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2018 midterm elections are over – what small businesses can expect next

(BUSINESS NEWS) Small businesses are impacted by political uncertainty, and knowing what’s coming can help strengthen your 2019 plans.

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small businesses post-midterms

Now that the midterm elections are officially in the rearview mirror and the dust has settled, there’s a lot to unpack for small business. There were plenty of ups and downs this election cycle.

Write-in votes, runoffs, voter roll purges, and historic turnout on both sides. With California finally certifying their last ballots, we can now move onto the next chapter: what happens now?

The Democrats gained several seats in the House, retaking their majority status there, and picked up a few governorships, too. But a few Senate seats flipped red, as well. The landscape of America’s identity is changing, and there are many new facets to what it means to be a part of this country.

But, what do all of these changes in the social and economic fabric mean for small business? Well, that’s an interesting question. There’s a lot to like, but a few things to groan at, too. I’ll do my best to lay everything out for you to make your own assumptions on how it’ll affect your business.

What will this Congress’ policy look like (AKA The Big Picture Stuff)?

The Democratic side of Congress will be progressively minded. A younger, more diverse group has won seats, and they’re focused on changing the status quo. With the Democrats taking power in the House, this severs Republican control and will require a lot more conversations instead of pushing bills through with little pushback.

While there will be a lot of gridlock, there are bright spots, and many pieces of legislation have bipartisan support.

One possibility for legislation to pass is a bipartisan retirement package, which makes it easier for small business owners to offer retirement plans to their employees that won’t break the bank. Congress has already moved on this issue.

The biggest objective, one the Democrats have dreamt about since the early 2000s, is the infrastructure bill. Given the state of the country’s crumbling roads, bridges, and streets that need repair from coast to coast, the left really wants this. If both parties can find common ground on funding this issue, and work with the President to realize it, the bill could put a lot of Americans to work, but also energize many small businesses with long-term projects equalling up to $1 trillion dollars.

Tinkering with another healthcare bill is something the Republicans would like, and McConnell is quoted as saying he’d consider working with the Democrats to improve, not repeal the Affordable Care Act. This would bode well for small medical practices, along with mom and pop pharmacies, considering one of the central tenants of the revision would be a bipartisan plan to lower prescription drug prices. Realistically, though, the issue is probably a stalemate until the next big election swing.

So, what does this all mean for small business owners?

Well, it’s kind of hard to put an exact point on it. One of the biggest takeaways of the midterm results is that one-third of Congress was up for election, and that equates to significant consequences for federal, as well as local, policy.

County, city, and state legislators were all on the ballot, and for a lot of states, things have changed. Some of the rules will change for the better and the worse, but ultimately, small business owners want to know if zoning codes will change, if there will be sin taxes, or if there will be more attempts at taxing soft drinks to help pay for parks. Statewide, there are a few changes in the laws to pay attention to.

When it comes to small businesses, the focus is simple: What’s going on with the economy? What regulations are being put in place or rolled back? How can I generate cash flow?

As of right now, the economy is booming. Small businesses don’t want any kind of change. That doesn’t mean small business owners wouldn’t want any improvements or modifications; they want this party to keep going.

The Republican-held Congress passed a tax bill in 2017, and while some have benefitted from the cuts, some individuals and small businesses haven’t seen the results of those yet, and it’s uncertain if they will. When Democrats take control, the natural inclination is to wonder if taxes will rise to bolster social programs, but as of right now, all signs are pointing to no changes in policy on the federal level — maybe. (Read on for more about that.)

Will the minimum wage increase?

One of the topics that’s bound to come up between parties is the minimum wage. The newly elected members of the House have already scheduled a hearing entitled, “Mandating a $15 Minimum Wage: Consequences for Workers and Small Businesses.”

Because the issue is divided across party lines, the issue could get tied up in party politics, but there’s hope for low wage workers – both Arkansas and Missouri, two red states both voted to raise their minimum wages by 2021 in Arkansas and 2023 in Missouri, respectively. If you’re in a state that’s talked about raising minimum wage recently, you might want to start crunching numbers to plan and prepare down the line.

Let’s get back to the tax cut. Will there be any changes to the 2017 bill?

Before the midterms, President Trump promised a middle-class tax cut (not exactly what happened) but both sides could come together on it in the future. The President has said on more than one occasion that the cut is one of his top priorities, but getting the Democrats to work with him on that will be nothing short of a challenge.

