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Small Business News Ticker: The Tax Wars Are On

A manufacturing rebound (sort of), the sweet spot for buying cheap flights, a Facebook phone, and all the tax news that's fit to read.
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Welcome to the first edition of Inc.com's weekly entrepreneurial news round-up. Here's what I've been reading:

Manufacturing is on the rise, unless it isn't

Outsourcing has become such a staple of big business and globalization that it hardly seems worth talking about--except in the context of the U.S. manufacturing renaissance. Domestic manufacturing looks like it increased again in March, though there are some wet blankets. The chief economist at Goldman Sachs thinks that improvements are cyclical and not structural, meaning that things are only getting better because they would have anyway and people aren't being cautious enough when looking at the data. Wait a second. Goldman Sachs? Prudence and wariness of hype? Quick, someone tell skiers that the slopes are open in hell.

If at first you don't succeed, let someone steal your intellectual property

If the big guys can outsource and send jobs packing from the U.S., why not smaller companies? Entrepreneurs are learning that they, too, can win at wage arbitrage, gain production around the clock, save money, and try to bridge communications problems that delay projects by months.

But if you're thinking of dealing with the mother of all outsourcers, China, you might want to install extra locks on file cabinets and computer hard drives. According to the American Chamber of Commerce in China, a quarter of all U.S. firms there are data theft victims to the tune of $300 billion in 2012. Hey, as the old saying goes, trade secrets just want to be free. Then again, maybe when it comes to Chinese cyberwarfare, the U.S. has only itself to blame?

China's government says that the data theft charges lack proof, which isn't quite the same as calling them false or inaccurate. But what does China know? The same quality inspection office says that Apple is incomparably arrogant. Oh, wait.

Flying on the cheap

If you do need to head oversees--or closer--and air travel is in your immediate future, it turns out that planning ahead, but not too far ahead, can save money. Most business travelers realize that buying a ticket too close to departure date can send fares spiraling upwards. But, according to an analysis by CheapAir.com, so can buying too far in advance. For non-holiday domestic travel, the sweet spot is 49 days before you need to leave. Internationally, aim for buying tickets 81 days in advance.

Knock knock. Who's there? Walmart, or something that looks like it

And speaking of outsourcing, it's happening right here at home. Walmart is looking at a plan to have customers deliver packages for online orders, which could give the retailer even more of an advantage to compete with smaller companies (not to mention Amazon and Google). Of course, there may be some problems with this plan: namely, delivery reliability, liability, and even potential fraud and identity theft. But, hey, it's crowdsourcing! Everyone's doing it!

Taxic shock

April 15 is right around the corner and it's time for that three-letter four-letter-word. If it makes you feel any better, you're probably getting better at figuring how much the IRS thinks you should pay. But be careful: tax scams run rampant. E-tailers learned that New York has upheld the "Amazon tax," meaning online companies will have to collect state taxes. Meanwhile, a segment of small business has decided to take a page from the large corporate strategy book as craft brewers lobby Congress for a tax break.

Just remember, it could be worse. You could be Mark Zuckerberg and face a $1 billion tax bill. You'd think he would at least get a postage prepaid envelope from the government.

And if you're a woman entrepreneur, you'd better hope for a good-sized tax refund because you're 15 to 20 percent less likely to get a small business loan, while your company has on average a 40-point lower credit score than male-owned counterparts, according to Biz2Credit.

What doesn't kill you makes you wish for some peace and quiet

The rumors of a Facebook phone, like the break-up/make-up cycle of high school love lives, are again hot and heavy. Setting them off: Zuck's invitation to the press to see the company's "new home on Android." That's right, Facebook had its starter app and is now trading up for something roomier with an extra bathroom. It'll be a variation on Android that will put content on your phone's home screen, "putting Facebook first." Grumpy Cat is not happy. Wait to see if advertisers are.

IMAGE: AP
Last updated: Apr 2, 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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