Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Health Care Reform is Here

By Janine Springer, Chief Financial Officer

The ball is rolling….October 1 and Health Care Reform is here!

Sitting in an Arkansas BlueCross Blue Shield small employer seminar a few weeks ago, the realization set in that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was being implemented and that the way businesses currently buy health care insurance for either themselves or their employees will forever be changed.

While I had been continually bombarded in the past few years and more recently in the past two months with notices and rulings via email along with numerous webinars and countless seminars regarding the changes, it was sitting in a room filled with other small group plans and hearing the questions and concerns that they were voicing that it finally hit me:  good, bad or otherwise, the ball was rolling!

Whether or not you were pro or anti-Obamacare really doesn’t matter.  The bottom line is that businesses need to get ready before January 1 and have a plan in place regarding their employee (as well as their own) health care.  There are so many pieces to this puzzle that it would almost take someone with an advanced degree to figure out the information, not the mention the amount of time spent reading, calculating costs, and issuing health care notices regarding the state exchanges.

Having a grandfathered plan, my assumption was there would be less paperwork involved with the health care law.  That is not the case.  There are still forms and individual notices to be filled out (and filled out correctly or big fines will be given!).  I can only imagine the paperwork involved with a small business that has a large number of employees. 

My words of advice to small businesses not knowing what to do or where to turn would be to ask other businesses what they are doing and if they are working with a corporate benefits company.  The chamber has several members on our website (www.rogerslowell.com) that can help you make this transition as smooth as possible. 

Something I have remembered from my business law class in college...”ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

So get ready, because the ball is rolling and Health Care Reform is here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

People Matter | It Really Does Take All Kinds –We’re All Important

By Jennifer Tidwell, Assistant to the President

Have you ever sat on a park or mall bench and took time out to watch people for a little while? 
If you’re like me, it doesn’t take very long until you’re shaking your head and thinking (or, if you’re really like me, you might even be saying it out loud to yourself!) It takes all kinds. “

But aren’t we glad it does?  How boring would life be if we were all the same! 

If you work in an office, you will probably agree that the office is much like sitting on a bench when it comes to viewing our co-workers – and it does take all kinds.  My office is located in such a spot that I often feel like I am sitting on one of those benches.  It’s right up front where I can see everyone -
co-workers as well as the general public.  My office also has a couple of chairs in it that seem to be the perfect spot for my co-workers to drop by, sit for a brief moment with me and reflect together.  Which I think is great and enjoy.

There are all types of personalities running around the office world.  Let’s face it, some days it doesn’t matter what type of personality one may have, we simply get up on the wrong side of the bed! 
And frankly, it seems to me there are those “sandpaper people” who, I think, are put in our lives simply to smooth out the rough edges in us.  (It never fails that those people always show up beside you at the coffee pot on a Monday morning … seriously!)  But, no matter what type of person you are dealing with or how your personality may or may not clash with another, I’ve learned that people matter.  

If we want to go anywhere within our companies, or even in life for that matter, we have to interact with people one way or another.   I have heard it said many times, “The best thing about my job is the people and the worst thing about my job is the people.”  Why is that?  It’s simply because people are people.  Everyone has a bad day now and then and everyone deserves a break now and then. 

With the location of my desk and the role that I have in at the Chamber, I get to enjoy the opportunity to speak with a lot of different people, whether it’s a co-worker who has something going on in their daily life, a member that I see in a meeting or a visitor who has walked in off the street.  What I have found is that most people just want someone to listen to them and usually not even for a very long period of time.   It’s the simple act of caring.  One of the biggest lessons I have learned over the years in dealing with people is this simple statement, “Everyone wants to feel important.”   If we can go to work every day with the goal of making others feel important, our own lives would be fuller and that can only boost our overall quality of life.  Making others feel better simply makes us feel better. 

Keep in mind the Golden Rule, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”  I don’t know what happened to that concept, but it seems to me that somewhere along the way it got lost in all of us trying to just get through the day-to-day duties and challenges of our work week.  So, if you’re on the bottom trying to climb your way to the top, or if you’re on the top and striving to stay there, just remember one thing on the trip - people matter. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The 1099 Economy: The New “Old” Entrepreneurs

Each year the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation analyzes data to determine what states have done over the previous year to create jobs and expand the economy.  The analysis is broken down into two parts, one that discusses what states should be doing and one that details what states are doing and then ranking the states using a performance, data-driven model.  The Chamber calls the annual report, Enterprising States, and provides a copy of the 2013 analysis HERE.

