Check Out Indiana’s Winter Delights

Do you have room in your holiday calendars for a few wintry Indiana activities? Maybe you’re in need of something to entertain your children over winter break, or you’re in search of fun activities to get yourself in the holiday spirit.

We’re enjoying fairly mild weather now, but there are plenty of activities in Indiana to explore whether the weather is great – or frightful. If you’ve got time in December to get out and enjoy some sights and sounds of the season, here are a few things central Indiana has to offer:

  • Festival of Trees: The Indiana Historical Society has 80 Christmas trees decked out in Hoosier-related flair through January 6. Dates, times and ticket prices are available here. You can also check out the Indiana Experience while you’re there.
  • Lights at the Brickyard: What’s more Hoosier than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Take a drive around the oval and cross over the yard of bricks while you take in over 2.5 million twinkling lights (set to music, if you choose). This year’s expanded route is more than two miles long. Be patient on the weekends for long lines, but weeknights experience typically lighter traffic. Get tickets and times.
  • Christmas at the Zoo: Another Indianapolis staple, Christmas at the Zoo features the animals that don’t mind the cold and lights throughout the property. Get tickets online.
  • Jingle Rails at the Eiteljorg: If model trains are your thing, this is the place to be. Nine working model trains zip past Indiana landmarks and then out west to some of America’s natural and man-made wonders. New this year is a model train trip to Hollywood. The event runs through January 15. Tickets and dates available here.
  • L.S. Ayres Tea Room: Though L.S. Ayres department store closed downtown in 1990, the Indiana State Museum has recreated the famed L.S. Ayres Tea Room as a restaurant with a heaping side of nostalgia for those that recall dining in the original. It’s impressive – the ambiance and lighted windows give the feel of being on the eighth floor of the department store. The tea room is open through January 7 and includes special events such as Santa’s Holiday Breakfasts and Tea with Raggedy Ann.
  • Polar Bear Express: Put on by the Indiana Transportation Museum, the Polar Bear Express train ride departs from Kokomo or Logansport and features an approximately 75-minute trip, complete with candy canes, hot cocoa, a holiday story read aloud and, of course, visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Tickets are $35 per person (kids too) and reservations are required.
  • Veal Family Ice Tree – For several years, my family lived near Shelbyville and when we’d drive on Interstate 74, my brother and I would always keep an eye out for the colorful ice tree that peaked out among the foliage. That’s the Veal Family Ice Tree! While this one is definitely off the beaten path, it’s a nostalgic place for many. The ice tree typically takes shape in January and is melted by March. This one is, of course, dependent on the weather. So, if you’re one of those that loves a freezing winter, take advantage of a Hoosier original! Check their Facebook page for updates.

We know there are many more things to do in Indiana during the winter months than what we have highlighted here. Did we miss one you love? Let us know in the comments! What do you enjoy doing this time of the year?

Christmastime in Indiana

Fewer Are Taking the Start-Up Route

Lower unemployment is just one of the factors a declining number of Americans are looking at starting their own businesses.

In the first half of 2015, an average of 5.1% of job seekers decided to begin a new business, according to global outplacement and coaching consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

CEO John A. Challenger notes, “While many Americans love the idea of being their own boss, we consistently find that 95% of those who are in-between jobs do not take that route. Most don’t even consider it to be a viable option and those who do contemplate entrepreneurship often conclude that the risks are too numerous and significant to pursue.”

The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that nearly 5.2 million Americans were hired in June 2015. Furthermore, there were still more than 5.2 million unfilled job openings at the end of the month.

But it takes more than just industry knowledge to pursue entrepreneurship. Challenger offers some of the other necessities required for those considering a start-up venture.

A Plan
Having a plan can help the would-be entrepreneur map out his or her vision. It does not have to be the 50- to 70-page formal plan taught in MBA programs. It can just be a few pages. Though something more detailed and formal might be required when it comes time to seek funding from banks or investors. The key benefit of the plan is that helps to focus one’s efforts.

A survey of more than 800 people in the process of starting businesses by the University of Michigan found those who wrote a plan were two and a half times more likely to actually go into business.

Savings
It takes money to make money, as they say. Not only is there the initial investment associated with starting a business, whether it is buying computers or business cards, but the fact is that it could take several months before the new business makes any money.
Unless one is trying to get a business up and running while holding down another full-time or part-time job, which is an entirely different challenge altogether, substantial savings are absolutely necessary to make up for the loss of income that occurs during the initial phases of the start-up.

