Losing A Legend

This week the printing industry lost one of its best with the passing of Jerry Williamson.  A consummate gentleman and die-hard Texan, Jerry was someone you never forgot after meeting him. He had a stately way of greeting you and his drawl quickly told you where he had grown up.

The memories I have of Jerry revolve around the passion he had for the printing industry.  He was heavily involved with Printing Industries of America (PIA) and Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF), which were merged under his leadership as PIA’s Chairman in 2000. Yet, probably more important for the industry, was the time he spent each year spearheading the Texas delegation of industry leaders who met with Congressman and Senators.  He knew many of our North Texas legislators and always opened the meeting asking about their family, which was extremely important to Jerry.  He would then succinctly discuss the issues at hand and the reasons specific legislation would help/hurt North Texas business and their employees.

In the years I had the opportunity to work with Jerry, I learned a lot. Our industry is better off because of his passion and caring, but we are all going to miss his gentlemanly ways and passion for our Country and all things Texan.


Trick or Treat?

What will our leadership in the Republican Party show us today?  Let me be upfront – I’m not a proponent of broad tax cuts.  When you look at the non-biased economic studies over the years, stimulation through tax cuts is a mixed bag of results.  There’s no guarantee of a pot a gold at the end of the rainbow.

We are presently at full employment – so tax cuts to create jobs is a bit of an empty promise.  We are at historic low interest rates, and although our debt is within “reasonable” limits (% of GDP), increasing rates could create problems with larger deficits if the economic stimulus doesn’t deliver.  Oh, and GDP is beginning to grow at an acceptable rate — without tax cuts.

So, what is Congress/Administration trying to accomplish?  Is it truly a way to help the middle class?  Does it help sustain many of the social programs which are essential to many?  Will it help small business and individuals who create jobs (sorry Wall Street – you don’t count)? Or is this just more political posturing to show that the guys in charge are marching true to the party line?

North Bay Fires

Among all the recent disasters in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and California, it’s the North Bay Fires (Sonoma/Napa counties) in California which resonates the most for me.

My wife is from Northern California, and for over forty years, we have been frequent visitors to the “wine country” observing its growth from small rural communities to a major economic engine and tourist area.

Earlier this month we were in the San Francisco area visiting family and decided to make a trip up to Healdsburg at the northern end of Sonoma county. As we traveled through Santa Rosa on Highway 101, we were pleasantly surprised to see the town intact. After seeing the television reporting, we expected to see the town in shambles.  Regardless, many have been affected and having lost a house to fire, I know that the next 8-12 months will be difficult for many.

Here’s the upside.  As we travelled through Sonoma County, we realized the majority of the homes, vineyards, wineries are still intact. The resiliency of the individuals who live and work in this area will ensure the area will survive and thrive – and I’m sure we will see the same in Houston, Southern Florida, and Puerto Rico.

Wage Data

Although we’ve seen some short-term slowing in industry sales, we are continuing to see a variety of labor shortages across the industry with increasing wage pressure in various areas of the industry. Now’s a good time to do a scan on your wage and benefit structure.

If you don’t know where to go for this information, talk to your local PIA Affiliate.  Each summer these organizations survey their membership and the results are a unique tool reporting data on over 100 job positions (management through shipping) as well as benefits and policies. Rather than guessing what trends are occurring, this survey will provide significant information – and if you are a PIA member — at a very affordable cost.

Summer Doldrums?

In talking to folks in the industry, it seems that Summer came early this year.  Nope, not talking about temperatures.  In conversations with dozens of print providers and industry experts, first quarter of ’17 was very slow across the US and 2nd quarter doesn’t look much better.

Given that GDP growth at present is not strong and there’s a lot of instability in Washington (duh), many firms are cutting back and/or holding off on marketing dollars.  It makes sense, but it does affect firms in our industry.

What to do?

First don’t panic.  There’s been enough cost-cutting over the past years – and once those cuts occur; there’s no going back.  Now’s a good time to do some serious short-term strategic thinking.  Review your present accounts.  Look at the industry’s they represent.  What are the upsides/downsides of those industries?  Review your profit margins (ignore what the job jackets say – look at contribution dollars) for those accounts.  What accounts have greater potential?  What industry’s look good?  Then take a good hard look at your sales team.  Who’s producing?  Who’s not?  Are they concerned and wishing to make changes, or just want to keep on riding dead horses?

This kind of analysis should be done on a quarterly basis – and if you don’t have this type of data – it’ll take some work to put together – but you’ll find the result extremely rewarding.  And should make for a much better 3rd and 4th quarter.

Supremes Get It Right

On Monday, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a specialized appeals court had followed incorrect legal standards – for almost 30 years.  The end game of this decision is that patent holders can no longer shop for a “friendly” venue to file patent infringements.  It was this type of shopping that helped non-practicing entities (patent trolls) victimize the printing industry several years ago.

Although this may be a bit late for our industry, it’s a beneficial move since legislation has been stymied for the past four years because of partisanship and special interests.  Supremes — you rock!

Now The Fun Starts . . .

The Administration has been looking a lot like “The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight” the past few weeks.  Everyone inside the Beltway is out to get them and self-inflicted tweets from the Big Guy doesn’t help.  With the budget’s details coming out over the next week and with the many “interesting” changes — deep cuts to taxes and social programs along with a healthy belief in supply-side economics — this Administration needs to be focused on legislation rather than “other” issues.

