Friday, October 24, 2014

Limited education = Limited career opportunities

Remember your high school graduation? It was the day you could say so long to the days of required classes, schoolwork, and schedules and hello to an endless summer vacation of freedom. After high school we were free to make our own choices, choose or not choose college. We were sure to find a job where we made TONS of money without having to go to school. That’s how it happened for you right?

It’s nice to dream of what should’ve been, and not long ago this ideal wasn’t too far off track.
Decades ago, graduating high school was the transition into adulthood and was the standard to securing a solid future. Of course college was encouraged, but on a very general basis the same or similar opportunities were available to high school and college graduates alike.

Today is a different story.

First a disclaimer: a college degree isn’t necessarily a reason I will or won’t hire someone. I strongly feel that real world career experience can often times mean a candidate has the same, or even more experience over a candidate with a college degree. Bill Gates didn’t graduate from college, and I am pretty sure no one would require him to have a college degree to be considered for any position.

But Bill Gates is a career fairy tale come true and the exception to almost every rule.
Bachelor’s degrees have replaced the high school diploma as a minimum educational requirement for any decent paying job in today’s job market. Shockingly, it has become a standard at some companies as necessary for an entry level jobs.

According to a recent survey by, three out of 10 companies are hiring more college-educated workers for jobs held in the past primarily by high school graduates.

It doesn’t seem right, but it is true and it’s only just begun. Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America, recently said, “Employers are filling more entry level functions with educated labor. While some of this may be attributed to a competitive job market that lends itself to college grads taking lower skill jobs, it also speaks to companies raising performance expectations for roles within their firms to enhance overall productivity, product quality and sales."

As a college graduate, business owner and self-proclaimed management expert, this surprised me but made sense all the same. It makes sense that companies are trying to hire an educated workforce at rock bottom wages by giving them entry level positions.

What this actually means is that there is a hiring trend nationwide in which companies, big and small, are requiring an associate’s degree and above just to be a janitor and clean the toilets. Additionally, it means that bachelor’s degrees often aren’t the end of the road for people who want to move up the career ladder. Master’s degrees have become more prevalent as necessary for top level management and executive positions.

As a college graduate holding two bachelor’s degrees, I sympathize with anyone who asks why go to college for four or five years, racking up thousands of dollars in debt, just to earn the right to be considered for a receptionist’s position? You could have counted me in that group years ago, but as the markets change it’s looking more and more like there isn’t even a choice.

Employers are calling the shots, and for them it’s a buyer’s market. This doesn’t apply to employers trying to immediately fill highly specialized positions. But in a general sense employers have more opportunity than ever to take the time to recruit, attract, select and retain the employees that fit their perfect checklist.

So what is the big deal with college degrees anyway? Why do employers care that you have an overpriced piece of paper with your name on it? Next week and we will discuss why employers feel degree-holding candidates are a must in their businesses.
Monica Bitrick is CEO of Bitrick Consulting Group, an Idaho Falls human resources company.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guns and Gear kick starts proposed urban renewal district

Dixie Murphy, inside Guns and Gear, scheduled to open in November.
With close to $3.5 million invested, Guns and Gear on Crane Drive is poised to give the blighted land around it a shot in the arm.

Dixie Murphy is fairly certain that nobody will have seen the likes of their indoor shooting range. Staff has been hired and a grand opening has been scheduled for Nov. 21. Murphy, partner with her son Shane and his friend Ryan Later (who approached them with the idea in 2012), has a grandmotherly way of talking about Glocks and AR-15s, tactical and static target lanes featuring the latest computer technology, and an HVAC system compliant with EPA regulations.

Overall, they have spent $2.8 million on the two-story, 15,000-square-foot building, which overlooks the Snake River Landing development, and $700,000 on equipment.

Aside from everything happening inside the walls, however, Guns and Gear is poised to bring more development to the ground between Interstate 15 and the Porter Canal, just west of Snake River Landing.

