Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency

Lately, I've had frequent occasion to use the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) to search for financial and tax incentives related to energy efficiency and renewable energy.

This site from the North Carolina Solar Center and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, provides a "comprehensive source of information on state, local, utility, and federal incentives that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency." It has been updated to reflect incentives in the Recovery Act, and I feel pretty confident in their coverage.

There's also a page of links with the major renewable energy, green building, & government sites, and a library of "green" energy policy papers, reports and presentations.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

USDA Launches New Country Web Pages

From the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service

In an effort to expand information available to exporters, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) has added country pages to its Web site. Grouped into four regions – Western Hemisphere, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and Asia and Oceania – these country pages provide essential demographic, economic and political information.

The new country pages will allow users to find comprehensive links, all in one place, on import requirements for each country, as well as travel and market information, the status of trade negotiations, trade development and important contacts.

In addition, the FAS Web site includes many searchable databases providing export, import, production, supply, and distribution data, as well as export sales reports and market reports from U.S. agricultural trade experts stationed in 97 offices around the world.

Monday, April 27, 2009

GPS - Not Just for Getting Around

I'm not sure how many of y'all read Entrepreneur magazine, but here's an article from their April issue that describes how GPS is used as a money-saving device. Bar owners use it to keep track of just how their inventory is being used. Those with vehicle fleets use it to track how efficiently their sales & maintenance calls are being run. Restaurants use it to maintain proper portion sizes. Companies exist that provide this service to businesses, and they have found a niche that seems to be growing. It might be worth looking into for some of our clients.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Professional development is good! And fun!

Forgive my late blogging – I’ve just gotten back from the spring meeting of the Upstate New York Special Libraries Association meeting, right here in Albany. Our topic was “Career Building and Staying Relevant in Trying Economic Times" and we had a great variety of speakers, focusing on professional growth and managing your career. We had an information professional focus, but these topics are helpful for anyone, no matter what industry or employment status.

These aren’t new totally new ideas, but it’s nice to be reminded and reinvigorated. Here are just a few things that I came away with today:

  • Say “yes” to new opportunities, even if they are scary. Volunteer for them even.
  • Spend a small amount of time, one hour a week, focusing on career development and building your network.
  • Evaluate your skill set and compare it to what today’s job postings are looking for, even if you’re not on the job market. Determine professional development opportunities to fill in your gaps.
  • Be proactive. When times are tough, don’t just hunker down and hide your head. Figure out what you can do to make yourself invaluable in your current job or the perfect job candidate.

Professional development is a beautiful thing. And on that note, I can’t wait to see the SBDC folks in Kerhonkson!

NYS Department of Labor

On April 16, the New York State Department of Labor released March 2009 statistics on unemployment. Below is information from the website, along with links to valuable reports.

"Since March 2008, the number of nonfarm jobs (private plus public sectors) in New York State decreased by 165,900, or 1.9 percent, and the number of private sector jobs decreased by 161,600, or 2.2 percent. Additional industry detail is presented in the table below."

Industries With Job Gains:
Educational & Health Services (+ 30,100)
Other Services (+ 1,300)

Industries With Job Losses:
Trade, Transportation & Utilities (- 51,300)
Manufacturing (- 37,000)
Professional & Business Services (- 36,400)
Financial Activities (- 30,200)
Construction (- 24,300)
Information (- 9,300)
Government (- 4,300)
Leisure & Hospitality (- 4,300)
Natural Resources & Mining (- 200)

"New York State's unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) was 8.1 percent in March 2009, down from 8.4 percent in February 2009. In March 2008, the rate was 5.0 percent."

Occupations With the Most Expected Hiring in New York State

Long-Term Occupational Projections 2006-2016 New York State

New York State Loses 33,000 Private Sector Jobs in March 2009
- More Than 40 Percent of Jobs Gained During 2003-2008 Expansion Are Erased.

