Good News. Bad News

As an astute reader of “Cup,” you’ve probably already determined that this article will discuss issues originating in Fantasyland on the Potomac – and you are correct.  Our legislators and regulators are hard at work creating more “stuff” which affects our industry.  So, let’s get the bad news out of the way – and it comes from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
For the past several years, various bodies have been litigating or threatening to litigate against the EPA because they feel that the threshold for low-level ozone is not low enough.  Many wanted to lower the threshold below 60 parts per billion because if lowering it to 70 was safe – 60 would be better.  Regardless that there were no hard facts to back up the supposition.  Now for the good news – the threshold is going to be 70.  Now the bad news – it’s 70.
What does it mean for our industry? The Dallas/Fort Worth area is already struggling to meet the previous threshold (75 ppb) and there are possibilities that San Antonio, Austin, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Kansas City will be affected, but it’s too early to tell.  Each state has to create models and then create regulations (based on theory) that will reduce the VOCs to the established level.  This can take up to two years.  More than likely, the result will be more monitoring, lower VOC solvents, and other measures which will have an indirect affect to many.  Oh, and vehicular traffic, which is not regulated by the Clean Air Act and one of the major generators of low-level ozone, will not be affected by these new requirements.
Now for some more good news – the Senate on October 1passed, by voice vote, the Protecting Affordable Coverage for Employees Act (PACE) (HR 1624).  What does that mean in English?   Currently under the ACA, the definition of the state-based small group markets is scheduled to change in 2016 from 50 to include employers with up to 100 employees. The PACE Act would keep the one to 50 definition in place, but states would have the option of expanding the definition of small employer to cover employers with up to 100 employees.  Employer’s over 50 still have to offer health insurance, but can participate in the small group exchanges (Small Business Health Options – SHOP).  Well, if that was the good news, we need to address the “other” news.
Per information shared by Printing Industries of America’s Jim Kyger, “According to a recent report, if the small group definition moves to 100, premiums could increase by approximately 18 percent for a majority of the mid-sized employers. As a result, many employers may choose to self-insure instead of remain in the small group market because those employers will no longer be subject to the various requirements of the small group market. This could further increase the premiums for those left in the newly expanded risk pool.”
Although I never believed the Affordable Health Care Act would be affordable, I’m concerned that much of the law that was not transparent (thank you Ms. Pelosi) is rapidly changing the behavior of employers, medical professionals, individuals, and the insurance carriers.  The result?  Unaffordable health care, and many of the millions that the law was supposed to help still don’t have insurance coverage.
So, let’s close on some ________ (fill in the blank) news.  We elect a new President and Congress in approximately 13 months.

Golf Is A Four Letter Word

If you have played, excuse me, tried to play the game of golf, you have heard that phrase countless times.  As a baseball player in a previous life, the idea of hitting a small ball that was not moving with a stick, made perfect sense and sounded relatively easy.  Yup, and pigs will fly in formation.

Although my skills are lacking, I remain fascinated with the game and the passion which it creates.  It was very apparent at the PIA MidAmerica Kansas City Golf Tournament yesterday.  There were nearly 200 folks, including volunteers, in attendance.  Many of them drove over an hour to get there since Smithville, Missouri is a bit off the beaten path.  As I’ve realized over the years, the game is very social for many, and it was apparent yesterday with the smiles and excited voices heard prior, during and after the round.  More important, it was seeing our graphic arts community coming together to enjoy the day and get away from the daily grind which made the day very rewarding for me and the PIA staff.

I’m going to miss these events, but the game of golf will still be there.  Maybe with a bit of free time and a bit of focus, my game will improve.  Now, what did I do with my niblick?

Good Vibrations

OK, so I’m showing my age and referencing a Beach Boys song from the 60’s.  Pet Sounds was the album and it ranks up there with Sergeant Pepper from the Beatles, but I’m not really referencing music this morning, but GraphExpo in Chicago. Over the past two years, I have continued to see solid attendance, and more importantly an attitude that says we’re open for business and doing well.  That was truly missing in prior years.

