All posts by Cory Skeates

13Feb/09

Business and Breakfast | A New Service: Podcasts

The February 2009 Business and Breakfast event ushers in a new program for the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce.  In order to better serve our members, audio from our professional development events will be available for download from our website and as a Podcast through iTunes.

For the inaugural podcast, our presenter is  Dr. Franklin Schultz, who gave an engaging presentation on stress management.  The event was  hosted by the YMCA of West Central Florida, where attendees were treated to a delicious breakfast and a relaxing environment in which to learn about stress management.

Dr. Schultz clarified that our goal was not to eliminate stress, but to manage it.  He gave us a four step process for dealing with stress and encouraged us to practice it daily.  The very serious subject of stress (and the statistics about the damage it does to our bodies) was approached with an excellent balance of humor and relevant, helpful information.

Thanks to our podcasts, even if you could not attend, you can get all the great information for yourself!  You can play the presentation right from this window by pressing play below.  If you would like to subscribe to this and future podcasts, you can search the iTunes store for “Lakeland Chamber”.  For those of you using other devices, the feed can be found at http://blog.lakelandchamber.com/?feed=podcast.

If you are new to podcasting, there is excellent information available here.  We are looking forward to your feedback regarding the Chamber podcasts.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them here or email Matthew at mwengerd@lakelandchamber.com.

[podcast]http://blog.lakelandchamber.com/podcasts/Feb-09-Business-and-Breakfast.mp3[/podcast]

Have you done your exercises today?

12Feb/09

Lakeland Outgoing Mail Operations Threatened with Move to Tampa

Last night, I attended the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) public hearing in Lakeland along with more than 200 concerned citizens and postal workers, as well as city and county elected officials.  I have to say, I was very proud of the professional and respectful tone of everyone who attended and offered their comments, questions and concerns during the meeting.

The purpose of the meeting was to share recommendations coming out of a USPS Area Mail Processing (AMP) feasibility study supporting that the Postal Service would save roughly $1.5 million annually by consolidating the Lakeland originating mail processing operations with the Tampa operations center.  This proposal is one of 17 under consideration throughout the country in an attempt  to offset projected USPS  losses of $2.8 billion that could escalate to $6 billion if cost-saving measures are not implemented.

What impact will the move of the mail processing operations out of Lakeland have on the businesses and homes in the 338 zip code service area in Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties which account for an average of 284,00 pieces of mail a day?

Of immediate concern, up to 39 Lakeland postal workers will be reassigned to either Tampa or other service facilities.   While the Postal Service reps assured the audience there would be no layoffs, being relocated to other postal facilities within a 150-mile radius will create a great hardship on those affected employees.

From a business perspective, the other major concern is the loss of service and Lakeland identity this move will create.  The study reported that no disruption or delay in postal service will be experienced if the move takes place.  However, several postal workers stated that it would be impossible to maintain the level of delivery service currently provided by Lakeland, and questioned the real cost savings and efficiency if mail was trucked to Tampa for processing and then trucked back to Lakeland or to further points in the 338 service area.

I encourage you to visit the USPS Web site to learn further details on the USPS AMP study:  www.usps.com/all/amp.htm.

After listening to the presentations last night and hearing from members of the audience, a few observations and recommendations to consider………

Lakeland is recognized as the premier distribution center for the southeast, with its strategic location along the I-4 corridor making it ideally positioned to move goods and services to a broad geographic market.   8.5 million people live within a 100-mile radius of Lakeland and close to 600,000 people live in Polk County alone.

With Lakeland between two major metropolitan areas, wouldn’t it create greater cost and service efficiencies to EXPAND the Lakeland Postal Center  rather than shift the processing service to the west?

I was pleased to hear from the postal service representatives last night that Lakeland is rated one of the best mail processing plants in the country.  Why wouldn’t that level of service be utilized to its maximum capacity rather than forcing the Tampa facility to increase their overtime labor to handle the additional mail service?

In today’s economic environment, every business in this country is going through the same challenges the U.S. Postal Service faces to identify cost-savings measures to keep their doors open without jeopardizing their most valuable asset, the customers they serve.

In light of the global competition facing the USPS with the surge of on-line communications service, we ask the U.S. Postal Service to weigh the short-term economic and efficiency benefits reported in the study against the long-term impact to their customers, both internal and external,  and further erosion of their competitive edge in service areas such as Lakeland.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO VOICE YOUR COMMENTS AND CONCERNS ON THIS ISSUE??

I encourage you to contact the U.S. Postal Service to voice your comments, questions and concerns regarding the potential relocation of the Lakeland mail processing center and its impact on your business.   Correspondence must be received by February 26 to be included in the AMP analysis:

Consumer Affairs Manager
Suncoast District, USPS
6013 Benjamin Rd Ste 201
Tampa, FL 33634-5178

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about this important issue, and let me know if you have any other thoughts or suggestions on how the Chamber can represent Lakeland’s interests as we move forward.




11Feb/09

Rail Connectivity Summit

Editor’s Note – I would like to introduce to you our new Chamber Board Chairman Anu Saxena.  Anu has been active on the Chamber board for the last 6 years and is the President of ASC geosciences, Inc. This is the first in our series to keep members as informed as possible on issues impacting Lakeland and our business community.

