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Yearly Archives: 2008

Whittaker Welcomes Vidhan S. Rana, Research Analyst

By Vidhan Rana

Vidhan began working part-time at Whittaker Associates in January, 2008. His primary responsibilities include gathering and analyzing data on targeted companies to predict change and using statistical analysis to improve the lead qualification process used by the company. He is also creating a database of companies from emerging markets currently or potentially looking to expand in North America.

Vidhan is a senior at Hope College, where he is majoring in Economics and Management. Vidhan grew up in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he finished high school before moving to the United States in the fall of 2004. As a student at Hope College, Vidhan was the president of Hope’s Asian Perspective Association, a minority student group on campus, and is serving as the public relations officer of the Baker Scholars, an honors group for business students.

Vidhan is also involved with the Santi School Project, which is building a primary school in Ramche, a rural village 100 kilometers northeast of Kathmandu. The school will be operational by June 2008 and will enroll around 80 students in its first year. Most of these children have never been to a school before.

Bright Rays Make Better Days

By Jami Miedema

Spring is finally here!  It’s time to pack away the winter coats, hang up the scarves, and head outside to enjoy the warmer temperatures.  Every spring I seem to have a burst of energy that compels me to come out of hibernation and be active once again.  Where does this newfound liveliness come from?  It comes from the sun.  The sun does amazing things to our bodies and minds and since the sun shines stronger and longer this time of year, we reap many of its benefits.

What does the sun do for us?  For starters, it sets our internal clock.  Sunlight tells our body to wake up and to not feel sleepy.  The production of the hormone melatonin, which is what helps us doze off at night, is suppressed by sunlight; we therefore have renewed energy throughout the day.

Other benefits of the sun include increased alertness, natural regulation of hunger, and an improved mood.  Sunlight sparks the production of serotonin, the “feel good” hormone, and this not only makes us feel happier, it also fights mild depression related to seasonal changes.  Further, sunlight produces vitamin D for our bodies, which is important to maintain healthy bones, immune system strength, and proper absorption of nutrients from food.

So, just as the sun replenishes the earth during Spring, it also replenishes us with nutrients and energy. Energy is just the thing we need after a long winter. So find some time to get out of the office this spring and enjoy the sun!

Source: Kalish, N. (March 2008).  Light up your health. Retrieved from http://health.msn.com/health-topics/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100196424&page=3.

Just Make the Call

By Todd Smithee

Strong business relationships are likely the most valuable asset you manage in your professional and personal life.  These relationships can take years to develop and require regular nurturing to maintain.  Do yourself a favor and go the extra mile to keep your relationships and career going strong—pick up the phone.

Email, electronic newsletters, and snail mail are great ways to keep your business contacts updated on your activities and achievements.  Typically, they are one-way communications, designed to tell your contacts something about yourself or your company. But psychologists and sales trainers know an important fact: people like to talk about themselves. This is something people aren’t that likely to do in response to your newsletter or email.  It’s easy, though, to get people to talk about themselves during a phone call.

A tremendous amount of information can be obtained in a simple three-minute phone conversation.  You can learn about your contact’s business, including whether it is growing, whether there are expansion plans in the works, and whether you might be of assistance.  Just as important, you can learn how your contact’s personal life is going.  Are their kids going off to college?  Where are they going for vacation this summer?  Did they recently become grandparents?  While these things may not seem directly connected to the particular professional solutions you provide, they are critical to building bridges that eventually lead to business.

So, do yourself a favor.  Continue to keep your contacts updated about your business with newsletters and email.  They are critical, effective means of communicating with your contacts and associates.  But do not forget to pick up the phone once in a while and strengthen the relationship with two-way conversation.  You might be surprised at what you learn.

The Age of Turbulence

By Dean Whittaker

Alan Greenspan’s book, The Age of Turbulence, has a prophetic title for current economic times.  The book provides an interesting history of monetary policy in the United States, as well as a look into the future.  In it he describes the Federal Reserve’s efforts to maintain a stable economy as an inducement for economic growth and his thoughts about doing so.

We are indeed in an age of turbulence.  However, with change comes opportunity. What opportunities and challenges does this situation present?  First of all, it is important to realize the “financial crisis” is somewhat contained within the financial service sector. The economic consequences have spilled over into the rest of the U.S. economy, but not the world’s economy.  The rest of the world is no longer dependent on the U.S. market for its economic vitality.

Here are ten opportunities that I see.

