By Marshall Kirby, Policy Analyst

As a citizen, the debate over budget cuts and the fiscal crisis has permeated throughout the media.  The one thing all sides agree on is that something will need to be done to shore up America’s fiscal position sooner rather than later.  It seems hard to believe that a decade ago discussion of the US deficit raised little concern even from well respected “deficit hawks.”  However, over the last ten years, our country has consistently spent far more than it received in revenues.  This has led us to the point where even those analysts who believed that America’s fiscal position was strong have now raised their eyebrows with regard to our country’s long term budget sustainability and solvency.

Right now, Republicans and Democrats both acknowledge the situation and the need to produce meaningful budget cuts.  However, Republicans have seized momentum from the political wind and have put forth a budget in the House of Representatives which puts through deeper cuts in non-defense discretionary spending than the President’s own budget.  Both the Administration’s budget and the one put forth in the House have received a lot of criticism with a mix of praise.  Deficit hawks and Tea Party supporters have praised the House budget, and less hawkish analysts also concerned with education and infrastructure have been sympathetic towards President Obama’s.

I’d venture a guess based on polling numbers from various news agencies and organizations that the average American is fairly concerned with America’s and their own state’s deficit problems.  At the same time most are more deeply concerned about the economy, growth, and employment.  Coming out this week in the Washington Post (article can be viewed here) was a report by Mark Zandi, an economist at Moody’s which has predicted that if the House budget were to become our nation’s budget 700,000 jobs Read the rest of this entry »

three-tips-for-entrepreneurs.jpgEvery time a grocery bagger said paper or plastic, Margaret Moss would cringe, envisioning the stashes of used bags in her car or kitchen.

Her yearning to go green eventually led to a business idea: a set of reusable bags that fit into a handy pouch. In 2009, after investigating consumer camping gear and experimenting with an old sewing kit, the mother of triplets launched Repax Bags LLC with partners Sammie Bohn and Valerie Fischer.

The Metairie, La.-based company is still tiny, bringing in annual revenue of about $30,000 in 2010. But it has succeeded in winning shelf space in Whole Foods Markets, Louisiana supermarket-chain Rouses and other U.S. grocery stories. Sets retail for about $20 and include four machine-washable bags, which can each hold up to 20 pounds.

As with many new entrepreneurs, every day is an adventure and brings new learning experiences, Moss says. Here are three lessons from her journey she shares with other new business owners.


1. Don’t look too far ahead.

It’s important to let your inspiration for the idea keep you motivated toward successfully creating the final product. For Repax, each new step brought big challenges but also brought creative solutions. If you look too far ahead, it can be overwhelming, so stick to the task at hand and find the best solutions for now.  Read the rest of this entry »

Susan Armstrong and her husband, Ray, run a $1.5 million (sales) roofing and construction company in Pinckney, Mich. After 23 years in business the couple relies on a patchwork of bank lines and credit cards, with interest rates from 12% to 15%. When the housing market crashed in 2008, the Armstrongs began looking for a loan, backed by the Small Business Administration, which would allow them to consolidate at a lower rate.

Two months ago Ray Armstrong entered his contact information on a website that looked like it was affiliated with the SBA. The next day he was contacted by a representative from a South Jordan, Utah outfit called Funding Universe. The rep said that for $99 Funding Universe would assess the Armstrongs’ financial situation and connect them with one of the company’s consultants. After reviewing the initial workup the consultant said he would pair the Armstrongs–for an additional fee of $2,600–with an appropriate lender and prepare their loan application. “He said that we were in a very good position to get this loan, and it shouldn’t be a problem,” says Susan Armstrong. “They told me everything I wanted to hear.”

After putting the fee on one of her credit cards, Armstrong says she came across scores of complaints from Funding Universe clients who claimed the company was a scam. Alarmed, she tried to cancel her order the next day. After a week of back and forth on the phone, the consultant told her she could get a 75% refund. She says she hasn’t heard from the company since. “I just want my money back,” she says. Read the rest of this entry »

By Marshall Kirby, Public Policy Analyst

There has been a lot of media attention paid to the plight of cities in the Midwest, Rust Belt, and other areas which have experienced the economic hardships which come with deindustrialization.  The recession has hit these areas hard, and has increased the hardships faced by their residents with increased unemployment, lower wages and incomes, higher poverty rates, and increased reliance on public assistance programs.

