qualify for measures to prevent foreclosure, such as loan forbearance, principal write-downs or refinancing.

Those eligible for possible payments or other forms of mortgage relief under the settlement include borrowers of the five banks who lost their home to foreclosure in the last five years, and borrowers currently at risk of foreclosure because they are behind on payments or have a mortgage that exceeds the value their home. The banks are responsible for identifying and contacting those eligible for relief under this settlement, which may take up to nine months. If you have questions about eligibility, you should contact your bank. Contact information for the banks included in this settlement is available at http://www.doj.state.wi.us.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) has set up a hotline (1-800-998-0700, or 608-266-1852) for callers to report if they are having problems with the banks. You also may email the DOJ at consumerprotection@doj.state.wi.us.

The settlement does not restrict the rights of individual consumers to pursue legal action against the banks. My office, along with other attorneys general across the county, will continue to investigate the practices of other banks which are not part of this settlement, as well as conduct not covered by this settlement.

Beware of scams. Scam artists may attempt to contact homeowners offering to help them receive part of the national mortgage settlement. Homeowners will be contacted directly by their banks or the settlement administrator if they are eligible to participate. The help being offered as a part of this settlement is free of charge. You will never have to pay a fee or a percentage to be considered for eligibility. If you are contacted by anyone other than your bank, the settlement administrator or the Wisconsin Attorney General's Office regarding this settlement, please contact the DOJ Office of Consumer Protection (1-800-998-0700), or the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (“DATCP” 1-800-422-7128). Additional information about the settlement is available at: http://www.NationalMortgageSettlement.com.

-- Van Hollen, a Republican, is Wisconsin's attorney general.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tom Still: Foundation of business innovation grants helps pave way for private capital


By Tom Still
It's no secret that Wisconsin falls well below average among the 50 states when it comes to attracting venture capital, a class of private investment dollars vital to building small startups into jobs-producing companies. However, other building blocks already in place could improve the state's venture picture over time.

The first such foundation is angel capital, which is also private money but usually invested by individuals, networks and small funds earlier in a company's growth cycle – after founders and friends get things started but before venture capitalists get involved. Since the mid-2000s, Wisconsin has experienced a burst of angel investment activity, and preliminary figures from 2011 indicate that investment class held up in Wisconsin despite troubles nationally.

Competitive research grants represent a second building block. A fresh report from PricewaterhouseCoopers on the state of the biomedical industry in California offers a glimpse at another Wisconsin strength – its ability to win merit-based federal grants targeted at young, tech-based businesses.

Wisconsin ranked sixth in 2010 among the 50 states in attracting Small Business Innovation Research grants for commercializing biomedical research, according to the report, with $23.9 million in total grants. California was first with $100.6 million, followed by Massachusetts, New York, Maryland and North Carolina – states that are larger than Wisconsin or otherwise centers of the U.S. biomedical industry.

The report demonstrates that emerging Wisconsin companies are attracting the eye of federal R&D experts, who have used the SBIR program for nearly 30 years to incubate technologies and processes that have the potential to become business successes. For most young companies, the grants represent only a fraction of the money needed to move discoveries to market – but such grants are essential to attracting private dollars from angels and venture capitalists, whose investments often follow SBIR grants.

Wisconsin's ability to win SBIR grants is not confined to the biomedical industry. For the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2011, Wisconsin companies won a collective $45.4 million in competitive grants across a broad spectrum of technologies. That dollar total and the total number of grants (96) were the largest in the history of the program for Wisconsin.

Eleven different federal agencies make grants to researchers whose researchers, often tied to major universities, are helping push innovations closer to the marketplace. In Wisconsin, the federal agencies most active in making SBIR grants are the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and its various branches, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

There are warning signs ahead, however. While the SBIR program was recently reauthorized by Congress, total federal investment in research and development is likely to level off or decline due to the pressures of the federal budget deficit. The SBIR program represents only a fraction of total federal spending on R&D; most takes place around "basic" research, an area where Wisconsin institutions such as the UW-Madison, the Medical College of Wisconsin and the UW-Milwaukee shine.

In addition to urging that Wisconsin companies and researchers compete for SBIR grants, the state's major research universities will likely step up their efforts to attract industry R&D dollars. A report by the State Science and Technology Institute in 2011 revealed that Wisconsin's research universities rank 48th among the 50 states in their "share" of industry research as a percentage of the state's total academic R&D spending. The state ranked only 28th among total dollars spent, falling behind neighbors such as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa.

David Krakauer, the new director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, stressed the importance of attracting industry research during a Feb. 28 meeting of the Wisconsin Innovation Network in Madison. Krakauer, who arrived last fall from the private Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, said researchers in Wisconsin and elsewhere must face the reality that federal R&D dollars alone won't support their future work.

Krakauer's hiring and other trends at the UW-Madison indicate that change is underway, some of which may be as simple as handling industry requests for research through a more streamlined administrative process. Other universities are figuring out better ways to enhance industry research, which only makes sense in an era when more companies are willing to contract for such services than keep them in-house.

With merit-based grants and angel capital, Wisconsin has the right foundation for starting companies. Now it needs to work on growing and keeping them.

-- 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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