Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Outlook for Small Businesses is 'Positive'

Rochester Business Journal
September 26, 2014
As a CPA, Kimberly Gangi often hears clients’ complaints about taxes and gridlock in government. But Gangi, president of the Small Business Council of Rochester, says there are “great opportunities” for small firms to help the local economy grow.

A graduate of SUNY College at Geneseo, Gangi has two decades’ experience in accounting and today is a partner at Insero & Co., where she heads the small-business and outsource accounting services group.

Gangi recently took part in an interview with RBJ editor Paul Ericson.

ROCHESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL: How do you see the state of small business in Rochester now?

KIMBERLY GANGI: In general, as far as the state of small businesses in Rochester now, I see it overall as positive. We have seen a definite increase in activity amongst the small-business sector, both in new companies starting up and existing organizations gaining some growth and seeing new opportunities. While we are cautiously optimistic, we firmly believe that small businesses will continue to fuel growth in the Rochester region and the surrounding areas.

RBJ: The picture in the overall local economy has been mixed. Private-sector jobs continue to grow, but at a slower pace than nationally. And the labor pool has been shrinking. What are some of the challenges frequently voiced by SBC members?

GANGI: Challenges faced by SBC members—and honestly, most small-business owners—continue to be finding and retaining talent, staying competitive and the ever-increasing demand on time. Being able to hire and retain quality individuals and being able to keep those individuals can be very challenging, especially for those just starting up. The cost of benefits, particularly health care, can make this difficult. With the downsizing of some of the larger companies in the area and reduction of the periphery services those companies needed, business owners need to be more strategic than ever to stay competitive.

I also see that owners have more of a demand now on their time than ever. With the age of technology comes full-time access, and I think that owners find that they are busier than they ever have been and need to do more with less. That all being said, I am very confident that our local small-business entrepreneurs will continue to create new opportunities for our community.

RBJ: How long have you been a member of the Small Business Council, and how has your own membership helped you as a partner in your business?

GANGI: I have been a current board member of the Small Business Council since 2012, and I also served on the board from 2004 to 2007 and co-chaired the Business Person of the Year Gala in 2004 and 2005. My firm has been involved with the Small Business Council for much of the last decade in some capacity, either at the board level or as a supporter of events and committee participation.

My membership in this organization has helped me as a partner at Insero & Co., as my primary role at my firm is to lead the small-business and outsource department. This role is a natural fit for me, as my interaction with the membership at events and fellow board members has provided me insight that has helped me to grow professionally and to better serve my own clients. My role on this board and involvement with this organization have allowed me the opportunity to meet with business owners throughout the community and develop relationships with my fellow board members that extend beyond time spent in meetings and has truly been an invaluable experience.

RBJ: As SBC president, what have been some of your primary goals?

GANGI: My primary goal first and foremost for the Small Business Council this year was to ensure we were delivering to the membership programs and events that they found value in. In addition, we decided some time ago that we’d like to embark on a mini strategic planning process to reaffirm and define what and who the Small Business Council stands for. One of my goals this year was to lead that committee and go through that process, which we did in January. The outcome of those sessions was very positive, and we as a board have been working to implement and reinforce the results of those efforts this year. Finally, a key goal of mine is to position the SBC organizationally for the future.

RBJ: Are there any new initiatives or programs in the works?

GANGI: The board and committee chairs are continually evaluating the programs that we put forth to the membership. Many of our events and programs are very well-attended, and the response from attendees is positive. We are always striving for improvement and have made some modifications to existing events as well as reflecting on what worked and what didn’t in our post-event wrap-up meetings.

This year we are starting to gain some traction with our Decision Makers Forum, which is an evening event that focuses and does a “deeper dive” on a particular topic. These events include a panel of professionals from the field of focus and a moderator. We are looking to add more of these in 2015, and the feedback we are receiving is positive. We also are considering modification of our calendar of events to provide a more consistent and even delivery of programming to the membership throughout the year.

RBJ: Three years ago, the SBC started naming finalists and handing out awards in two Business Person of the Year categories: businesses with more than 50 employees and those with fewer than 50 employees. Has there been any discussion about other changes to the award program in the future?

