Most small businesses win their Y2K gamble

January 10, 2000
By Kent Hoover

Most of the estimated 1.5 million small businesses that didn't prepare for the Year 2000 problem apparently dodged the millennium bullet.

Most Y2K observers were confident the date change would pass without disrupting the economy, but they were concerned that thousands of individual small businesses might have major problems as a result of their computers and embedded chips reading the digits "00" as 1900 instead of 2000.

But on Jan. 3, the first business day of the new year, there weren't any panicked calls to either the Small Business Administration or the National Federation of Independent Business, the country's largest small business organization.

"So far it looks pretty good," says SBA Deputy Administrator Fred Hochberg. Except for minor glitches, such as the occasional credit card reader that didn't work, "we haven't detected a problem yet."

Scott McIntyre, a senior manager at KPMG Consulting who ran the Commerce Department's Y2K Help Center for Small Business, also had a calm day Jan. 3.

The help center received about 40 calls that day -- about the same number it had received on the days leading up to the big calendar change. McIntyre says some small businesses experienced "minor glitches," such as corrupted data in spreadsheets, "but nothing like `I can't ship product' or `I can't do payroll.' "

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Food banks urge citizens to donate Y2K stockpiles

The nation's nonprofit community was quick to suggest a new use for the canned and packaged food that many citizens stockpiled in anticipation of a millennium meltdown: give it to food banks to help feed the 31 million people that go hungry in America every day.

America's Second Harvest, which operates nearly 200 food banks around the country, wasted no time in announcing the launch of "Y Go 2 Waste," a national food drive sponsored by Kellogg's. The drive will take place Jan. 15 to Feb. 15.

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Mexican consumers want businesses to do good

American companies doing business in Mexico should consider forming partnerships with nonprofit organizations, concludes a Mexican consumer survey.

The survey, conducted by researchers at Mexico's largest private university, found that 68 percent of Mexican consumers believe businesses have a responsibility to help solve social problems. Three-quarters of the consumers indicated they would switch brands or stores to ones that support social causes if price and quality are equal, and a slight majority said they would pay between 5 percent and 10 percent more for a product if that company supports social causes.

Promoting Public Causes, a Washington, D.C.-based philanthropy consulting firm that collaborated on the study, says the study shows Mexican consumers will respond favorably to cause-related marketing, which aims to raise funds for nonprofits while at the same time increase sales for businesses.

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Tax credit gets backing

Congressional Republicans welcomed President Clinton's endorsement of giving tax credits to families who purchase health care on their own instead of through their employers.

"Now that the president is on board, there's no reason we can't get this done this year," says House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, who has introduced legislation for a $3,000 health-care tax credit.

Supporters of the tax credit say it will enable many of the estimated 44 million Americans without health-care coverage to join the ranks of the insured. Armey says the current tax code "discriminates against people who don't get their insurance at work."

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Bill aims at drug makers by targeting tax credits

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., plans to introduce legislation that would deny tax credits to pharmaceutical companies that sell drugs for a lower price in other developed countries than they do in the United States.

"It is totally unfair for U.S. taxpayers to subsidize drug companies to develop new products, and then have those new, life-saving products sold for a cheaper price in rich foreign nations," Stark says.

The pharmaceutical industry, which spent an estimated $24 billion on research and development in 1999, says it needs the recently renewed R&D tax credit and other tax breaks to develop new drugs.

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OSHA will not extend ergonomics deadline

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is sticking to its Feb. 1 deadline for public comment on its proposed ergonomics regulations, despite requests from business groups for more time to examine the new rule's 1,000-plus pages of documents.

OSHA Administrator Charles Jeffress "made a decision he was not going to extend it," says agency spokesman Michael Fluharty. The proposed regulations, announced Nov. 23, would require about 1.6 million employers to implement programs designed to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders such as back injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Dan Danner, senior vice president of the National Federation of Independent Business, says small businesses haven't had time to take a close look at the regulations because of the holiday season. Plus, he says, many small businesses will be preoccupied with fixing Year 2000 computer problems in January.

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