Friday, September 28, 2018

Millennials can teach us a lot about supporting small businesses

Older generations, like mine, too often look down on millennials.

We shouldn’t, because there’s a lot we can learn from them, especially when it comes to personal finance and economic issues. They are real friends of small business.  

Despite being born into an era in which online retailing is to them old technology, a normal way of doing things, millennials aren’t sold on it. Most older folks would think that buying things from the Amazons of the world would far and away be the preferred means of doing business for young people. It’s not.

Studies have shown that nearly half of millennials prefer to shop at brick-and-mortar stores and, at the same time, are willing to pay more money to do so.

Now, compare that to the others. 38 percent of those who are members of Generation X and 42 percent of baby boomers prefer shopping real stores – even though they knew nothing but that that until the late-90s, early 2000s.

Why the millennials’ affinity for smaller businesses?

They care.

They realize that every dollar they spend is, in part, reinvested in their community. Those same studies have found that they want to shop local because of the benefits to area employment (their friends and families have jobs), entrepreneurs (who will grow their businesses and their communities), and local tax rolls (the sales taxes prioritize the quality of life in their neighborhood). They are driven by a desire to empower their communities – economically and socially – rather than some far away warehouse, an unknown person on the other end of the internet, or some corporate big box store.

That’s the way older generations used to shop, and that’s why the Main Streets of small towns were once more vibrant than they are now – they were the centers of commerce that we all benefitted from. Now, my generations and our elders have made the internet -- something that can’t be seen, touched or felt, -- that economic destination. And, mind you, those guilty consumers are the same ones who cry when they see malls and downtown storefronts shuttered.  

The economically-beneficial young’uns are also spot-on in how they positively impact businesses at the point of transactions. They don’t cost businesses money when they give them their money.   

My generation has grown to live and die by the credit card – even if they have access to cash in the bank. They cite, above all, its convenience (odd, given that I find real money incredibly more convenient than credit). I know many people who don’t carry one single greenback in their pocket, but have multiple credit cards on them.

That overuse of credit cards benefits the Wall Street financial institutions backing them, but absolutely pains the Main Street businesses accepting them. The standard processing fee imposed on a credit card is somewhere between 2.5 and 3 percent of the cost of the transaction. Which means $2.50 to $3.00 of every one hundred spent via credit at a store or restaurant is frittered away.

To consumers, that probably seems like a small number, especially since it doesn’t impact them.

They need to put themselves in the business owners’ shoes.

Every one of those fees cuts deeply into – and, in some cases, wipes out -- their profits. Small businesses aren’t reaping big profits to begin with. The average profit margin at a restaurant ranges between 3 and 5 percent; it’s even less at diners. For independent grocers, the margin is between 1 and 3 percent. As you can see, credit cards are their enemy.    

Millennials aren’t fans of the cards. Despite being fresh out of college and entering the labor market and adulthood and all the needs that come with it, they don’t lean on credit. The average balance on a millennial’s card is half that of a Gen Xer and two-thirds that of a boomer.

On average, only 27 percent of their purchases are made with credit cards. They know cash is king, whether it’s in the form of cold, hard bills or money-backed debit cards. Since debit cards aren’t founded on fake money, the creation of debt, and risk management, the transaction fees are much smaller, around one-quarter of one percent.

The millennials’ preference for cash, or low cost alternatives to cash, puts more money into the hands of the small businesses that desperately need it…the same small businesses who the millennials champion by their very nature.

There’s a lot to be learned from those youngsters.

A lot.

They know what keeps our economy going. They know what grows our towns and villages. If we all followed their lead Main Street would be just as fruitful as Wall Street.

Isn’t that what we all want – and need?  

From the 01 October 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News            

Friday, September 21, 2018

It’s easy to be a good citizen

Holding a public office isn’t for everyone. It shouldn’t be. But, that doesn’t mean that government isn’t for everyone. As a matter of fact, we live in a nation in which the government is for everyone, one in which you are the government.

The United States of America is, in this regard, unique amongst all societies past and present. No nation before us had ever been run under the principles of self-rule. Even in the most democratic of societies there was always a ruling class that earned its ranks not from the interests of the people but rather from lineage, ownership, or spilled blood. Our nation is quite unlike that, founded on the basis that our government is of, by, and for the people.

