Can rebranding green upgrades for homes produce an actual impact?

Our friends over at Green Goddess have a very interesting article for those in the green construction industry. Recently a study was conducted by the Berkeley National Laboratory that found that the term “audits” or “retrofits” made people think negatively about improving residential energy efficiency. The results, they say, should serve as a guide to the more than 2,000 towns, cities, states and regions with stimulus funding to spend on clean energy programs and with minimal experience to draw from.

A key partner for these programs should be the contractor workforce, the authors of the study said, because contractors know the marketplace for residential construction work and will be the “face” that customers see when they interact with the program. Ensuring that contractors are well-trained, they added, can help to avoid problems and consumer backlash.

But while the suggestion is that offering “energy assessments” and “upgrades” sounds good, will this change in branding make any difference for businesses?

Well, Tanya Stock of Green Goddess has some very keen thoughts on this question, which I’d advise you reading on Green Goddess. Her basic synopsis is that while such changes sound good on paper, the challenges for a business to totally change their style of branding (and possibly even their name) may come at a very high cost. In other words, things are not always as simple as they look. Not to mention that a fair number of potential customers already see energy improvements as costly improvements, even if in the long run they benefit from them.

Which leaves us with the question of what can the government and businesses do to better streamline green upgrades? Is this study enough to change things? That’s harder to answer. But if you are a green business or a business looking into getting into that field, I recommend viewing the study here and then reading Green Goddess’s good critical take on it.

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Bank of America will be expanding services for small businesses

Bank of America has gotten some grief that it doesn’t help small businesses enough, so they’ve decided to do something. The bank said Thursday that it was hiring 1,000 small-business bankers to work in branches throughout the country.

These new bankers aren’t going to be simply loan officers, they’ll be doing a fair amount for small businesses. According to BofA, they’ll reach out to local businesses with a variety of financial products and services, including bank accounts, payroll systems, pension plans and credit cards, along with loans.

“We really are expanding our capabilities and enhancing the service to small businesses,” Kerrie Campbell, Bank of America’s top small-business executive, said. “These folks will be in our local communities, living and working in the communities that they serve.”

The move is one of several such initiatives announced by the bank recently, including promising to increase lending to small and medium-size companies, and choosing its own contractors more frequently from among the ranks of smaller businesses.

In hiring the new bankers and placing them in branches — rather than in the office buildings where its commercial banking operations are located — BofA will be competing with the regional banks that currently serve most small-business needs.

The BofA pilot small-business programs will roll out over the next few months in Los Angeles, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington.

Most of the 1,000 bankers will be new hires to be brought on board in the next several months. They will be targeting companies with revenue of $250,000 to $3 million.

[LA Times]

$1.5 billion headed to states to help small businesses

Missed this late last week, but the Treasury Department on Friday announced a $1.5 billion lending initiative meant to help spur small businesses at the state level.

To receive funding, states have to demonstrate that for every dollar the federal government provides, they will generate $10 in new private lending, which will create an impact of $15 billion on the economy, the Treasury said.

Among the six states receiving the biggest allocations, California has the largest at $168.62 million, followed by Florida at $97.66 million. Michigan can receive up to $79.16 million and Illinois up to $78.37 million. Both New York and Ohio will each receive slightly more than $55 million.

This is of course in addition to the Small Business Jobs Act which went into law recently, creating a $30 billion small business lending fund for community banks and offering tax cuts for small businesses.

So is throwing more money at the problem a good idea? Let’s certainly hope so. As the old saying goes, you’ve got to spend money to make money.

Great news for those in the construction industry: A webinar on when the industry will rebound

It’s not often you have the chance to hear economic experts of your industry speak, so if you’re in the construction industry, mark down October 21st on your calendar right now. On that day expert economists from Reed Construction Data (www.reedconstructiondata.com), the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America (www.agc.org) and the American Institute of Architects (www.aia.org) join forces to host After the Fall: When and Where Construction Will Rebound a webcast focused on key factors affecting the recovery of the construction industry. This is especially important with the industry currently sitting at a 17.2% unemployment rate.

The webcast will follow chief economists Jim Haughey, Ken Simonson and Kermit Baker as they discuss and analyze:

– In which geographic areas has the economy started to improve, and which areas will be next?

