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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 23, 2000. All rights
In Middlesex, Optimistic Numbers: James Hughes
The cloud of economic pessimism that hung over Middlesex
County last year is finally lifting, according to a survey by the
New Jersey Business and Industry Association. "Last year we had
a large number of responses that said we were heading into a
says Joe Gonzalez
that lobbies the government on behalf of its 16,500 members. "I
think those were the effect of two things in 1998. The stock market
was doing bad in the third quarter and Asia was doing bad."
This year, by contrast, over half of respondents anticipate economic
expansion — in their own businesses and in the county at large.
"There’s a lot more optimism than there was a year ago," says
Gonzalez, who discusses the economic outlook for Middlesex County
on Friday, February 25, at 8 a.m. at the DeVry Institute. Joining
him are James Hughes
and Public Policy (and co-author of "The Wealth Belt"), and
Statistically speaking, Middlesex stands out as one of the state’s
most prosperous regions, with an unemployment rate eight-tenths below
the state’s average, says Gonzalez, who has a BS in political science
from Gettysburg, Class of 1958, and was the assistant to the president
of Rutgers for government relations before joining NJBIA in 1983.
"Middlesex is sitting in the middle of the Wealth Belt," he
says. "We have 31 percent of our people who think that they are
going to be hiring people in 2000, 61 percent think that they’ll make
no changes, and 8 percent think that they’ll be firing. That’s an
At the end of 1998, the perception was more gloom and doom.
and Keebler had closed their plants. However, the birth of new
such as Regal Cinemas on Route 1 South and Amersham Pharmacia on
Avenue in Piscataway, buffeted some of those layoffs, says Gonzalez.
"Manufacturing is still trouble — it’s down 300 jobs for the
year," he says, "but one area that is really doing well is
high-technology and bio-techs." He cites the recent rise in the
fortunes of Cytogen at the Princeton Forrestal Center, which is a
Middlesex County location despite the Princeton name.
Middlesex County is poised well in the post-manufacturing era —
Lucent and AT&T make a nice complement to the GM and Ford plants here
— but like the rest of the country, Middlesex is facing a shortage
of high-tech talent, says Gonzalez. "It’s a problem that is a
corollary to a continuous period of economic expansion," he says.
"It’s getting increasingly difficult to find first-class people
in some of these technical jobs. We must have a world-class product
coming out of our schools."
The county faces other problems — namely, rising health care
costs and declining quality of life. Living in the lap of prosperity
doesn’t always equate to happiness, says Gonzalez. "With this
growth you have all these people on the highways — quality of
life is something that we need to reflect on," he says.
why the governor wants to get the transportation trust fund funded,
so we can increase mass transit, add lanes to our roads, and get
to and from work expeditiously. People are sitting in traffic when
they could be improving society."
God tests everyone — especially investment bankers.
Partners in London, recalls facing a tough moral dilemma when one
of the companies he invested in revealed some fraudulent business
practices. "Our partner said, `Hey everybody does this, and you
gain from this too,’" he recalls. "The hidden message was
be quiet and we all win."
Miller, a Presbyterian, decided instead to take the moral high road.
"We went back to the company and said it has to stop," he
says. "Some of us were motivated by our faith, others just by
the way we are. We asked the question `what do we stand for?’ and
we concluded that we aren’t the kind of people who do that." The
bank took a considerable financial loss, but then, adds Miller, "a
couple of our large investors, precisely because we acted with a sense
of integrity, chose to do more business with us."
Even in the cut-throat world of finance it’s possible to follow the
tenets of your faith, says Miller, who speaks on "Faith in the
Workplace: How to Minister to People in Business and the
on Monday, February 28, at 9:30 a.m. at the Princeton Theological
Seminary, 20 Library Place. Call 609-497-7990.
Miller, 43, recently returned to school at the Princeton Theological
Seminary and co-founded the Avodah Institute
an organization that is trying to bring faith and work closer
with William Pollard
Miller was raised a Methodist in Pennington — his father was an
engineer at RCA, and his mother taught pre-school — and earned
a BA in business administration and German at Bucknell University,
Class of 1979. He ran the securities services division at Hong Kong
and Shanghai Bank Holdings PLC (formerly known as Midland Bank PLC)
before becoming a partner with Peter Wodtke and Partners, based in
Located at 34 Chambers Street, Avodah (a Hebrew word meaning both
worship and work) provides grants to people or organizations trying
to smooth out the tensions that exist between business and ethics,
a subject Miller feels has been overlooked in business schools and
congregations far too long. "In the business world, sometimes
you have to do something that cause people pain," says Miller,
"something you’d not like done to yourself, and most faiths teach
do unto others as you’d have them do to you. The most classic example
is firing or downsizing."