Because of this charge to take responsibility for our collective actions and well-being, our nation is only as good as what we put into it. Each of us, whether in office or not, has a series of duties to assume.

Upfront that may sound like an enormous task. That is expected when one realizes that we control our own destiny.

But, meaningful self-governance is not really that difficult. As a matter of fact, it’s easily accomplished through something I call the “four “E”s of good civics”.

The first “E” is: Educate yourself.

The old maxim is true. Knowledge is power. To be the most powerful citizen you can, it is imperative that you learn about the world around you. Exercising your right to vote and paying your taxes requires more than just going to the polls and writing checks, respectively. You should know exactly why you are voting for an individual and exactly where your hard-earned dollars are going. This requires an understanding of government itself, as well as an awareness of social and economic issues. They’re all related and they all affect one another. Open your mind to that domino effect of public policy -- what you can and will learn by reading the newspaper, listening to news radio, browsing the blogs, or taking college courses might shock you. Freely range in your pursuit of knowledge, too. None of us are expected to be experts; it’s best to possess a little bit of knowledge in a little bit of everything.

The second “E” is: Educate others.

Take what you learn, and the conclusions you draw, and share them everyone you know. Never assume that your family and friends know what you do about certain issues. Not everyone makes a concerted effort to educate themselves on the issues. If you do it for them you might be that much-needed spark that gets their fire started. Give them the facts. Warm them up to your opinion. You can even agree to disagree. There is no more powerful a tool in getting the voting population out than educating them on the issues and framing that education in a way they understand, highlighting that what their government does affects them. And, please, do not fall into the trap of using memes and spreading and/or joining in conflict and divisiveness on social media – that’s not how you win friends and influence people. There’s a reason “civics” and “civil” are spelled so closely.

The third “E” is: Engage your elected officials.

Just as you educate other voters on the issues, do the same to your representatives. They are your voice in your town, county, state, or country. As one of their constituents, your best interests are supposed to be their best interests. Let them know how proposed legislation will hurt or help you. Let them know how specific laws stifle your freedoms or what bills could better society or the economy. Be yourself, pick up that phone or write a real letter. You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll be responded to. It’s rare a politician who won’t engage us in conversation, whether by phone or print.

The fourth “E” is: Elect the very best.
If you find that your elected official isn’t game to the third “E” and, therefore, doesn’t meet your needs or those of the community around you, let him go. We have a very powerful term limit in our possession -- it’s called an election. If you’re dissatisfied, focus on the first two “E”s and get others to vote lock-step with you. If the incumbent is facing someone who’s a great candidate in terms of what she can bring to the table, elect her. Ignore party lines or the false power of seniority. Similarly, if you think your elected official is the best there is, keep her in office. This is an extremely important “E”, for that person could be your voice for years at a time.

Once you’ve completed the four “E”s, repeat them. It’s a never-ending cycle, one that when it’s made a habit is one you will cherish. When executed properly, good citizenship is rewarding and impactful – you can change what happens in our communities and in our country.

From the 24 September 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers  

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: Butter and eggs – an attractive late-season “weed”

Late-season flowers are derisively considered “weeds” by many people, which downplays their beauty. One such plant that shouldn’t be overlooked is butter and eggs.

This invasive species also goes by the name yellow toadflax and wild snapdragon and makes itself known in late- August and will be in bloom till the end of September.

The plant has a unique, tell-tale flower structure. It’s not a typical, circular ray as you would see on many fall wildflowers like asters, evening primrose, or hawkweeds. Instead, it possesses the unique look that gardened snapdragons have. There are 4 yellow petals (butter) that surround an orange center petal (eggs).

That orange center acts as a beacon to pollinators, the most common user of the plant being bumble bees and any species of moth that has a huskier body. You won’t see butterflies actively feasting on the flowers because the insects that do so have to be strong enough to lift open that heavy central petal.

You will find the plant in pastures, but more commonly along dry disturbed sites, like roadsides, ditches, bike trails, and hedgerows. It’s a hardy plant and a colonizer, spreading not only with rhizomes but also seeds that can last for years.

Butter and eggs make a nice addition to your kitchen table. But, unlike their namesake, not as foodstuff. The attractive flowers make wonderful centerpieces and lasting ones…they will stay healthy for days in a vase, rather than quickly wilting away as so many flowers do.