The Idaho Falls Planning and Zoning Commission has scheduled a hearing Nov. 5 about designating 55 acres as the Eagle Ridge Urban Renewal District. If the commission favors the proposal, it will send its recommendation to the Idaho Falls City Council for a vote Dec. 11.

What an urban renewal district allows is tax increment financing through the Idaho Falls Redevelopment Agency. Put simply, while the taxes collected on the land Guns and Gear sits on will go toward schools, city, county, fire protection, etc., the taxes collected on the building and other improvements will go to the Redevelopment Agency to be spent on roads, water, sewer and power lines in the district.

Although the Redevelopment Agency has existed since 1968, Idaho Falls didn’t institute its first urban renewal district until 1988. That was when the Shilo Inn was to be built, and the taxes collected from the improvements on blighted land along Lindsay Boulevard made developments like Taylor Crossing on the River feasible. A second urban renewal district, called River Commons, incorporates Snake River Landing.

What any urban renewal district needs is a big project to kick start the tax increment financing to make other development possible, said Idaho Falls City Planner Brad Cramer. “There’s suddenly a buzz about this land that has been sitting there for years,” he said.

One person who recognizes the potential is Steve Keim, a broker with Coldwell Banker Commercial Intermountain. With two silent partners, Keim has formed the Eagle Ridge Co. and bought a lot of the land inside the proposed district.

Ten years ago, with Renaissance Partners, Keim played a role in bringing in Fairfield Inn and the Super Wal-Mart on Utah Avenue, so he recognizes what urban renewal makes possible.

“This (Eagle Ridge) piece sits right between the two other districts and right inside a curve on the Interstate,” he said. “There is a lot of potential for Idaho Falls to make a better showing to people driving on I-15.”

Although she is focused on opening Guns and Gear, Murphy said she would be happy to see development around them. “I knew when we started this project it was going to jump start the land values on this bench,” she said. “Maybe this is where Costco will want to build. I would love that!”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Breast Cancer awareness gala set for Friday night

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and although it is almost over you still have a chance to get with the program. The Rex & Tiffany Redden Foundation is holding a big kickoff event, Tapas for Tatas 2014, Friday night at 6:30 at the Marriott Residence Inn.

The foundation’s intent is to save lives through early detection of breast cancer, education and screenings, and to provide funding for breast cancer research.

The founders, Rex and Tiffany Redden, have their own cancer story. In 2013, with no history of the disease, Tiffany received a rare diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer. Unlike most breast cancer, TNBC does not involve the receptor genes for estrogen, progesterone or HER2/neu. This makes it more difficult to treat, since most chemotherapies target one of these three receptors. As a result, triple-negative cancers often require combinatorial therapies.

In the past year, Tiffany has undergone both chemotherapy and radiation. Not one to play the victim, she very quickly decided that she would raise awareness through action. She has shared her experience widely on Facebook and through events organized by the foundation.

“Our vision is a world free from breast cancer,” she said. “Until that occurs, we will fight to see increased funding for breast cancer research, affordable mammograms and public education for all men and women.”

Breast cancer survivors will be admitted to Friday at no charge. Otherwise, the cost is $20. Here is the link:
Tiffany Redden Tuesday night with the Idaho Falls High School volleyball team, whose members dressed in pink in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Monday, October 20, 2014

More measured news from Local Market Monitor

When it comes to economic news, if you’re looking for cold water on the face then Local Market Monitor is the place to go.

The Cary, N.C.-based company keeps track of fundamentals in 300 markets across the United States. The September 2014 forecast for Idaho Falls is not horrible, but it offers a far more measured picture than an optimist would like to see.

Here’s the good part: The last time I reported on LMM, on its May 2014 report, it projected Idaho Falls home prices rising 7 percent in the next three years. The report for September projects a three-year rise of 10 percent.