GANGI: The change in the program three years ago had purpose and a goal which we feel was accomplished. The intent was to encourage owners across the spectrum of small business to be a part of this celebration, and by stratifying those awards between the over-50 and under-50 employees, we accomplished that and created a more diverse program that is really representative of what we wanted it to be. So while at this time we don’t have any plans to change the program, as far as the overall structure of it, a new idea may emerge in the future that may pique our interest.

RBJ: In terms of helping run a business, what do you personally find most challenging?

GANGI: Honestly, in terms of running my firm, some of the most challenging aspects of it have also been the most rewarding; it is the people side of the business. When I started practicing some 20 years ago, the sole focus was on the clients, and as a staff accountant, you put your head down and you cranked out work for as many hours as it took. Today, the environment is totally changed. Of course, you always focus on your clients and client service, but the individuals coming out of the colleges today are very bright, and they want to work in organizations that recognize them for who they are as a person as well as what they can do technically. So there has been this amazing shift in public accounting, and the focus is not only on our clients but on our people. The adage that you are only as good as the people that work for you is really quite true. It has been an adjustment for us old-timers and a challenge, but it has been worth it 110 percent.
In terms of helping my clients run their business, while the challenges can vary in degree, depending on the stage of the organization, they are quite often the same, whether the business is 2 months old or 20 years old. People, cash flow, growth and succession challenges impact organizations every day. My challenges are often with owners of these businesses and helping them to focus on where they are today and where they want to be and staying on that path. The path can often be winding and it can make a calculated change, of course, but we work as a team, and the successes along the way, however small or big, are well worth it.

RBJ: As a CPA, what issues and concerns do you hear about most frequently from business clients?

GANGI: The most frequent concerns we hear from our clients really revolve around taxes and gridlock in government. Business owners (don’t) feel that our governing bodies truly understand the impact their decisions make on organizations and what the cost of the delays of some of those decisions have.

RBJ: What are SBC members’ top concerns in Albany right now?

GANGI: The focus currently is on the upcoming November elections and what impact those will have on the upstate region and progress on business reforms. Concerns continue to surround the regulatory issues faced by businesses, such as the costly enforcement of the Wage Theft Prevention Act, minimum wage, rising health care costs and taxes. While significant progress has been made on the Wage Theft Prevention Act, compliance is still required, pending the signature of the governor.

RBJ: In general, do SBC members think government does enough to support small business? Or to reframe the question, would members prefer that government—especially in Albany—simply do less in terms of regulation and taxation?

GANGI: I believe that the regulatory environment that we live in today can make it very challenging at times for SBC members and small-business owners. While progress has been made in certain areas, necessary compliance with regulations and mandates can be daunting and costly for members and owners. Continued advocacy in Albany for the upstate region is critical.
New York is an expensive state to do business in, and again, while there certainly have been some strides made, other states and other countries, honestly, are aggressively courting our businesses. There needs to be balance.

RBJ: Circling back to where we began, are SBC members generally optimistic or pessimistic about the prospects for small businesses—and the broader local economy—over the next few years?

GANGI: It is interesting, because as entrepreneurs, we are optimists by nature, and when you think about it, when you start a business, you are fighting the odds by virtue of the very challenges that you will face every day. It requires resilience and tenacity to start and grow a small business. So in spite of the gridlock at the state and federal levels of government and the decline of some of the largest employers in the area, we see great opportunities for local businesses to pick up the slack and help grow this area. Rochester has always been innovative and ahead of the curve. We see no reason to think we won’t continue that pattern.

Source: Rochester Business Journal

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Contractor Tips: Top 10 Home Remodeling Don'ts

Help your home renovation go smoothly and stay on budget with this wise advice from a pro.

Whether you work with a general contractor or act as one on your own project, getting a glimpse into the mind of a contractor can give you a new perspective into remodeling projects around your home. 

I’ve learned a lot working as a contractor, and some of those lessons can help homeowners too. What you do is just as important as what you don't do, and sometimes a homeowner's instinct can negatively affect a home renovation project. 

How do you know if you're helping or hurting your project? Read on to find out and to see what can help simplify your home remodel.

Other by Menlo Park Media & Bloggers Janet Paik

1. Don't delay decisions. If you want your remodel to go well, the best thing to do is make every single decision before work starts. A good builder can talk you through the list of situations that might come up on your job, but decisions about situations aren't usually what cause delays. 

