Thursday, May 31

A Financial Plan Is About More Than Money

Say you live from paycheck to paycheck. Your savings are negligible and your mortgage is nowhere near being paid off. You may have thought about planning for your financial future. But with little to plan with, what’s the point?

There is most definitely, a point, says Pennington investment advisor Alex Jenkins. He and Kevin Pollack, a Pennington attorney specializing in estate planning, address the importance of mapping out a financial plan at a one-time course, “Creating Your Legacy through Estate Planning,” on Thursday, May 31, at 6 p.m. at Mercer County Community College. Cost: $28. Call 609-586-4800 or visit www.mccc.edu.

“It’s so important to take stock of these issues now, because a lot of people don’t even have a will,” says Jenkins, who is a financial advisor for Edward Jones Investments.

“A lot of people feel that they don’t have a lot of assets,” he says. “One thing I discuss with clients is that it’s not only financial assets, but insurance assets, and property assets that all go into the estate planning process. Your house, insurance, which could come from both the group side and employers, can add up to a lot.”

Jenkins lives in Ewing and has a background in business administration. Before joining Edward Jones five years ago, he worked with Prudential Securities and Prudential Insurance. During his career he has observed that people tend to focus on investing, while avoiding consideration of what might happen when they are either incapacitated or deceased. This is natural.

“In my dealings with people, what I find many times is that everyone is so concerned with the investment side of financing that they overlook what happens when they’re not there anymore. There are some basic documents — wills, power of attorneys, and advanced health care directives that allow someone else to help out in the event we are either no longer here or unable to take care of things ourselves. People don’t want to address these issues. It’s uncomfortable. A huge one is that people don’t know whom they’d want to leave as a guardian for their children. ‘I’ll put it on the back burner and hopefully it’ll never happen to me,’ they think. But you have to plan for these things.”

In the three-hour course at MCCC, Jenkins will not talk about specific investments, but instead give a general overview on investing and how it can play into estate planning. Topics include buying, diversifying, tax considerations, reviewing a plan, and understanding investment tolerance in terms of risk.

“It’s about putting a plan together,” Jenkins says. “People seem to be spread out in different areas on the investment side. What you want is to have a structured plan, to bring it all together. I find that people just have so much going on all over the place with different investments that they don’t have a game book, a plan book. We help them put together a road map to get them where they want to go.”

Pollack’s portion on estate planning includes information about those uncomfortable topics people tend to avoid.

“Let’s say you’re incapacitated, or down the road you have Alzheimer’s, or a stroke,” says Jenkins. “Or maybe you’re disabled in another way. This is about how you can plan for those things both on a tax advantage basis and in protecting your assets to pass on to whomever you want to pass them on to.”

Pollack also will touch on some non-traditional topics such as same-sex and unmarried couples, including changes in health care and retirement benefits for same-sex partners. He will include information on second marriages and marriages to non-citizens of the U.S.

“We’re here to help educate you and get you on the path you want to get on, wherever you are in life,” says Jenkins. “Take the time to educate yourself, and then decide the next steps. The biggest mistake people make is not doing anything on this at all.”

— Anne Levin

Friday, June 1

Good Neighbor Award for Architect

Steven S. Cohen always liked to draw and was fascinated by building things. That suggested two career choices, either engineering or architecture, and he decided he didn’t want to be an engineer.

Cohen graduated from Kent State University in 1971 with a bachelor of architecture, then moved to Akron, Ohio, where he worked for several years with a developer. He opened Steven S. Cohen, Architects in 1978.

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association is presenting Cohen with a New Good Neighbor Award for his work on the Wachovia Bank building at the corner of Front and North Broad streets in Trenton. He and 10 other architects from across the state will receive the award at a luncheon on Friday, June 1, at 11:45 a.m., at the Sheraton at Woodbridge Place in Iselin. Cost: $70. For more information or to register, call Katie Wittkamp at 609-393-7707, ext. 239.