– What construction sectors are likely to see the most growth during the next upturn?

– When will the nonresidential building starts pipeline refill and lead to a pickup in jobsite activity?

– Will the November mid-term elections slow or speed the construction recovery?

– What has happened to Federal stimulus dollars and can contractors expect to see more?

The webcast will be broadcast live starting at 2 p.m. (EDT). Registration is complimentary for all participants; pre-registration is required. Moderators will accept questions during the presentation from the internet audience and the webcast will also be archived for later viewing. Registrants may also receive 1.5 AIA CEU credits for attending this webcast.

To reserve your space at the October 21st webcast, register at: http://www.reedconstructiondata.com/events/2010/10/after-the-fall-when-and-where-construction-will-rebound.

The recession is officially over, and has been for a while. But how are small businesses doing?

Research has come out recently from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) that the recession ended in June 2009, which means we’re just over a year into the economic recovery of the United States. But how are small businesses doing? Well, that seems to be incredibly tough to answer. Scott Shane of Small Biz Trends, and Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University, looked into it over the weekend and the data he pulled was pretty scary when it comes to small businesses. Here is Shane’s quick summary about his study:

I’ve pulled together some statistics that show that:

  • Self-employment and new business creation are down
  • Fewer people are working at new and small businesses
  • Owner pessimism is up, with fewer business owners expanding sales and more experiencing cash flow problems
  • Fewer owners are making capital investments, hiring, or increasing compensation
  • More businesses are going under
  • Fewer businesses are having their borrowing needs met, and trade credit is down
  • Angels are financing fewer companies
  • Venture capitalists are investing less money in fewer deals
  • VC deals are smaller and valuations are rising at fewer companies
  • VC-backed companies are experiencing fewer exits and at lower valuations

His ultimate conclusion was pretty straightforward:

The story is very clear. Recovery or not, the economic situation for small businesses is still considerably worse than before the recession began.

Here’s Shane’s full PDF if you want to read the whole thing.

The problem is we’ve seen other studies that suggest pretty much the exact opposite thing. Intuit has a study saying there was modest growth in small businesses employment across most of the United States in September. Vistage, which is an organization of 14,000 small businesses CEOs, also had a study which said many small businesses are cautiously optimistic right now.

So who’s right? Every day we seem to get news that it’s one or the other. I think the problem is that it’s impossible to answer, but the good news is that the economy seems to be starting to move in the right direction. As that happens, the hope is that small businesses will follow suit. And with the increase in government loans, hopefully more and more small businesses will get jump started and back on track.

Construction Industry Hits 17.2% Unemployment Rate in September

Some sobering news for the construction industry has just been released. The number of people working in construction is approaching a 14-year low after the industry lost 21,000 jobs in September. The current unemployment rate for the entire industry is at a stunning 17.2% according to an analysis of federal employment figures released by the Associated General Contractors of America.

So how bad is it?

“It has taken less than four years to erase a decade’s worth of job gains as the industry suffers from declining private, state and local construction demand,” says Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “No other sector of the economy has suffered as much for as long as construction.”

Simonson also said that the 5.6 million people working in construction today is barely higher than the 5.59 million people who were working in construction in August 1996. Not much to show for in 14 years.

Most of September’s construction job losses came from the nonresidential sector as demand for commercial facilities and infrastructure projects remains weak. Residential construction lost 2,500 jobs last month while nonresidential construction lost 18,100 jobs. Nonresidential specialty trade contractors were the hardest hit, having lost 19,500 jobs in September.

While federal rollouts have assisted the construction industry, their benefits are basically temporary, and questions remain about when and if construction companies will start hiring again.

“Construction firms aren’t going to start hiring again until they can predict how busy they’ll be,” says Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s CEO. “Frankly it is hard for contractors to make any business decisions when they don’t know how much they’ll make or how much they’ll owe.”

There was additional bad news in San Diego at the 11th annual survey of owners conducted by the Construction Management Association of America and FMI. According to the survey, America’s construction owners have significantly reduced their in-house design, engineering and construction management staffs during the recession, and don’t expect to return to prior staffing levels for many years, if at all.

This is without question a very difficult time for the construction industry and begs the question, what can the industry do?

