Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Personal and Business Advice in Turbulent Times

Last night I attended a Town Hall Meeting at Kennesaw State University. I heard some great advice I felt I should pass on.

The Economic Summit Town Hall Meeting, held Tuesday evening at the KSU Center, allowed individuals and business owners to voice their economic concerns and get responses from experts. Sponsored by the Kennesaw State division of the Small Business Development Center and KSU’s Econometric Center, the panelists included Joseph Brannen, President of the Georgia Bankers Association; Tony Britton, Senior Vice President of Wachovia; Dr. Gene Henssler, President of G.W. Henssler & Associates and host of the popular radio program, Money Talks; and Dr. Donald Sabbarese, Director of KSU’s Econometric Center.

After opening remarks by Dr. Lendley Black, Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs, Lydia C. Jones of the SBDC introduced the discussion format and established an informal, accessible atmosphere to discuss potentially volatile and emotional issues. “Please, no political comments!” Jones warned.

Although we hear abundant reports and advice on the economy, the unique value of this meeting was the opportunity to ask specific questions and to get answers that applied specifically to our region.

The bad news is that building and manufacturing are suffering. One in six homeowners are “under water,” owing more than their homes could sell for. Although exports have been the good news in recent years, now other countries are hurting, which will of course negatively impact overseas sales. But then, we’ve heard all the bad news over and over.

What about the good news?
  • Ninety six percent of our banks are well-funded. Two thirds are profitable.
  • The government has acted to restore confidence in the markets. The FDIC now guarantees our bank holdings for up to $250,000. (The time when the government failed to act was 1929, allowing the Great Depression to take hold.)
  • Five hundred people per day are moving to Georgia.
  • Atlanta is well-diversified, has no geographical boundaries, has a world-class airport and is business-friendly. No wonder it’s growing at two times the rate of the country. Atlanta real estate hasn’t “burst.” It’s only down 6.9%, one of the lowest declines in the country. (Compare this to Miami, where house values are off 44%.
Specific answers to people’s concerns:
  1. Should I get out of stocks? “This is the dumbest time ever to get out of the stock market,” advised Hennsler. When stocks are cheap, this is the ideal time to buy, not sell.

  2. What about unemployment? Sure, unemployment is creeping up. But in recent years it’s been at an unprecedented 5%. Manufacturing is hurting, so move into growth areas like education and health.

  3. Are banks doomed to failure? No. They’re simply changing  getting back to basics  like coaches concentrating on blocking and tackling. We had gotten away from that. People with good jobs and good credit can still get loans for houses and businesses. People with bad credit and shaky jobs and no collateral won’t be able to get loans. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. We had gotten away from that. Build relationships with bankers. Give them a detailed business plan. So much of business is about relationships. Pursue them.

  4. How can the government give away all that money? Won’t we have to pay for it? Henssler believes that the government could actually make money on these bailouts. Companies will have to pay on the loans and the government will own assets that they’ll be able to sell, hopefully at a profit, in more stable times.
In the end, Lydia Jones asked the panelists to each share pitfalls we should avoid. They responded:

1. Don’t get rid of your key people.
2. Be informed, but don’t take drastic measures.
3. Keep your optimism.
4. Don’t overreact. Keep the lines of communication open.
5. Don’t cut back on marketing. Sell, sell, sell!