Time
The reason it would be challenging to start a business while holding down a traditional job is that most new businesses require a substantial amount of time to get up and running. Entrepreneurs can expect to log 60 to 80 hours a week in the first two years.

Self-Discipline
The biggest challenge for entrepreneurs coming from a traditional workplace may be the lack of a manager giving you tasks and deadlines. Especially for those working from home, there are a lot of distractions that can pull your attention away from the task at hand. Some would say that telecommuters face the same challenge. However, they are still accountable to a supervisor, so there is more motivation to stay focused on work.
Until a new entrepreneur has that first customer, who then provides the motivation to set and meet deadlines, the only person an entrepreneur must answer to is himself. So, are you going to do the work necessary to find that first customer or fix that leaky faucet? If the faucet takes precedence, you may need to rethink entrepreneurship.

Strong Sales Skills
Regardless of the primary skills you are ultimately plan to provide through your new venture, whether it’s financial planning consulting or cupcakes, the first order of business is to get customers. In order to do that, you need to be a salesperson. As an entrepreneur, you should expect to spend 75% or more of your time on sales as the business is getting off the ground.

If you do not feel comfortable selling, your business is probably doomed before it even begins. No business can succeed without sales. A strong sales commitment is necessary, especially in the first 12 to 24 months.

Work-Life Balance Lessons From ’90s Holiday Movies

I had an epiphany while watching “Jingle All the Way” recently.

It’s odd to have any kind of revelation when watching Arnold Schwarzenegger chase Sinbad throughout Minneapolis looking for holiday’s hottest toy, Turbo Man. But I realized that several early ’90s family movies revolve around the same issue: work-life balance.

“Jingle All the Way” (1996) saw Schwarzenegger’s character late to his son’s school events, missing out on important moments with his family, and tension with his wife. All these things led up to a Christmas Eve shopping excursion to make up for a year of being absent at home (and once again missing time with the family).

“The Santa Clause” (1994) had Tim Allen’s character (spoiler: he eventually turns into Santa Claus) working so much that he didn’t have time to play with his son, make any kind of Christmas dinner or even comfort the child about his parents’ recent divorce.

And in “Hook” (1991), Robin Williams’ grown up Peter Pan didn’t have time to get to his son’s baseball game and his constant cell phone usage was a major family disruption.

In these depictions, the fathers worked hard to provide for their families but ended up neglecting them because they couldn’t set boundaries and separate their work and home lives — usually with a harassing boss in the background demanding devotion.

I did a little digging on the origins of the “work-life balance” term and found a 2007 study from the Boston College Center for Work & Family. Interestingly, the study pins much of the realization of the need for flexibility in the workplace on a surge of working mothers, not the fathers (despite Hollywood’s depiction).

The study notes that as the workforce began to include more professional women in the 1970s and ’80s and – as they began to have children and families – there was a struggle to achieve both career and family aspirations. The actual term “work-life balance” first appeared in the mid-’80s.

Companies began to understand that being “family friendly” could be used in recruiting efforts. Employee assistance programs (EAP) and health and wellness programs made it into the workplace as employers realized burn-out and low productivity were problematic.

Another factor in the changing face of the workplace was advances in technology, which allow people to unchain from the office. Now, people are more likely to work at home in the evenings or on weekends. (Of course, that lends to its own set of balance problems, due to the ability to be constantly plugged-in.)

Here’s a piece of anecdotal evidence about employers providing a healthy balance: Each year we sort through the Best Places to Work in Indiana entries to highlight some of the things the best Hoosier companies provide (as voted by the employees themselves). “Healthy work-life balance” (zero or little overtime, paid vacation, etc.) is typically one of the first things each of these winning companies list.

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.

Overspending is “Jingle Bell Wrong”: Don’t Buy Your Way Into a New Year’s Mess

It’s amazing how it happens every year: All of a sudden, it’s the middle of December and Christmas is just a couple of short weeks away.

Because even though Christmas is always on December 25 (each and every year, guys), it seems that there is always financial stress at crunch time when you realize you are going to buy gifts for your family, the in-laws, your friends, your spouse and your children. (Notice I said “going to” and not “have to.”)

Have we not realized this was coming ALL YEAR LONG?

Why, then, do we continue to spend ourselves into a hole that we have to dig our way back out of at the beginning of the New Year? Do the happy holiday blinders go on and we just say, “Charge it!”?

Try just saying, “No.” Because, like my Papaw Kermit always said: “’No’ is a complete sentence.”

