It’s good to be one in 10,000

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I’ve owned my company for 25 years, and it’s been a lot more years than that since I graduated from anything other than the school of hard knocks. That changed last week when I walked onto the stage with 30 other small business owners as a graduate of the Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program, aka 10KSB.

Getting into 10KSB was neither quick nor easy, and honestly, there were days it seemed impossible to both run a company and finish a program with 10-hour classes, homework between, and advisors holding my feet to the fire. The program is not for the weak-willed, but then, neither is owning a business.

The Goldman Sachs team uses a smart blend of talking and doing to move through a Babson College curriculum that covers finance, human resources, negotiation, operations and more, with lecturers from places like the Wharton School and hands-on activities that put learning to immediate work. Who knew quilt making could clarify management styles, or that buying corella pears holds the secret to negotiating? We re-examined how we lead, how we think, grow and plan, and in five lightspeed months, 30 entrepreneurs that had seemed to have little in common had become a team of warriors who will be in the trenches together for a long time to come. large-10ksb-logo

I can’t say enough good things about this remarkable gift I received, funded by Goldman Sachs to the tune of $500 million and delivered free (yes, free!) to qualifying entrepreneurs. Their aim is to prompt job creation and economic growth by providing access to education, capital, and business support services.

It’s the right blend of toughness and support, book learning and street smarts, programmed and organic. Most of us walked in tired and wrung out, uncertain of where to go next or, even if we did, how to get there. Our exit, on the other hand, was sea change. I walked out on a measurable path forward, with a growth plan in hand and a thrill I haven’t felt in years.

It’s a Friday – the weekday we used to have class. Someone right now is sitting in the seat I used to occupy at LaGuardia Community College, beginning the experience of a lifetime. Work on the business not in the business will start to have real meaning for them soon and maybe, they, too, will spend their first no-class Friday looking back and ahead all at once.

This thing isn’t about making one-hit wonders or overnight success. But if you’re looking for sustainable growth that adds jobs and leaves a footprint, this one click could help you make it happen.

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Getting Outdoors through Snapchat

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In July 2016, Pokémon Go took the world by storm, sending hundreds of thousands of users –smart phones in-hand–outside to search for and capture a virtual critter.  The Pokémon Go phenomenon was one of the most popular examples of a growing pattern; organizations are taking advantage of advertising with apps like these to motivate users and engage with them as they head outdoors. Today brands are looking for creative methods to engage with and even play an active role in the activities of these mobile audiences.

Snapchat, which currently has over 300 million active accounts, is quickly becoming a favorite tool for marketers. The Snapchat Geofilter feature, which gives users the option to add an element of flair to their snaps through filters that are unique to their location is a low-cost, easy-to-implement tactic that increases brand engagement.

Geofilter usage has grown over the past year. Many organizations in both the public and private sectors use Geofilters to raise awareness and promote their projects. One example is Commuter Connections, the host of Bike to Work Day in the metropolitan DC region. The DC Bike to Work Day is one of the largest in the country, attracting over 17,000 riders last year. Using Geofilters, Commuter Connections will give event participants the tools to share their participation with their friends quickly, using a unique graphic that will be available at select Bike to Work Day pit stops. As bicyclists snap, they let people see that they support healthy, low-cost and green commutes.

By pairing outdoor activities with advances in technology, these new tactics in engagement brands closer to their audience and influence their behavior through creative and direct messaging. As technology continues to advance, we can expect new and innovative ideas to bridge the gap between marketing and consumers.

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NY State is Powering the Future

Photo by Flickr user Melissa Martin.

Each spring communities around NY State celebrate Earth Day as a way to come together to protect the planet and encourage innovative ideas to power the future. Activities range from recycling drives and nature walks, to marches and a variety of cleanup events. In addition to these fun environmentally friendly activities, the Empire State continues to lead the way in environmental stewardship.

New York’s Clean Energy Workhorse: Hydro-power

New York is leading the nation in the field of renewable energy. New solar power is being installed across the state, and New York leading the way to be on 50% renewable power by 2030. While wind farms and solar are continuing to gain traction hydro-power currently meets 17% of New York’s power needs, and has been a proven source of power for the state since the Niagara Falls plant opened in 1882.