The 2018 tax bill included large cuts for corporations, and now Democrats are poised to oppose any kind of cuts to the wealthy going forward. But, the President has said he’s open to working with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to cut middle-class taxes, even if it means raising the corporate tax rate, which is set at 21%.

“I would absolutely pursue something even if that means some adjustment to make it possible,” Trump said at a press conference. Although he didn’t say precisely what he’d be willing to bargain with, it’s a nice idea.

Democrats will adhere to a strict pay-as-you-go stance on new measures to avoid adding to any national debt. Trump could find small fixes that he could still claim as a tax cut, which might include raising tax-free contribution levels for retirement plans or supplementing health savings accounts, both moves that have bipartisan support.

What about tariffs and trade?

The US-China trade wars have been dominating the news cycle – when the cycle isn’t rolling with new stories like the customers served on a McDonald’s sign, has a lot of businesses, both big and small standing at attention.

Back in September, China announced $60B in retaliatory tariffs following declared U.S. intentions to attach tariffs to $200B of goods. On the US side, the list of targeted goods included vehicles, tech, medical, industrial machinery, aircraft, and textiles. China targeted U.S. products such as food, beverages, cars, and natural gas.

Small businesses have to keep in mind the ripple effect: while steel or cars might be impacted, consider the side businesses that are included alongside those vehicles, like interiors or paint, for example.

The average small business owner has a fundamental set of concerns, they’re not interested in the US and China battling over steel, but instead, they’re interested in how these conversations and sound clips will affect them in the long run.

Small business owners should be wary of rising costs thanks to these tariffs, possibly evaluating new sources or their pricing.

Think about it, a small business has a few critical concerns:
– Can I get access to capital?
– Will this impede my acquisition of new business?
– Can I get access to new contacts?
– Can I operate in the black?

While these matters seem uncertain right now, there’s hope that Congress will step in to work with the president on new import and export laws to help stabilize the situation. My prediction is that it happens, and we come to a mutually beneficial agreement.

What about small businesses’ relationships with big banks?

This split of power between the houses likely signifies that little will change for banks. The House will push for regulation, while the Senate won’t let anything close hit the ground.

One thing to keep in mind is that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) will likely ascend as the next chair of the House Financial Services Committee, come January. Rep. Waters is a vocal advocate for consumer protection and supports a crackdown on big banks.

Rep. Waters has sat on this committee since 1991 and is a ranking member on five of the panel’s subcommittees. When asked about her current position on regulations regarding small business, she said:

“I am committed to ensuring that hard working Americans and our nation’s small businesses have opportunities to thrive, expanding and supporting affordable housing opportunities for our nation’s families, making sure that the safeguards are in place to prevent another financial crisis, protecting consumers and investors from bad actors and conducting appropriate oversight of the Administration and the regulatory agencies under the Committee’s jurisdiction.”

She continued, “I have always maintained an open-door policy, to hear the priorities and concerns of all stakeholders, including representatives of the financial services industry, as well as advocates,” she added. “I look forward to continuing to work with Members on both sides of the aisle on sensible solutions to benefit hardworking Americans and strengthen our nation’s economy.”

While it sounds like Rep. Waters has a lot to aim for as the ranking member on the committee, it’s likely that no new legislation will pass unless both sides agree it’s a slam dunk for America.

There’s good news out of the House Committee on Small Business.

Reps. Doug Collins (R-GA) and Tom Marino (R-PA) introduced the bipartisan H.R. 7190, the Small Business Reorganization Act in the House to improve the bankruptcy system for small businesses. The bill, cosponsored by U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), would amend Chapter 11 bankruptcies. A similar bill was introduced by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in the Senate.

“Small businesses are some of the best innovators in our local economies, and this bill would bring much-needed improvements to the bankruptcy code so that owner-operated businesses can recover from financial hardship and continue creating jobs,” said Rep. Collins.

Rep. Marino added, “By reducing unnecessary procedural burdens, enhancing oversight, and increasing the debtors’ ability to negotiate, we will ensure quick and successful reorganization and provide small business the ability to restructure in a way that meets their needs.”

