GCP Questions Timing on Bag Ban

GCP is supporting an amendment to delay the implementation of the Cuyahoga County Council proposal to ban retailer use of plastic single-use bags.  Last month, Cuyahoga County Council members introduced an ordinance that would ban single-use plastic bags countywide—with specified exclusions. The ban is poised to pass Council later this month with an effective date of October 2019. This action follows an emerging trend in the states of California and New York and municipalities across the country with similar bans. Meanwhile, many states (including Michigan and Indiana) have preempted local authority to regulate these types of containers. An amendment is expected in Council this week that would delay implementation of the ban pending further examination.    

Cuyahoga County needs to do more work to study the potential impact of this ban, including the environmental and pollution impact. Alternatives to plastic bags may be more harmful to the environment and there needs to be more analysis on whether a ban would reduce pollution, particularly in Lake Erie. Cuyahoga County needs to do more to educate the public and retailers need more time to address the administrative burden of operating under a different regulatory framework in Cuyahoga County and to address the new associated costs on their business.

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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: GCP Small Business Member Testifies in Support of Business Income Deduction

    GCP Small Business Member Testifies in Support of Business Income Deduction

    On May 23, GCP member Michael Stanek, co-owner of Hunt Imaging and Cleveland Cycle Tours, testified in support of preserving the small business income deduction, which is slated to be reduced by 60% in the current biennial budget proposal, House Bill 166 (HB 166). Under the proposal, the amount of business income entities may deduct from their Ohio taxes would be reduced from $250,000 to $100,000. In addition, the proposal eliminates the flat 3% rate for qualified income above $250,000 and increases the rate to almost 5%. Stanek, who also served as the former Board Chair of the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), reiterated GCP’s support for various other budget proposals, but urged the Senate Finance Committee to consider the growing amount of feedback that GCP continues to receive from members related to this policy.

    GCP has supported the business income tax deduction since its inception because it allows small businesses to reinvest in their companies and employee compensation. GCP has also been a long-standing advocate for a sustainable and predictable tax and regulatory environment. From the time this deduction was enacted in 2013, it has undergone a series of legislative changes that have continually altered its impact on small business owners and their ability to plan for the future and grow. “My companies have consistently used our tax incentives to try to position ourselves for long-term success and stability,” Stanek stated in his testimony, highlighting several investments that have allowed both his companies to grow and expand into new markets. 

    GCP has called on its small business members to consider signing a letter to demonstrate their concern over the proposed changes. If you would like to show your support for the preservation of the small business tax deduction, you can opt-in to sign GCP’s letter here.

    You can read Michael Stanek’s full testimony here.

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  • Next up: GCP Testifies in Support of Benefit Corporations

    GCP Testifies in Support of Benefit Corporations

    Senate Bill 21 (SB 21), supported by Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) and introduced by Sen. Matt Dolan, allows a business to be classified in Ohio as a benefit corporation—a corporation whose purposes includes having a positive effect or to reducing one or more negative effects of an artistic, charitable, cultural, economic, educational, environmental, literary, medical, religious, scientific, or technological nature for the benefit of persons, entities, communities, or interests aside from shareholders. 

    Benefit corporations often consider and balance the impact of their decisions not only on shareholders, but also on their stakeholders and their communities.  In addition, many benefit corporations offer annual benefit reports that assess their overall social and environmental impact.  According to provisions within SB 21, benefit corporations would not receive special government incentives to operate for a beneficial purpose and they are subject to all the other requirements imposed by Ohio law on for-profit corporations.

    More than 30 states have passed legislation related to benefit corporations.

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  • Next up: GCP Weighs In On Hemp Legislation

    GCP Weighs In On Hemp Legislation

    On April 30, the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP), provided written testimony in support of Ohio Senate Bill 57 (SB 57), which seeks to decriminalize hemp and hemp products by excluding them from the definition of marijuana that is used to enforce controlled substance laws.  The latest federal farm bill, enacted by Congress, removed hemp the Controlled Substances Act list, allowing states to regulate it. 

    The bill prohibits the State Board of Pharmacy from listing hemp or hemp products as controlled substances and requires the state Director of Agriculture to establish a cultivation and processing program.

    In his testimony, Sante Ghetti (Vice President, Government Advocacy) emphasized that GCP membership sees merit in aligning state and federal laws relating to hemp and allowing for a responsible, reputable hemp market with the potential to expand jobs and increase prosperity in Ohio.

    SB 57 cleared the Ohio Senate unanimously and is currently being reviewed in the House Agriculture & Rural Development Committee.

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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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