CHARLES  MONTGOMERY; SUNDAY,  NOV 10, 2013 11:30 AM PST
The below article is reproduced from Salon.com as is because it is a must read for everyone & anyone who wants to see real time proof of the devastation being caused by Wal-Mart and similar big box stores, who simply decimate the economy of almost every community that they move into.
Excerpted from "Happy  City"
Jobs, Money, and Geometry
Most of us agree that development that provides employment and tax revenue is good for cities. Some even argue that the need for jobs outweighs aesthetic, lifestyle, or climate concerns—in fact, this argument comes up any time Walmart proposes a new megastore near a small town. But a clear-eyed look at the spatial economics of land, jobs, and tax regimes should cause anyone to reject the anything-and-anywhere-goes development model. To explain, let me offer the story of an obsessive number cruncher who found his own urban laboratory quite by chance.

 Joseph Minicozzi, a young architect raised in upstate New York, was on a cross-country motorcycle ride in 2001 when he got sidetracked in the Appalachian Mountains. He met a beautiful woman in a North Carolina roadside bar and was smitten by both that woman and the languid beauty of the Blue Ridge region. Now they share a bungalow with two dogs in the mountain town of Asheville.

Asheville is, in many ways, a typical midsize American city, which is to say that its downtown was virtually abandoned in the second half of the twentieth century. Dozens of elegant old structures were boarded up or encased in aluminum siding as highways and liberal development policies sucked people and commercial life into dispersal. The process continued until 1991, when Julian Price, the heir to a family insurance and broadcasting fortune, decided to pour everything he had
into nursing that old downtown back to life. His company, Public Interest Projects, bought and renovated old buildings, leased street-front space out to small businesses, and rented or sold the lofts above to a new wave of residential pioneers. They coached, coddled, and sometimes bankrolled entrepreneurs who began to enliven the streets. First came a vegetarian restaurant, then a bookstore, a furniture store, and the now-legendary nightclub, the Orange Peel.

When Price died in 2001, the downtown was starting to show signs of life, but his successor, Pat Whelan, and his new recruit, Minicozzi, still had to battle the civic skeptics. Some city officials saw such little value in downtown land that they planned to plunk down a prison right in the middle of a terrain that was perfect for mixed-use redevelopment. The developers realized that if they wanted the city officials to support their vision, they needed to educate them—and that meant offering them hard numbers on the tax and job benefits of revitalizing 
downtown. The numbers they produced sparked a eureka moment among the city’s accountants because they insisted on taking a spatial systems approach, similar to the way farmers look at land they want to put into production. The question was simple: What is the production yield for every acre of land? On a farm, the answer might be in pounds of tomatoes. In the city, it’s about tax revenues and
jobs.

To explain, Minicozzi offered me his classic urban accounting smackdown, using two competing properties: On the one side is a downtown building his firm rescued—a six-story steel-framed 1923 classic once owned by JCPenney and converted into shops, offices, and condos. On the other side is a Walmart on the edge of town. The old Penney’s building sits on less than a quarter of an acre, while the Walmart and its parking lots occupy thirty-four acres. Adding up the property and sales tax paid on each piece of land, Minicozzi found that the Walmart contributed only $50,800 to the city in retail and property taxes for each acre it used, but the JCPenney building contributed a whopping $330,000 per acre in property tax alone. In other words, the city got more than seven times the return for every acre on downtown investments than it did when it broke new ground out on the city limits.

When Minicozzi looked at job density, the difference was even more vivid: the small businesses that occupied the old Penney’s building employed fourteen people, which doesn’t seem like many until you realize that this is actually seventy-four jobs per acre, compared with the fewer than six jobs per acre created on a sprawling Walmart site. (This is particularly dire given that on top of reducing jobs density in its host cities, Walmart depresses average wages as well.)

 Minicozzi has since found the same spatial conditions in cities all over the United States. Even low-rise, mixed-use buildings of two or three stories—the kind you see on an old-style, small-town main street—bring in ten times the revenue per acre as that of an average big-box development. What’s stunning is that, thanks to the relationship between energy and distance, large-footprint sprawl development patterns can actually cost cities more to service than they give back in taxes. The result? Growth that produces deficits that simply cannot be overcome with new growth revenue.*

 “Cities and counties have essentially been taking tax revenues from downtowns and using them to subsidize development and services in sprawl,” Minicozzi told me. “This is like a farmer going out and dumping all his fertilizer on the weeds rather than on the tomatoes.”**

 Price, Whelan, and Minicozzi helped convince the city of Asheville to fertilize that rich downtown soil. The city changed its zoning policies, allowing flexible uses for downtown buildings. It invested in livelier streetscapes and public events. It stopped forcing developers to build parking garages, which brought down the cost of both housing and business. It built its own user-pay garages, so the cost of parking was borne by the people who used it rather than by everyone else. All of this helped make it worthwhile for developers to risk their investment on restoring old buildings, producing new jobs and tax density for the city.

