The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that for every $1 billion in U.S. manufacturing exports, 5,210 jobs are supported and for every $1 billion in U.S. service exports, 7,033 jobs are supported.

As the top exporting metropolitan region in the U.S. ($131.5 billion in 2014), Houston’s exports to the global marketplace play a significant role in the global economy. Exports create jobs, generate income, profits and tax receipts for tens of thousands of Houstonians. These include petrochemical plants, truck drivers, warehouse operators, the three Class I railroads serving Houston, freight forwarders, industrial parks, custom brokers, shipping lines, dock workers, lawyers, bankers and accounting firms.

Read the more in-depth article, which ran in the Houston Business Journal, to learn more about how exports are fueling Houston’s economy.

As Houstonians, we love to see our city thrive and take pride in the unique mix of eclectic and traditional.  We know the miscellany we find around every corner is a part of what makes our city so great. While the lack of zoning has been a topic of criticism in the past, it turns out it may be part of what makes the Bayou City so inclusive and accessible.

An article that ran in the Wall Street Journal claims Houston, along with Detroit, Singapore, Medellín and Vancouver, is a city leading the way in urban innovation. The article states for the first time in history, more humans are living in urban than rural areas. It cites a United Nations projection of nearly two-thirds of the world’s almost 10 billion people will be living in urban spaces by 2050. So where does Houston fit into the innovative idea?

Though our beloved city is growing at an extremely fast rate, our lack of zoning has allowed real estate developers to build new developments in virtually all areas of the city without dealing with rezoning. This, unlike cities such as New York City or San Francisco, has allowed prices to stay relatively affordable. Over half of the homes in Houston, with over 200,000 new units in the past six years, are considered affordable to median income families by the National Home Builders Association. To put that into perspective, only 15% of Los Angeles homes are considered affordable.

The balance between lack of zoning and high demand opens up opportunities for developers and designers, and home buyers for that matter, which they may not find elsewhere.

We at PKF Texas love our opportunity-filled city and love watching it flourish. A huge proponent of our company culture is giving back, which we do by partnering and being involved with organizations who make Houston so innovative.

The original article was written by Michael Totty, News Editor for The Journal Report, and can be found here.

IRS creates “Healthcare Law Online Resources” site and Publication The IRS has posted Publication 5093, Healthcare Law Online Resources, on its website. The page has a section for employers as well as individuals that has links to employer resources for information on health insurance, tax/legal responsibilities, and small business resources.

The link to health insurance information has a quick survey to help employers and individuals get to the best plans and prices for their needs.  The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) is a new way for a small business to buy high-quality health insurance for its employees. The Marketplace opens for business on Oct. 1, 2013.

The tax benefits and responsibilities link goes to the IRS webpage for Affordable Care Act (ACA) tax provisions.

The link to small business resources contains information from the SBA.gov site on the key provisions in the ACA.

The link for legal guidance on the labor provisions is to the U.S. Department of Labor’s webpage on the ACA. The web page includes ACA regulations and guidance.

The U.S. Government business portal link includes a link where employers may learn about the new health care changes. There is a wizard that asks a series of questions (e.g., “How many full-time equivalent employees do you have?”) to help employers determine how they are affected by the new health care law.

Thanks to RIA Payroll Newsletter for up-to-the minute tips on this quickly development for large and small employers alike.

So, what is hope? What does hope mean to you and your family? Close your eyes and think about that in your life, your family. Right now, what does hope mean to you.  Now think about the people and families of New Orleans who were impacted by Hurricane Katrina….. Yes, that was almost 8 years ago, and things are getting better in some parts of New Orleans, but other parts of the City they are still in need of, in a word… “hope”.

On March 18, 2013 I joined 50 of my fellow Partner Power International Team members and probably 300 other volunteers from the Microsoft Convergence Convention to travel to the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. I approached this day with some skepticism of whether we would be welcomed, and quite frankly, could we make a difference.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This video shows a nice summary of the day.

 

My particular project was building a 1,000’ fence for young children to play ball in at the Hope Community Center in Gentilly. Pay attention to the 1:54 mark to 2:00 mark and see the transformation of that field. In addition, our Microsoft volunteers accomplished the following in one day:

  • Tree Planting
    •  Volunteers planted 160 trees spanning a twenty block radius
  •  Neighborhood homes
    •  Painted one neighborhood home and landscaped 6 residential homes
  •  Hope Community Center
    •  Built 2 Decks outside the Community Center
    •  Painted outside wall of gym
    •  Sided one of the outdoor buildings
    •  Senior Lounge in Gym – finished dry wall, painted and installed drop ceiling inside and out
    •  Stained and sealed stairway to existing computer lab
    •  Painted and installed new flooring in boys and girls gym bathrooms
    •  Repainted Concession Stand in Gym
  •  Food Pantry – painted pantry, plus built and installed new shelves for the pantry which currently serves approximately 100 people per month – and the work done will enable an increase in service – PLUS – the local food bank had quit servicing this pantry because it didn’t meet code – now services will be reinstated
  •  Painted all trim and interior doors in the community center gym Painted 3 art murals and one hand print (featuring all of the Convergence Volunteers) throughout the Gym
  •  Sponsored two frame packages and completed one house for New Orleans Habitat for Humanity

At the conclusion of the day, I was emotionally impacted by the course of the success from all our volunteers.  I should have known better and realized that yes, we could, and did make a difference for these people.  I have been touched in a way that I cannot describe, but I know from now on if I have an opportunity to help like this I will always now, “Lead from the front.”

