Small firms have a not-so-small impact. In case you needed reminding, this article from the AP breaks down how small business woes are affecting every sector the economy. It goes something like this: small business owners face sluggish sales, and are forced to pay employee salaries out of their own pockets -- or even close down. Communities suffer from resulting job losses, and larger companies, like Wal-Mart and Office Depot, get hurt as small business owners slash budgets.

The Orwellian office. In the disturbing trend story of the day, the Wall Street Journal details how some companies are fighting layoff rumors with a healthy dose of white noise. (Does anyone see a problem with managers acting like Cold War-era spies?) The story describes the firms that can help you stop your employees from (gasp) talking: "Dynasound Inc., an Atlanta-based company that makes sound-masking technology, has seen sales increase by 141% over the past two years. Tom Keonig, president of Dynasound, said in recent months there has been an increase in interest in the company's eavesdrop-prevention equipment, which masks the intelligibility of conversations or keep private conversations from escaping boardrooms and other sensitive areas. With the financial turmoil, "Companies don't want anyone to know what their survival plans of which downsizing, outsourcing and closing plants might be part of," Mr. Koenig said."

Dark days for venture capital. Alley Insider has the latest numbers from the venture capital industry, and they ain't pretty. VCs raised 33 percent less capital in the fourth quarter of 2008 than they did a year earlier, and VC investments in start-ups were off by 30 percent.

Everything's negotiable. Small companies are reexamining everything during the recession, including longstanding deals with vendors and suppliers, reports the WSJ. Deals that seem equitable in good times, can be come burdens during downturns: "Tom Long, an Oak Park, Ill., small-business consultant, said 10 of his dozen or so clients have negotiated discounts of 1% to 5% with at least one vendor for paying with cash or personal check, and usually within 10 days of a product or service's delivery. Most have negotiated these deals in the past 30 days, he says."

More on Iowa's small business health care initiative. The AP reports on state legislators' plan to allow small businesses to buy into state employees' health care plan. Iowa state polls indicate that health care is the number once concern of voters.

What R U working on? Will Twitter-like messages ("tweets" for the uninitiated) one day replace conference calls and emails for workplace communication? Yammer, a Los Angeles area start-up that offers a microblogging service aimed at business users, thinks so. And so do some deep pocketed investors. The company just raised $5 million from Charles River Ventures and the Founder Fund, according to TechCrunch. Of course, as TechCrunch points out, Twitter could easily branch into the business world itself and the company already lets users create private accounts.

Blackberry storefront starts vetting developers. Biting off Apple's billion-dollar idea for the iPhone App Store (the iTunes for your smartphone), RIM has started accepting applications from developers for its soon-to-be launched Blackberry Store. But as Om Malick points out, the company is facing stiff competition from Apple, Google, Palm, and Symbian to entice good developers to their app stores. (David Pogue, by the way, named, the cellphone app store as the best tech idea of 2008). RIM is hoping its VC fund will attract talent. Check out the handy chart in our January issue of how the iPhone, T-Mobile G1, and iPhone stack up for business users.