You don’t have to buy love with Christmas presents. But, if you enjoy giving and it makes your heart happy, go for it. Just start planning earlier than December 12. 

I’ve listened to a few financial planning “gurus” over the years. Just recently we had a visit from local financial smarty, "Pete the Planner" (as part of the Chamber’s internal wellness programming, our staff will be able to participate in a financial wellness program with Peter Dunn throughout 2013).

They’ve all pretty much said something similar: Start saving up your cash earlier in the year to pay for Christmas. Don’t touch the money unless you are using it for your Christmas shopping purposes (whether that’s in May or on Black Friday). And DON’T spend money you don’t have.

It’s time for Americans to start taking back control of the economy, which will start with each family getting in control of their finances. And no one can do it for you (not even the government). It’s not easy – sticking to a budget takes work, but financial strain and daily turmoil causes more work and stress than living within your means.

As it is only a few weeks away from Christmas and it’s a little late to start stockpiling your money for Christmas 2012, my advice is this if you are fretting and can’t afford gifts. There’s no shame in telling your friends and family that you are working to right your financial ship and that spending time together – or offering to clean their home or cook dinner for them or just listening when they need a shoulder – is a better gift than anything bought in a store. If they are truly your friends and family, they will be understanding and help you on your path to financial peace. 

And next year, you can start saving money early … unless you decide that offering your time and services is a much better gift anyway.

How to Keep Holiday Stress Away

Screeech! That’s me putting on the breaks as we enter – fast and furiously – the holiday season. Sure, there are presents to buy, goodies to bake and get-togethers to attend. But if I don’t slow down, the “magic” in the air will be overshadowed by lengthy to-do lists and an unflattering transformation into Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge himself.

A recent article from The Huffington Post provides tips on surviving “holiday hype.” One suggestion cautions against comparing past holidays with the current one. It’s good advice.

Growing up, my family always spent Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house. If I close my eyes, I can almost smell the rigatoni, roast and rolls she made for dinner. Waiting until 8 p.m. to open presents seemed like an eternity! I miss those days and will always cherish them. The good news is that the traditions I’ve started with my own family bring great joy and are just as treasured.

What’s your secret to beating the holiday blues?
 

Celebrating Township Style!

In the ongoing "we’ll do anything to save our jobs" crusade, the Ross Township trustee in Lake County testified at length Wednesday before the Senate Local Government Committee. He was opposing the insertion of real reform language (no township boards and county councils having binding budget authority) into the township-by-township referendum proposal passed by the House.

The trustee, who also serves as the head of the United Township Association, explained that the township is important. He said his office receives donations for 170 children to enjoy Christmas. Based on his 2008 annual financial report, people young and old also must get the opportunity to enjoy the Fourth of July. Among the expenses listed: $24,000 to Mad Bomber Fireworks Prod., Inc.

That’s your taxpayer money — at least those in Lake County. Can we really let it go up in smoke like that?

An October Present for Hoosiers

I walked into a store earlier this week and the first thing to catch my eye was a vast display of Christmas merchandise. It’s not the retailers’ fault, but for whatever reason that bothers me. Call me a Grinch, but I’m just not in the holiday mood two months ahead of time.

But Indiana companies and employees received, in one sense, an early present this week — one that is most welcome. Senate Republicans announced their intention to seek a one-year delay in the uemployment insurance tax increases that were passed in April. The governor’s office is supporting the move, and it is hoped that Democrats will agree that the last thing needed in these still slow economic times is more Hoosier job losses.

This has been a top issue for the Chamber throughout the year. And while those involved in the lawmaking process thought at the time that they were offering a reasonable answer to a difficult problem, employer feedback and new analysis showed that wasn’t going to be the case.

After the legislative session, the Chamber documented the tax increases that nearly all Indiana businesses would face over the next two years – thousands of dollars on average, nearly $1.7 million for one company that used our online calculator and nearly $500 million for Hoosier companies in total. We shared the clear message that additional employee layoffs would unfortunately be the only way most could pay for the tax hike. We brought in new, independent analysis to demonstrate that despite more money being taken from businesses and more employee jobs being threatened that the unemployment trust fund deficit would actually increase.

The Chamber will continue to lead the way. No, this delay doesn’t solve the problem of a bankrupt UI trust fund, but that is a challenge that an estimated 40-plus states will soon be facing. There will need to be a federal solution. Now is not the time to take $500 million more from Hoosier companies and their employees without fixing the system.