Contractors Try a Union, Farmers Plant Solar Panels, and India Fails the Underwear Test

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STARTUPS

WeWork’s struggles are giving its smaller competitors a chance to differentiate themselves: “Deals cut by a number of smaller office-services startups have come as parent We Co. last week postponed its initial public offering after investors questioned the business model and governance. … The firms often emphasize to potential clients and investors that they offer a different business model than WeWork’s and highlight their partnerships with landlords, which they say will better insulate them during tough economic times.

“Scott Rechler, an investor in Convene … whose property firm RXR Realty has leased space to both Convene and WeWork, agreed that the giant coworking firm’s growth formula is different from that of its smaller peers. WeWork has ‘taken very much a customer-centric view,’ he said, while Industrious and Convene focus on courting landlords. Most big property owners believe in coworking’s rapid growth prospects, which many real-estate analysts believe can thrive even if WeWork doesn’t. Brokerage CBRE predicted in a recent report that flexible office space could account for 13 percent of all US office space by 2030, up from two percent today.”

Minority women are opening businesses faster than any other demographic, according to a new report: “Women of color account for 89 percent (1,625) of the new businesses opened every day over the past year. This number has grown faster than the overall rate of new women-owned businesses in the past five years—21 percent versus 43 percent. The number of firms owned by African-American women grew even faster, at 50 percent. … These entrepreneurial ventures are concentrated in three sectors: service businesses like hair and nail salons and pet care; healthcare and social assistance; and professional/technical services like lawyers and bookkeepers.”

PlayVS has gotten two-thirds of US high schools to adopt esports since last year: “[The company] builds the infrastructure for these gaming competitions through a deal it signed with the [National Federation of State High School Associations] last year. Its platform hosts the matches, streams them for other students to watch, and compiles standings and statistics. Since late last summer, the 41-person startup has been spreading the word and helping schools create their own e-sports teams. … PlayVS’s deal with the NFHS makes it the exclusive platform for hosting officially sanctioned high school e-sports matches.” 

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 TAXES

Bernie Sanders doesn’t think billionaires should exist: “Mr. Sanders’s plan to tax accumulated wealth, not just income, is particularly aggressive in how it would erode the fortunes of billionaires. His tax would cut in half the wealth of the typical billionaire after 15 years, according to two economists who worked with the Sanders campaign on the plan. Mr. Sanders would use the money generated by his wealth tax to fund the housing plan he released last week and a forthcoming plan for universal child care, as well as to help pay for ‘Medicare for all.’

“‘Let me be very clear: As president of the United States, I will reduce the outrageous and grotesque and immoral level of income and wealth inequality,’ Mr. Sanders said in an interview. ‘What we are trying to do is demand and implement a policy which significantly reduces income and wealth inequality in America by telling the wealthiest families in this country they cannot have so much wealth.’”

Over five years, 12 companies threatened to leave New Jersey and move to the same Blue Hill Plaza office development in New York: “None followed through on the threat. In fact, an investigation by The New York Times suggests that nearly all of the 12 companies never seriously considered moving to New York. But all 12 received lucrative tax credits from New Jersey to stay—more than $100 million in total, according to documents obtained by The Times. Even the leasing agent at Blue Hill Plaza in Pearl River, NY, said he realized that the companies were using the site largely to ‘maximize their incentive packages’ from New Jersey. …

“That 12 companies all happened to pick the same out-of-state location underscores one of the main criticisms of the programs: The state agency responsible for overseeing the incentives, the Economic Development Authority, carried out little if any oversight. It does not appear that state officials found it suspicious that companies repeatedly threatened to move to the same office complex in New York—or that the officials even noticed. Nor did the state officials appear to check whether the companies had sought competing economic development packages from New York, as is typically the case in these cross-state battles over jobs.”

HUMAN RESOURCES

The Labor Department has finalized a rule expanding overtime pay eligibility: “Under the new rule, most salaried workers who earn less than about $35,500 per year will be eligible for time-and-a-half overtime pay, up from the current threshold of about $23,700. The rule is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1. The Obama administration raised the threshold considerably higher in 2016 in an effort to cover millions more workers, but a federal judge first suspended and later invalidated the rule, which never took effect. The current salary limit was set by the George W. Bush administration in 2004.”