On a bit of a downer, is the discussion of the show moving to Orlando, Florida in ’16.  How will that show perform is a gamble for Show Corp. which operates GraphExpo.  On a very positive note, that will reduce the cost of exhibiting – which is extremely expensive in Chicago and attract exhibitors which is the heart of the show.  On the other hand, Chicagoland and the surrounding states are home to thousands of printers.  Attendance is the life blood of the show and the question remains will print service providers travel who normally drove to Chicago, fly to Orlando.

As I see it GraphExpo – regardless of location or its “size” – is a barometer of the industry.  And things are looking positive and those are good vibrations.

What Now?

That’s a question I’m getting frequently since I announced my retirement.  That’s a great question.

Like so many who have been involved in a career which was enjoyable, challenging, and rewarding, thoughts of riding off into the sunset weren’t ever in view. All of a sudden, here I am at a precipice. And I’m beginning to realize that it’s a view that thousands of Baby Boomers are facing every day.

The monetary questions begin.  The health issues become more of concern.  And for many of us the question which is of utmost importance – what are you going to do with your spare time?

Yes, I’ve spoken to all my retired siblings and friends, and they say don’t worry, you’re going to enjoy the time and you’ll be busier than ever.  Yet, the question for me is — doing what?

I’m not a gardener; nor woodworker; golf is OK, but not a regular diet of it; no grandkids (no regrets – our kids are happy); and I’m still physically active (biking, martial arts, and yoga!), but the body doesn’t respond like a 40-year-old anymore.  Or for that matter a 50-year-old!

Yet, the fog is beginning to lift.  As one friend said, now’s the time to make time for the things you wanted to do when you were working – but couldn’t.  More time with Liz; travel a bit more – nothing exotic – but take time to enjoy rather than rushing back to work; spend more time with family members who are scattered throughout the West; and oh yeah, there’s still going to be some “work” involved. Like a druggie, I’m too hooked to leave cold turkey, but it’s going to be at my pace and choosing.

So what am I going to do? Same ‘ol stuff; just at a different pace.

ACA Chickens Coming Home

The underlying issue that many of us saw with Obamacare was that inexpensive (Affordable) insurance didn’t seem to be in the cards – regardless of what the President and his team of “experts” said.  Most of those folks never lived in the world of having to deal with the convoluted health care system of PPOs and HMOSs, paying for health care insurance, or making decisions on a company’s group health insurance plan so that you could provide a benefit without bankrupting the company.

As more and more pieces of ACA are becoming implemented and the reality of who is really using the subsidized programs (individuals who have REAL problems) the chickens are coming home to roost. Case in point is the recent 36% increase that was approved in Tennessee by its insurance commissioner.  The commissioner said that the increases were necessary to cover higher-than-expected claims from folks who had signed up for individual policies in the first two years of the Affordable Care Act.  In an article by the Wall Street Journal, it reflects that this is not an isolated trend but one being faced by many states.

It’s going to be an interesting election discussion in ’16, but of more critical interest, how do we fix this MAJOR challenge to our economy and social well-being.  And don’t tell me “let the market fix it,” or “single-payer is the only way to go.”

Two Wolves

I’d like to share a story that was sent to me by Jeff Bracken with Bracken & Associates.  With today’s pressures to succeed and live life “fully,” it’s worth considering.  The story is titled “Two Wolves” based on Cherokee Indian lore.

As the story goes, one evening an old Cherokee was sitting by a campfire with his grandson. As they quietly watched the flames and listened to the crackling of the burning wood, the grandfather broke the silence. He said: “My son, there is a battle that goes on inside all people. The battle is between two wolves that live inside us. One wolf is evil. He is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false
pride, superiority and ego.” He paused, and said: “The other wolf is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The boy quietly thought about this for a while, and asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old man simply replied: “The one you feed.”

Expanding Markets

I was catching up on my readings and read “Printed Electronics – Salvation or Snake Oil” by Bruce Kahn published in PIA’s “The Magazine” earlier this year.  I really liked Mr. Kahn’s brutal honesty on this topic.  As he stated, “I have been involved in printed electronics for over 10 years. In every one of those years, pundits, prognosticators, and soothsayers predicted great things for the future, particularly the near future, most frequently ‘next year’.”