Contact a Labor Market Analyst - Contact information for 10 locations throughout the state: Statewide Trends, Capital District, Central New York, Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley, Long Island, Mohawk Valley, New York City, North Country, Southern Tier, and Western New York.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's Too Easy To Be Green

There was an article in the April 2, 2009 Wall Street Journal entitled What Do Labels Really Tell You? - As Eco-Seals Proliferate, So Do Doubts by Gwendolyn Bounds. From the article:
As green marketing has proliferated, so has the number of "eco-labels" competing to be the environmental equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. According to the Web site ecolabelling.org, there are more than 300 such labels putting a green stamp on everything from cosmetics and seafood to bird-friendly coffee...

Some label programs...require independent verification of product manufacturers' green claims. But many others don't, partly because of cost and manpower, they say.

The result: increasing confusion among consumers about the veracity of green marketing promises and a growing sense that the federal government may need to take a stronger role in shaping standards people widely recognize and trust...

Some advocating a federal role point to organic food as a potential model; under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "National Organic Program," the government now sets labeling and certification standards. But with food, it took decades of competing efforts in the private marketplace and at the state level...

At the heart of the dilemma: What does it really mean to be green? Is having some recycled content enough, and if so, how much? Is something biodegradable still green if it travels a thousand miles to reach shelves? And if a green product doesn't perform as well as its nongreen peers, is it really preferable?

Equally important: Who, if anyone, should ensure green claims are valid? A soon-to-be-released study...found that in every product category, there was "green-washing" -- ranging from outright lying about green claims to simply providing no proof.


The most useful information was the sidebar, Green-Label Roadmap.
These 15 green-label programs are recognized as good benchmarks by experts and retailers such as Green Depot and Office Depot. They include:
Cradle to Cradle *
Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label/Green Label Plus **

*Article cites http://www.c2ccertified.com/, which was not working as of this writing.
**Article cites main page http://www.carpet-rug.org

Monday, April 20, 2009

Venture Capital Investments Down in 1st Quarter of 2009

This week, I handled three separate requests for SBDC clients to locate venture capital firms who might be interested in their business concepts. This might be just a coincidence, or a reflection on difficulties each had in pursuing "conventional" lending avenues.

Regardless of why it happened, it was a disconcerting coincidence to also read this week a press release from the National Venture Capital Association (whose website provides links to data cited in the release). It's a five-page document, but the gist of the message is grimly summed up in its title:

"Venture Capital Investment Plummets in Q1 2009 to 12 Year Low"

The decline was consistent across all the industries measured in the report, as well as across every business development stage.

The comments of Mark Heesen, president of the NVCA, are meant to provide reassurance:
"While this drop in investment is significant, we are not forecasting levels to continue to fall further. We would expect a mild and steady increase in investment throughout the rest of the year, particularly if the exit pipeline is allowed to clear."

Stay tuned . . .

Friday, April 17, 2009

A little help from our (technological) friends

Idea of the week: digital babysitters.

It’s time we used technology to protect us from ourselves. Ever heard of drunk dialing? Know anyone who has made a call or sent a message when they really should have held back? Forgive my Apple commercial reference, but now, there’s an app for that.

I heard a piece on the radio this morning from American Public Media’s Marketplace Morning Report on this very subject. One ingenious entrepreneur is selling a popular iPod application that prevents you from calling particular contacts during a period where you might be… out of it. And this product is not alone – Google’s “Mail Goggles” will ask you to complete math problems before allowing you to send a late-night email!

Listen to or read the story here: "Technology can save you from yourself"

And what about things that you should do? Email reminders are nothing new, but how about getting a message when the moisture content of your houseplant’s soil is too low? Yup, Botanicals will let you know when your plants are thirsty.

So what will they think of next? I like it when technology makes our lives easier in little ways.

So you want to start a small business?

For the past four weeks, I have blogged about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. I don't know about you readers, but I need a change of pace. I recieve weekly emails from multiple business blogs and websites and when an article or guide catches my eye, I save it for future use. Today's blog contains general information on starting a business.

Evaluating Your Business Idea - From the Missouri Small Business and Technology Development Centers. This 22 page pdf provides questions for you to answer to help solidify your business idea.

SBA Small Business Planner - Includes sections devoted to planning your business, starting your business, managing your business, and, as a last resort, getting out.

