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Innovation Is Key

September 27, 2017

History will show that every time the United States’ free market system was met with economic crisis, innovation and technology was ushered in at the 11th hour to save the day. Our great nation and its free economy have faced over forty-seven recessions since its conception. Advances in farming technology allowed us to overcome the challenges an economic engine, which depended on agriculture production in the late 1700s. After the Civil War, it was the race to connect America coast-to-coast that spurred on the age of the railroads. Evolutions in manufacturing processes and the spread of available electric power allowed for hard goods to cost less and be readily available on demand in the late 1800s.

After World War I, it was the ignition of the automobile industry that transformed the way we travel. Globalization was a result of World War II, which followed the aches and pains of the Great Depression. The airline industry age of the 1960s and the computer age of the 1980s—all heroes which save our nation from the brink of economic disaster. The Information Age of the 1990s and today’s Digital Age provided significant employment opportunity and replaced many of the lost jobs of yesteryear, allowing for those that lost their previous career position a chance to transition to new employment. Behind each revolution was technology and innovation; conveniences that allowed us to do things better, faster and at a lower cost.

Today, our country faces yet another critical fiscal crisis. Economists that provide statements that were are not in a recession are dead wrong. Our nation’s debt is the highest in history, with the U.S. Debt Clock now showing a U.S. National Debt of just over 17 trillion dollars in the red, and a total U.S. debt just over $61 trillion dollars in the red, it does not take an economist to realize that we need innovation and technology once again to step up to home plate and hit a home run. While Wall Street might be on fire, experiencing record highs and seeing peak profits, it is a very different picture on Main Street U.S.A. In order for our national debt to be cleared today, each U.S. citizen would have to cut a check for $56,000, and each taxpayer would need to shell out another $151k for us to clear the slate.

The White House and advocates on the hill are calling for a national increase to minimum wage, raising the current hourly rate from $7.25 per hour to $10 per hour. Participants in the “Minimum Wage Economy” labor force want $15 per hour. Skeptics and the opposition to the minimum wage hike argue that such a large increase will slow down the even slow economy and deter small business owners from expanding their operations or hire any additional help. Advocates for the minimum wage hike say that the majority of the available jobs are minimum wage low paying entry-level jobs, jobs that cannot sustain the very households that provide the labor. Both sides of the argument are still missing the bigger picture . . . even by raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour is not going to make an impact on paying down $17 trillion in national debt.

My question is this, if we demand a higher standard of wages or revenue, then why are we settling for mediocrity? Are going to undermine the value of a tradesman or professional who spent years refining their craft or expertise so that we can feel good about giving everyone and “equal” footing? What about demanding a strong national industrial policy that breaks all the barriers that are holding back new job creation from industry sectors relating to technology and innovation? Why are we not considering sun setting regulation that stifles small business and deter them from hiring local employees instead of penalizing them for frivolous victimless civil matters? Why don’t regulators sit down and coach small businesses on how to navigate through the regulatory landscape instead of crushing their dreams with over-burdened enforcement action? Why are we not revisiting trade policies that allow for the balance of fair trade instead of free trade? Most of all, why are incentives provided to companies that take jobs off U.S. soil and we over tax and over regulate the companies and businesses who choose to stay behind, because it the right thing to do?

I could go on and on about policy and the regulatory landscape, but in the mist of it, we need innovation to swoop in like Superman and save the day.

Technology and innovation that creates hard goods, hard goods that need to be manufactured, can provide employment opportunities for skilled workers who have had to settle for a minimum wage job. No other industry can provide for such saving grace than the green industry and the tech arena. With public policy mounting in line with the available selection of product lines aimed at environmental mitigation, energy conservation, and efficiency, are products and market segments which not only provide jobs, but economic benefits to consumers, if they embrace them. Early market adoption of community based, value creating technology will allow for yet another wave of local and regional job creation to take hold. In addition to skilled labor for manufacturing, the green industry provides a platform for accountants to provide energy audits and surveys. We have already seen the transition of construction workers who have become trained and readied to install solar and LED technology. Retrofit technology and innovation in the emissions industry and fuel economy movement offer jobs to technicians who lost their jobs during the General Motors and Chrysler dealer consolidations.

The new-found riches in natural gas, light sweet crude and advances in propane for auto gas (even with the controversial practice of fracking) have giving the United States the ability to replace foreign fossil fuels with domestic supplies. Other local businesses have been stimulated as a result of domestic energy exploration, such as trucking, construction and real estate. With massive reserves of natural gas waiting to be extracted, the U.S. now has a value export besides consumer goods to offset trade balances and debt. Coal still used in other parts of the world can still be mined from high yield areas such as Pennsylvania and Kentucky and can still keep these traditional mining jobs alive, yet again creating another commodity ready for export.

The digital media age still yields vast opportunities. Content creation and content management focuses on targeted users within a specific geographic and/or demographic audience. These jobs are jobs that can be filled with folks that base skill sets derived from journalism and traditional media backgrounds; marketing and advertising professionals, communication and cable industries; as well as workers from the computer era, retrained and updated on new technological delivery devices that give direct content to consumers. Behind the scenes I/T networking jobs are still in high demand; this time instead of tying together the web of desk top computers, it is become a job of mobile device management, integrating the thousands of apps and connecting tens of millions of end users. Design and functionality will continue to thrive as we the consumer asks for style, convenience, and information at the very tip of our fingers when we want it.