Instead, most of the issues are related to decisions about things like paint, trim and faucet selection. These may seem small, but when your faucet is two weeks late, plumbers have to be rescheduled and the medicine cabinet door hits the faucet when it's installed, you’ll see how something small can balloon into a week’s delay on a five-week project.

Traditional Before Photos

2. Don't change your mind (too much). Even though it's inevitable that you'll change your mind about something on your project, know this: Every time you change your mind, it'll result in a change order. Although the change may seem minor, there are always added costs — even if it's only the time spent discussing the change.

Scheduling can be affected too. Everyone working on the job needs to be informed of the change so no one's working on the old plan. Everyone makes changes, and that's OK — just be aware of the potential to disrupt and delay the job.

3. Don't buy your own materials. It seems like an obvious way to save money — a builder is going to mark up the cost of materials and pass that added cost on to you. That’s true, but the builder may get a better price than you to begin with, meaning that even after markup, you'll pay the same price.

Traditional Before Photos by Philadelphia General Contractors Buckminster Green LLC

4. Don't put lipstick on a pig. Though a builder will rarely come right out and say this, some houses should be knocked down rather than have money put into them to fix them up. Though this is a rare situation, it’s common for people to put money into fancy cabinets for a house with a sagging foundation, or into a high-efficiency furnace in a house with no insulation. Listen to the professionals who come to look at your job. Be open to their suggestions.

5. Don't work without a contingency fund. If you find out that the work you wanted to do costs more than you expected or budgeted, you’re in good company. It’s almost unheard of that a person sets a realistic budget for a project. But don’t eat into your contingency to stretch the budget. If you follow rule number one and make every decision ahead of time, you can probably get away with a 5 percent contingency if you have a good general contractor.

Traditional Before Photos by Auburn General Contractors Midtown Builders, Inc

6. Don't let kids and pets get in the way. Though the people working in your home will often try to accommodate your pets and kids, they shouldn’t have to — it's just not safe to have children or animals around construction.

7. Don't live in the home. Most people ignore this rule, and for good reason. Remodeling is expensive, and moving out just adds to the cost. If you can’t move out for the whole job, try to schedule some time away and set up a clean, comfortable place to retreat to when you can’t handle coming home to a messy and stressful construction site.

Traditional Before Photos by Poughkeepsie Architects & Building Designers Daniel Contelmo Architects

8. Don't be a distraction. It may sound harsh, but every minute someone working on your house spends talking to you, they are not working on your house. Is the conversation important and one that will have an impact on the job? That's one thing, but the electrician on the job isn't getting paid any more to spend 30 minutes talking about your vacation plans.

9. Don't ignore what the house wants. Though some people can pull off wearing a pair of high-top sneakers with a tuxedo, it can also go horribly wrong. Houses are the same way. Can an ultramodern kitchen in a Victorian brownstone work? Absolutely, but make sure you can pull it off. This is not to say a house can’t evolve with the times. There are no hard and fast rules — just get to know your house, live in it and do your research before you pull out the sledgehammer.

10. Don't work without a design. Some projects require an architect, some an interior designer, and sometimes a talented builder will get your aesthetic and help you come up with a good plan. 

Whatever you do, don’t start a remodel without a detailed floor plan. A lot of elements interact in a space — put them all on paper and you’ll catch problems before they are built. You may be able to build a functional space without a plan, but if you want a functional and beautiful space, hire a designer.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Letter from Rochester: Attempting a Reboot

The renovation and adaptive reuse of a historic department store building is just one of many projects that are a collective attempt to revitalize the upstate New York city. 

By C. J. Hughes

Continuing efforts to revive Rochester, New York, after decades of decline, The Architectural Team (TAT) has embarked on a plan to transform a former department store into a mixed-use complex that will have apartments, offices, and a rooftop garden.

The $200 million plan, which is in partnership with the WinnCompanies, an adaptive-reuse developer, focuses on a store known as Sibley’s (Sibley, Lindsay & Curr Company), which was a much-loved retail fixture in the upstate city from around the Civil War until 1990. It’s a hopeful project for a city whose overall population dipped four percent from 2000 to 2010, according to city officials. The Eastman Kodak film company, an influential Rochester corporation that employed tens of thousands of people, declared bankruptcy in 2012, adding to Rochester’s woes.