  1. With a dollar devalued against other world currencies, our products and services are “on sale” at a 20-30% discount.  It is also means that imports are at a 20-30% disadvantage when selling in the U.S. Of the fifteen projects our firm is engaged in, six are outside of the U.S.
  2. With $100-per-barrel oil, alternative energy companies, including those providing production of solar, wind, water, and geo-thermal energy, are becoming extremely busy. One U.S. company is now selling 95% of its solar shingle production to Germany and is sold out for the next two years’ production.
  3. Recycling has been given a boost by increased raw material cost. My brother’s salvage yard is doing a booming business recycling scrap while cleaning up the environment. As raw materials escalate in value, we will become ‘recyclers.”  What was a feel-good thing to do will take on economic importance.  What once went to the landfill will go back into the production cycle.
  4. We are simplifying our lives by determining what is important. We struggle in this country under the weight of abundance. We are the only nation in the world that spends $22.6 billion on self-storage as a place to put our “extra” stuff. Perhaps it is time to “ebay” our basements, garages, and storage units.
  5. Currently, the U.S. is the largest consumer per capita of energy on the planet.  Finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint through re-thinking our transportation system, including our vehicles and the way we use them, opens up many possibilities.
  6. Becoming mindful consumers is another opportunity. We can choose based on who, what, when, where, why and how something is produced. Being conscious of our choices and the consequences of those choices will let us shape the future.
  7. Begin with the end in mind. The Research Triangle Park has a fifty-year plan. Are any of us thinking in those terms? What will the world and our little corner of it look like in 2058?
  8. A world without oil is an opportunity to create whole new industries. As oil production begins to decline, new exploration will get a boost and what was not economically feasible will become so. We will find new ways to meet the world’s energy needs.
  9. Global investment patterns will encourage investment from abroad. Indian companies invested $10 billion in over 70 merger/acquisition projects in 2007, for example.
  10. With the emergence of 150 million new middle-class consumers in India and China, the opportunity to serve their needs is hard to imagine.  What an enormous opportunity to develop new markets, new products and services!

What about you? What opportunities do you see? How will you make the most of these opportunities?  Let me know what you see and I will summarize them in a future Whittaker Report. Send your thoughts to me at dean@whittakerassociates.com.

Essar Steel, an Indian Steel Company, Invests over $3 Billion in the United States Since April 2007

By Vidhan Rana

How can foreign investment make a difference in your community? Take Nashwauk, a small town in northeast Minnesota as an example. Essar Steel, a wholly owned subsidiary of Essar Global – a $50 billion Indian-owned global conglomerate – struck a deal with Minnesota Steel to build a $1.65 billion steel plant near Nashwauk. The plant will be the first of its kind in North America, and when fully operational, will produce up to 2.5 million tons of steel products per annum (MTPA) and employ up to 700 people. Construction on the plant will begin in June and is expected to be completed by 2010.

Minnesota Steel is not Essar’s only venture in North America. In June 2007, the shareholders of Canada’s Algoma Steel approved a $1.63 billion acquisition by Essar Steel. With the help of Essar, Algoma is planning to increase its output from 2.4 MTPA to 4 MTPA within the next two years. This week, Essar announced that Esmark, Inc., a Wheeling, West Virginia-based company, accepted its $1.1 billion buy-out offer. Essar is paying Esmark $669 million in cash and assuming its $430 million debt. Essar America’s President, Madhu S. Vuppuluri, said, “The Company plans to invest in Wheeling-Pitt, which has operations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, to make it a low-cost, technologically advanced steel producer.”

One of the reasons foreign steel companies like Essar are trying to buy up capacity and invest in plant expansion in North America is to gain market proximity. The United States alone consumed about 144.2 million tons of steel in 2006, about 10.6 percent of the steel produced in the world. As the U. S. dollar falls against other world currencies, it is becoming increasing difficult for foreign steel companies to stay competitive by producing overseas and exporting their steel to North America. Increasing fuel costs, which add to their transportation cost, is not helping, either. As a result, these steel makers are choosing to buy up capacity in North America to increase their global presence. This phenomenon is bringing foreign capital and technology into the U. S. steel industry, which it lacked in the past.

As economic development professionals, we need to keep these investments on track and do our best to attract them to our communities. Essar is not the only company making such investments; many other companies from emerging economies like India, China and Brazil are taking their business global, and North America is usually their first target. Though they are coming here for the market, their investment creates jobs, raises tax revenues of local governments, and improves the profile of the community internationally.

Essar Steel currently produces about 8 million tons of steel per year, but with its expansion in India, Southeast Asia and North America, the company expects its capacity to rise to 20 to 25 million by 2012. Currently, Essar Steel operates plants in India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Trinidad, Canada and the United States.