For Pollard, who ran a $7 billion company with 225,000 employees,
these were more than just philosophical questions. "Bill noticed
that the church did very little to honor his calling as an executive,
validating that as a legitimate way to do ministry — serving the
people," says Miller. "And the church didn’t equip him to
handle the tensions of the business world. What do you do if you’re
forced to chose between two wrongs for example? Everything in business
is not black and white."
Now, more than ever, says Miller, these are questions that need to
be addressed. "Ten years ago there might have been more caution
or reluctance to go into it but in these extraordinary competitive
times there has been huge tragedy for some, in the form of downsizing,
and huge reward and unimaginable affluence for others," he says.
"These people get to the top and they realize, so what, they’re
not happy, and there must be some meaning or purpose."
People may not discuss their belief system openly in the board room,
but many professionals are inwardly grappling with their own
and how it relates — or doesn’t — to their professions, says
Miller. "I explain to people what I do, and no one laughs,"
he says. "Everyone says you’re kidding, tell me more about it,
and then people come out of the closet and they say `My Christianity
or Judaism is really important to me, but my priest or rabbi never
talks to me about these things, about my problems in the
How do you chose between two wrongs, if you’re compelled to do right?
"Find a better way to implement a thing that’s inherently
says Miller. "How you chose to do something that is a bad choice,
can minimize something that’s bad."
Take layoffs, for example. "How you implement a downsizing makes
all the difference in the world in how people lives their lives,"
says Miller, who once in his career had to lay off 50 people. Rather
than let his personnel director do the dirty work, he decided to do
it himself. "I said I need to meet with each of these people and
look them in the eye and if they’re going to be angry let them be
angry," says Miller. "It took a huge amount of time and a
lot of emotional energy but I think it was a very healthy process
for them. They could think about their experience in a more positive
light as a result of being treated with dignity and respect instead
of just being given a pink slip and told to get their stuff. They
could leave without a sour taste in their mouth. Most people I know
can deal with problems but they need to be treated with respect."
Lessons like these can be found in the Old Testament and in the
of fellow believers in the business world. Miller encourages
people to attend the "Faith in the Workplace" group that meets
the first and third Saturdays each month at Nassau Presbyterian at
8:30 a.m. Also, on May 25 and 26, Avodah is bringing in a professor
from Harvard Business School to address CEOs on morals in business.
Drawing on your faith in business can be a creative process, adds
Miller. "I find that faith is one of the best way to get out of
the box," he says. "It’s a good way to come up with the third
solution, which seems elusive or unavailable."
No job is too important or too difficult to be done without compassion
and ethical standards, says Miller. "You can try to make the world
a better place by getting involved in industries that are from time
to time problematic," he says, "or the alternative to that
approach is to say if you’re an ethical person you should only work
in caring professions. My read of the Bible is that people are called
to be in the thick of things. I’d rather have morally ethical people
being in those tough industries. I loved my old job and I viewed my
role in life to be salt and light in the business world."
Analysts have likened the stampede of investors to
companies to the Gold Rush of last century — dotcoms, one
are today’s gold. But a little history lesson might serve well: the
miners weren’t the ones getting filthy rich at the turn of the
"The richest man in California was selling the pick-axes and
says Sal Mannino
in New Hope. "He became rich from the goldrush, but not the
Following that example, Mannino is putting his money in the companies
behind the Internet, and he’s in for the long haul. "In the short
term, the market is a casino driven by fear and greed, but in the
long term the market is driven by earnings, growth, and dividends,
just like if we were talking about a private business," says
who teaches "How to Build Your Portfolio on $25 a Month,"
at the Learning Studio on Route 1 on Wednesday, February 23, at 7
p.m. Call 609-688-0800. Cost: $35.
Each day Mannino gives a stock report on WDVR at 12:25 and 5:25 p.m.
He’s been with Edward Jones, a full-service financial services firm
with over 5,000 offices in the U.S., Canada, and England, for the
past four years, but he learned most of what he knows about investing
from his father during his youth in Ringoes. "My father told me
that when you’re buying a stock, you’re buying a business, not a
ticket," he says. "Learning that took the fear out of it —
I try to buy great businesses at reasonable prices."
