It’s a Great Time to Become an Urban Business Dweller

James M. Heffner

By James M. Heffner

With downtown St. Louis office vacancy now at 19%, landlords are being forced to compete aggressively and find creative ways to market their office properties.

Landlords have found they also have to create major incentives for tenants: everything from rent concessions to significant tenant improvement allowances.

If you are looking at moving your business, or if you are opening a new office, your best bet may be a move to downtown St. Louis.

Now may be a good time to be looking! Read more in this article from the St. Louis Business Journal.

Stepping Back. US MicroLending with Kiva: Raising Capital + Raising You

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger

When the usual suspects are rounded up to determine the reason for the decrease in start-ups and/or business failures in 2009/2010, in this author’s view, some blame must be placed on the business owner’s own failure to have introduced himself to his “better self” in the words of Napoleon Hill.

Bob Calcaterra recently noted this problem in the August 2010 Missouri Venture Forum Newsletter.

In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Experience,” he posits that all of us have an iron wire which he calls “Temperament” upon which the seeds of the individual are strung. He further argues in his essay “Compensation” that “strength grows out of our weakness and that indignation which arms itself with secret forces does not awaken until we are pricked and stung and sorely assailed.”

This veto or limitation power of adversity is the theme in the Summer 2010 Wilson Quarterly article “What Next for the Start- Up Nation” where the author speculates as to what attributes Israel start-up founders have that create so many successful start ups (persistence, mission critical focus, etc.) .

In twenty-seven years of counseling small businesses, I have found that the business owners who are the most successful are self disciplined, incredibly focused, hungry and have an iron will.

When one reviews the evidence of successful start-ups, one sees so many first and second generation Americans who will not give up. So, for those of you with the iron will or who want to develop that iron will by apprenticing at the bottom or “start where you are and build”, please check out the Microlending article in the New York Times. You will be introduced to, who has just started a pilot program lending to business owners in the United States. Remember, Microsoft was created in 1975, at the end of the first great recession since the Depression.

Who knows what will happen, you may become a Bill Gates.

ROBS transactions: the Department of Labor and IRS Regulation

Brian Weinstock

By Brian Weinstock

Recently, the Department of Labor advised that they are in the process of developing information to provide direction for Rollovers as Business Start-ups known by the IRS as ROBS transactions.

The IRS issued a memorandum on October 1, 2008 warning about potential pitfalls for ROBS transactions particularly related to prohibited transactions. Moreover, the Department of Labor and the IRS have indicated that a large percentage of ROBS transactions do not comply with federal rules and regulations with regard to tax-deferred retirement plans such as qualified 401k plans and IRAs.

According to Louis Campagna, Chief of the Fiduciary Interpretations Division for the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, the direction being produced by his department shall address the Department of Labor’s apprehension with regard to ROBS transactions initiated with rollovers from employer sponsored qualified plans and individual retirement accounts, such as 401k plans and IRAs, in order to allow a professional to assess whether the ROBS transaction could be a prohibited transaction.

The Department of Labor is concerned with the employer’s intent when the ROBS transaction is initiated.

Specifically, the Department of Labor needs to determine whether the ROBS transaction was initiated to implement a lawful way for employees to save money for retirement or is the ROBS transaction being used to shelter income for taxpayers who want to start a business or capitalize an existing business. The latter would allow for the taxpayer to withdraw funds from the C-corporation with the 401k plan for reasons unrelated to the business. If so, the taxpayer could withdraw funds, which where designated as tax-deferred, before they are allowed to be withdrawn tax free.

The IRS has their own concerns with ROBS transactions such as the valuation of the transaction and their compliance with other rules for qualified retirement plans which invest in employer stock, therefore the IRS may publish their own memorandum with respect to the issues they have concerning ROBS transactions.

Besides the complex rules and regulations governing prohibited transactions, another major concern for the IRS is the ability to “unwind” ROBS transactions which have violated IRS rules and regulations for qualified retirement plans. If a 401k plan participates in a prohibited transaction, the entire 401k plan loses its tax deferred status. Therefore, the entire 401k becomes taxable. Another major issue is deterioration of the initial ROBS valuation. Many small to medium size business holders remove cash from the entity for reasons unrelated to the business. This type of action can cause a decrease in the initial value of the ROBS transaction and violate prohibited transaction rules and regulations.

Time is of the essence with respect to hiring a professional to review your ROBS transaction in order to determine if there have been any violations of federal rules and regulations, such as prohibited transactions. The IRS has a self-correction program for 401ks which taxpayers can take advantage of before an IRS examination.

10 Ways for Companies to Stay Union-Free

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger

Your company has the opportunity to create a culture now that encourages informed, engaged, and productive workers that have little incentive to organize.

Create your own competitive advantage in your industry by taking the actions below so the union walks away from your workforce and shows up at a competitor’s door instead. Wage your election campaign now by thinking and acting proactively!

1. Competitive Wages & Benefits—Outside & Inside

Companies should evaluate wages of similarly situated employees of other companies to determine if their workers are being paid a competitive wage. Similarly, companies should analyze their internal compensation system (salary/wage ranges and rates) to determine if compensation is set for “position” rather than individual and whether a uniform approach is used for length of service and experience. If there are disparities that cannot be justified, they should be evaluated.

2. Communication with Employees—What are the Wants?

Companies should allow employees to communicate with management regarding complaints and concerns. Methods of communication include having open door policies when appropriate, surveys, suggestion boxes, bulletin boards, job orientation, forms which communicate to the employee various hidden employee benefits, and company events such as picnics and holiday parties. Continue reading »

Choosing The Best Franchise Model For You

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger

Today, approximately ten percent of franchises are owned solely by women and that percentage is steadily increasing. Women’s superior relationship skills shine in service businesses and women currently gravitate toward more female oriented franchise models such as hair salons, weight loss centers, flower shops, cosmetic companies, etc. Driven by the desire to start a small business in order to create more flexibility and control over their time and to be their own boss, the franchising model provides an exciting lure. Caution, however, speed bumps abound. Your entrepreneurial zeal should be tempered with a reality knowledge check supplied by due diligence performed by you, number crunching services performed by your accountant and perspective and negotiating advice provided by your attorney.

What to Expect from Franchise System

Although the franchise model is no guarantee, the model does increase your chance of staying in business. Banks are more willing to lend to franchisees, given that 80% of independent small businesses close within seven to eight years of opening, compared to an estimated 10% of franchisees. Why the deviation? Primarily because a good franchisor should eliminate, control or manage many of the common mistakes small businesses make. From a good franchisor, at the minimum, you should expect name recognition, quality control, site selection, training, operational guidance, advertising and promotion.

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Are All IT Jobs Exempt From Overtime Requirements Under the Fair Labor Standards Act?

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger

Most companies are under a common perception that all jobs involving computers are complex, require exceptional expertise and are therefore exempt from the requirement of overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Legally, this is not true. As a preventive measure, companies should audit their workforce to make sure that their information technology workers are properly classified. Failure to do so could cause companies to lose their exemption from paying overtime for all misclassified employees, payment of two to three years of back pay and the payment of double damages.

There are three possible applicable exemptions available to avoid overtime pay for information technology jobs. They are: (1) the computer related exemption under 29 CFR Section 541.400; (2) the administrative exemption under 29 CFR Section 541.200; and (3) the executive exemption under 29 CFR Section 641.100. This article will focus only on the computer related exemption.

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