But the Rochester Downtown Development Corp., a nonprofit promoting the city’s renaissance, says the downtown population grew by almost 12 percent in the same decade, which by some estimates has pushed down the residential vacancy rate to less than five percent. “The table has been set,” says Joseph Eddy, Winn’s vice president of development.

In fact, $755 million of projects are underway downtown, and 38 office buildings have been converted to apartments since 2000, according to the Development Corp. And the trend continues: One of the residential pioneers, the Temple Building, a 14-story former Baptist church that faces Sibley’s, is now creating an additional 30 units on four of its floors.

Sibley's, which is topped by a clock tower and has tawny Roman-style-brick walls, takes up a full block in the downtown area and sweeps across more than one million square feet. Under Boston-based TAT’s plan, which would play out incrementally over a decade, the historic structure would gain several hundred thousand square feet of office space and nearly 200 apartments, though the programming is still a work in progress. “We’re taking a very integral approach in the building, which is really a microcosm of what’s happening downtown,” says Michael Binette, a principal of TAT, a frequent Winn partner. “But we’re happy to be part of Rochester’s revival.”
Offices are to be installed in the lower floors of the window-lined building; the oldest section dates to 1905 and was designed by local architect J. Foster Warner. His commissions included homes for George Eastman, the founder Eastman Kodak. The apartments will be tucked in the upper floors of the 12-story tower portion of the building, which dates to 1926 and offers views of Lake Ontario. Also planned is a 230-space underground parking garage, street-level shops, and a garden, with lawns and seating areas, on the roof of the lower section of the L-shaped structure.

Since buying the site in 2012, Winn has taken small steps forward. Last year, it built a police station in a storefront on the site, next to a new daycare center. Also, as part of the same $4 million initial phase, workers have repointed exterior walls, hung brown and cream awnings, and rehabbed original nickel and brass escalators. They’ve also partly renovated a soaring central atrium, whose floor clock was a popular meeting spot for shoppers during Sibley’s heyday. For a time, the store, which also sold baked goods and had on-site barbershops, was the largest of its type between New York and Chicago, according to some historical accounts. But besides a handful of friezes and Art Deco elevator doors, many of the building’s historic details have been lost. “The transition over the years has not been kind to the building,” says Binette.

The next step, to start constructing the apartments and offices, is supposed to start by the end of the year, says Eddy. But the $38 million phase is dependent on a slew of public financing, including state and federal tax credits, that won’t be awarded until April, he says.

Under The Architectural Team's plan, the Sibley's building would gain several hundred thousand square feet of office space, nearly 200 apartments, an underground parking garage, street-level shops, and a roof garden.

Though Rochester is betting that a growing population will fuel its latest stab at renewal, offices are getting some attention, too. Under construction is Midtown Rising, a one-million-square-foot mixed-use project across from Sibley’s. It will replace Midtown Plaza, a mall-centered development by architect Victor Gruen built in the early 1960s. While much of the plaza’s sprawling nine-acre plaza site has been razed, the city preserved the Seneca Building, an office building. Also saved was the 17-story Midtown Tower, which will have offices and 182 apartments.

Infrastructure is being improved as well. To alleviate sidewalk congestion along Main Street, where buses queue to pick up passengers, the city is building a $50 million downtown bus terminal with 30 bays across 87,000 square feet. A sunken highway blamed for severing neighborhoods when it was constructed in the 1950s is also targeted. The city seeks to raise a portion of it to turn it into an at-grade street.

In the process, Rochester might undo some of the negative effects of the urban renewal era that have contributed to its ills, says Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Development Corp. “When old was bad and new was good we lost so many buildings,” she says. “What we don’t want to do again is destroy neighborhoods and wipe out mixed-income populations and install soulless development.”

