Parkland Businesses Respond to Mass Shooting: ‘It’s Important to Give Them Routine’

Maryam Braun was driving to work on the afternoon of Valentine's Day when police cars and fire trucks sped past. The co-founder of Evolution Martial Arts, a Parkland, Florida karate school, would soon learn that more than 20 of her customers were under lockdown at the local high school, where a shooter had opened fire and slaughtered several students.

"Parkland is a small community," Braun tells me. "The victims are people that I know, families that walk by my school. Right now, we're all in shock." She adds that, fortunately, none of her own students were injured in the attack.

Many others weren't so lucky. As of Thursday afternoon, as many as 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School--the most deadly such incident since 2012, when 20 students and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Authorities have identified the Parkland gunman as Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at the school with a history of abnormal behavior, and ties to an alt-right white supremacist group.

Staying Open

In the immediate aftermath, more than a dozen local businesses are reeling from the events, and trying to find meaningful ways to support the community. For Evolution Martial Arts, that means business as usual. "Everything is running as usual, and I think that's important," says Braun. "The kids need to get back to their routine and have some sort of normal. Parents right now are struggling to figure out what to do with themselves," she adds. The company, which she launched with her husband in Parkland fourteen years ago, generates around $250,000 in annual revenue, serving around 200 people.

Andrew Shulz, the founder of a local dance studio called Next Level Performing Arts, takes a similar approach. Although Shulz canceled classes on the afternoon of the shooting and Thursday, he says that he'll be open for business on Friday. "We are going to a dance competition this weekend, so we have to practice," he says. "It sounds trivial, but these kids have been working since August, and I think that just canceling everything could make the situation worse," he adds.

Shulz is concerned, however, about the future of his six-person firm, and the Parkland business climate more generally. Parkland is an affluent suburb of Fort Lauderdale. "When something like this happens--when you hear the word 'Columbine'--people freak out," says the entrepreneur, referring to the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, in which 12 students and a teacher were murdered. "I'm absolutely concerned about losing business. Now people will be frightened to be here," he adds.

To his point, Orlando saw fewer hotel occupancies in the months after the 2016 Pulse night club shooting, according to the industry tracker STR Inc., though overall visitation to the city was higher than in 2015. Based on the economic effect of past shootings, it is fair to say that short-term losses are likely in Parkland. Whether the tragedy will hit businesses in the long term is still unknown.

Offering Solace

Other business owners are supporting the community in more subtle ways. Janna Drucker, the founder of a Parkland boutique called Fannies Finds, has a tradition of slipping small trinkets emblazoned with motivational quotes into customers' bags when she senses they're having a hard time. The way she explains it, in a phone call with Inc.: "I can feel when people are hurting." Drucker plans to do this with dozens of customers in the coming days, as the community grieves the loss of its students, peers, and colleagues. "When you're a business owner, you really get to know the residents," Drucker adds. "My role is to provide whatever comfort I can, even if it's small."

Emotions ran high on Thursday, with reactions ranging from fear to sadness and even fury. Indeed, some see the tragedy as preventable with more legislation that regulates gun ownership. "Of course I'm frustrated. I teach self-defense," Braun, the martial arts entrepreneur, tells me. "I can teach and teach and teach, but nothing can compare to a weapon of that force."

She lets out a long, tortured exhale. "In this day and age, this is the new normal," Braun continues. "I talk to my four-year-olds about looking for exits and finding things to hide under."

U.S. Employers Add 200,000 Jobs in January and Wages Rise at Fastest Pace in 8 Years

U.S. employers added a robust 200,000 jobs in January, and wages rose at the fastest pace in more than eight years, evidence of a consistently healthy job market.

The pay gains suggest that employers are increasingly competing for a limited pool of workers. Raises stemming from Republican tax cuts  and minimum wage increases in 18 states also likely boosted pay last month.

The unemployment rate remained 4.1 percent for a fourth straight month, the lowest level since 2000, the Labor Department said in its monthly jobs report Friday.

The figures point to an economy on strong footing even in its ninth year of expansion, fueled by global economic growth and steady consumer spending at home.