I read a recent op-ed from Karl Rove in yesterday’s (Thursday May 18) “Wall Street Journal,” and whether you consider him a Sith Lord, or a brilliant political tactician, it’s an opinion worth reading.  His key point was that the the Comey/Russian mess has become a major distraction.  Rove stated, “This presidency has reached a critical moment.  For months, true-blue Trump supporters grimaced at tweets and winced at needless controversies, but stood firm. Now many are questioning whether their man is up to the job.  Mr. Trump will not restore their confidence with the behavior he’s shown so far.”

Although I don’t agree with some of this Administration’s direction, I think that the President represents a significant portion of our country and those thoughts should be debated and if they have value should become part of country’s legislative fabric. And if found wanting, then we move forward as we have for the past 240 years.

California Dream’n

Liz and I just completed a lengthy family visit in Southern California.  We both hail from the Golden State and it was time to catchup up with siblings, nephews, nieces, and of course our children and spouses, who ran away from Texas years ago.

Although we are about to begin our fourth decade in the Lone Star State, California roots run deep – but not to the point where there is serious thought of going back to enjoy the weather, beaches, sunshine, and mountains.  The earthquakes don’t even bother us.  It’s the TRAFFIC!

I spent the first thirty years of my life in Southern California navigating the valleys, freeways, and congestion.  It was just part of life.  Yet, in the past 10 years there has been a real change.  Freeways and toll roads with eight or more lanes criss-cross the Southern California landscape – from San Diego to Ventura. But with nearly 18 Million living in the area, traffic has become ridiculous.  At any given time of the day, or week, what might “normally” take 40 minutes could take 90 minutes or more.  On one of our treks, what used to take 70 or 90 minutes, morphed into a 3-hour trip, which is not considered out of the norm when traveling from West Los Angeles to San Bernardino.

So, while we are still California dreaming about the beaches and mountains, it’s probably just a day dream, because the traffic is really a nightmare!

Now It’s Your Turn

It seems like years ago – hmm, yet it was – that I was decrying the problems with Obamacare.  In my mind, it was never “affordable” and it was going gnat hunting with a 30-06 rifle.  In retrospect, it was President Obama and the Democratic party looking for a way to create a universal (single-payer) health care system.  The result, as far as I’m concerned, was a health system that was turned on its head and accelerated costs to the nearly 90% of the population which were paying premiums (employers and their employees), plus created another “we’ll figure it out down the road” entitlement program.

In fairness, it dealt with one big issue ignored by many – the problem of how we deal with a system based on the ability to pay.  If you worked for a large wealthy employer (or were in a strong union), you had a very “rich” health insurance program.  If you worked for a small employer, you had no coverage, or at best, a meager plan.  Then, there were the folks who couldn’t afford health insurance.  Although the number of un-insured is in the millions, it represents a very SMALL part of our society.  Yet, we turned the system upside down for that group.

Now, it’s the Republican’s turn to muck it up.

As a long-time user of employer-provided health insurance, and as an executive who was intimately involved with providing health coverage for thousands of individuals, I’m concerned about the Republican plan.  First, millions will lose financial support and possibly coverage – regardless of “there’ll be more choice” rhetoric from Speaker Ryan.  For me, this is a poor decision from a socially conscious perspective, as well as a political one. Second, pushing through the Republican plan without strong deliberation and discussion is a failure of leadership.  Not the political leadership of winning at all costs, but leadership of doing what’s best for ALL Americans.

Health care for many, should not be in the prevue of the government.  Yet, whether we like it or not, the government has been in that business for decades – and it’s not going to change.  I understand that the horse has left the barn, but let’s not burn the barn down to prove that our way is the best.  As with any problem, there are multiple solutions.  Although I may be an idealist on this issue, I would like to see a comprehensive approach to fixing our health care system. Taxes.  Insurance providers.  Existing entitlement programs.  Health care providers as well as hospitals.  Repealing and/or replacing Obamacare, or ignoring the systemic issues of health care will not be in the best interest of the American public. The main question remains — does the Trump Administration or the Congressional leadership have the creativity to take on a true leadership role – or just play to its politically vocal base and just kick the ball down the road?

The Great Divide

Now that the Republicans have put forth some options to replace ACA, one of my favorite topics, I could comment on the proposed legislation and its potential effect on small business as well as individuals, but I’ll let that slide.  Not enough REAL substance to opine about.

I could talk about the Russians and the U.S.  Nah, too easy.  And as an avid Cowboy fan, why not discuss what folks in Dallas, Denver, Houston, and Kansas City are arguing about regarding Tony Romo, the talented but oft injured quarterback.  Nope, ain’t going there.

Let’s talk about the growing divide between the electorate and the fears which are being fed by 24-hour news channels and the blogosphere (I guess that’s me).

As with many individuals who have retired (or semi-retired), I find myself consuming TV and reading more than I have in the past.  Which in itself is a good thing, but given what I’m seeing from the news channels and other media very concerning.  Don’t like what you hear about the President or current political issues on CNN – then go visit Fox or comedy channel du jour.  Odds are you won’t even see the same topics discussed.  Is this any different than what we saw from the newspaper industry in the past century, probably not.

It’s today’s near-hysterical messaging which concerns me. Publishers in those days did not hide their opinions – but they weren’t constantly exposing their audience with statistics, consultants, and nuanced messages on a 24-hour basis. My hope is that today’s audiences will grow-up and realize that the world is full of bias and for lack of a better word – fake news.  Once we begin to discern between the facts and spin, we’ll all be much better off – and so will our country.