No matter the technology, innovation is the key to jump starting Main Street again. These jobs can fill local store fronts and vacant space. Main Street is counting on us to believe in it again. Micro industries and micro economies are a valuable tool to reinvent ourselves. With unemployment at an all-time high (sorry but the statistics do lie), all options to create free market free economy jobs need to be on the table. Who will step up to the plate and be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, or who will be the next Elon Musk? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, as history will demonstrate, innovation will prevail just in the nick of time.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy and public policy concerns. He is also a career entrepreneur who currently is the CEO/President of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in Sparta, New Jersey. Burlum lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in a number of areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management and systems integration. He is also author of the books, The Race to Protect our Most Important Natural Resource and Life in the Green Lane – in Pursuit of the American Dream.

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Comprehensive Tax Code Reform- Where We Really Need to Begin with the Reform

January 15, 2018

Source: As the federal branches of government push for comprehensive tax code reform, some critical areas of focus have been overlooked. We shall examine the other side of the coin which include government revenue and spending.

As the Senate, Congress, and the White House push the agenda to bring a new comprehensive tax code reform bill into law, it is important to know that there has not been a restructuring of the current tax code since 1987. Since that time, tax code reform has been a layered process, with changes introduced in a piecemeal fashion, as the market, economy, and government spending changed. These updates have been added one layer at a time, with little or no removal of former rules.

With over 30 years of piecemeal methodology, this Congress, Senate, and Executive Administration has an opportunity to strip away the layers of irrelevant or dated regulatory policy, and streamline the tax code to be more effective, precise, and quite frankly, easier to understand for trained tax attorneys, certified public accountants, and the seasoned layman who prepares their own tax return documents. But how can any branch of government effectively and responsibly make changes to revamp the tax code without taking time to deeply examine the other side of the tax code coin?

Besides borrowing, taxes are the only source of the government’s revenue stream. Taxes fund the government’s operations, and the services it provides to its people, including infrastructure (highways, tunnels, bridges, and airports); public education; protection to our nation (hence the military); and other emergency services (police, fire departments, and EMS services). Taxes also pay the many people who work for the government, in managing the public trust, including but not limited to civil servants and elected officials to public office.

Now, let’s look at the vast number of areas in which government spends money, your money, including providing foreign aid to other countries and special projects in the name of public interest. As more programs and projects are added to the list, more people are needed to oversee and manage these operations. This means the government needs to spend more to do more. When the government does not have more revenue than what it is spending; it then borrows the money, and pays a premium in interest to its debtors. The government is responsible for covering the interest plus principle, just the same as if you or I obtained a mortgage from a bank to purchase a home.

In an attempt to juggle and balance its debt, the government may sell off its debt to other countries, or will borrow from other countries at a discounted rate; in exchange, the lending country will get special privileges. Some of these special privileges include lower tariffs on goods imported into the United States, or in some cases, exceptions that allow for businesses from the lending country to bypass regulations and rules; thus giving those selected businesses a strategic market advantage in a free market economy.

One can just imagine the layers of free passes lending countries and foreign business interests have gotten, when we have a national debt that is teetering on $20 trillion dollars. And how can we even think about comprehensive tax code reform when we still have an issue that started before income tax was even mandated? This problem began when the government first started to borrow money. The amount of compounded interest has accrued over decades in favor of the lender; and the government has no real plan to pay off the debt. This can has been kicked down the road for over a hundred plus years. Our government, made up of representatives elected by the people, know this issue yet fail to do anything about it.

Before government can figure out how to streamline a tax code, they must take a deep look in the mirror. First, it must make major cuts into its spending before it can revamp the tax code, which in essence is the rules and regulations in which government dictates how much revenue it will bring in by imposing taxes upon the producers within its citizenship, which also includes businesses.

After reviewing the thousands of pages of line items that could possibly be the new tax code, let’s take a look at where government could become more efficient in its spending without cutting essential services to its people:

Payroll for the government: Currently the average congressman or federal senator will make an average of $175k per year for their service to office. If they are on a committee, it’s another pay increase. If they chair a committee, it’s another pay increase. If they become a speaker, it’s another pay increase; in addition, they receive complete health care benefits package, a retirement package, and other perks that come with the job for life. There are 435 seats in congress, and 100 seats in the senate.  In addition, the average federal employee in a management position receives a salary that is over $100,000 per year. And this is just at the federal level. We have not even taken a look at the state, county, or local level payroll. With numbers like these, a person can understand why elected officials do what they can to protect their seat once they are in office. Our founding fathers never intended the elected to profit from their position.

So how do we positively influence the national debt and tax code? Roll back payroll. If you take just the 535 seats that represent congress and the senate, it would equate the average payroll north of $93 million dollars per year which is paid to just 535 individuals. If we rolled back the yearly compensation to half of that, where an individual congressman or senator would earn just $87,500 for each year they are serving in office, the people would begin to save $46.5 million plus per year. Over ten years, the American tax payer collectively would save almost a half of billion dollars. Over 100 years, we the people would save $4.6 billion dollars. Now extend that to every branch of government where employees (in management positions, at agencies, are elected or appointed officials,) are not a part of essential services i.e. police, firemen/EMS, military, and the overall impact could make a major dent in government spending. This is not likely to happen, because the one thing that will make any congressman or senator have their own fellow colleagues turn against them would be the proposal of rolling back the compensation that they receive.

Elimination of Agencies which are no longer effective: A pure example of this is the agency of Veteran Affairs (VA). The VA was established to serve the interest of our nations heroes, whether it be health care, housing, or education, which each veteran earns when they commit their lives to defending our nation’s freedoms. The VA has become a large bureaucratic agency slow to serve its constituents. The average wait for a veteran who is in dire need of exercising their right to health care needs (including mental health care and well-being) is almost two years before a case worker can hear the concerns of the veteran. Also, veterans are relegated to only use health care facilities which are managed by the VA when seeking health care. This creates higher administrative cost and lesser quality in the services provided.

So, how do we solve this issue? The answer has multiple benefits, and it is simple: Each veteran should be transferred from the VA health care system into an accelerated Medicare/Medicaid program that allows for the veteran to access health care at any clinic, hospital, or physician of their choice. This will allow for the elimination of layers of administration who are trying to manage our veteran’s interests while allowing the veteran to access health care at the moment they need assistance. Also, due to the regulations that make up the Medicare/Medicaid programs, costs are more closely regulated and capped, so the free market has to look for how to provide better care with less money, which spurs off better competition that serves the interest of their consumers. Now, expand this concept to other agencies and programs that were designed with the intent of serving a selected constituency and you will find areas where the government could save hundreds of millions of dollars.

Limiting or Cutting Foreign Aid: There is a deep-rooted moral issue with giving away the people’s money to other countries to distant communities when there are so many in need on our own home soil. The United States government must begin to examine how much of the people’s money it is giving away. This rule is very simple. Charity begins at home, and you cannot help someone breathe when you don’t have on your own oxygen mask. There are other ways to solve some of these international concerns than throwing money at it. That is an entirely another article in itself.

Restructuring the debt: The lenders and creditors have made plenty of money earning interest on owed interest and principle (compounded interest). The compounded interest has created wealth beyond what multiple generations of their families could ever spend in multiple lifetimes. Our government needs to stop borrowing money and restructure the remaining debt with lower interest rates, with a plan to pay down the remaining balances over time so that by the time our grandchildren are ready to retire, the debt could be zero. The government needs to understand the moral repercussions and devastating consequences the decisions of the few will have upon the many if government continues to spend what it does not have.

Protect its profit centers: Government needs to begin to take measures to protect its profit centers. This means the working poor, the middle class, the upper working class, the business owners, and major businesses that create the jobs, trade, and contribute to GDP. Instead of imposing new taxes on a citizenship already burdened with seeing up to 40 percent of their earnings being taken as taxes, the government needs to widen the scope of new opportunities for those that can contribute to the tax paying pool. This means that government needs more new business development. Over 60 percent of today’s jobs are created by small businesses. These locally owned business enterprises rely on the market’s pre-existing conditions and the probability of those conditions to change in the future for the better. Government needs to peel away the obstacles so that small business can flourish, which will spur off the establishment of more small businesses. As these businesses expand, they hire a workforce, which also contribute to income tax. Some state governments eager to solve its shrinking profit centers, have legalized marijuana as a new industry so it can be taxed, or have deregulated the gambling industry. These are only short-term fixes and promote activities which are a detriment to communities, not a boon.

Once the government has gotten its spending concerns under control by living within its means, it can then rethink how it will address its revenue. When government stops spending more than it takes in, and more than it borrows, it needs less revenue to cover the functions of serving the people. Tax code reform then can be simplified to a real standard that sets a pace where each tax paying individual (or business entity) has a pathway of making their reasonable contribution to government’s call for tax revenues in serving the public interest that does not force families and businesses to have to make hard cuts that affect their ability to provide for their own.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water.

So How Much Do You Really Pay in Taxes?

January 8, 2018

Source: As the U.S. House, Senate, and the White House bring comprehensive tax reform to the forefront of their policy making agenda, we review the taxes which the average citizen pays out of their income and examine: how much of your earnings do you really get to keep?

Taxes are the government’s form of revenue to pay for all of the programs, services, and protection which it provides to its citizenship. Most working class/middle class individuals will see on average between thirty to forty percent of their earnings allocated toward taxes even before they can cash their paycheck. Most of these commonly known taxes include federal income tax, payment into social security, state income tax, unemployment tax, Medicare tax, and that is just the beginning.

When researching all the taxes in which a wage earner or citizen must pay, I discovered there are four basic categories: income tax (whether its personal income or if you own a small business, business income tax); sales taxes (taxes on goods and services); asset taxes (which place a tax on ownership of assets or acquiring of assets); and fees (charges, surcharges, usage charges, permits, tolls, etc). Some of these taxes and fees we pay directly, while others are layered in the cost of the consumer goods or services we purchase. In all, most of us contribute to paying to over one hundred different taxes, directly or indirectly.

Let’s start by taking a look at our income. If you either earn a salary (paid for your skill sets) or are paid wages (paid for your time); you must pay income tax on your earned income, but this is not the end of the road. Say you take what is left of your paycheck, and you decide to invest some of your money into a stock, mutual fund, or into an IRA account. You are taxed on the earnings your money made for you if you receive a stock dividend, fund payout, or withdraw your own money from your IRA account. The same goes for your savings account. If you have money in a savings account, you are taxed on the interest you earned on your money, which is the interest you earn for allowing the bank to hold and use your money until you remove it from the savings account.

It has long been debated that inheritance should not be taxed, however the other side of the argument is that if someone leaves you money when they pass on, it is either a gift or a one-time income. It has gotten to the point where even perks and benefits are taxed, though they are not cash. They are considered by the IRS as earnings, and so if part of your employment includes health benefits, travel perks, or a personal expense account, you can be certain you will have to pay tax on the value of those benefits.

Individuals who have invested in their home, or precious metals, will hold onto these material things until the value of these items has increased so the owners can make a profit. If you have ever profited from selling a home, a stock, or noteworthy luxury item, you would have been obligated to pay capital gains tax. In some cases, the entire amount is taxed, including the original money invested and the profit, at the point the asset is sold. Currently, there is the debate to tax crypto-currency and the value of barter credits, as people have turned to these platforms to try to reduce the amount of taxes they pay on their earnings.

Sales taxes come in many forms and are vast in their assignment. Most states have a general sales tax that is imposed on every purchase except for food and medicine. This sales tax can range from 6 percent to as high as 9 percent in some states; and is collected at the cash register every time you purchase something.This includes tax on vehicle purchases, cigarettes, liquor/alcohol, gasoline/diesel fuel, soda and fatty foods (snack foods), jewelry, clothing, and more. Not only are products and goods taxed, so are services. In recent years, taxes on hotel stays, lawn care, gas/electric utilities, telephone, paid subscription cable and satellite television, water and sewer have sharply risen; driving up the cost which is passed along to the consumer.

As consumers, the costs of additional taxes are filtered into the bottom line of what the goods we pay for. Taxes on transportation service (via highway use tax) are charged to trucking and freight companies for the use of the highway system, since the majority of the goods we purchase have been delivered by a truck. When we purchase a new car, there is a line item for the Gas Guzzler Tax, imposed upon every vehicle for their lack of meeting fuel economy and/or environmental emissions standards (every car has some form of this tax imposed upon it). As a society, we are driving more efficient vehicles which use less gas, which means less gas tax is collected. In most recent years, some states have transitioned this burden by taxing a vehicle owner on how many miles they drive per year, in addition to tax on gasoline at the pump.

Then we pay tax on what assets we own. One of the largest burdens of home ownership is the responsibility of property tax. In return for property taxes, local and state government are to provide services to communities, including but not limited to waste management; road maintenance; police and first responder emergency services; and public education. In some states, school taxes are collected in addition to property taxes. If you pass away, your estate, and the possessions you leave behind, are also taxed.

And you cannot get permission from government for anything unless you pay your fee. Want to marry your high school sweetheart? You need to buy a marriage license from your state government. Do you want to drive a car? You must pay a fee for your driver’s license and must pay the government to register your vehicle. Want to go fishing or hunting? Yep, you guessed it—you have to buy a permit for a license from the government. What about fixing up your house? Yes, that too, you must pay a fee to obtain a building permit from your local municipality. And when your home improvement is complete, your local tax assessor decides to charge you more tax for taking ownership pride in improving your own property.

When you think about it, your earned dollars are taxed far more beyond your income. If it seems like your money is being double and triple taxed, it is. To understand this concept, let’s take a look at just one dollar of your earnings.

If you are like most tax paying citizens, about 30 to 40 percent of your earnings are taken from you even before you get your pay check. So out of one dollar, you might be left with 60 or 70 cents. Then you decide to purchase something; sales tax is imposed upon you, taking an additional 6 to 9 percent of the purchase price from you. Then you must pay property taxes for the house you live in. Say you drive to work; the purchase of your car involved a sales tax; the gas you are putting in the vehicle to power it is taxed, and the road you travel might be taxed by way of a road toll.

In reality, over 60 to 70 percent of your earnings are taken from you systematically by taxing every area of your life. Some government organizations are now trying to tax families according to the environmental footprint they make on the planet. They wish to levy a tax for the clean air you breathe, called a carbon tax.

Abusive and overburdening taxes are the very reasons our Founding Fathers fought England for independence in 1776. It’s the curse that plagued major ancient civilizations such as the Romans, for they taxed their citizenship into total brokenness and poverty. If history has been any indicator, it has shown us that all societies which were overtaxed by their governments and/or by their kings and queens, eventually collapsed. Take for instance the French Revolution—the people overthrew King Louis and Queen Antoinette for over-taxing the people, because they left communities in ruin while the leadership enjoyed a life of luxury.

As current lawmakers decide to overhaul the existing tax code, they should keep in mind that in order to reform the tax code, you must eliminate some of the taxes its citizenship is burdened with paying.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water.

It’s an Opportunity…

December 26, 2017

Source: What was once a sales call for getting a business to advertise in a publication, is now an opportunity . . . what was once an invite to a sales meeting for a direct marketing company, is now an opportunity . . . so what does an opportunity really mean?

How many times have you had a conversation with someone and the word “opportunity” popped up in the discussion? What does opportunity really mean? By traditional standards, Webster Dictionary defines the word opportunity as a favorable juncture of circumstances, or a good chance for advancement or progress.

There are many cliché quotes which you might have heard over the years such as, “When opportunity knocks at your door,” and “Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation,” said by Zig Ziegler.

However one of my favorite quotes about opportunity was by 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team coach Herb Brooks, who said, “Great moments are born from great opportunity.”

As explained by Dan Hollis, the author of The Magic of Selling, “Opportunity is when hard work meets timing.” Dan Hollis knows this story well, as he has lived it in his own success. Dan is master salesman professional, author, and trainer; and has a sales career that has resulted in millions of dollars’ worth the contracts signed during his time as a sales representative in broadcast media and commercial film services, offering marketing, advertising space, and brand placement spanning a career over 20 years.

“One of the keys to seizing opportunity is relationship building, bonding, and serving the needs of others. When you have achieved all three with a prospect, the flood gates open to be rewarded for your efforts and additional opportunity presents itself,” added Hollis.

There is the general understanding that an opportunity is a chance for one to make a decision if a set practice or method will provide the advancement of an idea or create wealth. This is where many folks from the direct marketing, at home business industry usually focus on when building a legion of affiliated sales representatives. These business entities have a system of “downlines” which a representative can establish a team of people who are duplicating in the efforts of promoting and selling a company’s product lines; while making a commission on other affiliates or sales reps below them; thus coining such business models as multi-level marketing companies. These companies refer this as your “organization.”

Many of the sales reps of this type of organization will usually focus on building out teams of sales reps on downline levels, believing that such an “opportunity” has the ability to create residual income; thus reps will place a priority on offering the “opportunity” instead of focusing on the products and services which are the true value proposition.

Sometimes a telemarketer will call you in trying to sell a product or service, and call their value proposition an “opportunity,” instead of what they are actually offering, which is to get you to buy a product or service from them. I have seen sales reps overuse the word “opportunity,” in trying to pitch their product or service offering; in trying to hype up the value proposition, or the benefits of the thing they are selling; when they should be focused on building a relationship.

Though in recent years, the word opportunity has gotten a bad rap, in the past, the word opportunity always was associated with a positive, uplifting projection.

For instance, if we look at depressed neighborhoods (in the city or country); which have a lack of a standard of living, it was found in a number of studies, the reason why selected neighborhoods had poor economic foundations were the lack of opportunities. These opportunities absent from the community included better education options, the availability of better paying jobs, affordable housing, and community focused programs that encourage individuals to engage in activities that would uplift and improve their surroundings. Thus was born the idea that in trying to improve neighborhood conditions, town and city planners would try to incorporate more opportunities as they became more available.

The legendary iconic comedian Milton Berle once said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock; build a door.”

Sometimes the opportunities we seek may not be available, thus entrepreneurs are born. A person might be working for a company, and that company might not want to invest into their employee’s idea, however that potential idea may lead to a new invention which the world will find valuable. If the demand for the invention rises, the law of supply and demand takes over, thus creating an equal or greater wealth value exchange. So the employee decides to go at it on their own, develops their idea, takes it to market, and capitalizes on the value of the idea, product, or service they have created; and in this case, the entrepreneur is creating their own opportunity.

The creation of one’s own opportunity is common in the world of small business ownership. Though there are many reasons why a person decides to start their own business, one of the main reasons a person will open shop is to have more economic opportunities to create wealth for their family, friends, and community.

In creating your own opportunity, you must keep in mind that it is your decisions, your dedication and commitment, your perseverance, and your own work efforts that will ultimately shape whether your opportunity was a success or failure. Even in failure, opportunities are born.

Before you discount or accept an opportunity, it is a safe practice to measure the pros and cons of opportunity. Some measurements to consider is the financial cost or investment; the investment of time and length of time the opportunity will require before you see a return on your investment of money or time or both; an accounting of the risk involved; and what are the benefits of the opportunity.

Understand that not everyone is in the same position to absorb all of the risk that may be associated with an opportunity, so if you are the one presenting the “opportunity,” you should not be angry at someone if they decide to take a pass on your proposed offering. Only that person knows their own situation 100 percent, and it is the responsibility of that individual to take stock in measuring the opportunity to see if it lines up with their set of circumstances.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who currently is the CEO and president of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in New Jersey. Burlum lends his expertise as a consultant and managing director of ESLC Inc., a consulting firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises. He is the author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water.

Is Main Street on the Rebound?

December 19, 2017

Source: With large retailer box stores shutting their doors, and the surge of small business community advocacy on the rise, is it possible for Main Street to rebound from the bleak decimation left in the wake of big box stores duking it out?

Is Main Street on the mend? There is a resurgence of small business on the rise in America. Visit any community where there streets lined with mix use commercial/residential buildings, and where the larger big box retailer has failed, and you will find a movement in motion. The family owned small business is making a comeback. So what is driving the trend?

With the big box discount retailer Kmart and one of America’s oldest retailer institutions, Sears-Roebuck with final plans to close hundreds of stores, towns and communities which relied on these mainstays are forced to find their needs somewhere else. These large retailers that offered a multitude of combined products and services have left a void in and a vacuum, which is in quick need of being filled.

The traditional Sears department store offered products and goods such as clothing for the family, to appliances and tools for the household, gardening equipment, to jewelry and housewares. In addition, Sears also provided services including a full service automotive department service center, on site appliance repair, and even other services such as photo studio and salon.

Kmart became the mainstay discount retailer once brand name variety stores such as Woolworth, Caldor, Bradlee’s, Jamesway, and Ames, which closed their doors as a result of the very aggressive rise of Wal-Mart and Target. Now Kmart is following in the footsteps of retailers now only a memory.

The demise of the big-box retailers such as Sears and Kmart leaves the path open for opportunity. New housing developments constructed around these mega malls which housed these former retailer giants, and with the expansion of the modern-day suburbs, support services are needed to keep these communities moving.

Though as in the past, when one large retailers’ space would go dark and vacant, another store would eventually fill its place; the retailer of today is so much more specialized. Instead of the all-inclusive full service retailer model, most retailers are experts in one area of goods. With rising cost of property taxes and lease rates at an all-time high, the turnaround time to replace an anchor retailer takes years when in the past it only took a few months. This leaves consumers looking for shopping alternatives. Hence the vacuum and need for the return of the family owned small business.

So which types of businesses are benefiting from this type of recovery? The trends which have been observed are the rise of the specialty boutique. Specialty stores which cater to a particular product or good are finding themselves the benefactor. These businesses become very good at providing one or two types of services or a set of exclusive product lines, establishing themselves as the go-to authority in the area.

Traditional service businesses such as the dry cleaner, barber shop, hair salon, corner pizzeria, or local pharmacy have always found themselves surviving the rise and fall of the big-box retailer when other businesses have not been so lucky. What is so interesting is the stores that have beaten the odds are stores that have a long history of developing relationships within the community.

Small local businesses that have outlasted the larger big-box retailer wars have also been found to be problem solvers. A pure example is the local hardware store. From offering everything for home and business improvement to expanded departments that offer home goods and custom kitchen and bath services, the local hardware store has evolved from being the last stop on the list when you need a nut and bolt to being the go-to expert in home improvement.

It has been found that there is a life cycle to the big-box retailers, as they do come and go. First there was Channel and Rickle’s. To replace them was rise of Home Depot and Lowes. Most homeowners have changed their attitude about the way they spend money on home improvement. Now they are returning to the local retailer, the name and store they can trust on providing quality products for the home; thus allowing the home owner to get a better return on investment when recouping home improvement cost.

Consumers are also finding the quality of what they purchase from the big-box retailer related to big-ticket items have stark differences to the quality of their purchase made from the local provider.

“There are different grades to tools, appliances, and even some of the housewares,” as explained by Richard Fitspatrick, from The Hardware Store, located in Sparta, New Jersey. “Though the packaging may look the same, the outside of the product or tool may appear to be the same, the inside components are not.

“There are two grades of the same high-end ticket item in many cases. Manufacturers of power tools, for example, in order to fulfill the need for volume quantity versus quality, will often cheapen up the inside parts on a saw or drill for a larger retailer who has the desire to offer the power tool for almost half of what you would pay at the local hardware store, but so goes the quality. Unfortunately the consumer does not find this out until after the tool breaks or wears out faster than expected,” continued Fitspatrick.

“We have seen some consumers still fall into the big-box store trap. For instance, we sell the same type of Ahrens Snow Thrower that Home Depot would sell, and our price is ninety-nine cents more, however we assemble the machine, test-fire the engine and will deliver it in town for free. Consumers will want us to match what Home Depot offers the machine for, without recognizing the value in the service that we provide that accompanies the snow thrower when someone purchases the machine from us.”

With the rising cost of most consumer goods, and the cost of replacing cheap goods an inconvenience, people are finding themselves willing to pay a little more for quality that may last double or triple the lifespan of the identical cheaper version which may only last months. Is it possible that consumers are waking up to these kinds of tactics that have been under their noses for years?

The internet is highly responsible for providing information for consumers on where to turn when a consumer is in search of a product or is need of a problem solving service. Websites such as Manta, Merchant Circle, and Yelp are supplying potential consumers with data and reviews of other consumer purchasing experiences. Whether it is a retail product or service-driven business, these reviews are helping drive consumer traffic or deter consumer traffic to the doors of businesses. Businesses receiving the flow of consumer traffic are those documented for going beyond the call of duty in serving their clients.

How do they get these great ratings? What has been observed is that the businesses where the owner is fully invested in the success of the business, and has a passion for the best customer experience possible, will do far more for their clients so they keep coming back, than the big-box retailer whose executives are not working the floor, but rather a legion of low-wage entry-level clerks who see their position as temporary just until something else better comes along.

Even with so much technology integrated into our lives, communities thirst for relationship engagement, a trust in knowledge, and peace of mind that the person on the same side of the transaction of the cash register cares about their needs. This is where small businesses blows away the competition and thrives.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who currently is the CEO and president of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in New Jersey. Burlum lends his expertise as a consultant and managing director of ESLC Inc., a consulting firm to start-up companies, small businesses,

How the Internet Has Affected the Interstate

December 12, 2017

Source: Right after World War II, in the 1950s, America was on the move. With the completion of the Interstate Highway System, and more families owning more than one vehicle, families took to the open road to explore, connect, and become educated. Six decades later, fewer families see their vehicle as the expression of their freedom; and find access to the world through the internet.