However, there has not been a lot of attention paid to the Sunbelt – or the region of the country which was supposedly where jobs and economic growth were most stable.  However, in many cities and counties across the Sunbelt, which stretches across the southern US from east to west, the poverty rate has jumped faster and more significantly than any other region.  The Sunbelt is not alone as areas which were experiencing rapid growth like the Mountain west and the Pacific Northwest have experienced similar trends.  While poor inner cities in the Midwest like Detroit and those in the Northeast like Buffalo and Newark still have higher poverty rates, the trend is definitely noticeable and trickling out into once booming suburbs in the south and west.

Some explanations of this phenomenon can be seen as specific to the particulars of this recession.  For instance, those who have studied this note several concurrent and related problems with areas in the Sunbelt and the west.  Both areas have seen a significant fall in property values, and the current economic climate has impacted suburban areas due to fewer opportunities available to them (compared to major cities).  The major trend is that these areas developed and grew from the housing bubble, which fueled not only the construction industry in these regions, but also service sectors. Read the rest of this entry »

facebook-like.jpgThere you are, busily marketing your business or brand through social networking and suddenly you’re experiencing a rash of unsubscribes, unfans, unlikes or unfollows on your email, Facebook or Twitter accounts. What’s going on here? It’s like that old Righteous Brothers hit, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” Only this time around it’s not a mid-60s teenager who’s hurting — it’s you!

ExactTarget, an Indianapolis-based interactive marketing services provider, has released “The Social Break-up,” a report exploring why consumers terminate their relationship with businesses and brands through these three major social media channels: Facebook, Twitter and email marketing. Much like a romantic relationship, social network bonding begins with an initial attraction, whereby the consumer becomes a subscriber, fan or follower. But what is it that prompts that same enamored person to unsubscribe, eliminate their “Like” status or just ignore communications from your business completely?

In the case of email marketing, the trigger that prompts 54 percent of consumers to unsubscribe is when the offending company bombards a subscriber’s email with too many marketing messages. Another 49 percent opt out when your content is boring. Becoming overwhelmed by email in general accounts for 47 percent, and those who say the content was never relevant from the beginning makes up 25 percent of unsubscribers. Read the rest of this entry »

By Marshall Kirby, Public Policy Analyst

Almost everyone knows America is facing a fiscal and budget crisis.  Years of spending more than was brought in have now caught up with us, with some help from a recession.  You’d be hard pressed to find an economist or policy analyst who would argue that this is not a major concern for the economy and nation as a whole.  However, you do find debates in the policy solutions legislators propose.  Should we make serious cuts in budgets to reduce the deficit, or do we make gradual cuts given that we still are in the midst of high unemployment and economic uncertainty?  There are serious and sound arguments that each side can make.  But when it comes down to it, there needs to be a sound strategy of what we can realistically cut without producing negative short, mid, and long term implications for the economy at large.

This is where many people get frustrated (including myself).  There are a lot of things that the government spends on that are wasteful, just as there are many valuable programs that promote growth and important social causes.  However, this does not help in quantifying these areas – in fact we live in a highly partisan time and each party’s anathema is the other’s idea of a successful program.  However, it seems in the past few weeks that Democrats and Republicans have found some bipartisan common ground – albeit with a frightening proposal.