The Enterprising States study found a significant shift in the types of new start ups and entrepreneurs in America since the Great Recession.  The Chamber refers to this new economy as a "1099 Economy," which reflects an increase in single owner businesses that do not employ any additional staff and typically work as a consultant or provide professional services under contract to larger corporations.  The "1099" refers to the tax form these self employed contractors receive from their clients that report income – think of them as W2s for the self-employed.  More than one million self employed contractors have started business since 2005 and some estimate more than 10 million people operate similar one-person businesses.  This is almost 8% of the national labor force.  An additional 31 million people claim self-employment income to supplement their primary job, which represents a 52% increase since 2001. 

Often cited reasons for the growth in these 1099 entrepreneurs are layoffs and shutdowns at larger companies that dump older, experienced workers into the job market where they are unable to find equivalent full-time employment.  However, they are able to use their skills, contacts and experience to land contracts for companies not willing or feeling too uncertain about the future to commit to a full-time hire.  Further evidence of this trend is the self-employment rate for workers aged 55 and over is 16.4% compared to 10% for other age groups. 

Arkansas follows that trend as self employment increased by 11% to 136,000 over the last decade.  Plus more than three out of four Arkansas businesses employ just a single person.  Over the course of the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009, firms employing five or more employees lost net jobs and the only category that added net jobs were businesses employing one to four people.

Self employed, 1099ers require similar support and policies that would benefit any small business: improved access to capital, specialized training, networking opportunities and guidance on expanding into new markets.  The Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber can help 1099ers grasp these opportunities to benefit their business.  Visit RogersLowell.com or call 479-636-1240 to learn how the Chamber might be able to help you improve your business.

Monday, July 22, 2013

What’s Working in Job Creation: US Chamber Releases Enterprising States Study

Each year the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation analyzes data to determine what states have done over the previous year to create jobs and expand the economy.  The analysis is broken down into two parts, one that discusses what states should be doing and one that details what states are doing and then ranking the states using a performance, data-driven model.  The Chamber calls the annual report, Enterprising States, and provides a copy of the 2013 analysis HERE.

This year Enterprising States focuses on the importance of supporting small business as a means of economic development and job creation in the United States.  Historically, small businesses have been the country’s primary job creator, but following the latest recession these economic engines have failed to return to their traditional roles.  The Chamber warns that, “[p]olicymakers ignore small business at their own peril and that of the economy.” 

Last year, only 16% of small businesses added employees and businesses five-years-old or younger now employ just 8% of the total work force, which is a decrease of 33% over the past two decades.   Small and new businesses continue to struggle in the post-Great Recession economy for a number of reasons, including significantly lower consumer spending and reduced lending by community banks.  These factors contribute to a less than rosy outlook by small business owners.  The U.S. Chamber surveyed small businesses in January 2013 and found more than half expected business to be worse over the next two years.  This is more than twice as high as the same survey revealed a year earlier.  Lower optimism results in fewer new hires, smaller investment and more defensive operations.

If small and new businesses are not adding jobs, what can states do to encourage small and new business startups?  The U.S. Chamber recognized ten initiatives that appear to be working to support and grow small and new businesses in the country. 

·         Business plan competitions – identify and assist entrepreneurs turn ideas in start ups.

·         Accelerator initiatives – programs that assist startups become stand-alone companies.

·         Economic gardening initiatives – provide resources to existing firms so they can expand.

·         Ecosystem initiatives – focus programs and projects on areas where a concentration of like-mission companies exist.

·         Workforce development initiatives – help business train and locate qualified employees.

·         Seed and venture capital – provides access to funding to help replace diminished availability of bank loans.

·         Networking and collaboration initiatives – match small business with mentors in large business and higher education.