The pickup in hourly wages, along with a recent uptick in inflation, may make it more likely that the Federal Reserve will raise short-term interest rates more quickly in the coming months.

Average hourly pay rose 9 cents in January to $26.74, after an even bigger increase in December. Compared with 12 months earlier, wages rose 2.9 percent, the biggest gain since the recession ended eight years ago.

Weak wage growth has been one of the economy's most persistent shortcomings for nearly a decade. But with fewer workers to hire, employers are being forced to raise pay. Some of January's increase reflects one-time increases, such as the minimum wage hikes in some states.

Hiring was broad-based last month. Construction companies added 36,000 jobs, lifted by demand for new homes and remodeling.

Manufacturers added 15,000, health care 26,000. Professional and business services, which includes highly-paid jobs in engineering and accounting, added 23,000. Restaurants, hotels, bars and entertainment gained 35,000.

Most other recent economic data have also been encouraging. Factories, for example, expanded rapidly in January, according to a survey of purchasing managers, in part because a weaker U.S. dollar and solid growth overseas have boosted U.S. exports.

And many Americans appear confident enough to buy homes: Sales of existing houses reached their highest level in 11 years in 2017. At the same time, would-be buyers are struggling to find suitable homes because so few properties are available for sale. The demand for housing helped lift home building in 2017 to its fastest pace in a decade. Construction companies added 210,000 jobs last year, the most in two years.

--The Associated Press

Trump’s State of the Union Address: Why What He Didn’t Say Matters

As State of the Union addresses go, President Trump's first foray was a crowd pleaser--unless of course you're interested in some of the specific policy issues that many fast-growth entrepreneurs were hoping to hear about.

Over the course of his nearly 90 minute State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Trump was surprisingly quiet on entrepreneurship. And while he mentioned small businesses several times throughout his speech, Trump didn't say anything new about plans to help spur them forward, which raises questions about his focus in 2018 and beyond. He did, however, take ample opportunity to bask in his administration's key legislative victory, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was passed into law late last year. 

"We slashed the rate so American companies can compete and win against anyone else, anywhere in the world," the president said, referring to a key provision of the law, which reduced the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent.

He further recognized more than 10 notable attendees over the course of the address, including the co-founders of Staub Manufacturing Solutions, a Dayton, Ohio-based metal fabricator that credits its best year in its 20-year history to Trump's economic policies and the promise of tax reform. The new law, for instance, allows small businesses to deduct 20 percent of their business income. The now 37-person company recently handed out raises and nearly doubled its staff. "It's a good feeling," the President ad-libbed, referring to Staub's expansion in 2017.

He also included a hat-tip to corporate giants including Apple, Disney, and Starbucks, which have promised to funnel their tax savings into bonuses for employees and hiring more workers. Indeed, many U.S. businesses have cheered the passage of the new tax law, anticipating a boon to their bottom line: "Our members are overwhelmingly in favor of tax reform," said Jack Mozloom, a spokesperson for the Nashville-based National Federation of Independent Business, in an interview with Inc. late last year.

The speech was remarkable for what Trump didn't say. He spoke at length about immigration reform and called on bipartisan support for a down-the-center solution, but he didn't mention actual plans for fixing issues with the H-1B visa program, which allows thousands of people in specialized fields to work in the U.S.

The President devoted only 78 words of his 5,200 word address to trade, the subject that he has previously credited for winning him the election--and which carries major implications for American business owners. "Trump won't tell the public or Congress key information about trade negotiations," noted Senator Ron Wyden (D.-Oreg.,) responding to the State of the Union speech on Twitter. "Without it, we can't know if he's making a good deal for Americans."

Indeed, Trump said surprisingly little about the re-negotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which recently wrapped up its sixth round of talks in Montreal this month. The President has repeatedly vowed to withdraw the U.S. from the decades-old trade agreement unless partners Mexico and Canada are willing to make considerable concessions, such as re-classifying the "rules of origin" on certain products in the trade zone, with an eye toward reducing the U.S.'s more than $50 billion trade deficit. "America has finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs, and our wealth," the President said Tuesday. "The era of economic surrender is totally over." The next round of NAFTA talks is set to begin in Mexico early next month, though U.S. trade secretary Robert Lighthizer has complained that the negotiations are proceeding too slowly. 

