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This article was prepared for the December 5, 2001 edition of U.S.
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Turning a Blue Christmas Into One of White
The holiday season. Even in more normal times the words
summon images of packages, groaning tables, and party goers dressed
to the nines. If anything flows more freely than the egg nog, it’s
the money. Does any other month hold the power to empty wallets so
fast? This year, shopping, taking in a Broadway show, and dining out
have become patriotic duties, and so the pressure mounts. Especially
on those among us who have lost their jobs.
"Unemployment is a growing problem in the community," says
Reverend Peggy Hodgkins, associate rector of Trinity Episcopal
Church in Princeton. Several of her parishioners have recently joined
the jobless ranks, and are finding it rough, she says, especially
On Tuesday, December 11, at 7:30 p.m. Hodgkins speaks on "Coping
with the Holidays When Unemployed" at a meeting of Jobseekers,
a support group that meets at Trinity church. The group meets on most
Tuesdays, and there is no charge. Call 609-924-2277.
Hodgkins, a career changer, came to Trinity Church in August. Before
studying for ordination at the Union Theological Seminary in New York,
she worked for NBC Sports, and then for NBC News. As a news
she traveled to Japan and Korea with President Reagan, and to
during the war in the Falklands.
Taking a break from work to raise her three children, now 12, 13,
and 15, she became involved in All Saints Church in Hoboken. That
church has an active urban ministry, and an emphasis on building
"It inspired me to go in a whole new direction," says
who studied Russian at Middlebury.
Hodgkins’ first parish was Calvary Episcopal Church in Summit, where
she served for five years. She came to Trinity, a larger congregation,
for more responsibility, and an opportunity to work with Leslie
Smith, the rector. Normally, she says, an Episcopal priest’s career
path leads from associate rector to rector, but she chose not to try
for that top job because she wanted time with her children.
Her husband, Robin Hodgkins, owns Summit-based software company
Cogent, but doesn’t spend a whole lot of time there. "The company
runs itself," she says. "His real love is being a
He works as one at Morristown Hospital and at Overlook Hospital.
The Hodgkins family, busy with multiple jobs, is not personally
with unemployment. But during her time at home with her three
Hodgkins she did find her self-esteem slipping. Identity is so often
tied up with work, she says. Finding new identities, especially at
the holidays, can be the best way for those out of the workforce to
keep their cheer relatively intact. And, in her opinion,
is one identity best shelved.
"Break away from the Christmas machine," is Hodgkins’ advice.
"Shopping is an American ritual," she says. "But it’s
not fulfilling, especially when you have no money."
Here is what she suggests instead:
kitchen. Lend a hand at shelters, or youth organizations. Doing so,
says Hodgkins, will help those who have lost their jobs feel less
like victims. Turn the tables, be a helper. This involvement also
lends perspective. Says Hodgkins: "You may find out that losing
your job isn’t the worst thing in the world."
"It’s so important to have a sense of worth," she says.
can have that by reaching out to those who have less."
broader support," says Hodgkins. Involvement in a women’s group,
a church, a 12-step group, or an organization like Jobseekers offers
camaraderie, which breaks the isolation which often accompanies
an identity that has nothing to do with work — or with shopping.
During December, when dusk falls early, create a symbol with light.
Build a fire each day, Hodgkins suggests, or light a candle.
this over-wrought time of year. Those who can pull it off —
walks in the woods and volunteer time at the soup kitchen for jousting
matches in the mall parking lot — may look back to find the loss
of a job in December was a gift that gave years of more joyous holiday
Scuttlebutt has it that the vault doors have closed.
Banks, they say, are sitting on sacks of cash, frightened and
But the facts heard from New Jersey’s frantic loan officers tell a
Last year, the Garden State’s 3,400 lending institutions pumped over
$12 billion into commercial enterprises. And this year, despite
high-tech failures, and economic slow downs, that loan flow continues
But to whom? The question of "How to Get Your Banker to Say Yes
in These Tough Times?" is as a particularly apt topic for the
Venture Association of New Jersey’s (VANJ) December seminar. Jay
Trien of Morristown’s Trien, Rosenberg Accounting firm acts as
moderator for a panel including Robert Falese, executive vice
president of Commercial Bank Corp.; and Douglas Kennedy, vice
chair of Fleet Bank New Jersey. On Tuesday, December 11, at 11:30
a.m. at the Westin Hotel in Morristown they address the needs of the
middle market business ($10 million and over) and small market ($2
million). Cost: $45. Call 973-267-4200, ext. 193.