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Remodeling Likely To Trump Selling In 2014, Houzz Says

Cautiously confident. That’s the general feeling of the nearly 200,000 registered Houzz users who participated in a recent survey about residential remodeling, building and decorating activity.
Fifty-three percent of U.S. homeowners say they will remodel In the next one to two years, to increase the value of their home, even though they have no plans of moving in the next five years. “They’re confident enough to remodel but not enough to sell,” says real estate broker Leah Applewhite.
Why Remodel? 
Skyrocketing home prices are likely causing already cautious homeowners to hold off on selling and moving, because while they can get a good price for their home, what they can buy isn’t necessarily bigger or better. So they’re deciding to plunk extra savings into their homes to make them more functional.
This is true for homeowner Cheryl Di Cristofolo of Springhill, Florida. She’s currently remodeling her kitchen, because recently she began looking at the market to see if she could sell her custom-built home, downsize to a smaller home and make a profit. But the market wasn’t what she expected.
“Prices are rising so much that for me to buy a stock house would cost me as much as I paid for my custom home eight years ago, and it’d be for less square footage and less quality,” she says. “I went to look at downsizing by 1,000 square feet, because I thought it’d be for less money than what I paid for my home. I was shocked to find out it’s not.” And because she has two children starting high school soon, she doesn’t plan to move for at least six years. “I know I’m here for at least that long,” she says. “That’s how I can rationalize making these changes. I can stay and be thankful for what I have.”
Applewhite says many homeowners who refinanced to get a superlow interest rate are enjoying their low monthly payments, and don’t want to give that up for a same-size or even smaller house.
“If you’re trying to move within the same real estate market, then moving up is difficult,” she says. “Unless you have a sudden better economic situation — new job, no longer paying for kids’ college — it’s hard to get more for your money. So people aren’t feeling confident enough in their situations. It hasn’t improved enough to buy the bigger home or be closer to school or work.”
“Most people have just a sliver of equity in their homes right now,” she adds. “If you’re looking at moving, the cost to move is sometimes more than the equity you have in the house. If you have $30,000 in equity and the cost of moving is $30,000, people are saying, ‘Let’s put that money toward a remodel and stay put.’”
Adding to the reasoning, Applewhite says, is the fact that the economy is doing better in cities where it’s more expensive to live, but wages haven’t exactly caught up. This can keep people in place and convince them to make what they have better.
“If you live in Ohio and want to move to Seattle, where you got a job at Amazon, but your house in Ohio is worth $150,000 and a home in Seattle is $650,000, people would like to, but they just can’t afford it,” she says. “So people are feeling confident enough to remodel but not enough to make a move.”
That’s why, with the exception of millennials (people younger than 35), the majority of U.S. homeowners (66 percent) who are remodeling plan to stay in their home for the long term.
Millennial Might 
According to the survey, 36 percent of millennials say they’re remodeling to increase the value of their home with an eye on moving in the next five years. Only 25 percent in all other age groups are similarly motivated.

“Millennials are just in a different life phase than older groups,” Applewhite says. “They’re thinking that it’s likely that they’ll move for babies, get married, have a job shift. There’s more upheaval in that age group. So they want to put money into the home to make it more sellable.”
Biggest Remodeling Challenges
Overall the vast majority of homeowners (78 percent) are remodeling to improve the look and feel of their space. Secondary factors include making the space more functional (54 percent), increasing home value (52 percent) and upgrading features and appliances (47 percent).
Of course, remodeling has its own challenges. Last year 27 percent of respondents in the annual Houzz survey said funding a building or remodeling project or staying on budget was a main challenge. This year that number fell to just 19 percent.
Education and better financial planning could be factors in the shift. Linda Rogers is a financial planner with Planning Within Reach. She sees many families looking for financial advice on retirement, paying for their kids’ colleges and, yes, even home remodeling projects. “I coach them on getting a ballpark on remodeling costs and encourage them to get multiple quotes and to understand that contractors quote prices differently, so you’ve got to know what you’re getting,” she says. Lately, she says, people are feeling more comfortable with planning for home remodels.
How they are paying for remodels is interesting, too. The survey found that 8 in 10 homeowners are paying for their projects in cash. The extra money lying around likely comes from homeowners’ being tighter with their expenses during the slow economic recovery, or they’ve racked up more equity in their homes and refinanced at a superlow interest rate.
“Plus, using cash is just less risky,” says Rogers, especially for older groups. (About 30 percent of millennials say they plan to use a credit card to pay for some of their home remodeling projects, versus just 21 percent among all other groups.) “Millennials weren’t as invested in the stock market when it tanked versus those in their 40s, 50s and 60s who lived it,” Rogers adds.
This year the biggest challenge for homeowners was finding products — 39 percent had this issue, according to the survey.
“If you’re doing a kitchen and sourcing yourself, you might run around and buy cabinets here, fixtures here, tile there,” says Emily Mackie, a Chicago interior designer with Inspired Interiors.
“You’ll have three different salespeople talking to you about what’s new and hot, but they won’t know that you have a 10-foot ceiling and you need a backsplash size that complements the scale. As designers we shop products all day long and get the best pricing. You shop at three different places, and you still have to pay a salesperson’s commission. So why not hire the designer that knows the overall look to buy for you?”
After sourcing products, defining a style was the No. 2 challenge (28 percent) overall. For millennials, though, defining a style (43 percent) and making decisions with their spouse or partner (34 percent) were among the biggest challenges.
Where’s the Money Going?