Of course, addresses like these are oftentimes just ceremonial--and don't always equate to legislative focus. Whether trade deals and immigration reforms come to fruition during Trump's time in office is still a mystery. 

How Your Business Changed After a Year of President Donald Trump

Donald Trump's first year in office may have been laden with controversy, political squabbling, and tweet storms, yet the reality-TV star turned U.S. president also managed to get a singular piece of legislation through that should loom large for businesses big and small for years to come.

With the passage of the Tax Cut and Reform Bill and its key business incentives for pass-through entities like LLCs and S Corps, small businesses should see their bottom lines balloon. According to an estimate from the Joint Committee on Taxation, the new 20 percent income deduction for pass-through businesses will reduce federal revenue by $415 billion for the eight years in which it is in effect. "It means that this provision is creating roughly $415 billion in savings for pass-throughs," says Scott Greenberg, an analyst at the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C.

Of course, not every policy Trump has spearheaded in the last 12 months will benefit businesses. Here are three ways Trump has changed your business, for better or worse.

1. Tax reform

Republican lawmakers achieved their largest legislative achievement of 2017 by passing a sweeping overhaul of the tax system in December. A key feature of the law involves the 20 percent deduction for pass-through income--that is, business income that is taxed at an individual tax rate instead of through the corporate tax structure. About 40 million taxpayers claimed pass-through income in 2014, according to data from the U.S. Treasury

This tax plan isn't without controversy: a Treasury Department analysis found that 69 percent of pass-through income goes to the top 1 percent of households, meaning it isn't always benefiting small businesses.

Kyle Jensen, the associate dean and director of entrepreneurship at the Yale School of Management, says the tax cuts will have a greater impact on small-business owners--people who, say, run local construction companies--rather than emerging entrepreneurs who aim to become the next Mark Zuckerberg. 

2. Deregulation

Trump's move to ease regulatory burdens on businesses has been palpable, says Steve Kaplan, a professor of entrepreneurship and finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. "There were all sorts of regulatory tentacles out there that, I think, demotivated a lot of small businesses," Kaplan says. "You talk to people in small and large businesses, that burden being lifted has been a real positive."

In the last year, Trump rolled back regulations on environmental protections, financial services, and health care, calling it the "most far-reaching regulatory reform" in U.S. history. Kaplan believes the changes are beneficial for large and small businesses, even if the public has mixed or negative reactions. He noted that this is especially true for the Environmental Protection Agency, where Trump has made the strongest effort to reverse Obama-era policies.

"Whether they go too far in deregulating, that remains to be seen," Kaplan says. "Many small businesses would say they went too far on regulating."

Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission voted in December to rollback Net Neutrality regulations that stopped broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service. While customers will not see potential changes immediately, Jensen says the repeal of Net Neutrality isn't helpful for the economic growth of the country. He added that the growth of the country is dependent on startups, and the new rules will make it difficult for smaller companies to compete.

3. Immigration reform

Between the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and the status of the undocumented young people who were brought to the country as children (known as Dreamers), immigration has been a major policy issue for the Trump administration. Trump started his presidency by issuing a travel ban on seven predominately Muslim countries, but it was quickly shut down by a federal judge in Brooklyn.

Then, in September, Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. While he has recently said that he's open to a path to citizenship after 10 to 12 years for Dreamers, the future of those hundreds of thousands of people is still uncertain.

The Trump administration has also taken steps to make it harder for American companies to hire skilled foreign workers through the H-1B visa program. While the administration hasn't made any changes to the law, there's been an increase in the number of "requests for evidence" which are sent by the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services department. These requests are a standard part of the process and ask the applicant for more information, but between January and November of last year, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services department issued about 40 percent more requests than in all of 2016, according to data from the department.