Trien, who founded the Venture Association of New Jersey 17 years
ago, calls it "a place where people who need checks meet people
who write checks." Within this energized hub, both start-up
and established businesspeople come not only to seek out potential
angels, but also to network, finding friendships, advice, and perhaps
a good supplier or two.
Fleet’s Kennedy is squarely optimistic, but warns businesses against
hoping for a return to previous markets. "Return is a relative
term," he says. "Will we soon go back to the days when
would launch a loan on only a name and a business plan? Not likely.
But markets will strengthen."
For over a quarter century, Kennedy has built a formidable track
in making incisive market judgments. Starting his career in the cage,
as a teller for Bridgeport, Connecticut’s City Trust, he soon worked
his way into commercial loans, then up to Fortune 500 lending. Since
March, he has taken on the task of overseeing New Jersey operations
for Fleet Bank with its 450 branches.
Kennedy does not deny a growth slow down, but he defines it more
individual problems and new hurdles than a general cloudy overcast.
Probably the greatest problem is what Kennedy calls "hemorrhaging
portfolios." Equity has fallen and some firms’ assets swiftly
have lost value. Most businesses cannot claim as much collateral as
before. Landlords are noting that rents have fallen for the first
time since l985 and spaces are not being filled. With this comes the
prime rate dropping an unprecedented nine times within a single year.
Kennedy points to King Supermarkets, which recent froze their sell-off
deal. "Sellers are just not going to get previous values and this
inspires a `hold-on’ mentality," he says. Finally, banks, as well
as a host of other lenders, have gotten badly burned by the dot-com
collapse. Yet, here again, Kennedy offers measured hope. Start up
capital, he admits, will remain scarce for a good while. However,
high technology remains too valuable to be relegated to financial
banishment. "Technology increases productivity," says Kennedy.
"We need it. And further, technology breeds technology. New ideas
from solid companies will even now get funded."
With all these elements crunching commercial credit, both Trien and
Kennedy advise entrepreneurs to mentally put themselves in their
Florsheims for a moment before making their next presentation.
dot-com firms was that they afforded their investors no exit other
than making the loan a write off. They had no assets. They had no
ability to move to another line. They just sank or swam on a single
product. Businesses that can show their bank a secondary product line,
or some other way of recouping their funds in the event of a business
failure will seem more attractive.
currently waiting," says Trien. "At this point they would
rather take a little less profit by coming in on the second stage
of investment, rather than bankrolling an idea outright."
Fleet and many other banks will ignore a current loss short term if
a firm can show a successful history in previous ventures.
money," says Kennedy, "but it is going to cost you more."
Loan officers everywhere agree that commercial enterprises
are offering less on standard collateral.
in importance. Now, in addition to a wonderful idea with just bunches
of potential customers, the firm seeking to expand had best show
capital sources and a tight, low-overhead operation.
has trends and fashions. While high tech is now in disfavor,
and transport services are good candidates for funding.
itself. New Jersey’s banks are growing. They have grown for the last
decade and they continue expanding now. Bank officials watched
hit the stores on Black Friday (the post-Thanksgiving shopping binge
day) and spend in record numbers. This is spending they can back.
The gambling mood is gone, but the lenders intend to keep themselves
strong by putting their cash into the basics.
— Bart Jackson
You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.
You can’t score the winning run if you don’t go up to bat. And you
can’t win a federal grant if you don’t submit an application.
So say Gail and Jim Greenwood of the Greenwood Consulting Group
Inc. They are among the nation’s leading experts on how to write
for the Small Business Innovation Research Grant program, the
largest R&D grants program targeted to the small business community.
SBIR grants can yield $100,000 for Phase I and $750,000 for Phase
II. Typically, entrepreneurs reap a seven percent profit on the first
two phases of this grant; for the really good money, the entrepreneur
must get to the Phase III stage.
The Greenwoods are coming to New Jersey to teach workshops on the
first steps in the SBIR grant process on Wednesday and Thursday,
12 and 13, at the Rutgers Fiber Optic Materials Research Center in
Piscataway. The topics will be Phase I proposal development and cost
proposal preparation. Cost: $60 per day or $95 for two days. Call
"The Greenwoods have presented SBIR/STTR workshops to thousands
of persons in approximately 41 states," says Randy Harmon,
director of the Technology Commercialization Center, part of the New
Jersey Small Business Development Center (NJSBDC) of Rutgers Graduate
School of Management. "Gail and Jim Greenwood have been active
in SBIR since the program’s inception, making firms aware of SBIR
and its opportunities, and teaching them how to write competitive
technical and cost proposals for SBIR funding. They have critiqued
hundreds of SBIR proposals for firms throughout the United
The Greenwoods live in Sanibel Island, off the west coast of Florida,
but they spend most weekdays on the road, teaching and consulting.