Considering the original laws and codes were written for large companies, the reinvention of Chapter 11 would dramatically change how small businesses are affected by bankruptcy. This legislation would reduce the red tape around bankruptcy. Key provisions would increase small business debtors’ ability to negotiate reorganization while retaining business control and reducing procedural burdens and costs.

So, what’s my big prediction?

If there’s any significant takeaway in regards to small business, it’s that they’re resilient. There’s a significant wave of optimism right now. Small business confidence is high, and the markets are reflecting that.

Right now, there are fantastic things happening to both Wall Street and Main Street, alike. With the new Congress taking session in January, it’s likely that one of two scenarios will take place: the houses work with President Trump to push forward legislation that helps the country soar to new heights or (probably a little more predictable) a lame duck session that will remain gridlocked thanks to partisan politics.

If that’s the case, don’t sweat it. Buyer sentiment is high, and new businesses are opening up every day. Going into 2019 and a new Congress, I’d say a whole lot of no news is good news for small business.

Robert Dean is a writer at Adia and The American Genius. He is a writer, journalist, and cynic. His most recent novel, The Red Seven is in stores. Currently, he’s working on his newest novel, Tragedy Wish Me Luck. He also likes ice cream and panda bears. He currently lives in Austin. Stalk him on Twitter.

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Walmart delays the launch of its Amazon Prime competing service

(BUSINESS NEWS) Walmart+ is being delayed once again, but the service has yet to be cancelled. Will it be another flop?

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Walmart+ Amazon

Walmart+, the supposed Amazon Prime alternative of the century, has been delayed from launching until further notice. This marks the second delay of the year.

Vox reports that the Amazon Prime competitor was initially supposed to launch in the first quarter of 2020, but Walmart pushed the release back to July due to Coronavirus concerns. Now, Walmart+ doesn’t have a definitive launch date–indecision that’s easy to chalk up to both the ongoing pandemic and trepidation regarding profitability in an Amazon-dominated world.

Amazon Prime, a service which runs customers $119 per year, has well over 100 million members in the United States; that works out to at least one member in a little over 80 percent of households here. Between its ubiquitous nature and the fact that Amazon Prime members are more inclined to use Amazon frequently than non-Prime members, it isn’t hard to see why a premium Walmart subscription seems a little redundant.

But Walmart doesn’t see it that way. “Walmart executives have hoped the program would strike a balance of being valuable enough that customers will pay for it, while boasting different enough perks from Amazon Prime so that there aren’t perk-by-perk comparisons,” Vox posits. At $98 per year, Walmart+ would include things like same-day delivery, gas discounts, line-skipping, a dedicated credit card, and potentially even a video streaming service.

While there are some clear parallels between Amazon Prime and Walmart+, one can attribute those to convenience rather than imitation. People seem to enjoy having extra streaming options as a perk of Prime, so for Walmart+ to include something similar wouldn’t exactly be inappropriate.

The largest obstacle to Walmart+’s success in a post-Coronavirus world probably won’t have much to do with brand loyalty, but the fact remains that Amazon’s value is so far above and beyond Walmart’s that people who regularly use Amazon Prime aren’t likely to make the switch–and, as mentioned previously, the sheer number of people who have a Prime membership is high enough to be concerning to Walmart executives.

However, for customers who frequently shop at Walmart or live in relatively rural areas, Walmart+ doesn’t seem like a bad gig. It isn’t Amazon Prime, to be sure–but that’s the point.

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What COVID-19 measures do workplaces have to take to reopen?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Employers can’t usually do medical screenings – but it’s a little different during a pandemic.

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COVID-19 temp gun

Employers bringing personnel back to work are faced with the challenge of protecting their workforce from COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have issued guidelines on how to do so safely and legally.

Employee health and examinations are usually a matter of personal privacy by design through the American’s with Disabilities Act. However, after the World Health Organization declaration of the coronavirus as a pandemic in March, the U.S. EEOC revised its guidance to allow employers to screen for possible infections in order to protect employees.

Employers are now allowed to conduct temperature screenings and check for symptoms of the coronavirus. They can also exclude from the workplace those they suspect of having symptoms. The recommendations from the CDC also include mandatory masks, distant desks, and closing common areas. As the pandemic and US response evolves, it is important for employers to continue to monitor any changes in guidance from these agencies.

Employers are encouraged to have consistent thresholds for symptoms and temperature requirements and communicate those with transparency. Though guidance suggests that COVID-19 screenings at work are allowed by law, employers should be mindful of the way they are conducted and the impact it may have on employer-employee relations.