And that's not good for business. "Anything we do to essentially make it more difficult for people, for talent, to come here, will impoverish us," says Yale's Jensen. He added that immigrants are more likely to start a company than native born people, in part because they don't have the same access to the labor market. What's more, Jensen believes American entrepreneurship will suffer if it's difficult for people to come to the U.S.

"I think it's a problem now, and we should be focusing on ensuring that we are as open as possible to the greatest people on earth," Jensen says. "If you are a great and incredibly talented person, America should be bending over backwards to roll out the red carpet for you."

U.S. Employers Only Added 148,000 Jobs in December but That’s a Good Sign

U.S. employers added 148,000 jobs in December, a modest gain but still enough to suggest that the economy entered the new year with solid momentum.

The unemployment rate  remained 4.1 percent for a third straight month, the lowest level since 2000, the Labor Department said Friday.

For all of 2017, employers added nearly 2.1 million jobs, enough to lower the unemployment rate from 4.7 percent a year ago.

Still, the data indicates that job gains are slowing, which typically happens when unemployment falls to ultra-low levels and fewer people are available to be hired. Average job gains have declined to 171,000 this year from a peak of 250,000 in 2014. Last year's job gains were the fewest since 2010.

Despite the low unemployment and the difficulty some employers face in finding enough qualified workers, pay gains remain sluggish. Average hourly earnings rose 2.5 percent in December from a year earlier -- about a full percentage point lower than is typical in a healthy economy.

Still, the December job growth, while modest, underscores the economy's continued health in its ninth year of recovery. Last month's pace of hiring is enough, over time, to lower the unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate for African-Americans reached a record low of 6.8 percent in December. And the jobless rate for veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq fell to 3.3 percent, also a record low.

Solid economic growth in both the United States and major countries overseas is supporting more hiring. Factory managers received the most new orders in December than in any month since 2004. Retailers have reported strong holiday sales. Builders are ramping up home construction to meet growing demand.

Sales of existing homes reached their fastest pace in nearly 11 years in November. Consumer confidence is at nearly a 17-year high. And the Dow Jones industrial average reached 25,000 for the first time on Thursday.

Manufacturing and construction reported strong job gains in December, adding 25,000 and 30,000 jobs, respectively. A category that includes hotels and restaurants gained 29,200.

Retailers cut 20,300 jobs, mostly in department store chains such as Macy's, which announced this week that it would close 11 additional stores. That suggests that stores hired fewer seasonal workers for the winter holidays, a sign of the impact of e-commerce.

Transportation and warehousing, a category that has grown substantially this year to keep up with online deliveries, added just 1,800 positions in December.

Most economists expect the Trump administration's tax cuts to help speed the economy's already decent pace of growth. Some envision the unemployment rate dropping as low as 3.5 percent by the end of 2018.

A rate that low would mark the lowest such level in nearly a half-century, and it would likely force businesses to accelerate pay raises to attract and retain employees. Pay raises have remained puzzlingly weak for many U.S. workers despite the robust job market.

Some businesses, though, are already howling that they can't find enough qualified people. There are roughly 6 million available jobs, near a record high, according to government data. Should unemployment fall to 3.5 percent, those complaints will intensify.

For at least two years, economists have been expecting the falling unemployment rate to boost wages. They point to several trends that may be keeping a lid on wage gains.

As the vast baby boom generation ages -- 10,000 of them are turning 65 every day -- they are retiring and are being replaced by younger workers, who typically earn far less money. That is likely suppressing overall wage growth, economists say.

Worker pay also depends on productivity, or how efficient employees are. And productivity has been weak for roughly a decade.

In 2000, the last time the unemployment rate fell this low, wages were growing at a 4 percent annual pace. But productivity, which measures workers' output per hour, was much higher then. A falling unemployment rate can force up pay, but rising productivity has a much greater effect.

Many businesses, meanwhile, feel they have limited ability to pass on higher wages to consumers in the form of higher prices. Online shopping and cheaper imported goods make it easier for consumers to find bargains. That leaves retailers and other firms reluctant to raise pay.

--The Associated Press