In 2009, I expect telecommuting worldwide to take a hit. Yes, we saw an increase in employers allowing employees to telework in 2008—the figure jumped from 30% of organizations in 2007 to 42% in 2008, according to a WorldatWork study.
While a CompTIA Web survey indicated that telecommuting improves productivity and lowers costs, the fact remains that allowing employees to telecommute introduces risk to employers. Risks to the security of data is just the beginning; many managers and organizations simply don’t have experience with a telecommuting program, which makes a new telecommuting program a management and human-resources risk.
If there’s one trend you can count on in 2009, it’s this: Employers will seek to avoid risk with reckless abandon.
The number of managers experienced with telecommuting is especially low in areas, like Lancaster County and Central PA, that were historically heavy on manufacturing. When it comes to using communications technologies and adopting fresh business strategies, the rust belt is rusty.
Therefore, I see very little opportunity to change the way existing organizations handle telecommuting, particularly in our region. Where I do see the opportunity is in attracting people and companies that already embrace telecommuting to our region due to the combination of our low cost of living and our proximity to major metropolitan areas. Doing that attracting is the fifth opportunity for entrepreneurial fun and profit in 2009
No. 5: Telecommuting
Problems: Few Central PA employers will offer telecommuting as an option; less “tele-commutable” work worldwide Assets: Low cost of living in Lancaster/Central PA, combined with being within travel distance to major East-Coast metropolitan areas
There is no denying that telecommuting is more viable now than ever. It may stop expanding as a trend in 2009, but by some estimates as many as 59% of organizations offer some of their employees the option to do at least some work outside the office. One of the big reasons that employers embrace telecommuting is because it can drastically reduce costs (especially the overhead costs of having to “house” an employee in the office).
At the same time, there are still risks and disadvantages to employers. The most popular way of mitigating those risks and disadvantages is by having employees who telecommute spend at least a little time each week on site, either in the office or at a face-to-face meeting with a client.
Whether the case at hand is of an individual or of a company, the cost of living in Lancaster specifically and Central PA generally should be attractive. If you’re going to telecommute, it makes more sense to do so from a location where the cost of living is low rather than from, say, midtown Manhattan.
Lancaster is a more affordable place than Manhattan. It’s 49% cheaper to live here. It’s 34% cheaper than Boston, 49% cheaper than Washington DC, 19% cheaper than Newark, 7% cheaper than Baltimore, and 8% cheaper than Philadelphia. (You can do your own comparisons at BestPlaces.net.)
For an individual or company, relocating to this region would fall somewhere between having hour-long commutes and telecommuting from India. An individual telecommuting from India can’t be at the important meeting in Baltimore tomorrow afternoon. An individual with an hour-long commute is still in the suburbs of a city with a high cost of living (to say nothing of the 2 hours spent in transit each day).
Telecommuting required a new set of tools, procedures, and practices in order to become viable on a mass scale. Telelocating (telecommunitying? proximity-telecommuting?) will require the same. Serious profits await the ones who develop those tools, procedures, and practices and bring them to scale.
The U.S. Census Bureau released new data today as part of its American Community Survey program, which tracks information for certain areas between 10-year censuses. This is the first time Lancaster city, with a relatively small population (55,029 of us) was included in such an extensive Census Bureau project in the in-between years. (New York City, for instance, is always included in such studies. This time around it revealed that the number of whites in Harlem has tripled.)
The data reveals some shocking trends for our city. I compared the newly-released data against data from the 2000 census (which reflected reality as of 1999). To do this, I converted 1999 dollars into 2007 dollars (by multiplying by 1.24438087, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).
We all know that the current economic recession is hurting everyone. What we didn’t realize was how badly we here in Lancaster city were getting hit already.
Household & Per Capita Income
Lancaster city – As of 2007, median household income was $31,599. In 1999 it was $37,045 (adjusted to 2007 dollars). That means household income dropped 15% between 1999 and 2007. In that same time, per capita income dropped 9%: in 2007, per capita income was $15,813. In 1999, it was $17,365.
Lancaster County – As of 2007, median household income was $63,499. In 1999 it was $56,628. When you tack on the suburbs, median household income grew 12% within the county. But, county-wide, per capita income dipped by 0.6%: in 2007, per capita income was $25,214. In 1999, it was $25,382.
Question: What do you make of the fact that in the county, median household income significantly grew, while per capita income slightly declined?
Lancaster city is not alone in hearing bad news: Every metro area in Northeast Ohio (in some ways a peer region) saw such a decline. In Wooster, median household income was down 20%.
Lancaster city – City homes declined 20% in value. The median home value in 2007 was $71,300. In 1999, it was $88,724 (in 2007 dollars).
Lancaster County – County homes increased 14% in value. The median home value in 2007 was $169,500. In 1999 it was $148,454.
This disparity in property value trending obviously has massive tax implications. Consider also the difference in aging infrastructure: 63.1% of city homes were built prior to World War II. In the county homes that old account for only 24.3% of the market. In the city, 3.6% of homes were built in the past 17 years. In the county, that number is 23.3%.
