GCP Backs Occupational License Review, Anti-Predatory Business Claim Legislation

As “lame duck” session kicks into high gear in Columbus, the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) is advocating on behalf of the Northeast Ohio business community on various fronts.  Among the many initiatives being considered, before the 132nd Ohio General Assembly breaks by the end of the year, are two separate bills GCP recently presented proponent testimony on.

The first would offer a regular review of Ohio occupational licensing boards and regulations and another responds to the issue of individuals filing predatory claims against businesses for technical violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

SB 255 would require the legislature to review occupational licensing boards regarding their sunset and the non-partisan Legislative Service Commission could perform assessments of occupational licensing bills and state regulation of occupations.  Licensing in Ohio has resulted in business people spending hundreds, in some cases, thousands of dollars to earn a license to begin their career.  This can be damaging – particularly for small businesses – for entry into the market and competition.  Click here to read GCP’s testimony on SB 255.

HB 271 seeks to protect its original intent, which is to provide ADA accessible facilities.  GCP unequivocally supports the ADA’s mission and charge.  In addition, this legislation strives to prevent abuse of the ADA, particularly in instances where demand letters are sent to businesses for minor and unnoticeable violations of the act.  Click here for our full statement on HB 271. 

Want to learn more about how you can get involved on the policy issues that impact your business?  Click here.

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  • Next up: GCP CEO Joe Roman Moderates Discussion With U.S. Small Business Administrator

    GCP CEO Joe Roman Moderates Discussion With U.S. Small Business Administrator

    On February 7, Linda McMahon, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), took part in a discussion with Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) President and CEO Joe Roman at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C).  Among the GCP small business members in attendance were National Small Business Association Board Chair Sharon Toerek, SBA Regulatory Fairness Board member Keith Ashmus, and Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE) Advisory Board Chair John Young.

    Dr. Alex Johnson, Tri-C President and GCP Board member, got the conversation started by welcoming the SBA Administrator back to Cleveland.  Roman moderated the conversation with Administrator McMahon which covered topics ranging from the recent State of the Union address to the empowerment of some of northeast Ohio’s most valuable resources – entrepreneurs that innovate and contribute to a thriving economy.  In Ohio, nearly 945,000 small businesses employ 2.2 million people or 46 percent of the private workforce.

    Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose were also on hand to provide remarks, discussing the importance of the regular inspection of government regulations for small businesses and the relatively low cost associated with filing and starting a business in Ohio.  

    The group capped off an informative morning with a tour of the college’s Manufacturing Technology Center.  The center houses workforce, community and economic development programs associated with manufacturing and health care industry solutions.

    Want to learn more about GCP small business advocacy priorities in 2019 and beyond?  Click here

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  • Next up: GCP Members Recommend 2019-2020 Advocacy Priorities

    GCP Members Recommend 2019-2020 Advocacy Priorities

    The mission of the Greater Cleveland Partnership is to mobilize private-sector leadership, expertise, and resources to create attractive business conditions that create jobs, grow investment and improve economic prosperity in the region. GCP releases a member-driven public policy agenda every two years.

    Growth and innovation will require a continued focus on fundamental priorities:

    1.) An Adaptable Government and Public Sector;

    2.) A Sustainable & Predictable Tax & Regulatory Environment, and

    3.) Talent Development & Retention to Advance Business Growth.  Forging an inclusive and equitable region will continue to be a fundamental part of GCP’s priorities. Below is a summary of the 2019 – 2020 GCP Public Policy Agenda.

    An adaptable government and public sector

    • Protect and renew the Ohio Third Frontier program.
    • Provide grant assistance for brownfield redevelopment based on site strategies and connection to major job hubs.
    • Explore possible JobsOhio enhancement in Cleveland and other metro areas of Northeastern Ohio—built off the complimentary approach established between JobsOhio, TeamNEO, and GCP in 2017.
    • Maintain investments in the Ohio New Market and Historic Preservation Tax Credit program.
    • Create a statewide Opportunity Zone to compliment the federal program in underserved communities.
    • Restore state general revenue funding for public transit.
    • Encourage municipal shared services policies to continue and evolve.
    • Protect Ohioans’ data and transactions with sustainable, user-friendly processes for government interactions – permits, certificates, licenses – through secure technologies.
    • Guard the Ohio Constitution via greater petition transparency.

    Sustainable and predictable tax and regulatory environment

    • Implement greater government efficiencies without shifting tax burdens from one group of businesses to another.
    • Preserve the Ohio small business tax deduction on the first $250,000 in business income.
    • Lower or maintain the commercial activity tax (CAT) rate and uphold the exemption level.
    • Encourage entities that seek to alter a tax structure to adhere to GCP’s new levy protocol.
    • Reduce the complexity of regulatory compliance utilizing new or existing processes.
    • Expand the Ohio Common Sense Initiative (CSI) with proper legislative oversight.
    • Support and monitor the public review of occupational licensing boards.
    • Ensure employers are not prohibited from establishing and enforcing a drug testing policy, drug-free workplace policy, or zero-tolerance drug policy.

    Talent development and retention to advance business growth

    • Audit Ohio’s workforce development and job training programs to assess performance and determine what “flex” funding is available to steer towards priority opportunities.
    • Support the scale and growth of industry sector partnerships through an RFP process in core industries like advanced manufacturing, healthcare, infrastructure, and information technology.
    • Maintain the Job Creation Tax Credit program.
    • Increase funding for incumbent workforce training.
    • Develop a population growth agenda to assist in retaining Ohio’s best talent, including supporting the creation of immigration hubs in key regions of the state.
    • Reestablish the Minority Business Advisory Council (MBAC) and include representation from JobsOhio leadership.
    • Review the Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and Encouraging Diversity, Growth and Equity (EDGE) programs for necessary legislative and regulatory reforms.
    • Encourage state funded organizations to achieve a minimum of 15% spending with minority businesses.
    • Create additional opportunities and improve access to early-stage and working capital—particularly for small and minority businesses statewide.
    • Support long-term immigration reform at the federal level in addition to comprehensive H-1B visa reform that increases the number of visas for highly skilled talent.

    Fundamental priorities

    • Advocate for LGBTQ protections that add gender identity and sexual orientation to the protected classes under civil rights laws.
    • Continue to support the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools.
    • Oppose any efforts by the legislature to discontinue the Historic Preservation Tax Credit or convert it into a block grant.
    • Support reauthorization of the EB-5 program in the short-term and permanency long-term.
    • Support the development of transformational public projects, such as development along the lakefront and Cuyahoga River, including Irishtown Bend and the Flats; Opportunity Corridor and the W. 25th Street Corridor, including the MetroHealth Campus Transformation project; and support for the Great Lakes through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
    • Support business expansion and development opportunities at NASA Glenn Research Center.
    • Create a state Office of Military and Federal Affairs to ensure a single point of contact for Ohio on defense and federal asset issues.
    • Obtain commitments for an international air service attraction fund to attract a direct flight to Europe on a full-service airline.
    • Preserve Ohio’s CyberOhio Advisory Board and enhance technology industry support services and resources.
    • Encourage policies that provide incentives for utilities to offer businesses opportunities that leverage energy efficiency programming; recognize it is equally important utilities are provided the level of elasticity needed to meet state mandated energy benchmarks.
    • Support Medicaid expansion in Ohio.
    • Study health care mandates that limit an employer’s ability to offer coverage.
    • Improve the solvency of Ohio’s unemployment compensation system.
    • Guard workers’ compensation safety education assistance and transitional work programs.

    Collective action and partnerships

    • Continue to lead and engage with state and national coalitions that advance GCP’s work.
    • Grow the GCP Political Action Committee (GCPPAC) by building and reinforcing relationships and supporting candidates and current elected officials at the state and local levels of government.

    Read the full agenda.

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  • Next up: GCP's Federal Tax Reform Priorities

    GCP's Federal Tax Reform Priorities

    Leadership in Washington continues to signal that Congress will attempt to tackle the first set of comprehensive tax reforms since the 1980’s. The final results are far from a finished product, but House and Senate Republican leaders recently crafted and unveiled their nine-page tax reform framework, in coordination with the Administration.