The site of the Wachovia Bank building was for many years a small parking lot, across the street from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs office building. Because of the inadequate parking in Trenton, the city wanted to see a parking garage built on the property, and the project was begun under the aegis of the Economic Development Corporation of Trenton.

Ownership changed midway, with Matrix East Front Street Urban Renewal Associates in Princeton taking over development of the office building. According to Cohen, “Matrix made the project viable and brought in Wachovia as the anchor tenant. The Trenton Parking Authority built the garage.”

What distinguishes the five-story building of nearly 60,000 square feet, which Cohen describes as “a conventional speculative office building” is that it is “the first new non-state building to be built in Trenton in many years.”

In addition to the building’s “complicated ownership history,” Cohen encountered one serious challenge — both the building and the 580-car parking garage had to fit onto a very small piece of land.

Cohen’s firm has designed a number of office buildings in Hamilton (U.S. 1, February 28, 2007). He just finished a 68-unit, independent-living senior residence for Princeton Community Housing on Elm Road, near the intersection of Rosedale. This project, funded by the Department of Housing and Urban, was difficult, says Cohen, because of the lengthy approval process in Princeton. His firm has also recently completed a 60,000-square-foot development in Doylestown of laboratory and offices for the Hepatitis B Foundation, Delaware Valley College, and Drexel University.

The goal of the New Good Neighbor Awards, first presented in 1960, is to recognize outstanding contributions to neighborhoods throughout New Jersey, according to Steve Wilson, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. The nominees represent either quality new development or expansions or renovations of existing structures that “make the communities around them better places to live and work and create jobs.” Projects are usually nominated by governmental and economic development officials and presidents of organizations like chambers of commerce.

Award recipients are selected by an independent panel, based on a combination of economic benefit to the community, architectural merit, and community involvement.

— Michele Alperin

Saturday, June 2

Business Analysts: The New Hired Guns

Quick. Name a half dozen creative careers. Does the list include inventor, artist, novelist, website designer, performance artist, actor? Peter Johnson, MCCC instructor and IT specialist, throws in another possibility, saying that business analyst is at the top of his list.

When company owners need a problem defined, they call Johnson, or one of the specialists from the International Institute of Business Analysis (www.iiba.org). To explain this field and help students prepare for IIBA certification, Mercer County Community College presents a five-session course, “New Business Analysts’ Certification,” beginning Saturday, June 2, at 9 a.m. at the West Windsor campus. Cost: $599. Call 609-537-4800.

Johnson, who designed and instructs the course, explains that graduating students will not earn IIBA certification, but rather will gain full knowledge of the profession and all the tools necessary to pass the exam.

Johnson left his native Indiana in l965 to settle in Manhattan and study linguistics at Columbia University. He then took disparate courses at a number of other universities because he was interested in learning about other disciplines.

Johnson’s professional career has been as wide ranging as his academic one. He began working in sales support for a series of companies, many in the retail and real estate industries. He found a happier, more technical home as an independent contractor for Manhattan’s Sharp Decisions Inc., which sent him to companies seeking IT solutions. “It was new challenge every day — fabulous for my ego, and for my skills,” says Johnson.

He eventually settled in Trenton, where he served as IT director for two area marketing companies. He now works as IT director for New Jersey’s Department of Youth and Family Services (DYFS).

“What I really like about being a business analyst is fitting together strange pieces of a real puzzle and going up against conventional wisdom,” says Johnson.

IIBA launch. Troubleshooters have been around since the dawn of business. They have come in all forms — from the outside consulting team to the owner’s “right hand man,” who always seems to have the right solution.

As the business process has become more diversified and more technology oriented, some of these analysts have been called project managers, systems analysts, requirements analysts, or simply consulting problem solvers. Their professional status has remained as vague as their titles. But as anyone who has ever tried to initiate change knows, having a little professional status goes along way toward imparting the clout needed to get the job done.

In the autumn of 2003 a group of in-house and external analysts organized the inaugural International Institute of Business Analysis Conference. Their hope was to define the profession, and by means of professional certification, give it status, and make it understood by business people everywhere. In 2006 the first IIBA exam was given. Those who passed the exam noticed almost immediately they were receiving more respect and had a leg up in the project selection process, says Loysen.