Small Business Startup Trends - Kauffman Firm Survey. "The KFS dataset provides researchers (and entrepreneurs) a unique opportunity to study a panel of new businesses from start-up to sustainability, with longitudinal data centering on topics such as how businesses are financed; the products, services, and innovations these businesses possess and develop in their early years of existence; and the characteristics of those who own and operate them." Although the data is from 2004-2005, the information provided is still valuable to individuals starting a business.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

!&$#@&% Retail Buyers!

Why are retail buyers as hard to locate as secret service agents? We have a shiny (and fairly new) directory of stores that promises buyer listings for a wide range of stores in the US which it only partially succeeds in providing. Even a 2009 edition has listings already out of date since apparently no-one stays in these positions for very long. Isn't this position comparable to an editor at a publishing house? I am sure editors are hounded by barely literate "authors" but still we can learn their names. Why not buyers? They must trust themselves very well to be on the cutting edge to catch wind of any trend on their own, not to want to be contacted by the young and innovative. It makes sense to me then why retail departments don't seem to change very much.

The Chain Store Guide has apparently responded to user demand by creating an online version of their directory that updates weekly. Obviously I am not alone in my frustration.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Business Dynamics Statistics

Noted by our colleagues at the Hill Library:

Where can you find data on how many US businesses open and close each year and the impact this has on the economy? Where can you track firm age, firm size, and firm performance over time at state and national levels?

The Census Bureau recently launched Business Dynamics Statistics (BDS) to track the changing landscape of entrepreneurial activity in the United States. BDS tracks business activity, annual changes in employment, and growing and shrinking businesses. It includes unique information on firm age and firm size and tracks firms over time. BDS currently includes data for 1976-2005.

So use Business Dynamics Statistics today to access data for your industry or region.

Friday, April 10, 2009

ARRA - The Numbers

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was signed by President Obama on February 17, 2009. The bill contains $787,000,000,000 worth of relief funds. Below is information on how that money will be allocated, both at the federal and state level.

Where is your money going?

$288B - Tax Relief*
$144B - State and Local Fiscal Relief**
$111B - Infrastructure and Science
$ 81B - Protecting the Vulnerable
$ 59B - Health Care
$ 53B - Education and Training
$ 43B - Energy
$ 8B - Other

* Tax Relief - includes $15 B for Infrastructure and Science, $61 B for Protecting the Vulnerable, $25 B for Education and Training and $22 B for Energy, so total funds are $126 B for Infrastructure and Science, $142 B for Protecting the Vulnerable, $78 B for Education and Training, and $65 B for Energy.

**State and Local Fiscal Relief - Prevents state and local cuts to health and education programs and state and local tax increases.

New York State is expected to receive $24.6 billion of the federal stimulus package.

New York's Share:

Federal Stimulus Spending Provisions That Impact New York
(preliminary state/local two year estimates, $ in thousands)
State Fiscal Relief National Total New York
Medicaid - FMAP Increase $87,000,000$10,986,000
State Fiscal Stabilization - Education Restoration $39,524,000$2,500,000
State Fiscal Stabilization - Other Government Services $8,793,000$556,000
State Fiscal Stabilization - Education Incentive Grants $5,000,000TBD
Sub-total $140,317,000 $14,042,000
Infrastructure and Energy
Transportation: Mass Transit $8,400,000$1,245,000
Transportation: Highways & Bridges $27,500,000$1,120,000
Transportation: Rail $9,300,000TBD
Transportation: Air $1,300,000TBD
Transportation: Discretionary Surface Transportation $1,500,000TBD
Clean Water State Revolving Fund $4,000,000$435,000
Drinking Water State Revolving Fund $2,000,000$85,000
Weatherization$5,000,000$404,000
Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant $3,200,000$31,000
State Energy Program $3,100,000$126,000
Broadband Access & Expansion $7,200,000TBD
Science Facilities, Research, Instrumentation $9,000,000$450,000
Nuclear Waste Cleanup $483,000$75,000
Environmental Programs $900,000TBD
Sub-total $82,883,000 $3,971,000
Health and Human Services
Health Information Technology $19,000,000TBD
Public Health Programs $1,000,000$60,000
IDEA for Infants & Families $500,000$25,000
Food Stamp Benefit Increase $19,900,000$1,289,000
Food Stamp Administration $291,000$30,000
WIC Program Administration $500,000$34,000
Senior Nutrition Program $100,000$7,000
Homeless Assistance $1,500,000$142,000
Child Care Block Grant $2,000,000$100,000
Child Support Administration $1,000,000$34,000
Title IV-E Programs (Foster Care/Adoption Assistance) Unknown$107,000
Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) $1,000,000$110,000
SSI - One-time Payment Unknown$166,000
Workforce Investment Act (WIA) $3,950,000$174,000
UI Benefit Extension & Administration $27,150,000$1,256,000
UI Modernization $7,500,000$442,000
Employment Services $400,000$23,000
Vocational Rehabilitation (Title I) $540,000$28,000
Rehabilitation Services & Disability Research $140,000$7,000
Neighborhood Stabilization Program $2,000,000$49,000
HOME Investment Partnerships $2,250,000$245,000
Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) $1,000,000$103,000
Public Housing Capital Fund $3,000,000TBD
Public Housing Retrofits $1,000,000TBD
Section 8 Retrofits $2,250,000TBD
TANF Block Grant - Emergency Fund $5,000,000$7,000
Sub-total $102,971,000 $4,438,000
Education
Title I $13,000,000$940,000
IDEA/Special Education $12,200,000$760,000
Head Start & Early Head Start $2,100,000$130,000
Pell Grant Increase $15,600,000$180,000
Enhancing Education Technology $650,000$61,000
Education for Homeless Children & Youth $70,000$7,000
Teacher Incentive Fund $200,000TBD
Sub-total $43,820,000 $2,078,000
Public Safety
Byrne/JAG$2,000,000$107,000
Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) $1,000,000TBD
Homeland Security - Fire Station Construction $210,000TBD
Other Public Safety Programs $990,000TBD
Sub-total $4,200,000 $107,000

Grand Total*

$374,191,000 $24,636,000



* Does not include approximately $90 billion in other federal spending items included in the Act which do not impact New York or cannot be quantified.



Sources:
- Bulletin on the Impact of the 2009 Stimulus Package on New York State
- New York State Information Related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Saving Money

Either for financial or ecological reasons, more and more businesses are looking at ways to save energy and money. Most people by now have seen the The latest Entrepreneur Magazine has a feature articles called "Frugal is Back" by Tiffany Meyers that looks at ways companies can cut costs. Some suggestions are to turn off computers at night to save approximately $825 annually, switch to CFL bulbs and save $400 annually.

Another article here:

Five Ways to Save Money (Layoffs Not Included)
By Darren Dahl
Inc.com
Nov . 11, 2008
This article offers some different methods to reduce costs for businesses.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Advertising ROI

Wondering what kind of advertising will give you the most bang for your buck? Of course there’s no magic formula, but the following resources can help you compare advertising media and choose which is right for your next campaign. Keep in mind that several of these resources come from industry trade groups with an interest in promoting their medium.

Media CMP Comparison (from the Outdoor Advertising Association of America) Looks at the advantages and disadvantages of television, cable television, radio, newspapers, magazines, yellow pages, direct mail and the internet.

Radio Advertising Bureau: Media FactsRAB's new Competitive Media section gives you complete access to the latest information profiling 10 competitive media. Each profile contains a complete whitepaper as well as the advantages, disadvantages and plus Radio for each medium.”

Radio’s ROI Advantage (2005 – From the Radio Ad Lab)
A comparison of television and radio ROI.

Making Better Media Decisions (Advertising Research Foundation)
The report is designed “to encourage media planners and buyers to use explicit estimates of performance in choosing media, replacing feelings, last year’s plan or common practice with measurements. In short, its goal is to advise advertisers and their agencies on what measurements to use to make better media decisions.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Library of Congress on YouTube

On a non-small-business-related note, this blog post from Wired cites the new channel on YouTube that's hosted by the Library of Congress. The LoC has an extensive film and video collection, but only 70 such items are currently available on YouTube. However, it's pretty cool to see the first recorded image of a human being in motion (from Thomas Edison's archives).

