Don’t Squander That Tax Refund!

Taxes aren’t all bad – especially this time of year when refunds are doled out to the tune of (on average) approximately $3,000. But don’t be fooled. Before you embark on an extravagant shopping spree, there’s something I have to say: Halt! Stop! Wait!

Kiplinger offers 10 tips for spending (and saving) your refund. Paying off credit card debt, rebuilding your emergency fund and boosting retirement savings are great ways to protect – and pad – your pocketbook.

I know what you’re thinking: That’s no fun! Point taken. But heeding some of these suggestions might help you avoid a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Who wants to deal with that?

New Job, New Faces, New City

Congratulations! You’re about to embark on one of life’s most exciting experiences: starting a new job. It’s also one of the most stressful. Now let’s add another element to the mix: The position is in a different state. That’s right – it’s time to relocate.

Moving can bring many positive life changes (imagine all of the memories you’ll create in your new home!), but often not without some bumps along the way. So, where do you begin?

A story on Forbes.com provides several helpful tips. Staying organized, asking for relocation assistance (even if your employer doesn’t typically offer it), taking time to familiarize yourself with your new environment before you move and building a social support network can help ease the transition.

Check out Eight Tips for a Successful Job Relocation and share your input with us. What do you wish you would have known prior to moving to another city or state for a new job?

Hats Off to Hoosier Life Sciences Companies

It was a race against time when I rushed into my boss’ office to share new statistics on life sciences released by BioCrossroads in partnership with the Indiana Business Research Center at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Why the hurry? We were seconds away from sending the March-April edition of BizVoice® magazine, which features life sciences, to the printer.

Alas, I was too late!

Sometimes you can’t beat the clock; it’s one of the perils of working in the magazine world. But that doesn’t diminish the value of our special BizVoice issue, now available online and on the way to your mailbox for our print subscribers. It tells compelling stories of the companies – and people – making discoveries and advancing the life sciences field.

A roundtable discussion focused on growing Indiana’s life sciences advantages includes insights from panelists on opportunities, challenges, collaboration, funding and more.

A few highlights from the BioCrossroads report (data is from 2012, the most recent year it is available):

  • Annual economic impact: $55-plus billion (up from $50 billion)
  • Workforce: 55,000 employees at nearly 1,900 companies
  • Annual wages: $89,056
  • Worldwide exports: Indiana ranks second (behind California), with more than $9.7 billion in life sciences products each year. That’s one-third of Indiana’s total exports.

Life sciences is changing – and saving – people’s lives. Thank you to all in our state who are helping make it happen. And keep the innovation coming!

‘Dumb’-ing Down Starbucks?

“I’ll take a Dumb Venti, please.”

Never in my life would I have imagined that customers could order that beverage – proudly – at a coffee shop bearing the Starbucks logo. But here’s the thing: Starbucks isn’t the one selling it.

What I’m about to say is no joke – comedian Nathan Fielder recently opened “Dumb Starbucks Coffee” in Los Angeles! In addition to dumb iced coffee, dumb tea (you get the picture), customers were treated (or subjected) to Dumb Norah Jones Duets CDs.

The whole thing is a bit distasteful, if you ask me.

Alas, long lines and creative (albeit questionable) marketing couldn’t keep the stunt going. The shop was closed down last week for not having a permit.

Craving more details? Check out this Daily News story.

Weighing In on Eating Disorders

“I’m not hungry.”

This phrase evokes heartache, frustration and fear for families battling anorexia nervosa. Food becomes foe. And the driving force is a need for control.

National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDA) Week from February 23-March 1 will raise awareness of eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia nervosa and binge eating.

NEDA provides startling facts about eating disorders. Among them:

  • Females with anorexia between ages 15 to 24 are 12 times more likely to die from the illness than all other causes of death.
  • 10 million males in the United States will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life.
  • 42% of first through third graders want to be thinner.

View common warning signs.

“I’m not hungry.”

The transition from middle school to high school is daunting for most teens. Imagine attending a different school – in a new state – your freshman year. That was my sister’s experience in the 1980s. Back then, eating disorders didn’t receive the media attention that they do today. The warning signs weren’t as easy to detect.

That’s why we didn’t realize at first that my sister was starving herself.

There were rituals. She cut food into tiny pieces (it tricks your mind into becoming full) and obsessively baked (but refused to partake). She only used certain dishes. She said she was eating when she wasn’t. All the while, she poured energy into exercise and academics and maintained a 4.0 GPA (perfectionism is often a sign of anorexia).

It was a long road, but my sister overcame anorexia with the unwavering support of my parents and by realizing that some things in life are out of our control. Today, she’s happy, she’s healthy and she’s an inspiration to me.

There is hope.

Communities Take Team Approach to Addressing Skills Gap

I’ve been writing BizVoice® magazine stories for seven-plus years, but the excitement that comes with discovering new projects, programs and people never wears off. The best part is knowing that our stories are resonating with readers.

You can imagine how happy I was when Shelbyville Mayor Tom DeBaun contacted me in response to a story I wrote in the current issue about a regional effort focused on bridging the manufacturing skills gap (more on that in a minute!). Mayor DeBaun shared with me that similar efforts are underway in Shelbyville – and they sound pretty cool.

Project Impact 2016 emphasizes STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) starting with the development of student interest as high school freshmen and ultimately placing college students from Rose-Hulman into local facilities. In addition, Blue River Career Programs and Duke Energy are partnering with the city to build area-specific high school curriculum based on the input of industrial partners.

There’s also the Manufacturing Skills Connection web site, which contains job listings and training opportunities. Scholarships are available for an eight-week Certified Production Technician (CPT) program offered by Ivy Tech Corporate College.

I describe two similar efforts in my recent BizVoice story. Manufacturing Matters – which kicked off last fall in East Central Indiana – includes Wayne, Fayette, Rush, Union and Franklin counties as well as two nearby Ohio counties. Meanwhile, the Advancing Manufacturing initiative is part of a 12-county regional effort covering Benton, Carroll, Cass, Clinton, Fountain, Howard, Miami, Montgomery, Tippecanoe, Tipton, Warren and White counties.

Employer partners like Nanshan America Advanced Aluminum Technologies offer a glimpse of the manufacturing world by hosting field trips, participating in interview fairs, presenting workshops and more. Nanshan’s 600,000-square-feet, two-press aluminum extrusion operation in Lafayette makes products for industries ranging from transportation and machinery to building and construction (see employees in action).

It always amazes me to see the people behind the machines who truly are making a difference at manufacturing companies across the state. That’s the bottom line: It’s about people. Initiatives like these remind us of that and help prepare the next generation of our manufacturing workforce.

We Can’t Banish Bullying, but We Can Take a Stand

Stories about schoolyard bullying are rampant, but you haven’t heard this one … because it’s mine.

Picture day’s end at a middle school. My nephew had barely started his walk home when another student – one who relentlessly targeted him day after day – grabbed him around the neck and threw him on the ground.

Their classmates saw the incident … but did nothing.

Parents – waiting in a long line of cars to pick up their children – did nothing. No one asked my nephew if he was OK. No one reprimanded the bully. No one reported the incident to a school employee. How do I feel about their inaction? Repulsed.

I hate to sound sanctimonious, but I’m fired up about this topic.

I’m especially disappointed in the parents. Maybe they sympathized with my nephew, but assumed someone else would step in. Or maybe – because it wasn’t their child – they simply didn’t care. Heartbreaking.

Self-esteem and safety are at risk. Fortunately, we are a loving family, which helps provide a barrier (though not impenetrable) against hurtful behavior. But what about kids who are neglected or bullied at home? Who looks out for them?

Here’s the thing: Bullies come from various backgrounds. They may be victims themselves, so they lash out. Others have outstanding families. And some are enabled by parents who adopt a “kids will be kids” or “my child would never do that” mentality.

Talk to your own children about bullying. Don’t have kids? Talk to young relatives. Don’t assume that they aren’t experiencing it (as instigator or victim). Build their self-worth and emphasize that you’re in their corner. And if you see someone being mistreated, speak up.

Ask yourself this question: What would you have done if you were sitting in the car at my nephew’s middle school that day?

Thanks for the Memories, 1989

Looks like my mall bangs and tight-rolled jeans got the last laugh.

Back in the 1980s, my older sister and I joked about the horrendous styles of the 1970s – bell bottoms, especially, cracked us up. I remember lamenting that there was nothing distinctive about our era.

Fast forward nearly 25 years. What were we thinking?

A new book, Malls Across America, chronicles a road trip taken by 20-year-old photographer Michael Galinsky. The year was 1989. Batman was a blockbuster. Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence” resonated with listeners.

Galinsky shares his thoughts in an excerpt from a Mail Online article:

Mr. Galinsky told Today.com in 2011 that the time period is just as significant as the physical setting of his photos.

“At the time, the mall was the new public space, the new community center where people would interact. This was pre-Internet, pre-cell phone, there was smoking in malls, it was before the Gulf War. It was this weird moment in time where things were getting ready to change.”

I didn’t expect these photos to evoke such nostalgia in me. Relive this special period (and if you weren’t born yet, see what you missed). These photos truly speak a thousand words.

Canines and Cubicles

When I was two years old, I met one of the most influential friends I would ever have: a schnauzer-poodle mix named Bogart (a nod to legendary icon Humphrey Bogart). We played, chatted (I did most of the talking) and spent day after day together for the next 14 years.

Dogs have held a special place in my heart ever since. As I arrive home from work in the evenings, my Shih Tzu (bless his furry little face) greets me with a happy howl. I’ve never heard anything like it; I think he’s part wolf. Then he wags his tail and dances on his tiptoes until I pick him up for a hug.

But what if I didn’t have to leave him at home during the day – what if he could join me at work?

According to a Virginia Commonwealth University study, dog-friendly workplaces may boost job satisfaction and reduce stress. Now that’s something to howl about!

Check out the story.

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas… and a Headache?

Uh-oh. It’s holiday season in the Skrzycki household! Bring on classic movies ("Rudolph," I love you), presents (I embrace my reputation as a Scotch tape fanatic) and goodies (where do I begin?).

Employees who earn a spot on Santa’s “naughty list,” however, can spoil all the fun – especially for human resources professionals. Check out this article, 12 Days of Christmas: HR Headaches, and you’ll see why.

Here are a few excerpts:

Twelve Online Shoppers
Cyber Monday is the biggest day of the year for online shopping. Although some employees shop on their lunch break or at home, many take time out of the work day to cross items off their Christmas list. Solution: Remind employees that some down time is inevitable, but work time is still for work.

Eleven Fantasy Footballers
Wasting time at work is not an art enjoyed exclusively by shoppers. The holiday season is also football season, and that means fantasy players will be out in full force. Solution: See above.

Ten Office Party Drunks
Some folks continue to believe that getting intoxicated in front of your boss is a good idea (hint – it is not). Solution: Limit the number of drinks at office parties and arrange for safe transportation if needed.

Sound familiar? Sound off on your experiences and don’t forget to respond to our blog poll about holiday online shopping.