As New Orleans has a special place in my heart, I will try and visit the Hope Community Center in the future. I know they welcome me as one of their own.  As the song says, “I will be there to catch you this time so you won’t fall.”

I saw this the other day from Jack Welch and was particularly impressed with some of his comments on “The Six Deadly Sins of Leadership”.  I have followed Jack through the years with the ups and downs of his public personal life, combined with his impressive corporate results.  This article, I think, offers some succinct and spot on advice for those of us in leadership positions.

If you asked your employees or team how do you measure up on these points, what would they say?   Their answers may or may not surprise you.

Let me hear from you on your thoughts about these deadly sins.

Below is a guest blog from Doug Dillard, a Senior Consultant on our Consulting Solutions team here at PKF Texas. He has written a great entry about the use of empathy in business and what it means to clients.

Many options exist when selecting consultants or solution partners out in the marketplace.  Most advertise experience in accounting management, ERPs, development, implementations and a wide-variety of skillsets they want you to think drives the best opportunity for a successful partnership with your organization.  Most however fall short in a key area that most stakeholders in your company might not even consider: “empathy”.

What does this word mean in the business-world, “empathy”?  Most companies would argue it is their best attribute.  Further the concept to “business relationship” and the confidence of most firms’ increases greater.  Have you ever stopped to hear how people react to each other?  How formal of approach have we become as a society when culturally acceptable mannerisms such as  “yes sir”, “no sir”, becomes the only deciding factor in treating someone who is a professional, like a professional?  Should the business relationship not go much further than the good manner idiosyncrasies that most professionals use in everyday business relationships?  Consider an example from the ending of my recent conversation with a credit card customer service line that connected me to a call center (overseas):

(Me): “…so I have never been late on my bill, yet there was a charge I disputed that was never removed and as a result you have reported me as past due and I received a late fee and you are now reporting me as late to on my history”.

(Customer Service Rep): “I apologize sir, but I have removed the fee”.

(Me): “Yes, I appreciate that, but please reflect my history as not past due in your system.”

(Customer Service Rep): “I am sorry sir, but there is nothing I can do in this situation….(long pause-)”.

(Me): “So, that’s it?  You can do nothing to make the situation right??”

(Customer Service Rep): “No sir…(another long pause)… is there anything else I can help you with today?”

(Me): “I guess not!”

(Customer Service Rep): “Okay sir, well we do appreciate your business and you have a nice day. (Verbatim from a closing script)”

Was this representative polite?  Yes.  Did they refer to me as “sir”?  Yes.  Did they perform all tasks as prescribed by company policy and scripts?  Yes.  Did they show any ‘empathy’ me as a client?  No.

As you can see in this case, if this representative was monitored by a similarly trained quality assurance person within his company, he would receive nearly a perfect score.  Why?  He was trained to read from a script, trained to be a certain personality, trained to never show anger or hostility, trained to be a robot!

Take my example and relate it to your internal and external business contacts.  Do they do everything by the book?  Are you able to provide them with a problem and they produce a solution?  Do they have an answer for everything?  Do they anticipate your follow up issues?  Does their solution get to the “root” of your problem?  Are you a better organization for the solutions they offer?

Ahhh yes…back to the original term: “empathy”.  Empathy is one of the most important ingredients in a business relationship.  Why?  Empathy requires a working knowledge of the field you are working in, similar experiences, as to satisfy your first requirement of having a resource that can meet your needs from a technical standpoint.  How else can one be empathetic without first understanding what you are going through?  Empathy goes much further however, to not only understanding your problem from the most basic level but experience living through other “solutions” offered that do not solve the underlying issues.  Most importantly, empathy means that your resource cares and associates your problems as their problem.  This allows you together to achieve a result that is viable for the long-term of your organization and stakeholders.

To understand what truly helps businesses today, you must seek out solution partners that have walked in the same footsteps as you and have a strong empathetic customer service background.  Dr. Maynard Brusman (2010), a consulting psychologist noted the following questions regarding empathy:

How Empathetic Are You?

•  You know what issues and concerns keep your clients awake at night.
•  You do twice as much listening as talking.
•  You and your clients enjoy spending time with each other, and they routinely confide in you.

Ask these questions about your solutions partner.  If you don’t think there is a “yes” to every question above.  Consider how much more effective and successful it would be to have a relationship with a firm that truly wishes to be with you for the long-term.  Not just billable hours, long-lasting relationships that produce results that all parties can be proud of.  That is true success!