 Retail sales in the resurgent downtown have exploded since 1991. So has the taxable value of downtown properties, which cost a fraction to service than sprawl lands. The reborn downtown has become the greatest supplier of tax revenue and affordable housing in the county—partly because it relieves people of the burden of commuting, and partly because it mixes high-end lofts with modest apartments. All of this, while growing what one local newspaper emotionally described as, “a  downtown that—after decades of doubt and neglect—is once again the heart and soul of Asheville.”
 
 
For most Small & Medium Business (SMB) owners and their management team, it’s often a challenge to take the time to stand back from the daily business operations and be able to take stock of their performance and long-term strategic issues. It is however imperative that they review their progress and understand how to get the best out of their business & implement the steps necessary to make them profitable & prosperous. This is especially true if  there have been recent changes to their business, their market or the economic environment that they operate in. SMBs often fail because owners are unaware of the many aspects that can prevent their business from growing and being successful as the business is organized around the owner’s specific area of expertise, such as marketing, accounting or production and they are not able to see the big picture.

In the first part of this article, I am going to discuss the importance of a business audit, the importance of understanding your business, how & why to develop a business plan and the role of performance metrics. In the second part I will be sharing a number of checklists which will help you analyze your business and benchmark performance standards for the future and also suggest possible next steps.
HOW TO USE THIS AUDIT

If you want to get the maximum benefit from this audit, please make sure that you read through all the material and honestly answer all the questions, with an  “Yes” answer indicating no problem and a “No” answer indicating a problem in that area.

This audit is more than a simple audit about management or finances. It provides an overview of the core aspects of your business including its soul i.e. Vision, Mission & Values. Apart from that, the type of organization you are, value proposition, innovation capability, physical assets, marketing, advertising & public relations, financial planning, human resources, growth plans and  governance & compliance are also covered. Once the audit is complete, you must & analyze each section of the audit to develop an action and next steps.

A healthy & successful business is well rounded and all the core areas are well balanced. The audit will help the business owner/manager identify the areas that need to be worked on and regular audit will help the business become more adaptive, efficient & prosperous.

The Prologue

Now, more than ever, businesses need to make sure that they are: 
·     Headed in the right direction
·    Competing in the right markets, with the right products and/or services
·    Optimizing their market situation - performing better than the competition
·    Using the right mix of assets, skills, finance, infrastructure and relationships that enables them   maximum value to their customers
·   Minimizing the costs that do not add value to their business or customers
·  Aware of external environmental changes and are building the capability to respond quickly to new opportunities or threats
·  Measuring their performance continuously so that they are always aware of their current performance and the successes or failures of their strategic initiatives.

 
 
Two recent articles, Rich Entrepreneur: The Wealthy Aren’t Job Creators, Middle-Class Workers Are by Bryce Covert & The Next Social Contract by Michael Lind that I read have quite succinctly point out why the American middle class is struggling while the top 1% is better off than ever before in history and also call out the fallacy that "the Super Rich (1%) are the job creators".

Bryce Covert writes that "Entrepreneur and self-described one percenter Nick Hanauer warned Congress that rich people like him aren’t the engines of the economy. In a testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, he explained why, in fact, middle-class workers are the economy’s real job creators:

In the same way that it’s a fact that the sun, not earth is the center of the solar system, it’s also a fact that the middle class, not rich business people like me are the center of America’s economy. […]

As an entrepreneur and investor, I have started or helped start, dozens of businesses and initially hired lots of people. But if no one could have afforded to buy what we had to sell, my businesses would all have failed and all those jobs would have evaporated.


He described what he calls a “virtuous cycle” in which middle class consumers have money to buy goods, which increases demand and therefore hiring. The rich, on the other hand, don’t fuel the economy with their consumption in the same way. “I earn 1,000 times the median wage, but I do not buy 1,000 times as much stuff,” he noted."