This plant has proven medicinal purposes as a diuretic and a fever reducer. Historically, it was even used to treat rashes and other skin ailments. It’s not so kind to cattle as they can get intoxicated from feasting on the leaves.

Small children get a kick of out of the flowers, because if they squeeze the base, the orange center will open like a mouth, making the flower “talk.”

Appreciate these flowers while you can. They will be done blooming in a few weeks, the brown of fall will come as will the snow and you’ll be wishing that there will still “weeds” around to brighten the landscape.

From the 20 September 2018 All WNY News

Friday, September 14, 2018

The sharpest candidate for governor

We are 13 years into this column which often touches on what’s wrong in New York and how we can at least try to make things better in regard to economic and personal freedoms in hopes of keeping our family and friends here.

On this page I’ve never endorsed a candidate. I’m about policy, not politics. But, I am making a temporary suspension of that and endorsing the sharpest person vying for state office in recent memory – the Libertarian Party’s gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe.

Sharpe’s vision, background, and personality represent the the cure for what ails our failing state. Throw in the fact that he’s coming from a third party, he’s a dose of something different, something vibrant. As we know too well, the same old same old hasn’t been working. 

Eight years into Governor Cuomo’s reign we’ve found ourselves saddled with policies that have driven a stake through the heart of a dying upstate economy. A cornucopia of failed, or soon-to-fail, experiments from massive minimum wage hikes to the possible end of the tipped wage to 12 weeks of universal bereavement leave to call-in pay standards, to name a few, have done nothing but stifle opportunity.

His long-standing foes in the Republican Party are no better. Remember, the Senate was alleged to be in its glory years when Joe Bruno was in charge of it from 1994 to 2008. If it was, how did an alleged fiscally-conservative GOP double state spending under his watch with a Republican in the Governor’s office for most of those years?

Sharpe’s proposed policies and way of thinking can help overcome those failings of both parties.

I’m big on local control. The towns and counties should be your most powerful form of government because they are an extension of you – they are closer to you, they know your needs, you can become a part of the solution. I’d much prefer that my town supervisor is the most impactful governmental executive in my life or that my county sheriff the most powerful lawman. But, that isn’t the case.  

Sharpe is the lone candidate who wants to return control of the state to the counties, because each county, each region is different. The needs and wants of Niagara County don’t match those of Nassau County.

All of us in upstate complain of how New York City officials define our laws and foist unfunded mandates upon us. Sharpe would let the counties -- which means, us -- decide what laws, social policies, and tax policies work for them. Lifting burdens would encourage insurance and health care reform (a must-have with two-thirds of the state’s population on taxpayer-funded healthcare and the other third paying 14% above the national average for insurance), property tax reform (more than half of our property and school taxes go to unfunded mandates directly or indirectly), and policing reform (using it for public safety rather than helping pay for unfunded mandates with speeding and parking tickets). 

If you’ve been reading this column long enough you know that I value local control when it comes to education as well. I’ve praised teachers and schools boards while damning the Board of Regents, Common Core, the state forcing teaching to a test rather than actual mastery of a subject, and the devaluation of the trades. Our education system is broken; we aren’t fully preparing kids for the Real World.

Sharpe would fix that by empowering schools, giving them the freedom to set their educational curriculum and expectations to meet the needs of the people most directly affected by the institution. He also believes in letting teachers teach with styles, methods, and outcomes befitting their students, not the state. Sharpe has also proposed a K-10 program that allows 2 years of variability to explore further education in that system, trade schools, college, and the workplace.

An important part of a libertarian mindset is the advancement of personal freedoms, something Sharpe proposes in spades. He would repeal the SAFE Act and pardon those affected by it. He wants to allow means of and protections for use of self-defense. He would reduce funding for law enforcement programs and initiatives focused on continuation of arrest or prosecution of non-violent drug related crimes. He would legalize marijuana. He wants to change the way family courts are run to actually strengthen families.

That’s just a sampling of Sharpe’s platform. I encourage you to Google him and watch or listen to any of his countless television and radio appearances. I want to scream “preach on!” every time I do. He’s engaging, intelligent, and creative, someone you want leading New York especially since he genuinely cares about all New Yorkers from the Bronx to Buffalo.

Vote for Larry Sharpe in November. I will be because he offers the best hope for New York’s future….a future that should feature my kids and yours. As Governor, Sharpe will find ways to keep them here.

From the 17 September 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News