NEW AMERICAN HOME SMALLER, NEAR CITY
Forget suburban sprawl. The new American home will be smaller and near a city. Or so it would seem from the annual conference of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
NAHB says new homes will be more understated than their predecessors. It adds that they will be built in older neighborhoods on "scraper" lots where previous homes or buildings are torn down or moved, and they'll be closer to downtown. To compensate for a smaller lot size, the new homes will have as many as four floors.
SMALL BUSINESS OUTLOOK STATS
Several small business "Stats of the Month" as reported in Business Week in early April include:
• 32 percent of small companies report having hard-to-fill job openings, a near record.
• 34 percent of small businesses say they have been compelled to raise wages.
• Only 13 percent say now is a good time to expand.
INMATES COULD EASE LABOR SHORTAGE
It used to be that businesses felt threatened by the low-cost labor of prison inmates, but that's no longer the case. Prisons that once relegated inmates to just making license plates or doing other make-work stuff to keep them occupied have started running Manpower-like agencies and leasing out inmates to private employees.
It's a win-win situation for businesses, the prison and inmates because the setup is strictly for-profit.
In Pendleton, OR, the prison operates a convict-for-hire business as an auxiliary, Inside Oregon Enterprises (IOE). One of IOE's employers is Prison Blues, a line of clothing, produced by 100 inmates working in a 47,000-square-foot factory located within the prison. The inmate labor is paid well, $6.25 an hour, and the prison earns about a $1-per-hour profit.
With the current labor shortage, the working convicts are being snapped up. And there's a lot of convicts, currently almost 2 million, or one out of every 140 in the population.
ONE OF 10 WORKERS 'DISENGAGED'
Almost one of 10 U.S. workers acknowledges he is "disengaged," according to a report from the Gallup Organization, a Princeton, NJ, consulting concern. Workers say they don't know what is expected of them, they lack the materials to do their jobs, they don't have a best friend at work and they can't get the attention of their bosses.
Gallup estimates the cost of such active disengagement at $292 billion to $355 billion a year.
STORE DESIGN HAS SHOPPERS RACING
Kohl's Corp credits a racetrack store design for a 15 percent same-store sales gain. It's apparently so successful that despite the economic downturn, this Midwestern discount department store chain will open 50 to 60 new stores this year.
A Kohl's store floor is smaller and simpler than that of most department stores. It is designed as a continuous circuit of temptation with one shortcut aisle.
The Kohl's average 86,000 square feet is on a single floor and about half the size of most department stores. By walking just a quarter of a mile, a shopper covers the entire store while it takes twice that at most competitors.
SMALL BUSINESS OPTIMISM STRONG
Small business is upbeat as measured by the latest monthly optimism index from the National Federation of Independent Business.
The index finds 38 percent of businesses saying they expect to increase capital spending in the next six months. The average last year was just 34 percent. One factor in the increase: smaller businesses are more immune than larger ones to stock market problems. Also, banks are keeping the credit doors open to small businesses.
There are many methods of forecasting economic turns. One of the simplest, as one financial advisor recommends, is to use the heft of the daily newspaper after pulling out the classifieds. A heavier paper means retailers are spending more money on ads.