The IIBA is very much an organization in the making. The organization seeks chapter starters in all regions. Johnson, who lets no grass grow under his feet, has already developed his course, given it twice at Middlesex County College, and has now brought it to Mercer. Those interested in the organization can visit www.iiba.org or call 866-789-4422. For certification information, call 866-512-4422.

Maestros wanted. The IIBA defines the business analyst as “a liaison among stakeholders who elicits, analyzes, communicates, and validates for changes in policy.” But Johnson says that the business analyst’s role is much simpler. “He orchestrates solutions — aggressive solutions,” he says.

The orchestra analogy is a good one. An audience (business owners) comes into the hall yearning for the relief of good music. They might or might not know what piece of music in what arrangement they might enjoy. Onto the stage files a line of exquisitely capable musicians. These technical experts with violin or oboe can provide whatever tones are demanded of them.

The business analyst/conductor walks in alone. He, more than anybody in the hall, knows how Handel’s Water Music should be played. He can bring delight to the audience and stay within the capacity of each musician in this unified orchestra. The leadership and ability to translate are his. So is the lion’s share of the applause.

Upon explaining precisely what a professional business analyst does, Johnson frequently hears, “I’ve been doing that for years.” But then, he notes, despite experience, new candidates for the designation find the learning curve surprisingly steep. One vital skill Johnson emphasizes is communication.

“I have spent years translating business jargon into geek and back again,” he laughs. “Maybe it’s all that linguistic training, but whatever it is, you’d best be able to talk to everyone in the planet on their terms.”

Sample concerto. For over a year Johnson has helped New Jersey’s DYFS make the switch to a State Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS.) Doing so involves a mass merging of financial, case worker, administrative, and technical expertise. All the information from each welfare case, the history, and pertinent facts are entered into a single cross-indexed database. This is blended with divisional and departmental budgets and financial statements. Staff members, foster parents, and countless updated dossiers are all poured in the mix.

The hoped for result is fewer deskwork hours for the front-line caseworkers, lighter caseloads, more accurate recording, and more per-case personal time. It also should mean fewer children unchecked and lost in the system. There should also be cost savings.

On July 1 of this year SACWIS is slated to launch and give Johnson his first chance in a long time to sit down and take a breather. In the meantime, he hustles to each group, works to get their needs defined, sets them up into a logical sequence of requests, and then carries this information back to the IT professionals who transform them into a working menu of commands. “This is primarily an administrative-to-technical interface,” says Johnson. “But the analyst may be called upon to deal in marketing or engineering, or any business field.”

As the sheer pace of business has accelerated in just the past few years, so has the overall scope of skills required to run even a small company in a straightforward industry.

Odds are a single troubleshooter, whether a veteran right-hand man or outside consulting firm, is no longer able to handle everything. The competing company needs an analyst-orchestrator who can bring each problem solver into balance, without letting him take over the show. By any other name, that’s today’s business analyst.

— Bart Jackson

Wednesday, June 6

Hunting for an Office? Think Beyond Sq. Ft.

‘When most people look for space for their business they decide how much money they can afford, then go out and see how many square feet that will buy.” That’s going about the process backward, says Phil Ludeke, a commercial realtor with a background in architecture. As an alternative, he suggests that instead of buying or renting as much space as you can afford, first decide what type of space you need and how it will be used. The answers, he says, will change the way in which you look your workplace.

Ludeke speaks on “Is Your Business in the Space it Needs?” on Wednesday, June 6, at 8 a.m. at the Princetonian Diner. The meeting is sponsored by Team Nimbus. The cost: $10, including breakfast. For reservations E-mail phil@dischrealestate.com, or call Megan Oltman at 609-466-6592.