Although he did a nice job of making the reader consider that which glitters is not always gold, I felt he could have gone further and reminded the audience that too often we think of technology as the product rather than as a tool to create a successful business.

In the case of printed electronics AND 3D printing, these technologies are not really printing – they are enhanced forms of manufacturing.  Consequently, the target audience for that product is not normally people who buy print – and that’s where many of these soothsayers and futurists go astray in challenging our industry to expand into these markets.  Yes, some print providers may have the know-how to make the technology work, but what is required are customers who buy – in serious amounts – what they are capable of producing. It also requires a sales force capable of selling in that market space.  This is a MAJOR challenge. One just needs to see the uphill battle the industry (as a whole) has experienced in having established sales reps sell digital printed products.

Does that mean printers should just fold up their tents and go away?  NO.  It means we need to focus on the fact that our industry is an integral part of the channels used in marketing products and providing information.  That’s where our focus should be – not necessarily manufacturing technologies which happen to have “printing” in their title.

Mad Dogs, Englishman AND Texans

It’s about 10:00 a.m on Sunday morning, and I’m cooling off after a bike ride. I recall the days of joining my brothers on jaunts to the beach following the San Gabriel river-bed (OK, the concrete river bed – it’s SoCal), but that was a LONG time ago.  I’m no longer interested in pounding out the miles of a twenty-something (or is that a fifty-something?) but 60-70 minutes of a steady-pace does it for me.

Another observation strikes me as I drink my cup-a-joe.  Those morning rides in SoCal started in sun and frequently ended at the beach while the Southern California “purple” was lifting.  And it was 68 degrees.  I haven’t seen 68 degrees for the past three months.  It was rapidly approaching 92 when I was storing my bike.

I am frequently asked by family members (Left Coast) and friends (East Coast) do we Texans bike (or play golf) during the summer.  What a silly question.  We’re Texans.  We don’t hibernate during the summer.  We embrace it.  Bring it! Bark, bark, bark!

I’m Too Busy

In our hectic business life, too often we overlook an opportunity because “we’re too busy.”  Is it that we’re too busy — or we have not prioritized correctly?

As a business CEO, or senior decision maker, we cannot afford to become bogged down with “stuff” that’s repetitious in nature, or which can be readily delegated – no matter how good we are with it, or how much we like it.  As a C-level exec or company owner, we need to be searching and exploring, or to put it in Trekkie terms, “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

The world around us is changing so rapidly that if we don’t take the time to explore the shifting dynamics of communications, we could find ourselves marooned on a desert island.  So, take the time to read that online article you’ve been ignoring; listen to that webinar; spend time with the supplier who wants to talk about new technology; attend one of our Association Quick Take programs, or even take a trip to Chicago this fall and explore McCormick Hall (GraphExpo).  I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes.

In times of change, learners inherit the earth; while the learned are beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

Cuba. Why Not?

I’m of an age that I vividly remember the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs fiasco.  Yet, the world has moved on, and I think it’s time that we do as well. So, I have no problems in creating an Embassy in Havana, or for that matter working hard to create “normalization,” which very well could mean lifting embargos.

Are the Castro Boys our BFFs?  NO, but neither are the majority of the world leaders.  One has to remember, if you read your history, we didn’t do the Cuban people any favors prior to 1953 when the Cuban Revolution began.  Nor did we handle the situation in our best long term interest during the six years of Batista’s fight with Castro.  There’s plenty reasons to harbor ill-will — on both sides.

Today, more than ever, we need to consider the Monroe Doctrine.  Not in terms of creating puppet governments, nor military might, but in economic power to create stability.  Cuba has been our sore spot for over 50 years, let’s find a way to salve that wound rather than keep fighting the same old wars.  If there’s a lesson to be learned from the turmoil in the mid-east, it is that people tend to hold grudges and fight to the death over issues which began in the 7th century.  So, let’s not go there.