·         International trade – reaching new global markets is vital for start ups and small business

·         Streamlined state administrative processes – efforts to eliminate rules, regulations and uncertainty

·         Broadband investment – high speed online access is critical being competitive
Thankfully, Arkansas utilizes many of these initiatives, but unfortunately many lack sufficient funding to be fully implemented on a statewide basis.  A future blog post will highlight what Arkansas is doing to support small and new businesses.  For more information contact Michael Lindsey at Michael@RogersLowell.com

Friday, July 12, 2013

Top 5 Reasons to Join the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce

By Jacque McQueen
As an Account Executive for the Chamber, I get to hear first-hand from both prospects and new members on why one chooses to join the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.  The following reasons are often cited and are very good reasons why you should consider joining:

        1.   Awareness
The Chamber provides a complimentary ribbon cutting and announcement of your grand opening, new location, new ownership, and anniversary celebration in the local newspaper,
the Chamber Voice newsletter, and in weekly eNews blasts to influencers and decision-makers
in the community.
2     2.  Exposure
RogersLowell.com enables you to have your business listed in the Chamber’s online business directory along with a free hyperlink to your business web page. You simply provide a 35 word description with keywords that will help people search and find you.  The website utilizes both keyword search and category search for visitors to easily find your business.  The Chamber website also offers affordable advertising opportunities, and your business news and announcements are listed for free in the Chamber News section.
3     3. RFP (Request for Proposal) Connections
Business Connect on RogersLowell.com allows members to submit Request for Proposals (RFPs) to other members. This gives you the opportunity to offer your bid/quote to members when requested and also to submit to a bid request from other members. Good examples of members using this benefit include plumbing quotes, business card quotes, printing quotes, janitorial quotes, etc.  Business Connect connects you to new business and to significant savings for
your business.
        4.  New Contacts & Learning Opportunities
Members love the Chamber’s networking and educational events and opportunities for committee involvement. Most networking and educational events are free and include Business After Hours, Coffee Connection, Community Diversity Celebration, FYI Brown Bag Lunches, Chamber University seminars and numerous committees to get involved with extracurricular activities.  In addition, there is a variety of members-only sponsorship packages available for events and meetings to help increase your visibility and make new contacts.
5     5. Promotion
The Chamber offers you opportunity to submit eCoupons and discounts to be featured on the RogersLowell.com Business Directory’s Coupons and Discounts web page.  These eCoupons
help promote your business to both members and thousands of monthly website visitors. 
It’s free and a very popular benefit with our members for promoting trial offers and competitive discount deals.

These are my top five reasons for new members joining the Chamber but there are many more reasons to join and benefits of membership.  The bottom line is that Chamber membership is an effective business strategy.  Contact me and let’s explore together how Chamber membership benefits you and let’s make it a part of your strategy. 

Call me at either my office (479) 619-3189 or my mobile (479) 387-6546.

The Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce is accredited by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
and is one of only 77 Chambers nationwide to be awarded the highest level of five stars.  The
Chamber is committed to growing business and building community, and provides numerous opportunities for businesses to build new contacts and generate leads throughout the area.
The Chamber’s mission is to be the voice of business, to promote and initiate responsible
economic growth, and to address community challenges in the Rogers and Lowell Area,
as well as the Northwest Arkansas region.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

89th General Assembly - One Regular Session in the Books

The Arkansas General Assembly convened on January 14 and wrapped up their official business on April 23.  After more than three months in session The 89th General Assembly filed nearly 2,500 bills and passed 61%, which is a pretty efficient conversion of bills to laws.  Especially when you compare the state legislature with the United States Congress, which rarely passes more than five percent of the bills introduced.  Over the past 25 years the state legislature have averaged passage of 65% of introduced bills (see below).

The Chamber began the session with a modest legislative agenda that focused on its traditional issues of economic development, higher education and transportation.  Below is a recap of how issues included on our agenda fared.