Currently, New York is working to upgrade improve the efficiency and infrastructure of its hydro-power systems as a source of low-cost clean energy. By improving the efficiency of its power generation turbines at existing plants, such as the Higley hydroelectric station in St. Lawrence county and by retrofitting non-power producing plants with turbines, New York could stand to gain at least 295 MW of clean, domestically produced power.

With minimal impact on the environment, and zero CO2 emissions, hydro-power is the workhorse of New York’s renewable power production.

New York is leading the way in our nation’s energy future. It is taking big steps to make sure that renewables go from being fringe-energy producers to mainstream necessities. Investments such as these bring jobs to local communities, clean power to residents, and encourage governments to invest in their infrastructure and make life better for everyone on Earth Day and every day thereafter.

Photo by Melissa Martin

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Controlling Chaos: Our guide to a successful Q&A

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In a recent article published in the Westchester and Fairfield County Business Journals, our CEO, Nora Madonick, described an easy to implement three-step process that will not only make your Q&A session easier to manage, but also ensure that everyone in your audience feels included in the conversation.

The process is important and it all centers around an action plan. Having a plan for the Q&A portion of your meeting before you walk in the door can turn a confusing flurry of questions into a constructive information session that allows the audience to receive immediate, well thought out responses to their queries. This process is easy to setup; all you need are:

-A white board, chalk board, or paper flip chart

-A facilitator

-Your speaker

-Your audience

To read about how these four components work together for a smoother, more engaged Q&A session, check out Nora’s full article at http://westfaironline.com/87243/chaos-control-in-public-meetings-three-steps-for-the-qa/.

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Simple Yet Brilliant Facilitation Technique You Should Be Using

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If you’ve ever wished for a way to handle rapid fire questions during a public meeting Q&A, this one’s for you. At a recent storm preparedness workshop in Manhattan, partnering a facilitator with a speaker during the all-important Q&A session made sure even the most agitated questioner felt included, the process was smooth, and the speaker had ample time to prepare answers.

Here’s how it worked: Once the speaker finished, the facilitator opened a 20-minute Q&A by collecting three questions from the audience and writing them on a flip chart. He then restated the questions for the speaker to answer one at a time. After the first three had been answered, the facilitator collected three more, and on until 20 minutes had ended.

Here’s why this approach worked so well:

The facilitator managed audience expectations about the length and process of the Q&A

No individual could dominate the Q&A

The speaker had plenty of time to frame each response

Questioners—and the audience—saw and heard the questions

The Q&A was controlled from start to finish

We’ve all seen meetings where the Q&A devolved into something less than productive—a good facilitator anticipates the unexpected with a toolbox of options that can turn the most contentious meeting into a positive experience. What are some successful facilitation techniques you’ve seen or used?

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Summer Travel Tips: Work Zone Safety

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Across the country it is construction season, and this month, as schools close for summer break more drivers, especially younger ones, will be on the road during the day. In our home state of New York, bridge and highway projects are now in full swing. ASC’s transportation infrastructure clients, for example, are currently rehabilitating or reconstructing 12 bridges across Westchester, Rockland and Ulster counties, and working on Interstate 84 in Connecticut, among others.

More than 7 million people are employed in transportation construction across the country. Unfortunately, about 20,000 of those workers will be injured each year in collisions—but the good news is, those injuries are preventable.

As communications specialists, proudly working with the US Department of Transportation, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut Departments of Transportation and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, among many other transportation-focused agencies, we advance important messages about safety that reach the public in a clear, concise manner.

Work zones can change by the minute, so staying focused on driving is essential. Be part of the safety message by following these simple tips, and sharing them with friends and co-workers. When you approach a work zone:

Slow down: Look for reduced speed limits in active work zones and keep to those limits—speeding contributes to 29% of the fatal crashes in work zones

Pay attention: Keep your eyes on the road and watch for signs, cones, barriers and flaggers

Stay off your phone: Distracted driving helped cause 16% of fatal crashes in work zones

Driving safely in a work zone means you, other drivers and the construction crews get home safely. And that’s a message we can all get behind!