Senators Mary Landrieu and Olympia Snowe both on the Senate Small Business Committee, have formed a cross party alliance and have drafted a letter already sent to Small Business Administration head Karen Mills.  The leaders request that Ms. Mills come up with programs which can be “cut” or “eliminated” without hampering the ability of the SBA to operate and serve the Small Business Community.  Both Senators in the past have been avid supporters of the SBA and of promoting small business interests.  It seems even stranger in that the previous decade was marked with reductions in the budget.  In 2006, the budget was $440 million, down from 2001 when it was $674 million.  To President Obama’s credit, he restored some of the SBA’s funding in 2010 bringing it $687 million (this is a nominal increase, but when accounting for inflation, it represents still a lower proportion of funding than in 2001).  The stimulus bill did provide additional money for small business loans, but with that funding drying up, the future is uncertain for the types of programs and loans it will be able to deliver to business owners and entrepreneurs. Read the rest of this entry »

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The following article was published after Gov. Fortuno’s State of the Commonwealth address on Tuesday night.  His address highlights many areas in which the current administration has taken drastic measures including:  Energy through a new natural gas pipeline, restored and retained credit rating to the island, huge budget cuts reducing the deficit, and a measurable reform to the tax system.  But have the changes been felt by the island’s people?

By : JOHN MARINO, Caribbean Business

Gov. Luis Fortuño used his State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday night to highlight his administration’s achievements, telling Puerto Ricans that “in only two years, we have completed our pledge of bringing you a true change of good government.”

The governor said that his administration inherited a government on the verge of insolvency and in two years managed to:

— Stabilize government finances

— Pay off more than $1.5 billion in past bills

— Reduce the $3.3 billion budget deficit by 75%

— Save Puerto Rico’s credit rating and with it thousands of jobs, and the values of homes and individual retirement accounts

— Get positive ratings from credit rating agencies

The governor also discussed several of the reforms his administration instituted over the past two years, including creating a new permit system that makes it easier for everyone, but especially small and midsized businesses, to expand, grow and create jobs, and instituting an energy reform that will reduce Puerto Rico’s excessive dependence on foreign oil in favor of cleaner and safer sources such as natural gas, solar and wind. Read the rest of this entry »

Establishing a presence on Facebook is as important for your business as setting up a website was, say, five years ago. The problem is, just like launching a website, setting up your company’s Facebook business page is not exactly intuitive.

Of course, the basic steps of setting up a Facebook business page are, well, basic. You just register your page, invite friends and customers or clients to “Like” your page and secure your unique page username or short address — that is, Facebook’s web address, slash your company’s name (e.g. http://www.Facebook.com/yourcompanyname). But there’s a lot more to creating an enticing business page than just slapping your logo on it, adding a few coupons and hoping customers and potential clients will stumble across it.

To go beyond the basics, brands, corporations — and even celebrities — have been chomping at the bit for Facebook’s recommendations on consultants who can help enhance or create a more engaging Facebook business page — replete with contests, customer questionnaires or even adding on Facebook-integrated social features to their own websites. Read the rest of this entry »

As many as one in 10 Americans can’t get Internet connections that are fast enough for common online activities such as watching video or teleconferencing, and two thirds of schools have broadband connections that are too slow to meet their needs.

Those are some of the conclusions from the Commerce Department as it unveiled a detailed, interactive online map showing what types of high-speed Internet connections are available — or missing — in every last corner of the country.

The national broadband map, which was mandated by the 2009 economic stimulus bill, went live last week at http://www.broadbandmap.gov with both lofty aspirations and utilitarian goals. Government officials hope the map will help guide policymakers, researchers, public interest groups and telecommunications companies as they seek to bridge the digital divide in even the most remote reaches of the U.S. They also hope the map will serve as a valuable tool for consumers who just want to find out what local broadband options are available where they live. Read the rest of this entry »

Puerto Rico received $26 million from the Commerce Department to develop access to broadband service on the Caribbean island, the U.S. territory with the slowest Internet connections.

Carlo Marazzi, whose company, Critical Hub Networks, Inc., was awarded the contract to undertake the project in Puerto Rico, will help the island reduce the gap in broadband access.

Marazzi took advantage of the presentation of the Puerto Rico Bridge Initiative project in San Juan to emphasize that it was not acceptable for the U.S. commonwealth to have broadband Internet service that is 78 percent slower than the U.S. national average.

The company chief noted that currently in Puerto Rico only 31 percent of the public has Internet access via broadband service. Read the rest of this entry »

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