    Members of the Greater Cleveland Partnership believe a thoughtful, balanced, and competitive tax environment is critical to the success of our economy and that any reforms made must be all-inclusive and benefit all sectors of the business community.

    Corporate tax reform is essential to growth. And the GCP was encouraged the tax plan aims to cut the corporate rate and lower the top individual rate.

    It is equally important to recognize most small businesses are organized as pass-through entities—they file taxes through the individual income tax code instead of the corporate income tax code.  Therefore, the GCP is optimistic that the proposed tax framework strives to cut the rate for pass-through entities.        

    A tax overhaul and a long-term federal tax plan that results in parity for all business sizes and that incentivizes investment and employment must be realized. Having the tools—such as the New Market Tax Credit—to advance transformational physical development in the City of Cleveland is also crucial. Our membership recognizes the importance of this resource as the GCP has partnered with organizations in the past to secure the successful passage of a five-year extension of the federal New Market Tax Credit program, a financing option that has been instrumental for development in low-income communities.   

    The House Ways & Means Committee has set an ambitious timeline and will aim to mark-up and vote on legislation before Thanksgiving. The GCP will continue to represent our members’ interests throughout the debate and advocate for comprehensive federal tax and entitlement program reform.  

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  • Next up: Geeked Out Marketing

    Geeked Out Marketing

    The way you run your business is the ultimate branding campaign. Here are four ways business owners can leverage their ultimate marketing advantage.

    The way you run your business is the ultimate branding campaign. Here are four ways business owners can leverage their ultimate marketing advantage.

    Robert Stephens started Geek Squad with $200, a cell phone and a bike. He made house calls doing what felt right: helping people with their problems and making them feel less intimidated by technology. In 1994, this was a big deal because technology was hitting home in a big way.

    “I started Geek Squad within a month of the first Web browser coming out,” says Stephens, who had been fixing computers for a different company in his hometown in the Twin Cities after earning a computer science degree at the University of Minnesota. (He dropped out of the Art Institute of Chicago to pursue his passion for the technical.)

    Stephens didn’t have a marketing budget when he launched his homegrown venture. He had drive and an idea. “I grew up with Star Wars and we had a computer in the 1980s—I was always taking things apart as a child, and I also liked helping people,” he says, relating how this business launch seemed like the natural thing to do.

    The meager seed money that Stephens poured into the business blew up into an estimated $1billion to $1.5 billion during a 20-year period, and Geek Squad today is the largest tech-support organization with about 24,000 employees, referred to as “agents.” Stephens sold Geek Squad to Best Buy in 2002 and continued to serve as its CEO and the chief technology officer of Best Buy until 2012, when he left to pursue other entrepreneurial projects.

    Geek Squad might be the biggest part of the Best Buy brand. But there was no marketing stunt in mind when Stephens started the tech services firm, known for its white-and-black VW Beetles and “agents” wearing white shirts and black ties. “For me, the cars and uniforms are not marketing gimmicks,” he says. “The business operations is the marketing.”

    “Helping people is the best advertising,” he adds.

    How you conduct business, the way you provide customer service, how you present yourself on the street is what creates the brand. Even how you answer the phone. “All of those things paint pictures for customers,” Stephens says, adding that when he started Geek Squad, he couldn’t afford a graphic designer to create a logo anyway.

    “I had to do those things myself,” he says, adding that businesses have access to a range of tools today to market their organizations. “This is the era of YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and other social media that are advertising channels.”

    Here, Stephens talks about how business owners can leverage their ultimate marketing advantage: business strategy and uncommon customer service.   

    Helping is timeless. Technology gets outdated—fast. But customer service is always relevant and in demand. If you ask Stephens, he’ll tell you Geek Squad isn’t really a tech business. It’s a helping business. “There is a tech aspect, but it’s also a lot like a small restaurant or a boutique hotel where there is a lot of customer experience that goes along with it—showing up on time, dressing nice, and helping regular people feel comfortable with technology and not feel overwhelmed,” he says.