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Movers and Shapers of Transit Oriented Development

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Millennials: Are they taking over? A lot of urban planners hope so. Defined by the Pew Research Center as those born after 1980, ranging in age from 18 – 34, this approximately 75-million-strong demographic is renowned for being markedly different from previous generations in ways that are affecting the landscape of the country. One of those ways is where they choose to live, which is firmly tied to how they choose to move from place to place.

Increasingly, millennials are “voting with their feet” by living and working car-free in urban settings close to transit centers. This population trend is a groundswell of support for Transit Oriented Development (TOD)—a “smart growth” strategy that promotes compact, mixed-use environments near transit hubs where people enjoy easy access to jobs, services, parks and residences. At its best, TOD creates walkable, bikable, amenity-rich communities around multi-modal transportation centers in a planning strategy that packs a dynamic multiplier effect that is good for the planet, good for the economy—and really good for quality of life.

As the nation embraces the need for urban revitalization in cities across America, TOD is clearly top of mind at the federal level. Earlier this month, when the Federal Transit Administration announced that nine cities would receive technical assistance to encourage economic development around transportation centers, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “Helping local leaders leverage their transit investments to attract more affordable housing, commercial development and jobs is a critical priority for the Department.”

With several millennials working among us, ASC is proud to be helping our very own City of White Plains re-imagine its transit center as part of the Multimodal Transportation Center Redevelopment Project. The planning phase of the project is backed by a $1 million grant from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Cleaner, Greener Communities Program administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Working with design and engineering firm WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, ASC supports and facilitates Mayor Tom Roach’s Project Stakeholder Task Force with communications and outreach to solicit public input from a diverse population to help move the project from design to reality. It’s a critical first step in reshaping the future of a great city. It’s exciting, forward-thinking work—energizing and inspiring. It’s enough to make you feel young again!

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It’s easier to choose transit when your wheels are an app away

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I’m now a believer: There’s an app for everything. My epiphany came in the form of a little-known app called DropCar and since signing up three months ago, I’ve used my car fewer times than I have fingers, and having my car out of sight is also keeping it—and cars in general—out of mind. I find myself opting for public transit more and more often. Before DropCar, I would have been likely to use my car when I visit a client, navigating traffic in a new city and coughing an ever-increasing share of emissions into the air. No more.

So here’s how this brilliant business idea works—you download the app, choose monthly parking, and for one flat monthly fee have your own personal valet service up to 10 times at your beck and call. DropCar sends someone to pick up your car—wherever you are in NYC, and whenever you want—and that’s about it. They park it somewhere safe and store it until you want your car back. Now get this—not only do they always arrive on time, but they send you a text when they’re a few minutes away with the name and photo of the driver, and if you need the car parked for a short time nearby, they’ll do that, too.

DropCar was probably developed to compete against costly in-city garages, but the unintended consequence is real behavior change. For now, I’m going car-lite over car-less, but each day I don’t use my car I become less reliant on my wheels, so much so that I’m starting to think of joining all those millennials out there and jumping on the car-free bandwagon.

Part of our work at Arch Street Communications is helping public agencies and private companies advance programs that help reduce emissions to improve air quality, and one thing we know for certain: it’s not easy to get people to change the way they feel or act about certain things, like our love affair with our cars.

New ideas, like DropCar, challenge the status quo. The target market for a service like DropCar is clearly city-dwellers in transit-blessed locations. But air quality programs across the country can gain much from DropCar’s success in helping the market see a new behavior as having a higher value than their current one. It may just be the ideal air quality marketing equation: a system that allows you to store, not give up, your car, letting the customer hang onto that four-wheeled lifeline as they learn to swap driving alone for new behaviors that hand over rich rewards, like cleaner air and a healthier lifestyle.

Anyone looking for a good used car?

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The Shamrock Effect: 3 Ways to Go Green for St. Patrick’s Day

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St. Patrick’s Day is a grand occasion, and one of my personal favorites. It’s a day when everyone in America can adopt the Irish heritage. Of course green is the signature color for a holiday that celebrates the Emerald Isle, so thinking green for the day makes even more sense! With March 17th around the corner, here are some tips to help you live a little greener on St. Patrick’s Day, as well as the rest of the year.

Go Green by Saving Blue

It may rain a lot in Ireland, but that’s not so elsewhere, and whether inspired by a water shortage or a soaring water bill, saving water does a lot o’good. Fortunately, there are plenty of quick and easy ways to cut back on water:

– Install a low flow shower head (prices start around $13) and stem the tide of water waste.