“Economic growth has been erratic since the recession. Growth was mixed in the past year, with job gains in government, but weakness in healthcare and the big retail sector. Expect erratic growth the next few years,” it said.

The LMM’s audience is real estate investors, and with an investment score of 5.6 the risk of buying real estate in Idaho Falls is considered a medium bordering on low.

Here are a few more excerpts:

Home Price
Home prices in this market peaked in Q1 2008 at $190,976. Since their peak, prices have fallen by 15%. In the last 12 months, prices have gone up by 3 percent. The average home price in this market is currently $162,149.

Housing Permits
Total housing permits in August 2014 were down 15 percent from last year. Single family permits were down 9 percent.

We forecast rents to increase 10 percent over the next three years in this market, to an average of $837 per month, partly due to higher inflation.

Jobs were down -0.4 percent in the past year, compared to the national gain of 1.8 percent.

Monday Business Profile: Kickshot Locksmith

Slade Hoopes, owner of Kickshot Locksmith
Growing up in Idaho’s Teton Valley, Slade Hoopes had always figured he’d be a farmer, but when his parents sold their land to developers in 2008 he turned to something that had fascinated him since he was a child, locksmithing.

Hoopes, 27, can pick an old-fashioned lock with the best of them and has an arsenal of customized tools for getting into locked Fords, Dodges, Toyotas and what-have-you. But with high-tech electronics and the Internet, it’s a much different world than even five years ago.

Running his own business, Kickshot Locksmith, Hoopes, 27, knows he’s the new kid on the block. The changing nature of the market has allowed him to identify certain niches where he hopes to make a name for himself as the go-to person.
After his parents, Jack and Lorna Hoopes, sold their land in Teton Valley they were looking for franchise opportunities in which to invest. Hoopes, then a student at Boise State University, told them about Pop-A-Lock, based in Lafayette, La. They signed up and he ran it for two years in Boise, selling the business in 2010.

Hoopes came back to eastern Idaho and spent a brief period driving a food truck, then started Kickshot in 2012. “I’m essentially doing the same thing I did with Pop-A-Lock without paying royalties,” he said. “I knew what I needed and did not need.”

Since starting the business, Hoopes has focused on automotive keys. With older car keys you can still make a duplicate at the hardware store, but Sidewinder and laser cut keys require special machinery and computer codes. Lose the key to your Audi and you can do one of two things. Call the dealer in Boise or Salt Lake City (and pay to have the car towed there) or call Hoopes, who can make one right away for 15 to 25 percent less money.

Hoopes has a unit that communicates with a car or truck’s onboard computer and marries the key to the car’s ignition. “The profit is in the programming,” he said.

Like a lot of locksmith’s, Hoopes offers to unlock any vehicle door for free if there is a child locked in. It’s the right thing to do, but he admits it’s a marketing ploy at heart — in a desperate situation, nobody is going to let a child roast in a car seat out of reluctance to break a window.

Hoopes’ customers include Hertz Car Sales and local repossession yards. He is also dipping a toe into home security system set-up, a rapidly changing environment as well. “You can unlock your home or turn on the lights with your smart phone now,” he said.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Managers need to be friendly, not friends, with employees

I loved college for a number of reasons.  One of them was I had a laid back job at a major corporation with a supervisor who rivaled my best friends on campus. It was a great place to work, at least for a short period of time.

In fact, my supervisor was amazing for quite some time. During the day she would defend our division against the corporate “big wigs” who visited our office semi-annually from the East Coast (and who we felt knew nothing of what we did). After hours she was chummy with the team through various social engagements. It all was a workplace dream come true until personal conflict entered into the picture.

Slowly but surely, as our division developed personal issues between co-workers so entered the problems associated with “picking sides” by our supervisor. Friendships with subordinates became problematic because professional decisions were being made on an emotional and personal basis, favoritism started to blanket the office, morale went down and performance started showing it.
These performance and operations issues did not go unnoticed by the higher-ups, resulting in some “come to Jesus” meetings my supervisor’s reassignment to another position. It was a hard lesson to learn, I am sure, and had a major impact on the company.

