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A lender-liability backlash is making it tougher for companies to sue their banks successfully. Such suits first became widespread in the 1980s after several businesses claiming lender bad faith won large awards. Now, according to attorney John Culhane Jr., at least 20 states have passed laws aimed at preventing companies from suing on the basis of an unhonored oral commitment to lend -- a frequent ground for lender-liability cases. In addition, several large lender-liability awards have recently been overturned on appeal.

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Here's a hot young industry: greeting cards for business use. Once a rarity, business greeting cards are now carried by major office-products companies like Quill and Day-Timers and sold directly by a growing number of start-ups. Why the increase in interest? "Because it's so competitive out there you need to give a personal touch to your business," suggests Carolyn Gorsuch of Shop Talk Inc., a new entrant. Emmett Ramey, whose company makes Execards, has a more prosaic explanation: lack of time to write letters. The top seller at both companies? A variation on "Thank you for your business."

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Many states eye workers' comp reform as costs continue to rise. The National Council on Compensation Insurance, which administers rates in 32 states, is seeking increases that would average 15% for the coming year -- making it the fifth year of double-digit rate hikes. But reform is hard to enact. After labor and business groups in Illinois agreed on changes to make the workers' comp process more efficient, objections from lawyers stymied the bill. "It was good public policy," laments Barbara Stewart, assistant to the governor. "But the changes would have reduced the income of trial lawyers."

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A Vermont bank tries to market itself as a socially responsible lender, emphasizing its loans to small business. The theory? That depositors will prefer to bank where their money will be used to help a community. Under the Vermont National Bank program, money is set aside for specific causes, with 25% earmarked for small businesses and nonprofits. Since January, the program has attracted $15 million in deposits, much of it in new out-of-state accounts. Consultant James Valliere reports other banks are inquiring about the program -- in part because they must meet Community Reinvestment Act requirements.

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Fax is becoming a publishing medium for up-to-the-minute business news. A few newletters have launched fax editions, reports electronic-marketing specialist Sarah Stambler. In Wichita, start-up NewsFax summarizes the news for local businesses several times a day. (The fax is free: it con-tains ads.) Meanwhile, the Hartford (Ct.) Courant is offering a one-page fax preview of the next day's paper at a subscription rate of $1,000 per year. The intended market: CEOs of large corporations. But who's actually buying? A lot more small companies than expected, says the Courant's Bill Williams.

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A proposed revision to the research and experimentation tax credit would make it easier for young and growing companies to use. The current credit, which expires at year end, is biased in favor of established companies: it cannot be used unless the developer company has sold that type of product. Congress is considering a proposal to eliminate this requirement, and it has a good chance of passing, according to Mark Hankins of the SBA Office of Advocacy. The biggest roadblock: budget concerns.

-- Martha E. Mangelsdorf

Last updated: Sep 1, 1989




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