Households with Income over $100,000
Lancaster city – In 2007, there were 1,241 households earning $100k or more, representing 5.9% of city households. In 1999, there were 663 measured using 1999 dollars), about 3.1% of households.
Lancaster County – In 2007, there were 30,711 households with income $100k or more, representing 16.7% of county households. In 1999 there were 16,799 (measured using 1999 dollars), about 9.8% of households.
Below the Poverty Line
Even before the economic recession, poverty levels were increasing in both the city and the county.
Lancaster city – As of 2007, 25.4% of individuals in the city were living below the poverty line, up from 21.2% in 1999. Fully 65% of single-mother households (no husband present) with children 5 years old or younger were living below the poverty line, up from 54.9% in 1999.
Lancaster County – As of 2007, 9.1% of individuals in the county were living below the poverty line, up from 7.8% in 1999. Among single-mother households (no husband present), with children 5 years old or younger, 52.5% were living below the poverty line in 2007, up from 43.7% in 1999.
In 1999, the top 3 industries (in terms of number of people employed) were:
Educational, health and social services (19.9%)
Retail trade (13.2%)
…In 2007, the top 3 industries were:
Educational, health and social services (21.1%)
Professional, scientific, and management, and administrative and waste management services (12.7%)
In 1999, the top 3 industries were:
Educational, health and social services (18.2%)
Retail trade (13.0%)
…In 2007, the top 3 industries were:
Educational services, and health care and social assistance (20.2%)
Retail trade (12.0%)
It’s great to see the city’s #3 industry as of 2007.
Because I am smug enough to highlight these stats, I will. As of 2007, 11% (2,456) of us city dwellers were walking to work. That was only true of 3.5% of the county population. Another 5.2% of city dwellers were taking public transit, as opposed to 1.3% county-wide.
What’s your response to this data? Lancaster city is more vulnerable to the effects of the recession than we previously realized. Is there any way the 2010 census data can possibly look even a little bit better?
Together, they spell trouble for Republicans here in Lancaster County, PA, which has for decades been a dependable stronghold for the GOP. The graphics represent, in order, the outcome of the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential elections.
Dark red indicates the Republican received better than 60% of the vote.
Light red indicates the Republican won, but his challenger received more than 40% of the vote.
Dark blue indicates the Democrat received better than 60% of the vote.
Light blue indicates the Democrat won, but his challenger received more than 40% of the vote.
While McCain/Palin still won Lancaster County last week by a comfortable 55/43 split (Ralph Nader got half a percent; Ron Paul got two-tenths of a percent as a write-in), the numbers indicate a changing electorate within our county. I was actually astonished to compare for myself the decisive break from voting patterns in the 2000 and 2004 elections. (Forgive the poor graphics quality; I did these myself.)
Here are a few ways of breaking down the numbers.
City vs. County
Lancaster City landslided for Obama, 76% to McCain’s 23%. The city represented 21,975 votes, or 10% of county voters. Compare this to much slimmer margins in 2004, where Kerry beat Bush 62 to 38, and 2008, where Gore beat Bush 57 to 39.
Once you subtract the city’s votes, Lancaster County favored McCain, less overwhelmingly, 59 to 40. Non-city residents cast 202,816 votes, making up the other 90% of voters. A margin of 19 points is gigantic, but a shocking change from 2004, when Bush carried 69 to Kerry’s 31, and 2000, when Bush also received 69% of the vote and Gore eked out 29.
Urban vs. Suburban/Exurban/Rural
That breakdown, however, ignores the important fact that there are urban dwellers living in other municipalities beside Lancaster City. Perhaps it is more fair to compare all the county’s “urban” voters against the rest. I ran the numbers comparing city and borough precincts against township precincts (including the urbanized Lancaster Township with the boroughs).
In urbania county-wide, Obama beat McCain 56–43, with 73,366 voters weighing in (33% of voters). In 2000 and 2004, Bush carried the county’s urban areas 56-43 and 57-40, respectively.
Away from urban districts, McCain beat Obama 61-37, with 151,425 voters. Again, this looks decisive until compared with Bush’s victories in 2004 and 200: 70-30 and 70-28.
Stack the Deck
What if we stack the deck? Just for fun, I picked out out all the municipalities in Lancaster County that went for Obama, and pitted them against the rest of the county. Here’s how it looks:
Select Municipalities: Obama 68, McCain 31. Eighteen percent of the Lancaster County electorate, or 40,319 voters, currently live in areas where a majority of their neighbors currently lean Democratic. In 2004, those same municipalities on the whole went for Kerry by 61-38, and for Gore by just 57-39.
The Rest of Municipalities: McCain 61, Obama 38. Even in the most Republican areas of the county, Democratic voters should have no trouble finding many neighbors who share their political viewpoint. In these municipalities, Bush carried 2004 by 69-30, and 2000 by 69-28.