Economic Development Issues:
  • Support Quick Action Closing Fund - $50 million included in final budget.  These funds are used to pay for economic development incentives and are very effective in recruiting and retaining jobs in NW Arkansas.
  • Support Regional Economic Development Partnership - led an effort to broaden the reach of regional economic development partnerships, which is a state program that encourages regions to work together to proactively recruit new business and industry.
  • Promote Legislation that Supports Entrepreneurs - worked with Accelerate Arkansas to advocate for funding of programs that support high-tech, knowledge based start ups.  Nearly $20 million dedicated to related programs intended to promote these "new economy" companies.
  • Tax Cuts for Manufacturers - advocated for tax reductions in utilities and repair/replacement parts for manufacturers.  The General Assembly approved reduction of both taxes, which will save Arkansas manufacturers nearly $25 million per year thus making them more competitive in an increasingly global marketplace.   
Infrastructure Issues:
  • Technical Corrections to Regional Mobility Authority - led effort to modify regional mobility authority legislation to clarify issues related to issuance of bonds.  
  • Increase Flexibility for County/City Turnback - cities and counties receive 15% each from the recently enacted 0.5% temporary highway sales tax.  The General Assembly authorized cities and counties to bond these turnback funds if approved by voters.
  • Incentives to Attract Low Cost Air Carrier to XNA - a signficiant cost for business in NW Arkansas is continued high cost of airfare.  The region sought assistance from the state to develop incentives to recruit a low-cost carrier like Frontier Airlines to XNA.  State legislators in the region designated funding to attract a low-cost carrier in an effort to reduce airfares for all NW Arkansas residents.
  • FOIA Exemption for Water Systems - supported efforts by water systems to permanently exempt security-related documents from Freedom Of Information Act requirements.  Legislation passed by General Assembly.
Higher Education:
  • Increased Funding for Higher Education - NWACC increased their general revenue funding by more than $500,000 and received $4.7 million in general improvement funding to pay for needed facility and program improvements.

Other Issues:
  • Big River Steel - A new steel mill in Osceola will be the state's first opportunity to land a super-project.  BRS creates more than 500 jobs and brings more than $1 billion in investment to the state.  The project found support from legislators around the state for this Northeast Arkansas project.  The Chamber supported the project and the state's investment of $125 million in incentives.  The Chamber thanks all those legislators that supported the Big River Steel project.
  • Private Option Healthcare - the major issue heading into the 89th General Assembly was how to deal with possible expansion of Medicaid coverage to 250,000 low-income Arkansans.  The likelihood of expanding Medicaid never found much support within the Republican majority of the House or Senate.  However, leadership in both parties negotiated an innovative compromise that uses federal Medicaid dollars to pay private insurance premiums for low-income Arkansans.  This plan is projected to save Arkansas millions in Medicaid matching funds while reducing uncompensated care losses at Arkansas hospitals and providing insurance coverage to many of the neediest Arkansans.  The Private Option plan originally conceived by Republicans John Burris, David Sanders and Jonathan Dismang truly proved to be the best solution to a difficult, complex issue.  The Chamber thanks all those legislators that supported this compromise legislation.
Referred Constitutional Amendments:
The General Assembly has the authority to refer up to three Constitutional amendments that will be placed before voters on the 2014 General Election ballot.  The year, the legislature picked these three out of a possible 38.
  • Issue 1 - Seeks voter approval to authorize the General Assembly to oversee state agency rulemaking.  This empowers the legislature at the expense of the executive branch.
  • Issue 2 - Seeks voter approval of an ethics, term limit, legislative pay and campaign finance laws.  This bill contains a little bit of everything.  It would allow state legislators to serve for up to sixteen years in any combination of terms in the House and Senate; eliminates most gifts and free meals for state legislators with a few exceptions; establishes an independent commission to set salaries for elected state officials and legislators; and eliminates corporate contributions to elected officials. 
  • Issue 3 - Requires citizen petition drives seeking to place questions on statewide ballots have at least 75% valid signatures when they are submitted for the first time.  In 2012, many proposed citizen initiatives had 60% or more of their signatures thrown out because they were not from registered voters or in at least one instance were fraudulent.  Despite this, these petition efforts still received 30 additional days to collect signatures simply because they turned in petitions.  If the proposed amendment is approved by voters any rejection of more than 25% of signatures would immediately eliminate the ballot question from consideration.  This would make it more difficult for citizen petition drives to receive enough signatures to be placed on the ballot.  A lawsuit has been filed to stop consideration of this issue.
Other Issues Approved by General Assembly:
  • Tax Cuts - in addition to the two manufacturing tax cuts, the legislature approved 1) a reduction in the capital gains tax on Arkansas investments and property, 2) a sales tax reduction on utilities for grain dryers and poultry houses, 3) a 0.1% income tax reduction, 4) future reduction in the sales tax on groceries, 5) income tax exemption for active duty military personnel and 6) sales tax reduction on sale of dental appliances and timber harvesting equipment.
  • Lottery Scholarships - early in the session, the General Assembly modified the state's lottery scholarship awards so that no matter the institution, qualifying students will receive $2,000 for their freshman year, $3,000 for their sophomore year, $4,000 for their junior year and $5,000 for their senior year.  This change places two-year and four-year institutions on the same level and rewards students who complete their degree.
 While these are just a handful of the 1,500 bills approved by the General Assembly, they are the ones that the Chamber focused on during the session. Thank you for subscribing to this email.  Your engagement in the political process is very important factor in ensuring the business community has a voice in determining bills approved by the General Assembly.