    Build trust. People open their doors for Geek Squad. They invite agents into their homes, expose their data and share their problems. Customers are a little vulnerable—they’re also overwhelmed and looking for answers. Earning trust is critical to growing a service business, and Geek Squad adopted a flat rate fee structure to show customers their intentions were to solve problems, not run up a large hourly bill for tech services.

    “Flat rates were a way to build trust early on,” Stephens says, relating this removed risk for customers who took a chance on hiring Geek Squad.  And, when Geek Squad agents meet with customers, they listen. “Every time we touch a customer, we are learning more about what they want—we are seeking insight,” Stephens says.

    Hire bright people. Geeks love to learn about technology. So training for skill was not a big focus for Stephens and he knew he could teach anyone to fix computers. “But I can’t train people to be nice and to care about customers,” he says. “Either you do or you don’t.  I would always hire for the qualities I could not train for, and the three most important traits are curiosity, ethics and drive.”

    Curiosity is essential because agents must solve problems. And, they must care about learning more about the customer, Stephens says curiosity is the No. 1 trait for successful businesses in the 21st Century.

    Ethics are critical because of the nature of Geek Squad’s business, working in customers’ homes. And drive is the persistence to do it right. “Everyone has had services where they don’t get it done right the first time,” Stephens says. “You don’t have to be perfect, but you have to have the persistence to get it right and not drag your feet.”

    Solve problems. What are you really selling? If it’s just the technology, you could be obsolete by the time you finish reading this article. Focus on the customer and their needs. Find out what makes them tick—what do they want to do better. “You’re not selling a drill, you’re selling a hole on the wall, so focus on the hole the customer wants because the drill might not be the answer,” Stephens relates.  “Maybe you need a hole-punch, or a sideboard with a hole already cut in it—sometimes you have to think more broadly.”

    Be responsive. “The easier you are to talk to as a business, the more business you will do,” Stephens says. That’s why messaging is the best technology advance to come around since the Web browser opened up the World Wide Web in 1994, he says.

    Stephens explains: “Right now, if you use Google Maps or Yelp, the only way to interact with a business is to call that business, and that’s quite inefficient—it ties employees up on phone lines, and does anyone really believe the call is being recorded for quality? But if you can text a picture of your problem and see a copy of that message, that’s a persistent conversation. Facebook messaging is free, and I encourage every business to use it.”

    This article was originally featured in the July/August 2015 issue of the COSE Update.

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  • Next up: Tips for Your Business: Generate Revenue by Selling Soft Cost Savings

    Tips for Your Business: Generate Revenue by Selling Soft Cost Savings

    Competing on price is extremely difficult to do. Thus, businesses need to find ways to add value, along with competitive pricing, to stand apart from the competition and succeed in today’s economy. “When it comes to cost savings, most organizations focus on hard dollar amounts,” says Sara Schweda, director of client solutions for Group Transportation Services (GTS), a third-party logistics provider in Hudson. 

    Competing on price is extremely difficult to do. Thus, businesses need to find ways to add value, along with competitive pricing, to stand apart from the competition and succeed in today’s economy. “When it comes to cost savings, most organizations focus on hard dollar amounts,” says Sara Schweda, director of client solutions for Group Transportation Services (GTS), a third-party logistics provider in Hudson. “In today’s competitive environment, companies strive to do more and perform better while keeping operations lean. Positioning your company as the partner to help a client achieve these goals is an opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competitors and generate additional revenue streams for your business.” 

    Small businesses can leverage their portfolio of services and highlight their largest assets – their people and technology – to stay competitive. While each of these benefits is considered a “soft cost,” they stress the real value received in saving both time and resources. “Investments in service and technology result in substantial ROI for clients, but in order to sell these you must not only understand the clients’ processes and operations, but also the objectives that have been set as a company and direct your focus to helping the client accomplish them,” says Schweda.

    Assigning a dollar value to items such as time savings, ease of use, or even customer service can be done if there is an understanding of the time and resources involved. “We include this process review in our onboarding,” notes Schweda. Ask clients how they use data to make strategic business decisions across multiple business units. “Hard dollar savings is by far the most attractive differentiator in decision making, but soft cost evaluations can provide additional value while increasing your service offerings to the client.”

    This article originally appeared in the July 6, 2015, edition of Small Business Matters.

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