Listening to the various presenters at the RCSummit last week led me to conclude the impacts caused by realignment of CSX traffic through our uniquely beautiful downtown can be mitigated. Short term mitigation would include installation of quiet zones while long term mitigation would reroute the trains away around our downtown. With the City of Lakeland hosting the event, there were attendees from Orlando and Tampa, with both groups making their presence known. Orlando representatives included a significant group from the Leadership Orlando Class 77 while Tampa provided an update on their commuter rail plan being studied by TBARTA.

One very real benefit produced by the RCSummit was the establishment of a linkage and a connection between what Orlando, Tampa, and Lakeland are doing now and, more importantly, what can be achieved together by taking lessons learned in other communities and improving the approach to yield better results in our own effort to get connected with commuter rail.

Editor’s Note –  The Regional Connectivity Summit, and all presentations from the summit, can be followed here: http://www.rcsummit.org/.

09Feb/09

Marketing Mondays – Search Engine Door Slowly Closing on Small Business

This week’s Marketing Monday comes from the OPEN Forum‘s Scott Campbell.  

It’s difficult not to be bombarded these days with the glowing internet trends and statistics…the bottom line is that people (read: potential customers) have and continue to flock to the internet in droves in search of products, services and information.  A recent study estimates that 72% of all buying decisions now involve the internet at some point during the buying cycle (researching, considering options, buying, confirming buying decision, or post-sale information gathering).  Business pundits routinely shout the critical importance of this medium and the need for an informative/visible web presence through books, magazines, media appearances, conferences, etc.

And yet, the majority of small businesses continue to avoid, seemingly waiting for something to happen that will help them better understand and harness this technology.  And that’s a problem for a couple reasons. First, the internet is a wonderful place to exhibit products and services and do business. It’s a virtual storefront open 24/7 and can show products/services when the owner/management is working on other things…a dynamic that has been very profitable for some companies.  And second, without sounding too ominous, the door on visibility through search engines is slowly closing.

As a quick primer, the “Big 4″ of search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask) display the websites that are most commonly associated with related keywords.  They use a ranking system so that those websites that are most appropriate for a keyword are ranked and listed at or near the top, whereas those that aren’t commonly associated with a keyword are ranked much lower or not at all.  What some business owners don’t realize is that most of the ranking is based upon techniques utilized within the website to rank higher. That is, ranking higher is largely within management’s control.

An important part of these search engine ranking systems (also called “algorithms”) that determine website positions is the element of age and history.  That is, within their formulas are important criteria involving how long a website has been around.  (Sorry, they don’t consider how long you’ve been in business or how old you are…wouldn’t that be nice?)  Some of these criteria specifically include how long you’ve owned your domain (www.sample.com) and the age of the links pointing to your site.  These algorithms can further identify and reward companies that have been doing the right optimization activities over time…rather than all at once.  The bottom line is that the search engines try to limit the visibility of domains that are new and are using the latest “quick-hit” linking techniques and reward those sites that are established, informative and have been doing the right things all along.

But further, irrespective of the age and history elements, I find most companies are just not doing the basic things necessary to position themselves highly.  As a search engine optimization professional, my estimation is that in any given industry, a handful of companies in a local area actively jockey for the top positions (and lead streams), some make modest improvement attempts and most ignore the opportunity altogether.  While true that the search engines of tomorrow (5 years hence) will probably look and act differently than they do today, I can’t help but think that no matter how they evolve, there’s only enough room at/near the top for a limited number, and that there’s no way of getting around this “haves vs have nots” dynamic. 

If you find yourself in any group not active jockeying for the top position, then my advice to you is to

start learning and applying those things necessary to develop an informative and visible web presence now, because that’s the direction the world is going in.

The internet is, frankly, ripe with information on improving your web presence.  A recent study by Microsoft showed that most small business owners avoid positioning their sites higher and tools such as pay-per-click because they don’t know much about it and consider it too complex and/or too time consuming.  My response is that this may be the most important area of your business today and for some time.  If you don’t have time to look into improving your presence, then hire someone to do it.  Better yet, because things continue to evolve, find someone who will not only do it for you but can clearly educate you and keep you abreast of developments.

If the prospect of attracting more and better qualified leads to your business isn’t motivating enough, then consider the downside of your competitors leapfrogging over you and gaining such an insurmountable search engine lead that you could be treading water in this area for years.  I encourage those companies that are waiting for something to come along to welcome and engage in making their website visible now…before we get too far down the road.

The door may be closing, but it has not closed yet.  Even if you only sell in-store, a strong internet presence is no longer a convenience; it is a necessity.  There are several Chamber member businesses who specialize in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and can create an appealing website that ranks well when people look for your products in Lakeland.  You can go to our Preferred Business Directory and type “web” into the category field for a listing of member businesses that can help.  

Let them know the Chamber blog sent you.

06Feb/09

Second LEADS Group Starts February 17

Several weeks ago, we announced the formation of a second Chamber LEADS group.  It is my pleasure to announce that the first meeting of that group will take place at the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce on February 17.  If you were not able to join the Wednesday LEADS group because a competing business was already attending or due to a conflict of schedule (or even if Tuesdays just work better for you), the Tuesday LEADS group might be for you!

Tuesday Chamber LEADS Group

Every Tuesday at noon (starting February 17)

at the 

Lakeland Chamber Briefing Room (downstairs on the right-hand side)

35 Lake Morton Dr.

Brown-bag Lunch

$50/year

If you are interested in joining this LEADS group, please comment below or email Matthew Wengerd.  Membership is limited to one representative company per industry and is on a first-come, first-served basis.