Please continue to check-in with our Chamber's advocacy website:  www.rogerslowellvotes.com  to stay up to date on federal issues and join with other Chamber members to participate in important advocacy efforts.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Arkansas General Assembly - Winding Down?

The legislative session is rapidly winding down. Maybe quicker than anyone imagined. More than a few people suggested that the General Assembly would adjourn on April 5, which leaves just two weeks to either consider the nearly 2,000 bills that remain on the table or disappoint a lot of legislators who didn't have a chance to have their bill heard. Of course the General Assembly won't consider them all, but they do typically pass around fifty or sixty percent of introduced bills so that would mean they would need to consider and approve more than 900 bills before adjourning. No way that happens by April 5.

One of the big stories for the past week was HB1418, which would have phased-in a transfer of sales taxes from vehicle-related sources (batteries, tires, car sales) from the state's general revenue to the Highway Department. As originally conceived the bill would have phased-in a gradual transfer of this revenue so that in ten years the Highway Department would have had nearly $400 million per year in additional funding to pay for maintenance and construction. The Highway Department's main funding source - the federal trust fund and state gas taxes - have been flat while the cost of maintaining and building new highways has skyrocketed. This disparity prompted the proposal to shift sales taxes to the Highway Department

Governor Mike Beebe and the state's institutions of higher education led a very spirited opposition to HB1418 because of their fears that any transfer of general revenue to the highway department would result in cuts to universities and community colleges. A number of other advocacy groups joined in the opposition and were able to strip away co-sponsors from the bill. The bill's sponsor amended the legislation a number of times to reduce the potential impact to higher education, but an acceptable compromise could not be reached. The Transportation Committee heard the legislation on Thursday and the normally quiet committee was transformed into standing room only as supporters and opponents took over an hour to argue the merits and drawbacks of the bill.

The bill required 11 votes to pass out of committee and on to full consideration by the House. After a roll call, the bill garnered ten yes votes - one short and HB1418 failed to advance.

Also this week, the legislature received a consultant's report on the viability of the proposed Big River Steel project. The House and Senate Agri/Economic Development committees meet on Monday to discuss the report and make recommendations on incentives. The state is being asked to issue $125 million in bonds to fund a $50 million loan to Big River Steel and use the remaining $75 million for site preparation and issuance costs. The state is also offering various sales tax exemptions and income tax credits estimated at more than $200 million.

In return, Big River Steel will build a $1.1 billion steel facility in Osceola that will employ 525 people at an average wage of $75,000. The success of the facility depends in large part upon the global demand for steel. The report projects steel demand will increase by 8.7 million short tons a year and the new plant has a capacity for more than 3 million short tons or approximately 1/3 of projected increase in demand.

So how does the state benefit from this investment? The state will collect additional income taxes from the 525 jobs created, collect sales tax from purchases made by the plant both during construction and operation and corporate income taxes from the company itself. The report projects that by investing $125 million in bonds the state will likely recover their investment plus earn a return of more than $50 million in sales, corporate and income taxes.

If this "modest level of economic benefits," as the report describes it, is enough to prompt the state to issue the bonds we shall likely see next week.

This week could also see an announced agreement on tax cuts. Media reports say that legislative leadership and the Governor's office are hinting that an agreement is close on up to $100 million in total tax cuts. With so many tax cut proposals introduced (in the billions if all were approved) there appear to be a few that have the most support. The leaders seem to be cuts to grocery, income and manufacturing-related taxes.

There is so much to be decided between now and the end of the session. They have to make a decision on Medicaid/insurance expansion for Arkansans earning 138% or less of federal poverty limits, cobble together a budget and consider up to three potential constitutional amendments. I can't imagine a more frenzied finish to a legislative session than what the 89th is going to experience.

If you want to see a list of committees, their members and pending legislation you can find that information HERE.