How amazing it is that in just 60 years, how far we have come in declaring our expression of what gives us the tools to feel mobile and free from the confines of our own zip code?

Six decades ago saw the golden age of the auto industry in America; with the Big Three—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler-Dodge dominating the majority of the vehicle ownership sales; where machines and men made America a country that became completely mobile.

Fast forward 60 years and you find the digital technology revolution is helping families become mobile again, and is changing how people define their mobility.

Now in the palm of your hand, one can access information from almost anywhere in the world. They can learn how to cook a specialty dish on Youtube, or read about historical event by “Googling it,” or even watch their favorite movie or television show on the go via an app on their cell phone. One can even shop for a new pair of jeans, pay for it, and have the jeans delivered to their door in less than 24 hours. The interstate has fallen to the internet.

America use to be completely reliant on their vehicle for everything; to go shopping, to pick up the groceries, to go downtown to see a movie, or to go visit a friend. An entire culture was developed around the premise that Americans identified mobility and freedom to travel with their cars. A variety of business models even developed to cater to the rise of the interstate. Service businesses were built around the idea of a driving culture behind the wheel. Drive-in movie theaters, the drive-through fast food take out restaurant window, the roadside attractions all were a reflection of the pride that many had as vehicle ownership.

Vehicle ownership also allowed for the shaping of modern-day suburbs to flourish. The commuter was born. Individuals were no longer relegated job opportunities as far as their local metro transit system (if any even existed) would take them. Vehicle ownership allowed for a person to live in the countryside where homeownership was less costly; as more people found it more affordable to live outside the city, but yet still work there; the car became a vital tool in developing personal wealth.

The family car, the extra car was also seen as a sign of status. At the top, luxury brands of the likes of Cadillac, Mercedes, Jaguar, or Lincoln, would echo and reflect where on the social economic scale an individual would rank. Today, that hasn’t changed, but the vehicle is no longer viewed as the pride and joy as it once was. Today it is treated and viewed more like an appliance; with an expected shelf life and is disposable.

The new status symbol of mobility is the very mobile device that many carry in their pocket. The digital era and the convenience of the mobile device (cell phone, tablet, kindle, etc.), has allowed for people to stand in their living room access the world. With this tool, the internet superhighway is the road that is most traveled over any other physical road in our current society.

Apple, Samsung, and LG are now the Big Three that offer the vehicles that provide access for people to get information, connect with people, and experience life in a way never thought of. The development of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, allow for people to connect with a click of button without having to put an ounce of fuel in the tank or drive not even a mile down the road. Just about any book once found in the library is now found in a digital format that can be read on a screen.

Programs and services like Skype, Google Hang Out, and Go to Meeting, have given people the ability to have one-on-one communications, seeing each other on a screen and hearing their words, where people can be as physical distant as the other side of the world. These services allow for people to communicate and build relationships beyond the boundaries of how far a car can take them, and are limitless to the boundaries of continents.

New businesses that cater to the new form of mobility include a host of app, ranging from apps that allow you to download coupons and deals from your favorite retailer to keeping track of your steps and physical fitness, are downloaded by the millions each day. There is even the business of add-on hardware to keep your mobile device in shape (cases, ear phones, etc.). Not to mention all of the tech improvements that has made the mobile device more functional, integrating camera, internet, video capabilities.

The internet has most certainly captured the imagination of the youth. They have grown up with the idea that the internet is as much as part of their lives as vehicles once did to our parents. Modern generations don’t know any other life but that of the one in the digital age. With the press of a button they can reach people in other countries, find out information on any subject, and view a video related to any interest.

Such technology has even entered the classroom. Virtual learning, by way of connecting by video over the internet allow for students to attend classes and seminars or view lectures from anywhere in the world. The internet has demonstrated it offers mobility to all those young and old regardless if they qualify for a driver’s license.

It once was said, “Mobility is life,” and so when there is a traffic jam on Interstate 80; remember you could have chosen to route yourself by way of wi-fi.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who currently is the CEO and president of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in New Jersey. Burlum lends his expertise as a consultant and managing director of ESLC Inc., a consulting firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race To Protect Our Most Important Natural Resouce-Water.

No Farmer, No Food: Support Your Local Family Farm

December 4, 2017

Source: Are you hungry for healthy food? Does your current food supply have the right nutrition content? Where do you go to get your supply of fresh produce, dairy, and meats? Do you trust your current food supply? If you have any doubt about your current food supply, you may want to get back to basics and support your local family farm.

Most households get their food supply from the local grocery or convenience store. Communities have been waking up to the notion that they need to be aware of where their food comes from, how their food is raised or made, what chemicals are introduced into their food supply chain, and about the impact in which factory farming and long-distance farming has on the environment. The answer to the demand to better food sourcing has been the rise and acceptance of the local family farm.

Farmers markets have been on resurgence throughout the United States. Parking lots and municipal city centers in just about every Main Street, USA, have played host to a community of healthy living advocates who bring together local family farms, local vendors who have sustainable practices, and green healthy products and services, bridging the gap between local consumers and the farms.

The concept of field-to-table, cutting out commercial factory farming and the supermarket, and even produce grown outside the country, has grown in popularity as individuals take more interest in how to better feed their families. The average local farmers market usually sets up and is open for four to six hours, one day a week.