Eighty Google contract workers operating out of Pittsburgh have unionized with United Steelworkers: “The newly unionized workers are just a small portion of the temps, vendors and contractors who make up an enormous ‘shadow’ workforce at Google, outnumbering direct Google employees by around 135,000 to 115,000. Contractors who spoke recently with the Guardian have complained of low pay, stingy time off, a lack of responsiveness from management and a constant sense of precariousness. … ‘From the time I was hired until now, me and my colleagues have been asking for certain things, like a couple extra vacation days, a better healthcare plan, more pay sometimes,’ another HCL worker, Johanne Rokholt, told the Guardian. ‘The answer is always, We’re doing as much as we can … You are lucky and you should feel grateful. It’s a one-sided conversation and I would like to see it be a dialogue.’”

OXFORD STRATEGIC ADVISORY DEALS OF THE DAY  

Amazon has acquired INLT, a company that makes software to help sellers manage costs and customs clearance of cross-border shipments. “Amazon is looking to expand the services it offers merchants to add tools for complicated cross-border sales processes, which sellers largely needed to manage on their own.”

Nexogy, a provider of cloud communication and broadband services, reached a definitive agreement to be acquired by Digerati Technologies, a provider of internet-based telephony products.

SUSTAINABILITY

Dana Thomas’s book “Fashionopolis” details how the fast-fashion industry is harming the environment: “More than 60 percent of fabric fibers are now synthetics, derived from fossil fuels, so if and when our clothing ends up in a landfill (about 85 percent of textile waste in the United States goes to landfills or is incinerated), it will not decay. … Future archaeologists may look at landfills taken over by nature and discover evidence of Zara. And it is Zara and other brands like it that have helped plant flags on the farthest reaches of the planet. [Thomas] convincingly connects our fast-fashion wardrobes to global economic and climate patterns and crises, rooting the current state of the fashion biosphere as a whole—production methods, labor practices and environmental impacts—in the history of the garment industry.”

AGRICULTURE

Struggling farmers are diversifying their businesses with fields of solar panels:  “The revenue that Dick and Jane Nielsen earn from the corn and soybeans they grow on 3,500 acres outside St. Paul, Minn., has dropped by about 30 percent over the past six years. The Nielsens are planning to make up some of the shortfall with the roughly $14,000 a local utility has agreed to pay them annually for the next 22 years to operate an array of solar panels on 15 acres of their land. ‘It’s something to live on until we’re gone,’ said Mr. Nielsen, 77 years old. Farmers have two options for adding solar power on their farms: lease land for energy companies to generate solar power to funnel electricity into the grid, as the Nielsens are doing; or install their own solar panels to cut their electricity bills. Both methods can amount to more than $1,000 a month in improved margins, according to farmers and renewable-energy advocates.”

MARKETING

Here’s a beginner’s guide to using TikTok: “While writing this article, I spent a month on TikTok. I created an anonymous account, I told nobody in my social circle, and I started creating content. In the last 28 days, my TikTok videos were viewed by over 2,300,000 people and received over 280,000 likes. I achieved this growth mostly by posting videos of post-it notes, bananas, and playing cards. If I can do this, you can do this. What is TikTok? How does TikTok work? How do you get views, likes, and followers on TikTok? How are brands using TikTok? What’s next for TikTok? How can you become a TikTok expert? Let me explain. ‘If Instagram Stories and Vine had a baby and then infused it with music, that’s TikTok.”

 THE ECONOMY

India’s economy, once the fastest-growing in the world, is fraying: “When Alan Greenspan ran a consulting firm and wanted to know where the economy was headed, he would often look at sales of men’s underwear as a guide. Mr. Greenspan, who later served as chairman of the Federal Reserve, believed that when times were tough, men would stop replacing worn-out underwear, which no one could see, before cutting other purchases. By that measure, India is in a serious slump. ‘Sales are down 50 percent,’ said Jeffrin Moses, gesturing toward the boxes of cotton briefs and tank tops bulging from the shelves of the Tantex undergarment emporium in Tirupur, the southern city where most of the country’s knitwear is made. It’s not just underwear.”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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