Bob Hall, Quick Printing's senior consultant
On June 4, Printing Industries of America and NPES will hold their annual two-day “fly-in” to Washington, DC, to let printers and printing industry vendors buttonhole members of Congress and lobby on important issues. Among these issues are:
• A vital and sustainable US Postal Service
• Affordable and equitable healthcare reform
• Favorable capital investment tax policy
• Free, fair international trade
• Affordable American energy
• Responsible environmental policy
• Respect for the value and integrity of intellectual property
• Limited, effective and efficient regulations
While some of these lofty sounding issues make up more of a wish list than a roster of achievable goals, they do offer a window into what these two major associations view as important to the printing and graphic communications industry. It must also be kept in mind that the definition of such terms as affordable, equitable, favorable, responsible, and the like can mean very different things to different interest groups.
In light of this impending industry fly-in and government lobbying effort, we thought we’d ask some printers in the field just which government policies and actions are having the most effect on their businesses. Not surprisingly, many of the responses were less than flattering to the government.
• “The government is trying to run our businesses,” said Sheri Statt Bercaw, owner of Sir Speedy in Scottsdale, AZ. “Every day we see more and more impact from government regulations. We spend thousands of dollars each year to stay OSHA and EPA compliant. Healthcare expenses are affecting the insurance rates, and soon we will be faced with the fallout of Obamacare.
“Postal rates are changing how our clients want to get their message to market. We are seeing a large trend to electronic content distribution rather than print. It is also very expensive to stay in the printing and marketing business today with the high capital investment needed to keep current equipment that has the latest bells and whistles. We need less government, not more government.”
• David Monto of Dutchess ProPrint in Poughkeepsie, NY, sees healthcare and the postal system as two of the major issues in his business. “It seems to me what affects us in the short term is all the ever-changing postal regulations and rising rates. They make it increasingly more difficult to understand the regulations due to their convoluted instructions.
“In the long run, I am afraid of how our healthcare costs are going to climb, since no one has any idea what the costs of Obamacare are really going to be. Many of us are contemplating only hiring employees for 30 hours a week or less so we would not be required to provide healthcare benefits to them.”
• “Healthcare and the postal system are our two greatest concerns,” according to Keith Kemp of Xerographic Digital Printing in Orlando, FL. “As the post office continues to raise rates and cut out Saturday service it makes clients consider other means of communication. Although we are capable of managing an email campaign, the revenue associated with that project does not effectively cover the capital investment in printing equipment.
“Pertaining to healthcare, even though we have fewer than 50 employees, all insurance companies are raising their rates in anticipation of next year’s changes. We cover about 75 percent of the employees’ healthcare coverage, thus it impacts the company financially. Also, the type of coverage we can afford has declined, creating a greater expense for employees should they have health issues—higher co-pays, deductibles, and drug co-pays.”
• John Henry of Mitchell Printing and Mitchells Speedway Press in Osewego, NY, also is troubled by healthcare changes, but not quite so worried about postal reform. “Obamcare has affected us with higher costs and how many part-time versus full-time we hire. As of January 1, we no longer pay anything towards the families’ coverage and only cover the worker at 75 percent. We did grandfather in current staff. Today, I am better off hiring less skilled workers part-time, not full-time. Do I want to do that? No! But with a basic medical plan around $500 for a single person and climbing by double digits, no choice is left to me.
“Postal reform is not as big a factor. We are full service mailers and have good production equipment. The smaller guys have more issues with the costs to meet the new rules.”
• Cathy Lindemann of Evolution Creative Solutions in Cincinnati, OH, sees healthcare reform as the single biggest issue affecting her business. “As a small company, my biggest concern is healthcare reform. From what I hear from my insurance agent, I will not be able to afford to offer healthcare to my employees. I am concerned as to how that will affect the employee pool I have to choose from.”
Some printers were concerned about more than single issues such as healthcare and postal reform.
• Paula Smith of Curry Printing & Copying in Baltimore, MD, minced no words about how she feels the government negatively affects her business. “I believe that the way the federal government operates now is the complete antithesis of what a printing company needs to operate successfully and profitably. The federal government’s rules and costs enter into every single business decision I make as a printing company owner, starting with the onerous tax burden and double taxation on working owners, the complicated tax code, the Draconian rules and regulations that dictate practically every interaction an owner has with his staff, unnecessarily burdensome environmental regulations, piggy-backed unemployment taxes on an already bloated and broken state unemployment scheme, the totally market-skewing and harmful Obamacare rules and regulations, invasive reporting requirements (i.e.: census and other intrusive information demands), and finishing with the ever-present threat of asset seizure, legal action, and business closing.”
• Gary Olbrich, vice president at Stinger Digital Print & Graphics in Fort Myers, FL, also was concerned about broader issues such as fair trade policy. “In all honesty, I get the feeling that our government has a different business plan than what we have made for ourselves. I have spoken about keeping work in the USA in past discussions with others. Whether you realize this or not, our industry has been forced to compete with China's pricing structure. Americans are being brainwashed into thinking it is OK to send work out of the country to get lower pricing because it could mean higher profits on their end. In reality, what this is doing is driving our values lower.
“Personally, I can't make it on the income level being used overseas. Our pricing structure was established on how our country is run. We must pay many commitments to stay in the game. The government seems to be setting up a situation that cannot be fixed. You cannot pay off high debt by going further into debt. We must take a stand on this problem before it consumes us all. How can any business set up a budget if your costs continue to skyrocket? There need to be regulations put in place to tax the other guys to bring their costs equal to our market, and not penalize us for having a dream and building our own businesses—which, by the way, we did build our own business.”
• While agreeing that government regulations and policies do have a major impact on small businesses, Eugene Montanez, partner at Allegra Marketing-Print-Mail in Corona, CA, does not see this as a doom and gloom scenario. “Printers in California have had to deal with the most regulations on numerous fronts for many years. The hardest, in my opinion, was the conversion to low VOC chemicals a couple years ago. The transition was painful, to say the least, and probably led to more digital conversions, at a faster rate, than any single factor. We literally mothballed our four- color press for a year, only recently reactivating it for longer color runs. Since we have always provided healthcare, through PIA's great program, the transition there has not been as stressful, except I thought costs were supposed to go down.
“The one thing that has confused me over the years is the national trade associations have never done a survey of printers who were also elected officials, and had them participate in the state or federal government ‘lobbying’ process. I regularly travel to Sacramento and know and meet with senators and assembly members of both parties, as well as spending a day or so a month with our congressman.
“The bottom line, every industry has government issues, but you just need to work within them to make as much money as possible, while trying to make these laws less intrusive. But if you worry all day about what this person/party is doing to you, and focus on the negative, you will continue a slow slide into your client’s memories. My advice is be aware of other industries and be creative in your business. We just had our biggest sales month of all time March 2013, so I am somewhat happy.”