Home remodeling is a $47 billion industry in the U.S. alone, according to an IBISWorld market research report released in December 2013. Where is that money going? Mostly kitchens.
The Houzz survey found that homeowners spend $26,172 on their kitchens on average. Most of which goes toward new countertops (89 percent), new appliances (86 percent) and electrical work (83 percent). That number can be significantly higher depending on where you live. The average kitchen remodel in San Francisco, for example, is $44,742; in New York, $39,515. (These kitchen remodel averages are for homeowners who hired a professional, who did the work themselves, or who both hired a pro and did some work themselves.)
Millennials spent less than other age groups on all types of projects in the past five years and plan to spend less than other age brackets on future projects. For instance, millennials plan to pay about $3,769 on patio and landscape work, while baby boomers plan to spend $7,870.
And if your household pulls in more than $100,000 a year, you’re twice as likely to build a custom home than those households with incomes below that amount (8 percent versus 4 percent).
The national average for a custom home is $569,838, according to the survey. If you live in the western U.S., plan to spend an average of $692,174. And look out, San Francisco. If you live in this Northern California city, a custom home will set you back on average a whopping $1,146,000. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is less harsh. An average custom home there costs $323,094.
Who’s Doing the Work?
A majority of homeowners planning a home renovation or decorating project in the next two years plan to hire a professional. Of those, more than half (52 percent) plan to hire a general contractor. Carpet and flooring pros are also in demand (34 percent), as are tile, stone and countertop pros (30 percent). Meanwhile, 21 percent of homeowners are looking for kitchen and bath remodelers, 17 percent plan to hire an architect, and 17 percent plan to hire an interior designer.
Interestingly, homeowners and renters are just as likely to decorate, and 73 percent of U.S. homeowners plan to decorate in the next two years. Renters are more likely than owners to hire a professional for their decorating projects (21 percent versus 17 percent).
About 49 percent of renters plan to hire an architect in the next two years, and 32 percent of renters plan to hire an interior designer in the same time period. This makes sense, given that 17 percent of renters plan to build a custom home in the next two years, and 41 percent plan to purchase a home.
What We Call Home
The idea of what we call home is much more difficult to survey, but likely contributes greatly to the pulse of the home remodeling, building and decorating industry. Thinking back to Di Cristofolo’s situation, the complex, risk-heavy real estate market has caused her to focus more of her efforts on improving what she already has, and making decisions based on keeping her family happy, rather than reaping monetary rewards.
It’s something that Applewhite has noticed, too. “We’re shifting the way we look at homes,” she says. “It’s more of a place that nurtures us and our families. People are asking, ‘How does this enhance my life rather than my investment portfolio?’ If we have funds, we’re spending money to make it a nicer environment for ourselves. ”


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Funding Complete for Rochester Inner Loop Project

The Inner Loop redevelopment project in the East End will be funded fully when work begins this fall.

Rochester City Council unanimously accepted state funding of $4.2 million last Tuesday, the final financial piece for the $21 million project.

The $4.2 million was divided equally from among the state Senate, state Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, city officials said.

The project will be funded primarily by federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery discretionary grants. The state is funding the remaining 20 percent.

The project will reconstruct a sunken two-thirds of a mile stretch from Monroe Avenue to Charlotte Street into an at-grade boulevard with more than six acres of land for potential development, city officials said.

(c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal.