Small Business Majority Blog

Small Business Matters

Ohio lawmakers are pushing legislation that would roll back the state’s energy efficiency standards, and one local solar business is fired up in its opposition.

Third Sun Solar, based in Athens, has seen first-hand how energy efficiency has cut costs, spurred innovation and created business opportunities. Eliminating Ohio’s clean energy standards, as Senate Bill 310 aims to do, would not only lead to increased energy costs, but could significantly hamper their small business.

Third Sun Solar is the brainchild of Geoff and Michelle Greenfield. The original idea was to build a home in the hills overlooking Athens, and to power it using innovative sources. Geoff and Michelle were curious about how wind, solar and geothermal power might provide for their new home and young family.

With a Peace Corps background in building clean water systems in central Africa, Geoff took on the challenge of building clean energy systems for their new home. Once it was completed, a local newspaper took notice and ran a story about off-grid living and alternative energy systems. Soon, the idea for their home became a weekend sideline business for Geoff, as people in the area asked him to build similar systems for their homes.

In time, this grew into Third Sun Solar—an incubator for start-up technology businesses. With two young sons and, now, an infant business, Geoff and Michelle named the company Third Sun Solar because nurturing it was like having another child.

Geoff and Michelle Greenfield

Today, with solar panel prices falling as the industry grows to scale, and with growing popular interest in clean energy, Third Sun Solar and other local solar installers across the nation are seeing their businesses slowly moving forward.

But the progress may be slowed if Ohio’s lawmakers have their way. Senate Bill 310 would freeze Ohio’s renewable standards and restore unchecked power into the hands of the utilities. It would allow the utilities to continue their “business as usual” practices and pass wasted costs and coal-fired pollution on to their ratepayers.

It’s not just the Greenfields who support strong standards. A recent survey found nearly 75 percent of Ohioans support clean energy standards, and Small Business Majority’s polling found more than half of Ohio small businesses say the state’s current standards create business opportunities. Given this strong support, senators should take notice and stamp out this legislation now.

One such energy supporter is Dale Grassbaugh, owner and operator of GrassyDell Farms is Knox County, Ohio.

Recently, Grassbaugh added a 31kW solar electric system to the roof of their dairy barn. Dale estimates it will save him over $400 each month on his electric bill and opposes SB 310, which would rollback these beneficial energy standards.

“I think we should go ahead and keep progressing and not fall back,” said Grassbaugh. “If we can use renewables like solar to make the fossil fuels last longer, we should do that. Previous generations have made things that improved our lives; we should be doing the same for future generations.”

Tom Hoffman, a Third Sun Solar customer in Gambier, Ohio, also opposes scaling back Ohio’s energy standards. “SB 310 is a backward step, and a tragic one—Ohio would be the first state in the nation to freeze the state’s enacted clean-energy goals,” he said.

As support continues to build, it’s clear the Greenfields and many others are hoping to highlight the importance of Ohio’s standards bright enough to make Ohio lawmakers see the light.

John Cavanaugh, CEO of Cross Cultural Communications

A group of Ohio lawmakers are pushing legislation that would put the kibosh on the Buckeye State’s energy efficiency standards. They claim these standards hurt businesses. However, Small Business Majority asked Ohio small business owners what they think about strong clean energy and energy efficiency standards and found they strongly support them. Small businesses believe stronger energy standards save them money and open up a new segment of the economy that creates business opportunities.

One of those small business owners is John Cavanaugh, President & CEO of Cross Cultural Communications, a small consulting business in Columbus. Cavanaugh is a passionate defender of Ohio’s current energy efficiency standards, and showed his support for the standards by being one of the first to sign Small Business Majority’s letter urging lawmakers to oppose stop SB 310—legislation that would eliminate Ohio’s clean energy standards.

Small Business Majority: Ohio is currently looking to pass SB 310, a bill that would eliminate the state’s current energy efficiency standards. How do you feel about lawmakers’ attempts to diminish Ohio’s energy standards?

John Cavanaugh: Ohio’s current energy efficiency standards are good for our state and our small business economy. In my opinion, the time and energy of our esteemed legislature would be better spent on bills that encourage more clean energy technologies and innovations.

SBM: Do you believe Ohio’s current energy efficiency standards are good for the state and the small business economy?

JC: I believe energy efficiency incentives and standards help encourage new businesses, which create more economic activity and bring prosperity to our state. In turn, this will generate more revenue to fund important state and local government programs.

SBM: Why is clean energy such an important issue for small businesses to consider?

JC: There is little scientific dispute that climate change is causing extreme weather patterns.  For example, the recent “polar vortex” we experienced is estimated to have cost our nation $5 billion.  In fact, one of our own investment properties was damaged during the extreme cold and we are still battling to get our claim paid! Likewise, the 2013 Derecho knocked out power to our business as well as hundreds of others in Central Ohio, and the East Coast is still trying to recover from Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Investing in clean energy strategies can help reverse this trend and sustain our economic recovery. It is very important for small business leaders to get involved and help shape sensible energy and environmental policies for our state and nation.

SBM: What are some of the things you do, or would like to be able to do, in order to make your business more energy efficient?

JC: We take great pride in our recycling efforts.  In fact, we recently turned in several pieces of old electronics to Staples so those parts could be returned back to use.  We have chosen energy efficient HP computer and printing equipment.  Likewise, we carefully regulate the heating and cooling of our office space. We also do our very best to combine trips and car pool for work presentations.  When available, we select ethanol blended fuel for our transportation needs.

As part of our Talking Back Tuesday series, Small Business Majority is launching a new survey each week to get a better understanding of where small business owners stand on important issues.

This week’s issue is minimum wage. Our polling found that 57% support a federal increase in minimum wage to $10.10 an  hour, while a whopping 82% of small business owners already pay their employees more than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25. Now we want to hear from you directly. Take our survey and let us know your thoughts on minimum wage.

Interested in keeping the conversation around minimum wage going? Feel free to share our survey with your friends and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. You can share more of your thoughts by  joining in on our #talkbacktues discussion.

online poll by Opinion Stage

Lorenzo Harris, CEO of Janico Building Services

Lorenzo Harris makes a living sweeping away the dirt. But he certainly wasn’t swept away by the political rhetoric surrounding the Affordable Care Act. In fact, Harris ended up saving a sizable chunk of money and qualifying for a tax credit after enrolling in Covered California’s SHOP marketplace.

Harris is the CEO and principal of Janico Building Services, a full-service building maintenance and cleaning contractor with 40 employees, most of them part-time. The name Janico is a clever acronym of sorts, meaning janitorial company.

Before venturing into his own business, Harris worked in the computer industry prior to what he describes as the PC era, when everyone began owning a home computer. During this time, however, the entrepreneurial bug was nipping at his heels.

“One of the benefits I saw of starting my own business was independence,” he said. “The idea of owning my own company and being my own boss really intrigued me.”

Though a building services company wasn’t necessarily a true passion for Harris, his attitude about entrepreneurship offers a keen insight into his choice to start Janico.

“I’ve always felt that there’s a difference between your passion and whether a venture is viable in terms of earning a living,” he said.

A thriving business with a huge clientele now, Janico originated from humble beginnings. “During our initial stage, [my wife and I] went out and cleaned buildings by ourselves,” he said.

Coming a long way from those early days 27 years ago, Harris has made Janico Building Services into a premiere service for businesses across Northern California. Of course, being the principal of one’s own business comes with many administrative duties, arguably none bigger than healthcare.

Harris was actively involved in transferring Janico’s full-time employees over from their existing company plan to SHOP, California’s new small business marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act. SHOP allows small employers to sign up online and enroll their employees for health coverage. The process did require Harris to get his hands a little dirty to ensure all his employees received coverage, though.

“One of our employees was declined dependent coverage on the website and had to submit a paper application, which was approved,” he said.

The extra work paid off, though. Harris saw Janico’s premium costs go down by a sizeable 35% when he enrolled through Covered California’s SHOP marketplace and even qualified for a healthcare tax credit of more than $1,000.

Now Harris is able to continue providing health coverage for all his full-time employees, something he began to worry about as healthcare costs continued to skyrocket before the Affordable Care Act was signed into law.

“It allows us to offer more affordable coverage to our employees in the short term which makes us more competitive in the long run, particularly against larger competitors,” he said.

It’s safe to say Harris and his business cleaned up quite nicely thanks to the healthcare law and the new small business marketplace.

National Small Business Week is fast approaching (May 12-16), and we want to showcase the amazing small business owners across the country who work hard all year long making their communities and our economy strong. And how do we want to showcase you?

By hosting a photo contest, of course!

Show us what it is you and your small business do every day through a photo of your choice. Gather your employees and take a team snapshot, make a homemade sign for your business or take some candids of you and your employees hard at work and send those pictures to us. You can submit your photos by email to dmcmanus@smallbusinessmajority.org.

The more creative you can be, the better! You’ve got from now until Friday, May 9 to get those photos to us so we can pick our winners. We’ll choose 5 winners, one of which will be featured on our website and social media platforms each day during Small Business Week. And because we know we’ll be getting some great submissions, we will look to feature additional businesses in the future as well!

Be sure to check out some of last year’s winners on our Facebook page to see all the awesome things small business owners have done in the past. Think you can top them? Then get ready to smile and say cheese!