Is it OK for managers to be friends with their employees?

Over the years I have worked with a lot of management. Some have understood the balance between personal and professional relationships. Others would rather play the nice guy and be buddies rather than bosses.

This is an issue with newly branded managers all the way up to experienced and “C” level executives, and there’s not any simple answer or scenario.

We spend a lot of time at work and with our co-workers.  So it is easy, and almost natural, for friendships with co-workers to develop. It also is important to remember employees and managers alike are still people. Emotions, beliefs, biases, opinions, etc., all enter into the workplace regardless of who we are or what position we hold.

That’s where the problem itself lies when bosses become buddies. Friendships have their ups, downs, bruises and bumps.  Wouldn’t friendships be even more complicated if one of the friends had the ability to hire, fire, promote or discipline the other friend?

The answer is pretty simple. Not only would this be complicated, but it would introduce complaints about favoritism, discriminatory employment practices and unrealistic expectations.

Any “negative” decision made, especially mainly on the management side, is going to have a heavy impact on the “friend” on the other side. More than likely the decision is going to be taken personally, esulting in an emotional response — sooner or later, inside or outside the workplace.

Think of your ultimate betrayal and that gives you a small sense of what this story could end. I’ve seen it happen, and folks it is not pretty.

I am not recommending that managers should not have any relationships with employees. What I am recommending is “friendly” leadership that doesn’t cross over the “friendship” boundary.

Finding this balance is tough, no doubt. We can always start by looking at what employees look for in great leaders. Employees follow leaders who demonstrate interest in them, care, concern, compassion, understanding and support, and the ability to lead by example.

The best foundation for any relationship in the workplace should be based on professionalism and business guidelines. While friendships between management and employees make for a fun and light workplace, they can lead to big problems. Overall, it’s just bad business.
Monica Bitrick is CEO of Bitrick Consulting Group, an Idaho Falls human resources company.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Home sales numbers stay steady for Bonneville County

It has been a few months, so I thought it might be a good time to check the pulse of real estate in Bonneville County. Other than putting your own house on the market, the best (and less stressful) way to do this is to check the Snake River Regional Multiple Listing Service, which keeps track of home sales, average days on market, median price and homes listed.

Going whole hog, I went down the columns all the way back to 2004, which, as one might surmise by looking at the table above, was the year before the boom started.

As good as the numbers look — this year is holding steady with 2013 — we’ve still got a bit of a climb before we get back to the go-go times of 2005, 2006 and 2007. And it may never happen. As immune as we think we are to national trends we are not, and there’s sobering news out there.

The monthly bulletin from Local Market Monitor paints a fairly sobering picture concerning debt and employment. Here is what it said:

Quite aside from the $10 trillion home owners owe on their mortgages — an amount that doubled in the last 20 years — they owe more than $3 trillion in consumer debt, $10,000 for every man, woman and child in the US. This used to be mainly credit cards and car loans, but over half of it is now concentrated in two groups that are very important to real estate. Home owners owe $450 billion in home equity loans, and young adults owe $1.2 trillion in student loans (whew!). Is it any wonder that so many home owners and would-be new ones have to sit on the real estate side lines?

With many buyers unable to buy, it's pretty clear why home prices are below income levels in most local markets today and why new construction has added so little to the economy. What's worrisome is that this situation, especially for young adults, isn't going to change much in the near future.

In September, the number of jobs was 2.0 percent higher than a year ago — a sign of slow, continuing improvement. Jobs were up 4 percent in construction, 1.3 percent in manufacturing, 1.8 percent in retail, 3.8 percent in business services, 2 percent in healthcare, and 2.8 percent at restaurants.

Government jobs were flat, not only at the federal and state level, where political considerations weigh most heavily, but also at the local level, where spending on education is necessary for long-term economic growth.