The husband-wife team is under contract to the NJSBDC to convert
business plan writers into a statewide network of 15 to 20 proposal
"While we have successfully offered proposal writing services
in the past, we have had great difficulty maintaining a pool of
consultants," says Harmon. "We are building the training
for consultants out of three of the Greenwood Consulting Group’s
so three of the training days will be public events," says Harmon.
"This will result in stronger business models and business plans
for the companies that develop and submit proposals and improve the
likelihood that the technology developed under SBIR will be
Under the best circumstances, only the perfectly polished grant
will be submitted, but the Greenwoods are realists. Sometimes busy
entrepreneurs simply can’t put the time in to polish the application
to make a deadline. Should they submit the imperfect application,
using the rubric, "You can’t win if you don’t play?" Or should
they wait? Here are some guidelines:
topic or to the same reviewers again, consider that your marginal
impression may leave a negative, possibly permanent, impression.
choice between writing one terrific proposal or two so-so ones, choose
the one good effort.
for an honest opinion on your draft proposal. If they snicker or look
puzzled, perhaps your idea is not sufficiently credible to reflect
positively on you.
of Defense asks for may appear only once, so you might want to submit
your "imperfect" proposal. Most agencies, including the
of Agriculture, will accept proposals only once a year, so you may
not be able to afford to wait. In contrast, the National Institutes
of Health has three proposal due dates per year.
is full of unmet needs," says Jim Greenwood. "Sometimes a
need goes unmet because no one can figure out how to make money in
return for meeting that need." Consider how many units would be
purchased, how many customers you would have, and what the customers
would be willing to pay. Also take into account the "barriers
to entry to the market.
feedback on your ideas from the person who wrote the topic proposal.
Or maybe your horoscope says now is a good time. Then go for it.
If your high tech company does business — or would
like to do business with the military — you or your employee may
be able to attend free workshops taught by Drexel University faculty
in Camden. The workshops usually cost $300 per day but are free to
the end of December.
Funded by the government, in partnership with Drexel and the Sarnoff
Corporation, Project ACIN (Applied Communications and Information
Networking program) presents network-centric warfare workshops. In
other words, they focus on how new telecommunications networking
and applications will affect the way the soldiers and sailors fight
For information call Pat Levecchia at 856-614-5450
On the schedule:
12 to 14. For computer savvy individuals with limited programming
experience — how to create application platforms and systems that
enable warfighters to conceive, discover, prototype, test and deploy
their own applications easily and at low cost.
and Friday, December 13 and 14. How to protect battlespace network
infrastructures and network-based applications from attacks.
17 to 21. For those with no formal education in computer science or
Wednesday and Thursday, December 19 and 20. For users and planners
of battlespace information networks that will employ wireless
applications that make information delivery faster, more secure, and
more flexible. It focuses on what will offer significant near-term
benefits to the DoD and has the potential for commercial development,
especially through new ventures. If any spinoff companies result,
they will be incubated at the University City Science Center’s Port
of Technology in Camden.
People join companies but leave managers, and all too
often, technical supervisors lack managerial skills, according to
Blessing White, the global consulting firm that specializes in
and corporate growth (www.blessingwhite.com).
Blessing White offers its Technical Leadership course on Wednesday
to Friday, December 12 to 14, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at its headquarters
on Orchard Road. Cost: $500. Participants need to register by December
7 in order to do the pre-class work. Call 973-726-8066.
The course is based on three years of research with 300 leaders in
19 technology companies and groups. Successful managers, this research
found, consistently used six motivational skills: maintaining and
enhancing self-esteem, focusing on specific behavior and impact,
appropriate questions, using "active" listening, communicating
benefits, and setting goals and follow-up dates.
Specifically, they learned to do the following:
authority and access to resources helps them achieve a higher level
of job satisfaction.
that everyone is different, and respond to the specific needs of each
by nurturing, facilitating, and protecting your employees creative
and worthwhile ideas.
ways of helping team members become self-directing, responsible, and
performance goals, and incorporate goal setting into their
with team members. Team members will be more motivated to contribute
when they support a need or objective.
Participants will practice these skills in the context of real
Blessing White promises that they will receive feedback and coaching
from a professional facilitator as well as their peers, and leave
with focused action plans for project results.
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