At PKF Texas, we have seasoned professionals that have worked in industry for fast-growing and challenged organizations.  We have professionals that have vast experience in customer service management and support.  Our veterans of business are energetic and holistic in their approach to improve your business visibility and performance.  We leverage technology using proven solutions from Microsoft that help you to work smarter, not harder!

 

References:

http://www.consultingsociety.com/trusted-advisor-relationship-developing-empathy

 

 

 

 

 

Last week at the Fast Tech 50 Luncheon, I mentioned that Houston is the #2 city in the US for Women Entrepreneurs.  Building upon that momentum for our female entrepreneurs, I came across this blog post from Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Atlantic.

He cites a Credit Suisse report, “[It] suggested that businesses with at least one woman on the board have outperformed those with no women on the board by 26% in the past six years.”

Branson was also featured in an Entrepreneur.com article speaking about the same topic. He mainly focuses on observations from a British/European perspective, but I think his thoughts can easily be applied to the U.S. I agree with his thoughts and thought you would be interested in his perspective.

I read a great article this morning on the HBJ website about the drivers of Texas’ economic growth.

Texas’ manufacturing sector is showing its strength as a major player in the state’s growth. Reporter Olivia Pulsinelli cites an economic report recently released by SigmaBleyzer Investment Group. The report states Texas’ fast job recovery is in part due to the growth in our manufacturing sector.  It says, “improving customer spending, returning investor confidence and growing demand for business equipment,” are the reasons for the growth.

Pulsinelli also cites the Houston Purchasing Manufacturers Index, Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey the Texas Business Cycle Index. All show positive trends for Texas and Houston in particular. This is just more data to support what we’ve known throughout this economic cycle: Texas is the place to be.

As we start the new year I came across this article, “Glass Balls and Core Values,” from Scott Morrill that was part of the Boomer Bulletin in December 2011.

I have been reflecting upon a message of this type to start the year.  Scott’s article is pretty good and hope it challenges you, as it did me to make sure we are always “Responsible and Accountable” for what we say and do each day in the business community.  It’s a strong message to say about your organization and more importantly, your clients and prospective clients will recognize you as being one of their trusted advisors.

Enjoy Scott’s reflections.

It seems everyone in my father’s generation can tell you where they were when John F. Kennedy (JFK) was assassinated.   Regardless of political opinions, it is no surprise that JFK would have this level of impact on that generation. 

On October 5th I was in Starbucks working on a personal project, killing time before I had to pick up my son from soccer practice. A lady sat down next to me and opened her computer.  Next I heard her shriek, “Oh my God!”  I turned to see a white page on her computer with a photo of Steve Jobs and the dates 1955-2011.  She turned to me and said, “Steve Jobs died.”  My stomach sunk.  Another man across from her gasps as well.  As did another person in the store.  Ironically, three of us were working on our Apple laptops and the fourth was playing on their iPhone.  How fitting that the four of us found out about his death when her computer opened the Apple webpage.  We spent the next thirty minutes sharing Apple stories. 

So is it fair for me to compare the death of JFK to Steve Jobs?  I am sure many of those from my father’s generation would say no, JFK was our country’s President.  But if you ask me and those who are part of the generations after me, the answer would be a resounding yes!  When I decided to comment on this I promised myself that I would only do this if I could add a fresh perspective to the story. This is why I have waited a few weeks to comment. The news has been saturated with information and stories about the man and his company. 

At first I thought I had nothing new or different to offer.  I think David Pogue of the New York Times summarized it best on the CBS Sunday Morning News.  Pogue commented that with the passing of Steve Jobs the world lost four of its greatest minds, Steve Jobs the designer, marketer, businessman and visionary.  Every point I started to write about seemed to fall into one of these four brains. 

Then I realized what real impact Jobs had on me.  If you remember my last blog had some fun with enterprise software commercials and slogan’s.  Ironically, it was an Apple commercial and catchy slogan that represented Steve Jobs to me. 

The commercial aired in 1997 and featured Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Branson, John Lennon (with Yoko Ono), Buckminster Fuller, Thomas Edison, Muhammad Ali, Ted Turner, Maria Callas, Mahatma Gandhi, Amelia Earhart, Alfred Hitchcock, Martha Graham, Jim Henson (with Kermit the Frog), Frank Lloyd Wright and Pablo Picasso. 

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. – Apple Inc.”

(This image came from artist Hugh MacLeod and can be viewed on his blog.)

This Apple commercial is how Steve Jobs impacted me the most, not my iBook, iPod, iPhone or iPad.  Sure some marketing folks wrote and produced it, but it represented Jobs perfectly.  This commercial has inspired both my personal and private life, more so than any gadget ever could.  When I feel beat or down about life or work, I watch this commercial.  It inspires me to, well; there is no better way to say it, “THINK DIFFERENT”.    If you ask any of my family, friends or coworkers they can vouch, I try to think different.

So I will remember where I was when I heard Steve Jobs died.  I was putting that commercial to practice in my own personal way; the personal project I was working on at the time is a book about my family’s experience of my Mother dying of pancreatic cancer, the same cancer that ultimately killed Jobs.