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News Ticker: Healthcare Puts the Hurt on Small Business

The would-be flood of overseas tech workers, airports you might want to avoid, and who's up and who's down in the electric car industry.
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A weekly round-up of entrepreneurial news:

American talent pool shrinks. Overseas? Not so much.

The number of Americans in the workforce dropped in March, largely because many are giving up their job hunts. This is the second drop in two months, which is bad news for businesses trying to hire. Companies' increasing reliance on robots and automated self-service isn't helping.

But they're also relying on high-tech foreign workers on H-1B visas. U.S. companies reached the cap on those visas within just a few days--the fastest this has happened since 2008, when companies hadn't learned how badly the economy was going to be in the short term.

Politics & the art of the impossible.

Many companies, mostly in high tech, are asking for expansions on H-1B limitations. Some senators are trying to address this, with or without Florida senator Marco Rubio's help. Rubio, a Republican who has been noisy on immigration reform, suddenly seems cautious.

But, with Mexican wages falling below those of China, maybe everyone can head across the Rio Grande for some old-fashioned outsourcing. At least one Israeli company has looked to Belarus for programmers who cost a seventh of what they run in California.

Obama's budget is making liberals mad and probably not doing much for conservatives, either. It again raises the question of whether politicians can do the job they were elected for--governing. Or perhaps they can learn to be air traffic controllers, as sequestration is pushing the FAA to close 149 airport towers. What airport were you planning to fly to again? (Here's a list of the ones that could face the ax.)

Manufacturing heads skywards--literally.

It's always good to hear that manufacturing is on the rise. More building often means there's been more buying, and the first quarter of 2013 has been the best in about two years. The pace of hiring in the sector has picked up, too.

Ah, but there's a catch. According to the Commerce Department, the aircraft industry was the driver--or would it be the pilot? Take out this highly volatile area, where the word swing is as common as a dance hall's big band night, and growth was only modest. Still, that's better than nothing. But, really, how many people does it take for Boeing to replace a 787 battery?

And back down on the ground...

There's also been some good news on the electrically-powered transportation front. Electric auto manufacturer Tesla expects its first profit and Detroit Electric introduces a new sports car that runs on batteries. Cost of the latter: $135,000. Is that with or without a wagon load of C cells?

But all is not well in the industry. Hybrid manufacturer Fisker laid off 75 percent of its workforce. The only people left in the company are executives. (Will they be manning the factory lines?) And Tesla's stock fell when investors were underwhelmed that "important" and "really exciting" news teased by CEO Elon Musk was the announcement of a new financing plan. It was hardly electrifying.

Speaking of cars, if you rent cars from Dollar, you might want to double-check your bills. Allegedly there are many customers who verbally decline the extra margin-building insurance coverage and don't realize that it remains on the contract when they sign on the dotted tablet. Dollar says read the contract before you sign. Sound advice, though a day late and a dollar short for many customers.

Maybe everyone should be walking instead.

Something a growing number of employers say to workers is to literally shape up or ship out. Overweight employees may start paying more for health insurance. Recent studies suggest that the number of employers planning similar penalties could hit 60 percent in the next few years and that it might be 36 percent by 2014. Then again, you could just entice people into taking the stairs to burn off some extra calories.

Reining in healthcare costs is a major issue for businesses. Many were hoping that competing offerings under the health insurance exchanges planned in the Affordable Care Act would help drive down costs. Surprise: that part is being delayed by an additional year, until 2015. That may keep some small businesses away from the exchanges.

IMAGE: shuttterstock
Last updated: Apr 8, 2013

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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