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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Stand for Business

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)
Jeff Rea

I feel compelled to defend the interests of the business community. Businesses seem to be thrust into the middle of so many important conversations happening today at the local level, the state level and across the country. For example, presidential candidates can’t help but bring up business interests at every campaign stop, and the interests of business are at the center of some of the most contentious debates in the Statehouse.

Daily, we celebrate the success of businesses starting, adding a location, growing, hiring more people or doing other good things for the community. At the same time, we often condemn businesses that haven’t been successful, have closed, downsized or decided to move elsewhere. Recently, critics also have been targeting those that make a profit.

Generally, business owners are the people who live next door to you, pass you on the street or sit next to you at church on Sunday. They are ordinary people, trying to make a living, hoping that they have a product or service that customers will ultimately buy.

Business owners are people who have taken great risk to launch their venture. Many have come up with a new idea or a better way to do something. Others have an idea for an improved product. Some have identified a need in a particular geographic area that is missing. Business leaders see an opportunity then figure out how best to seize that opportunity.

Many business owners have tapped their life savings, leaned on their friends and family, mortgaged their home, dipped into their retirement, or robbed the kids' college fund just to get started. Some will experience great success, and enjoy the fruits of their labors and the rewards that go with that success. But about half will lose everything trying to make a go of it.

History is filled with business leaders who failed at first, like Akio Morita (Sony), Bill Gates, Colonel Sanders, Frank Woolworth, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Walt Disney. All found success after initial failures.

Businesses do want to make money, and don’t and shouldn’t have to apologize for that goal. If they make money, they stay open, they grow, they expand, they hire more people and they invest more in the community. If they don’t make money, the opposite happens.

To make money, they rely on customers. If customers aren’t buying their goods and services, they aren’t making money. There is great competition for customers, no matter what industry you are in. People have a lot of choices related to where, when and how they buy goods and services. Businesses will do whatever they can to attract and retain customers; they know consumers have a lot of choices.

To make money, they also rely on employees. There is fierce competition for employees, who have a lot of choices these days about where to go and who to work for. Businesses know that good employees make all of the difference, and every effort needs to be made to attract and retain top talent.

In the end, my hope is that people will remember the important partner that our businesses are in the growth and the development of our communities. Businesses are critical to growth and development of our local economy. We can’t vilify them; instead we must find ways to support them and champion them, and create a climate where they can grow.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Do We Expect Too Much from Elected Officials?

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)
Jeff Rea

Our expectations of our elected and appointed leaders are great, and they should be. At the same time, I think those expectations can be unrealistic.

Do more with less. Fix that deficit but don’t cut those important things. Adjust to rising costs, but make sure it doesn’t cost more. Educate our kids. Fix our roads. Keep my neighborhood safe. Provide quality recreational opportunities at little to no cost. Make sure you’re open at hours that are convenient.

We see those expectations playing out in the daily news as the community wrestles with change. The sale of the Elbel Golf Course is a good example. The city has looked to sell the course that is outside the city and has been a drain on the city budget. Opposition has gathered to stop that action and opposes any sale or lease, though no plan includes revenue to fund any different path.

We’ve seen it play out in many other examples, ranging from bus routes to library hours, from after-school programs to vote centers, from police protection to 911 service. We demand great things from our government and from our schools. It costs money to deliver those things citizens demand.

Our area is embarking on some challenging times. We’re now less than four years away from the full implementation of property tax caps in our area. Already, we’ve seen the belt tightening as taxing entities prepare for significant revenue losses. That belt tightening has led to some efficiency, but a lot of resistance to changes that leaders have suggested as necessary.

The rest of the state is ahead of us. Property tax caps were implemented in 2008, and made part of the state Constitution in 2010. Hoosiers approved the caps that limit property tax bills to 1 percent of the assessed value of homes, 2 percent for farms and rental properties and 3 percent for businesses. St. Joseph and Lake counties were given an extra 10 years to implement the caps.

More than 70 percent of the people voted to place those caps in the constitution, an overwhelming mandate from the public for lower costs and more efficiency from our governments. Estimates at the time were for more than $500 million in annual savings to taxpayers.

The loss of tax revenue has forced city and county governments and schools to consider consolidation options. In many areas, government units have eliminated some services. Local governments are also looking at revenue-enhancing tools such as other taxes and higher charges and fees where possible.

We see similar dialogue at the national level, where we demand lower taxes and a reduction in the budget but don’t want any changes to things like national defense, Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare, or other important programs. We see this at the post office, where despite losses well into the billions, we demand services at the same level we see today.

So how do we fix it? It’s essential we have quality leaders willing to make the hard decisions. Our businesses make those hard decisions each day.

This is an important year for us to select those leaders, with elections that impact you at every level, ranging from president all the way to school board. It’s critical your voice is heard by way of your vote.

Then we have to trust and support those leaders to lead. Yes, we have a responsibility to hold them accountable, but let’s make sure our expectations are realistic. And if we disagree, we have to come with a real plan. Second guessing isn’t a strategy.

Source: South Bend Tribune