– Fill the sink and turn off the faucet—and if you’re lucky enough to have a dishwasher, wait till it’s full to run it—both the environment and your bank account will thank you.

– This may shamrock your world, but if you’re using a conventional toilet, you’re probably flushing 12,500 gallons of water per year! Retrofit and save the blue with these easy steps.

Help Your Car—and the Air

Ring in the spring with a once-over on your wheels.  Not only can regular maintenance and tune-ups such as changing the oil and checking tire inflation improve gas mileage and reduce traffic congestion caused by preventable breakdowns—they can cut your car’s emissions in half! If you recall our blog from November, AAA is an excellent resource for seasonal maintenance tips.

Choose a Different Kind of Greenhouse

If you crave corned beef & cabbage, soda bread and a pint next Thursday, buy local or regionally-produced goods for your St. Pat’s spread. You’ll be supporting the local economy and enjoying the freshest products—but you’ll also help reduce the need for long-distance food distribution that now accounts for up 17 times more greenhouse gas than local or regionally produced food.

Going green does not have to be as challenging as finding gold at the end of a rainbow, a few small tweaks and you are well on your way to a healthy, cleaner lifestyle – Sláinte!

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The Many Advantages of Commuter Benefit Programs

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This year, there’s big news for employers who offer—and employees who receive—pre-tax commuter benefits. On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed into law a year-end transportation package that included a provision to increase commute benefits. The maximum pre-tax benefit allowance rose to $255 per month in 2016—a modest increase from $250 for parking but a substantial increase for transit, up from $130! Can you say cha-ching?

An estimated 2.7 million employees nationwide currently receive pre-tax commuter benefits, and that number is expected to jump in 2016 as major cities hop on the mandated commuter benefit program train.

As of January 1, 2016, employers located in New York City and Washington, D.C., with 20 employees or more, are required to offer a commuter benefit program. This mandate follows in the footsteps of San Francisco, which began its program in 2009 and expanded in 2014 to include Bay Area employers.

To comply, employers must offer at least one of the following transportation benefits, with requirements varying by city:

   Employee-paid pre-tax transit benefit: Employees use pre-tax funds for transit fares (NYC, DC, San Francisco, and Bay Area)

•   Employer-paid direct benefit: Employers subsidize transit and vanpool fares for commuting (DC, San Francisco, and Bay Area)

   Employer-provided transit: Provide complimentary shuttle or vanpool services to employees (DC, San Francisco, and Bay Area)

•   Combination of options above or equally effective employer provided benefit (San Francisco and Bay Area)

 Employees Benefit

Robust commuter benefit programs impact employees’ daily travel decisions by making alternative transportation options, such as public transit, carpool, vanpool, bicycling, easy and affordable. With the money employees save on commuting costs, employees see an increase in disposable income.

Utilizing alternative commute modes is physically and mentally healthy. Individuals who commute via alternative modes are typically more active and less stressed than those who travel in single-occupancy vehicles.

 Employers Benefit

According to a study by the TransitCenter, a non-profit mass transit advocacy group, employers who have implemented commuter programs have experienced an increase in employee job satisfaction, employee retention, and recruiting success.

The pre-tax commuter benefit saves the employer money because they don’t have to outlay payroll taxes of 7.65% on every dollar set aside by employees pre-tax. With decreases in payroll taxes, employers may see up to 9% savings for each employee participating in the program.

 Mother Earth Benefits

Mandated commuter benefit programs encourage employees to ditch their car and take transit, bike, walk, or join a car/van pool to get to work, helping to reduce rush hour demands on congested roadways and harmful emissions.

Approximately 90,000 commuters participated in San Francisco’s commuter benefits program in 2013.  The program resulted in a reduction of CO2 emissions by an estimated 290,000 metric tons, with an average of 123,538 gallons of gas saved, and a daily average vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reduction of 2,903,136 miles. You can find out your company’s reduced VMT the free calculator offered by Commuter Connections, a regional network of transportation organizations coordinated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

At ASC, however we go, we like to go green and save green. With more than half of our staff utilizing alternative commute modes, we know first-hand how beneficial it can be. How do you travel to and from the office?

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