On the other hand, inspite of record corporate profits and sky high CEO compensations (which only recently are seeing a downswing), as per a New America Foundation report, minimum wage has changed little in the last 50 years. Come on, 50 years and the majority is still making what they did a half century ago? Prices for everything are changing as they are keeping pace with the changing times, then how come we don’t have a "Living Wage"? Shouldn't the minimum wage keep pace with the changing times?

In the op-ed “When Capitalists Cared”, author Hedrick Smith states that “In 1914, not long after the Ford Motor Company came out with the Model T, Ford made the startling announcement that he would pay his workers the unheard-of wage of $5 a day.

Not only was it a matter of social justice, Ford wrote, but paying high wages was also smart business. When wages are low, uncertainty dogs the marketplace and growth is weak. But when pay is high and steady, Ford asserted, business is more secure because workers earn enough to become good customers. They can afford to buy Model Ts.”

He goes on to note that “Other executives bought his logic, and just as important, strong unions fought for rising pay and good benefits in contracts like the 1950 “Treaty of Detroit” between General Motors and the United Auto Workers.

Riding the dynamics of the virtuous circle, America enjoyed its best period of sustained growth in the decades after World War II , from 1945 to 1973, even though income tax rates were far higher than today. It created not only unprecedented middle-class prosperity but also far greater economic equality than today.”

When Hedrick Smith talks about the “virtuous cycle” he is pointing to the fact that employers like Ford, GM, Chrysler, etc. at that time understood the importance of paying their workers a livable wage. A wage from which a worker could raise a family, save for the future and hope to live a virtuous life, meaning they did not need to depend on anybody else’s pity or handout. And he also points out that even though taxes were higher then, than today, it created a very prosperous middle class and thereby upward mobility & greater economic quality.

We now seem to have the case of the “Vicious Cycle”. This phenomenon started quite a while ago and one of the earlier instances were seen after the 2001 dotcom crash. Even during those times, Wall Street Executives & CEO’s got huge salaries & even bigger bonuses. It did not even seem to matter that those same companies are laying-off massive number of employees.  The New Straits Time (September 3, 2001) reported that even as companies laid of tens of thousands of employees (CISCO- 8500 Dell- 5,800), their CEO’s John Chambers & Michael Dell made roughly US$157 million & 201 million respectively. And that was just the beginning. A similar scenario was repeated during the 2008 financial meltdown. Even while the whole economy was crashing, massive layoffs were taking place and the Lehman Bros were imploding, senior executives at firms such as AIG, Goldman Sachs, Chase, BOA, Countrywide, etc. were giving themselves huge salaries & bonuses. This transition from “Virtuous Cycle” to “Vicious Cycle” over the past 2 decades has not only led to major layoffs but overseas shipping of most of the manufacturing and support jobs, salaries cut across the board, health benefits & 401Ks decimated.

When employers devalue a workers work and pay them lesser than what they were being paid for the same work even an year ago, what did they think was going to happen?  When the worker can only pay for the essentials, their disposable income goes down and they start cutting down on other expenses and this leads to even lesser services or cheaper products from businesses as that becomes the new normal. With cheaper products or poorer services, the workers make even lesser money and in return they can afford even less and hence cut further back on their spending. The bankrupting race to the bottom continues and the “Vicious Cycle” continues until the only ones left are the very rich or the very poor. That scenario cannot be good for the economy. And that’s why squeezing the middle class is not good for the economy. 


 
 
By Susie Madrak

If only politicians would stop blathering about the middle class and do something for those who are now poorer than ever. If only people could get full-time jobs. Feel all that freedom trickling down:

The economic "recovery" just keeps getting worse for the average worker: U.S. employers squeezed their employees even harder than usual in the first quarter, leading to the biggest drop in hourly pay on record.

Hourly pay for nonfarm workers fell at a 3.8 percent annualized rate in the first quarter, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Wednesday. This was the biggest quarterly decline since the BLS started keeping track in 1947. Some of the drop was payback for a 9.9 percent surge in hourly pay in the fourth quarter of 2012, as employers shoveled money out the door to avoid tax changes they expected to take place in 2013.

But there have been plenty of such quarterly pay increases in the past. Many were even bigger. Some went on for several quarters at a time. And never has there been such a steep pay drop in response as there was in the first quarter of this year.

Smoothing out the quarterly ups and downs doesn't make the picture look any better. Hourly worker pay rose just 1.9 percent in 2012, a pitiful increase that barely kept up with the 1.8 percent gain in the consumer price index. That was the third-weakest annual increase in hourly pay since 1947, topping only the 1.4 percent gain in 2009 and a 1.8-percent gain in 1994.


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