Family farms that have found value in gaining access directly with the community of customers who are looking for a way to increase the health and well-being of their families, and demand the food they are putting on the table can be trusted. These family farms have expanded their product and services, where once they only grew produce, might also offer honey, jams, and specialty prepared foods.

Multiple studies, both by schools of thought and by non-profit organizations, have proven that the most sustainable method for feeding communities is to support local family farms that can provide their goods and services with minimal need for transporting the food from farm to market.

One of the elements to consider when choosing your produce is “how long has the produced been picked from the field?” As soon as fruit or vegetable is selected and picked from the plant or vine, it no longer can be supplied water or nutrients from the ground. The produce would need to be consumed as close to the time it was picked in order to retain and offer the best nutritional value to the consumer. The longer produce needs to be preserved, the more it is exposed to chemicals (used for food preservation during long distance transport). These chemicals are either introduced during the growing process or they are sprayed on during processing and packaging of the produce.

The local family farm provides a host of solutions in living and eating healthier. The local family farm may wait until the very last minute before picking produce from the vine, which makes their produce the freshest offered in local community. Some family farms do not believe in the use of toxic pesticides or fertilizers ridden with chemicals. Some family farms utilize best organic growing practices, leaving their produce to be of the highest natural quality offered. Some family farms will also only feed their livestock and fowl organic feed and hay, thus allowing for their meat supply to also be free of chemicals.

Some large grocery chains were quick to adopt “from the field to the table” experience, and only source from local regional farmers, and will only offer certified organic fruits and vegetables. Whole Foods and Wegmans Markets were some of the very first to offer organic produce and non-GMO food alternatives. Since the organic healthy living revolution took hold, just about every major grocery food supermarket chain now offers a line of both organic non-GMO and traditional food products.

Though these types of purchasing arrangements assist some local farmers, many are not as lucky. They work eight months in the fields from sun up to sundown, leaving little time to market their goods to large chain stores; thus relying on their own roadside farm stand stores and the local farmer’s market.

Local family farms need your business, and in order to provide balance in the community of healthy living and food supplies, we need them. Take the time to stop in your local farmers market and support a local family farm today. It just might be one of the healthiest choices you make.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who currently is the CEO and president of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in New Jersey. Burlum lends his expertise as a consultant and managing director of ESLC Inc., a consulting firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race To Protect Our Most Important Natural Resouce – Water.

Good Gravy! Sides for a Special Diet Thanksgiving

November 22, 2017

While traditional Thanksgiving dishes like turkey, bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie still have a prominent place on today’s holiday tables, times are a-changin’. The rise in awareness of special diets, along with the wider availability of ingredients once considered exotic, have brought unexpected and delightful dishes to holiday feasts. It’s no longer uncommon to see a meatless Thanksgiving feast that features a portabella-and-shiitake mushroom potpie instead of turkey. Or how about a lower-sugar cranberry sauce sweetened with agave nectar and jazzed up with red wine, or lower-carb, antioxidant-rich purple mashed potatoes instead of russets? The sky’s the limit.

Quinoa has quickly become one of my favorite grains. It’s versatile and works well in soups, salads, and side dishes. While growing up during the 1970s and 1980s, the mention of quinoa would have resulted in quizzical stares, but today I make a gluten-free and vegan quinoa, leek, and sage stuffing that pleases my traditionalist relatives, as well as the more health conscious people in my circle. I originally discovered this gem on Kevin Jacob’s A Garden for the House blog. Below is his original recipe, and I’ve tweaked it a bit by omitting the butter (for a vegan version) and adding a sprinkle of chopped fresh rosemary:

http://www.agardenforthehouse.com/2015/11/gf-stuffing-quinoa-with-leeks-and-sun-dried-tomatoes/

Root and cruciferous vegetables are the stars of fall, found in abundance in grocery stores and farmers markets. Yet carrots seem to take a backstage to carb-heavy potatoes, cauliflower and the like on the Thanksgiving table. Here’s a simple yet healthy recipe, courtesy of The Food Network, to bring vitamin-rich, lower-carb carrots to the forefront. To give the dish a more festive appearance, use some heirloom purple and white carrots, in addition to the traditional orange variety:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/sauteed-carrots-recipe-1916159

Condiments can stymie even the most well-meaning cooks when preparing a Thanksgiving meal for guests with dietary restrictions. It’s one of those details that are way too easy to forget about until the last minute, until you notice a vegan or lactose intolerant guest searching for something other than butter to spread on a roll or bread; it’s a good idea to have on hand a non-dairy butter replacement or savory marmalade.

Gravy is a popular choice to top both meat or non-meat substitutes and potatoes, but most gravy is made with meat. There are some good (and not-so-good) meatless and mushroom-based gravy on the market, but this Golden Gravy, made popular by Real Food Daily restaurant in Los Angeles, Calif., and later published in their cookbook and reposted on numerous blogs, is rich, creamy gravy with zero animal products. It has wowed the omnivores and carnivores in my circle (use low-sodium tamari sauce and omit the salt for a low-sodium version):

http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/golden-gravy-312205

This holiday season, share traditional fare, or dishes that incorporate twists of our favorite classics, or anything in between—food is the universal language that brings everyone together. Cheers to a happy and peaceful holiday season!

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.