Public pension funds could become a source of long-term financing for small businesses, if Colorado has its way. That state recently became the first to try using local fire and police pension funds to increase the availability of long-term, fixed-rate small-business loans. Many banks are reluctant to tie up their money in such lending, so the new program has pension funds make deposits for up to 10 years to match the small-business loans. Arizona, Oregon, Illinois, and the city of Cincinnati are working on similar programs.
How hard is it for a newly public company to attract long-term investors? Hard enough that one underwriter, L. C. Wegard & Co., has begun offering investors their money back if they hold its new issues. Example: last June's $4.725-million IPO of Harvard Knitwear Inc., which set up a stock escrow fund to provide bonuses of preferred stock to buyers who keep their IPO shares at least six months. Six months later the bonus stock can be exchanged for a five-year bond, which at maturity will be equal to the original investment. Harvard attorney Frank Cohen says about one-third of the IPO investors have held the stock for seven months. Wegard now plans three more such offerings.
More small companies are being asked by their larger customers to use electronic data interchange (EDI). With EDI, invoices and other information can be transmitted between computers. While usage varies widely by industry, the technology is spreading rapidly. Recent surveys have found that about 60% of the Fortune 500 are using EDI, and an estimated 20% of the Fortune 1,000 require suppliers to use it as well. "Smaller companies are being forced into this," says Victor Wheatman of the research firm Input. "I think it's a matter of time before they realize maybe this is a good thing." His estimate of a supplier's typical EDI start-up cost: $5,000.
Computerized job-listing services offer a new way for companies to recruit on campus. Seattle-based JOBLINK Inc. provides software to 60 universities and colleges and then charges companies an annual fee based on usage. For example, it cost 25-person Digital Link Corp. $1,000 to list a profile and 10 technical jobs through JOBLINK. A Los Angeles service, JOBTRAK Inc., offers onetime printing and posting of job listings at up to 43 California schools; cost is $10 for the first school and $5 thereafter. Both start-ups are regional, but such services -- as well as computerized résumé banks -- will probably spread, says Warren Kauffman of the College Placement Council.
A few cities are turning to their zoning codes to preserve their manufacturing industries. The problem: as downtowns boom commercially and residentially, some industrial companies face incompatible neighbors, traffic problems, and land speculation. Hoping to keep companies from leaving, Chicago recently declared its first planned manufacturing district, a heavily industrial area where zoning conversions of land to other uses will be restricted. Portland, Ore., has had similar "industrial sanctuaries" since 1981. Other cities are reported to be looking at such strategies.
A Massachusetts franchisor has an unusual plan for attracting high-quality franchisees by capitalizing on their desire for independence. Gnomon Copy Inc. president James Sutherland is promising prospective franchisees of his copy centers they can stop paying royalty fees after 10 years and then pay only for corporate ser-vices they want (plus a $1 annual fee). His model: 10 franchisees who bought their stores from Gnomon's former owners. Aside from attracting better people, Sutherland hopes to keep overhead low as more experienced store managers request fewer services. One problem: Gnomon will have to grow steadily just to compensate for franchisees who drop out.
-- Martha E. Mangelsdorf
PRINT THIS ARTICLE