Construction Employment in US Near 14-Year Low [California Construction]

17,000 more businesses are now eligible for SBA programs

Some tremendously good recent news for small business owners. Yesterday, the Small Business Administration instituted changes in small business size standards for the retail, hospitality, restaurant and “other services” industries. This change will make 17,000 more businesses eligible for SBA programs, including loans and preferential treatment for federal contracts.

According to the Washington Business Journal, this change in small business size standards for the service industry is a part of the SBA’s new approach in better defining who exactly is considered by the federal government to be a small business. Over the next two years, the SBA will complete its update in the rules, which have not been overhauled since 1980s.

The question now is who is going to benefit the most from this?

According the Journal, car dealers will be a major beneficiary of the change in size standards. The standards for dealers will be shifted from a maximum sales-based measurement (previously $29 million in average yearly sales) to an employee based number of 200 workers. The Journal estimates this will make 5,700 more dealerships across the country eligible for the SBA’s programs.

The SBA has also adjusted upwards the size standards for hotels, (limited-service) restaurants, cafeterias and food service contractors with the effect of making more than 2,000 businesses in these sectors into eligible small businesses.

So what does this all mean? Well, more more money for more businesses means more hiring and more growth. That’s always excellent to see.

[At the SBA, Size Definitely Matters]

Is social media helping your small business?

One of the hot topics in any line of business right now is social media. We’ve taken a look at it a few times already. While there are certainly pros and cons to social media, the general reaction to it seems to be primarily positive. But what are your thoughts on it?

Well, you now have the chance to weigh-in on it. Symantec is currently running a quick 10-question survey that let’s you answer questions about how social media is going for your small business and how productive you feel it has been. Symantec has said that they will post the results on their Social Media Center page once the survey is complete. We’ve already taken it and will post the results once they appear.

[Symantec Small Business Social Media Survey]

Modest growth in small business employment in September

We keep hearing about how the economy is maybe, possibly sort of beginning to turn around. But are small businesses turning around too? Judging by a just released study about small businesses by Intuit, the answer is yes.

According to Intuit’s study, 27,000 small business jobs were created in September.

The monthly report found that small business employment grew by 0.14 percent in September, equating to a 1.6 percent annual growth rate. The revised growth rate for August shows that jobs increased more than previously reported – a 0.19 percent increase instead of 0.13 percent, or 2.4 percent on an annual basis.

While growth was not as high in September as it was in August, the fact that small businesses are seeing continued growth – however modest – is a good to see. The September and August employment growth translates to approximately 66,000 new jobs nationwide. Since the growth trend first began in October 2009, small business jobs have increased by an estimate of 430,000.

While jobs are slowly increasing, hours worked and compensation remained relatively flat. The average weekly hours worked by employees was at 105.3 hours (+0.03%) and average monthly compensation dropped to $2,602 (-0.15%).

If you want to see how employment was spread out throughout the US, here’s a slide from Intuit’s study broken down region.

[Intuit Study on Small Businesses]

Can social media usage become profitable for small businesses? Yes, it can.

It’s only a natural question that small businesses would ask themselves “Does it make sense for me to get involved with social media?” It has the potential to pull you away from other work that needs to done, and sometimes it leads you down a rabbit hole.

But a new study seems to suggest that social media usage can in fact be profitable for small businesses.

Via Small Business Trends:

In June of this year, they [Network Solutions] worked with the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business to survey 500 small business owners by telephone.

According to the Small Business Success Index (download PDF report here), 20% of businesses actively use social media.  The top 3 social sites they use are Facebook (82%), LinkedIn (38%) and Twitter (30%).

Of those who use or may use social media, it’s roughly a breakeven proposition for at least half of them today.  But they have positive expectations for the near future, when 57% expect to profit from their social media activities within the next 12 months.

Here’s a graph of the expectations by these small business, in terms of what they expect social media use to result in after another 12 months.

Whether or not these profits through social media come to pass, one thing is quite clear: Social media is not going anywhere and it is not a fad. Small businesses see social media as a way to market themselves, make connections, and even make sales. And it makes sense. If social media is done properly by a small business, it is not a time suck, it costs almost no money and it can greatly expand your influence. It still has its pros and cons, but social media is something all small business should be getting involved in.

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