More stuff from LoC will follow. For now, a pretty neat novelty.

And now, back to the business of our blog . . .

The American Dream

Don't know about you, but I've been a bit beat up by bad economic news and a desparate need to make heads or tales of the economic stimulus on the micro level. Not to mention that taxes are due next week.

So I was interested to find out how the economic crisis has affected the American dream. "Have American behavior and values shifted in the past year? The third MetLife Study of the American Dream set out to determine American attitudes and perceptions in light of our current economic situation and the ongoing erosion of traditional corporate and social safety nets. The study surveyed a cross-section of U.S. adults, in all generations and ethnic groups, to find out how lives have changed—and how the American dream itself has changed—in the past year.

"The results show an American dream that has been revised, not reversed. Americans are resetting their priorities, and the dream is now buoyed by pragmatism rather than consumerism."

Friday, April 03, 2009

Microloans

As the press is using stronger harsher words to describe the state of the economy, solutions to help small business may come in smaller packages. Here are a few on the growing popularity of microloans.

Microlenders Widen Their Client Base
Amid Tight Credit Market, More Firms Look Beyond Banks for Financing
By Anjali Cordeiro
"No loan is too small for small businesses these days."

Microloans
Entrepreneur Magazine
When you need only a little cash to grow, it's time to check into microloans.

Micro-loans for Americans?
Non-profit Kiva.org plans to launch system of small loans in the U.S.
Fortune Magazine
By Jeffrey M. O'Brien
March 23, 2009

Federal Contracts - Who Got What?

I was asked earlier this week to find out who got a contract for a specific service within a specific Congressional district. Normally, these questions fill me with dread. I've never had a reliable source that kept up-to-date information on awardees of Federal contracts, presented in a fairly easy-to-understand format.

It was very surprising, then, to discover USASpending.gov. Its mission has a tinge of populism about it:

"Have you ever wanted to find more information on government spending? Have you ever wondered where Federal contracting dollars and grant awards go? Or perhaps you would just like to know, as a citizen, what the Government is really doing with your money."

Well, as a matter of fact, earlier this week I was very interested in knowing what the Feds did with a specific contract. So, I navigated the site, and arrived here:

http://www.usaspending.gov/fpds/index.php?reptype=a

Note the left-hand side. It allows you to search for contract awards by a specific company name,
geographic location, Federal agency (or subagency), or a product or service.

If you have a client who is interested in Federal procurement, this can be a handy site to allow them to discover when a contract was recently awarded, and for how much. It doesn't provide any insight as to whether the contract will be up for renewal (for that, go to FedBizOpps.gov), but it does indicate when the current contract expires, and whether any set-asides existed when the contract was put up for bid.

There's a lot to this site, but it's worth a look.

(This site is also one of many Federal procurement-related sites that were summarized by the Mohawk Valley SBDC, which now reside on the NYS SBDC website, here:
http://www.nyssbdc.org/services/procurement/Procurement-federal.pdf)

New York and ARRA

Last week I blogged about Small Businesses and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This week I would like to blog about ARRA and how it will effect New York State. NYS will be recieving at least $600 million dollars for labor-related relief. Below are links to articles and websites that explain how this money will be allocated, what New Yorkers can do to recieve assistance, and where to get more information.

New York State Information Related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

NY Leaders Detail Stimulus Spending

In New York, Stimulus Project Planning Under Way

Stimulus Funds Offer Relief to City and State

Stimulus Money Wipes Out $1.3B in NY Taxes

New York Survey Shows Only 27% of Small Business Owners Approve of New $787B Stimulus Bill

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Happy April Fools'

I can’t say that I particularly enjoy April Fools' Day. I choose to think that I am a trusting person who takes people at their word, rather than call myself totally gullible. As you might guess, April 1 puts me a bit on edge.

Do you love the thrill of a April Fools' joke? The internet is on your side. For some of the best from this year, check out Wired’s Finest Internet Jokes for April Fools' Day 2009. Maybe next year your joke will make the list, and create some nifty viral marketing opportunities...