Perhaps most interesting is the list of municipalities who voted for Obama:
Christiana Borough (by a single vote)
Columbia borough voted Democratic in 2000 but not in 2004. Lancaster City, Lancaster Township, and part of Millersville borough voted Democratic in both 2000 and 2004. Christiana and Mountville’s votes came out of the blue; Marietta has for some time been on the Democrats’ wishlist as a municipality to pick up.
If you’d like to look at the raw data for yourself, the County has a list of polling locations, which you can use to decipher the election results for the past eight years.
Tomorrow Lancaster County voters will decide whether or not to break out from under Harrisburg’s total control of our county government structure. Everyone will have the opportunity to vote either yes or no to a referendum question on the back of the ballot. (Here’s a sample ballot.)
I will be voting “yes.” I encourage you to vote yes—but most of all, I encourage you to think and decide for yourself.
Here are the reasons I will be voting YES for a Lancaster County Home Rule Charter.
1. For my neighbor’s child: It controls debt.
At left, take a look at Lancaster County’s debt over the past 12 years. It’s skyrocketing. Our county debt has exploded more than 500% in the last seven years. My good friends who live down the street from me are expecting a baby around Christmas. If we keep racking up debt like this, by the time he’s a young man the taxes we pay won’t cover anything except paying interest on our county debt.
That means Lancaster County will be a worse place than it is today. Yes, we have grown at a responsible, measured pace as a community. But we have also paid for a lot of projects by incurring debt. The Home Rule Charter will allow us citizens to stop the runaway debt.
The state government imposes a cap on the amount of debt that counties can incur at “four hundred percent of its borrowing base” (Local Government Unit Debt Act). Right now we are at 62% of that debt limit. The Home Rule Charter allows the citizens to have a ballot referendum to stop the addition of any debt above 80% of that limit.
2. For My Community: It controls spending Taxes should be kept as low as possible. The county government has raised taxes by more than 7% over each of the past three years. The home rule charter requires a super-majority of the board of commissioners (4 out of 5) in order to pass a tax increase of 4% or more. (Inflation adjustments are typically under 3%.) If they opt to raise taxes by 7% or more, we citizens can stop it via a ballot referendum.
Again, debt is controlled as well as taxes. The commissioners will not be able to fund projects through debt rather than taxes, because we citizens can exercise our ability to stop both. That means our government will be forced into long-term sustainability (a good thing).
3. Because Harrisburg Is Whack Dennis Stuckey became a county commissioner in January of this year. When he did so, he vacated his role as county controller—essentially the county’s fiscal watchdog. The position still has not been filled, because we are waiting for Governor Rendell to appoint a replacement.
Why are we waiting for the governor to appoint a replacement controller? Because without home rule we are at the mercy of the state for such things. Make no mistake about it: In very key ways, we do not currently control our own county government. Harrisburg does. And Harrisburg is whack. The state government is in need of major overhaul. We should trust ourselves over bureaucrats in Harrisburg.
4. Other Reasons
The Lancaster County Home Rule Charter requires the leaders of the dozens of municipalities within our county to get together once a year and talk to each other, enhancing cooperation between my city and your township, your township and the nearby borough, etc.
One county commissioner per 100,000 people is totally reasonable. Right now we have 3 commissioners for half a million people. The Home Rule Charter gives us 5.
Part-time commissioners are better than full-time. They can focus on long-term strategy and listen to real people. Or, if they are OK with $55,000 a year, they can do it full-time.
Commissioners shouldn’t be professional politicians. The Home Rule Charter caps terms of office at 8 years. This makes sure we have citizen-leaders.
Under the Home Rule Charter, the controller has to be a CPA or have a degree in finance or accounting. The coroner has to be a licensed physician. This makes sense, but isn’t currently required.
The commissioners have to focus on the long term when drafting budgets, and the budget process has to be open for citizen review and input. Right now the process of developing a budget can take place in secret, and the budget can be available for citizen review only a very short period of time before being adopted. That’s bad for our county.
We currently elect Jury Commissioners, whose jobs have been replaced by computers. This charter eliminates the spending waste of paying for these positions. (We cannot remove these positions without a home rule charter.)
The three roles of prothonotary, clerk of courts, and register of wills is combined into a single elected position: the clerk of courts. That’s smaller, more efficient government.
The Government Study Commission, a nonpartisan group elected in November 2006, has done an outstanding job of first listening to a ton of input and then writing a fair charter. They have served our county well.
5. Most Importantly: We can change things! Enacting a home rule charter is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, because of a waiting period required by law and because of the immense work involved. We will not simply be able to wait for another, better charter to come around on our ballots.
Yes, this Home Rule Charter is imperfect, but it is good. It is a deeply American act of self-governance. We can tweak it over time. If something doesn’t work well, we can change it. Without this charter, however, we cannot change a single thing in our county government structure. Not one thing. With this charter, though, we’re in control.
It’s still not to late to read the charter (pdf) for yourself. There is no “no” vote on this issue. You are either voting for the Lancaster County Home Rule Charter (28 pages) or for the existing state-mandated, one-size-fits-all Pennsylvania County Code (400+ pages). Please join me in voting “yes” tomorrow.