Mannino won’t describe his own portfolio at great length ("I never
want people to think I have a conflict of interest," he says)
but you can be sure it is comprised of a lot of blue chips. "I
believe in investing in the strongest companies," he says.
wouldn’t you? Would you lose sleep investing in General Electric,
which has gone through two world wars and a depression? I want to
buy the leaders in the respective industry."
It’s trendy to buy into Internet companies that have never made a
penny, but the best investors pay attention to a company’s overall
profitability, says Mannino. "On the Internet, price is king,
and that hurts profits," says Mannino. "In cyberspace,
is equally convenient. Because they’re only a click away, in the end
it’s whoever’s going to give the lowest price. If companies have to
compete on price alone, it’s going to be hard to make money."
That’s not to say the Internet isn’t a smart investment, says Mannino,
who turns to history for investment guidance. "If this was the
early 1900s," he says, "you could say Sal, the horse and buggy
is dead, the car is the next big thing, but there were several
auto manufacturers back then — which one would you have bought?
I say it would have been better to buy the tire manufacturer. Most
of the car companies went out of business — from 300 plus down
to the big three. I think the Internet is the biggest thing since
the PC, but that’s why I’m buying companies behind the Internet, not
Mannino’s tips for the novice investor:
winners far too early and they hold on to losers forever," says
Mannino. "It’s not a loser if it goes down two points after you
bought it. It’s a loser if a product is not selling or something has
fundamentally changed about the business."
ball," says Mannino. The three enemies to the investor, he says:
taxes, inflation, and procrastination. All the more reason for
investing. "You’re accomplishing something else here — you’re
going to be buying more shares when the prices are down, less shares
when the prices are up, and that’s going to help you have a lower
average cost per share," he says. "Dollar-cost averaging
the test of time."
spend it," he says. "If you wait until all the bills are paid,
you won’t have anything. People need to put a little money away for
the future, just like a bill, and the best way to do that is
"I think people spend far too long looking for the next
he says. "The interesting thing about Microsoft is that you
have had to buy Microsoft as an IPO, you could have bought it four
or five years later and made a significant profit. I think that speaks
about the frenzy in the Internet stocks. It gets back to the buy and
hold investment. The people who have created wealth for themselves
didn’t make a lot of money for themselves as far as income — but
they saved and they saved in the right place."
Entrepreneurship is the dominant trend of the `90s —
more and more people are setting up businesses at home and in
To help them get started, the Rotary Club of the Princeton Corridor
and an organization called "My Own Business" are offering
a free 10-session course on how to start and run a business. "This
is not a dry academic exercise, but a realistic and practical workshop
designed by people who have been there and done that," says
Holland, founder of "My Own Business."
The course begins on Monday, February 28, at 7 p.m. at the Princeton
Alliance Church at Schalks Crossing and Plainsboro roads in
and will be held Mondays and Wednesday evenings until March 28. Call
The first hour of each class will be devoted to instruction, the
to a lecture by a guest speaker. Topics will include deciding on a
business, writing a business plan, basic computer and communication
tools (not hands-on computer work), business organization (staff and
insurance requirements), location and leasing, accounting and cash
flow, how to borrow money for a start-up, whether to buy and existing
business or franchise, opening a business and controlling merchandise,
and expanding and handling problems as they arise.
Guest speakers include Herb Speigal
Fairs USA, Larry Hollander
& Co., Phil Cooper
Hyatt Regency Princeton.
People of all professions are encouraged to come, says Holland.
had auto mechanics, chefs, manicurists, computer technicians —
all manner of individuals with a trade or skill who are now working
for someone else but would like to be their own boss," says
The Building Contractors Association of New Jersey is
sponsoring a 30-hour Construction Health and Safety Outreach Program,
taught by the association’s safety director, Jeff Monsell. The
covers the OSHA Act, fall protection, confined space entry, trenches
and excavation, personal protective equipment, hazard communication,
scaffolds, fire protection, crane safety, and other topics.
Participants are asked to analyze photographs containing specific
work hazards. A question and answer period follows. Participants also
get an updated Code of Federal Regulations Standards Book for the
Construction Industry, and a manual for working on a job site.
The program begins Thursday, February 24, and runs through March 16.
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