Ludeke, a real estate agent with Disch Real Estate, Hopewell, has been fascinated with buildings all of his life. In college he chose to major in architecture because the work “blends the creativity of design with the nuts and bolts of how a building works. It is both complex and holistic.” A graduate of Drexel University, he was part of a 50-man team working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Saudi Arabian Royal Navy to create the master plan for two cities, each with populations of about 30,000. The cities were new bases for the Saudi Navy and included houses, schools, shopping areas, parks, and mosques. Since the bases were located in the desert and designed to be self-contained cities, they included everything from sewage treatment and power grid on up, says Ludeke.

The work in Saudi Arabia not only fueled his interest in studying how people use space, it also led to other design projects, both in Saudi Arabia and in the United States, and eventually led him to relocate from his hometown area of Ewing to Atlanta.

There he worked for a real estate development firm specializing in business and office parks, and began to learn about the real estate side of the building business. “I wanted to have influence on the side of the table where the money is,” he says. “So many decisions are made on the basis of economics rather than on the basis of design.”

Work with a New Jersey-based client brought a second career shift and a return home to Mercer County in 1989, where he worked for Forrestal Center for several years as a development consultant.

When looking for commercial property, says Ludeke, most people “think in terms of square feet and zoning issues. Find the location with the right number of square feet and the right type of zoning. They look only at the economic balance.” Often, he adds, they don’t deal with “the real issues.”

The first of these, he says, are the “global issues, the infrastructure.” The second thing to consider is building-specific issues such as utilities and traffic access. Finally, the needs of individual users must be considered. Will the building house one company or have several tenants? How will each tenant use its space?

Often the architect is brought into the project after the piece of land or a building has been purchased, and often that means forcing square pegs into round holes. Before even looking at the first piece of property, Ludeke suggests that a business owner sit down and make a list of needs.

How much space? Whether building a new building or buying or leasing an existing one, think about how much space is needed. If your business currently has 10,000-square-feet, for example, and is too crowded, how much more space do you need? If doubling your space gives you “just enough” room for your current operations, will you be too crowded and need to move again in a few years?

Moving too often costs money and time and disrupts the flow of business. It may be smarter, says Ludeke, to look for more space than you currently need. That way you have room to grow. The bottom line, he adds, is to look at how much space you need, not how much you think you can afford. Yes, economics do play a factor, but often you can find more room by looking in a different location, perhaps a neighboring township — or even a nearby state eager to lure new business.

How will you use it? The way in which a building is to be used should play a big part in which building you choose. Biotech researchers, for example, need laboratory space, and often prefer interior rooms without windows so that light and temperature can be easily regulated.

Ludeke points to a building on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. It is a beautiful building filled with windows, designed for use as a research center. Unfortunately, because of its use, many of the windows have been blocked with wood, destroying the look of the building. “The building is beautiful, but from the point of view of its use, it is a failure.”

On the other hand, a graphic design studio or architecture firm would prefer a building filled with natural light.

When thinking about the use of the building, don’t just think about the big picture, look at the small details, too. How many people will work in the building? How much and what types and sizes of office space will they need? Do you need a conference room to meet with clients? How big should it be?

What services do you need? Every office requires technology. Even the simplest, one-person business can’t get by without a high speed Internet connection. What kind of technology do you need in your office? How will those connections be made? Is there a back-up power source in case there is an electrical failure? Or will a power outage bring your business to its knees?

If you are building a new building the answers may be easy. If you a retrofitting new technology into an existing building, you need to budget a substantial amount for just this service, which can get very expensive. Make sure the building you choose will support the technology you need.

Is your building green? “There are many statistics that show that the way a building is designed can have a big impact on the economics of your business,” says Ludeke. The quality of the air and the light can increase or decrease the amount of employee sick days, making your business either more or less productive. The choice of light fixtures and heating can increase or decrease your utility bills, affecting your bottom line.

Changing light fixtures may not cost of a lot of money or take a lot of time. Insulating a building or changing the heating system probably will. Make sure you look at the utilities and fixtures in a building before you buy, and estimate the cost of any changes you need to make.

Whether you are building a city or leasing one building, many of the issues are similar, says Ludeke. The space must work for the people who will use it.

— Karen Hodges Miller

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