Stanford Health Care is taking a bold approach by performing COVID-19 testing on each of its 14,000 employees that have any patient contact. They implemented temperature scanning stations at each entrance, operated by nurses and clinicians. The President and CEO of Sanford Health Care said, “For our patients to trust the clinical procedures and trials, it was important for them to know that we were safe.”

Technology is adapting to meet the needs of employers and identify symptoms of COVID-19. Contactless thermometers that can check the temperature of up to 1,500 people per hour using thermal imaging technology are now on the market; they show an error margin of less than one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit. COVID-19 screening is being integrated into some company time-clocks used by employees at the start and end of each shift. The clocks are being equipped with a way to record employee temperatures and answers to a health questionnaire. Apple and Google even collaborated to bring contact tracing to smart phones which could help contain potential outbreaks.

Fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing are the three most common symptoms of COVID-19. Transmission is still possible from a person who is asymptomatic, but taking the precautions to identify these symptoms can help minimize workplace spread. This guidance may change in the future as the pandemic evolves, but for now, temperature checks are a part of back to work for many.

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Technology that may help you put the “human” back in Human Resources

(BUSINESS NEWS) Complicated application processes and disorganized on-boarding practices often dissuade the best candidates and cause new hires to leave. Sora promises to help with this.

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employee hiring

Even in a booming economy, finding the right applicant for a role can be a drawn-out, frustrating experience for both the candidate and the hiring manager. Candidates submitting their resume to an automated HR system, designed to “seamlessly” integrate candidates into their HRIS accounts, face the interminable waiting game for feedback on whether they’re going to be contacted at all.

Ironically, this lack of feedback on where a candidate stands (or even if the resume was received at all) and a propensity for organizations to list roles as “Open Until Filled”, overwhelms the hiring manager under a mountain of resumes, most of which will not be reviewed unless there is a keyword match for the role. And if they do somehow manage to see the resume, studies indicate that in less than 10 seconds, they’ll have moved on to the next one.

The problems don’t end there, however. Once the candidate and hiring manager have found one another, and the HR team has completed the hire, the dreaded phase of onboarding begins. During the first few days of a new job, a lack of effective onboarding procedures—ranging from simple tasks like arranging for technology or introductions to a workplace mentor—can be the cause of a significant amount of employee turnover. Forbes notes that 17% of all newly hired employees leave their job during the first 90 days, and 20% of all staff turnover happens within the first 45 days.

The reason, according to Laura Del Beccaro, Founder of startup Sora, is that overworked HR teams simply don’t have the bandwidth to follow up with all of those who are supposed to interact with the new employee to ensure a seamless transition experience. Focusing on building a template-based system that can be integrated within the frameworks of multiple HRIS systems, Sora’s focus is to set up adaptable workflow processes that don’t require the end-user to code, and can be adjusted to meet the needs of one or many employee roles.

In a workplace that is becoming increasingly virtual, out of practicality or necessity, having the ability to put the “human” back in Human Resources is a focus that can’t be ignored. From the perspective of establishing and expanding your team, it’s important to ensure that potential employees have an application experience that respects their time and talent and feedback is provided along the way, even when they might not be a fit for the role.

Take for example the organization who asked for an upload of a resume, then required the candidate to re-type everything into their HRIS, asked for three survey responses, an open-ended writing task, a virtual face-to-face interview, *and* three letters of reference—all for an entry-level role. If you were actually selected for an in-person interview, the candidate was then presented with another task that could take up to two hours of prep time to do—again, all for an entry level role.

Is that wrong? Is it right? The importance of selecting the right staff for your team can’t be overstated. But there should be a line between taking necessary precautions to ensure the best fit for your role and understanding that many of the best candidates you might find simply don’t want to participate in such a grueling process and just decide to move on. There’s a caveat that says that companies will never treat an employee better than in the interview process and in the first few weeks on the job—and that’s where Sora’s work comes in, to make certain that an employee is fully supported from day one.

Bringing on the best to leave them without necessary support and equipment, wondering at the dysfunction that they find, and shuffled from department to department once they get there creates the reality and the perception that they just don’t matter—which causes that churn and disconnect. Having your employees know that they matter and that they’ll be respected from day one is a basic right—or it should be.

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