Thursday, January 29, 2009

Here's Hoping, Obama

Barack Obama has become a rock star with all the attention from the media. One of hot topic links is “Obama’s First 100 Days.” is even selling a shirt that says, “Obama raises a hand, lifts a nation. I just saw it on 1.20.09.” CNN isn’t alone; Yahoo! News’s top story is Obama signing his first bill - the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - and MSNBC, aside from the eight articles on the stimulus plan, has a political cartoon slideshow where out of twenty cartoons eighteen are strictly Obama. He’s everywhere and he’s been everywhere since he decided to run for President. Over a year ago, one of my friends went to see him at a rally and was convinced he was going to be the face of change. I know many individuals believe that; there is more hope in this President than there has been in a while. (I can’t help but wonder how George W. Bush feels!)

But where is all this hope going to get us? Good intentions are grand, but they’re just that… intentions. Action is what this country needs; Obama’s first hundred days are directly related. The trend for using the first hundred days as a benchmark for the rest of a presidency began with Franklin D. Roosevelt. The media loves to compare FDR to Obama, stating that the economy has reached similar lows as the 1930's and that the nation needs a President to push legislation through Congress to help stimulate the economy.

I wouldn't want this waiting for me.

There’s no arguing against the need for change in this country and Obama’s $819 billion economic stimulus package will hopefully bring some. Originally, it was $825 billion. So, what was cut out? Expanding family planning, re-sodding the National Mall, and a proposed tax credit for businesses for each job they create or save. Most of the money will go to help expanding the education sector, health care, tax breaks for individuals and couples, and energy.

But what does this package mean for small businesses? According to, the business breaks include “…allowing [businesses] to claim tax credits on past profits dating back five years instead of two. It also would offer bonus depreciation for businesses investing in new plants and equipment; double the amount small businesses can write off for capital investments and new equipment purchases; allow businesses to claim a tax credit for hiring youths and veterans.”

His plan correlates with a statement he made back in February 2008 when the American Small Business League publicly supported him. Obama’s comments on the subject in the days following help shed light on how much he will promote small business growth through the economic stimulus plan and other ways in both the public and federal sector. "…98 percent of all American companies have fewer than 100 employees. Over half of all Americans work for a small business. Small businesses are the backbone of our nation's economy and we must protect this great resource. It is time to end the diversion of federal small business contracts to corporate giants."

Sounds great, right? One can only hope. FDR’s New Deal did boost the morale of the country and did create jobs, but as most of us know, it wasn’t the only thing that saved this country. A war economy helped the US recover. However, Ronald Reagan helped the US economy more than most people acknowledge. His trickle-down economic actions in the 80's helped the economy later - as late as the Clinton administration - flourish. Like most economic plans, and like this one will, it took time for it to work.

Yee of little Faith.

President Obama is trying. He is pushing legislation that he thinks will help the US economy over time, not overnight. All good things come in due time. If we rush fixing the economy, it's like putting duct tape over the leaky pipe in the bathroom. Eventually, it'll burst, and then it'll take even longer to fix. Obama isn't using duct tape; he's interviewing plumbers at the moment, hoping that what he chooses won't be a quick fix, but one that lasts for generations to come.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Treasure Hunt

This past December my friend "Alex" and I went to Georgia to visit some family. It was unseasonably warm, so we were anxious to go outside and did quite frequently. My friend's younger brother "John" was especially eager to go outside because he wanted to go geocaching. Now, before this I had never heard of the term. After several attempts searching misspelled variations of the word on Google, I found their homepage. According to, it is a high-tech treasure hunt, worldwide, often played by adventure seekers with GPS systems.

The first thing I think of when someone says "Treasure Hunt" is of pirates standing on some beach with an old map that has dotted lines and a giant X on it (to make it entertaining, imagine Johnny Depp). Never do I think of people dressed in jeans and a heavy coat clambering through the local park clutching a GPS unit (enter a picture of Hugh Jackman here).

Before Christmas, John had only been able to look up caches within about a two-mile radius of his house. He doesn't have his license yet, so the closer to the neighborhood the better. Once we got to Atlanta, though, John had Alex and I at his disposal to drive him around and find new caches. Although he couldn't afford a GPS unit, John would use Google maps; by typing in the coordinates that provided, he could zoom in to the maximum resolution to examine the area and get an idea of where the cache should be before heading off on his bicycle.

Luckily, Santa had been watching and had gotten him a GPS system. John was thrilled and started plugging in the coordinates for new caches farther away from the house. We would drive to the area parks and follow the unit to some spot in the woods and .. Nothing. The system beeped a lot, claimed we were on target, but when we followed its directions, it led us nowhere. Eventually, Alex used the built-in GPS on his phone to find the cache. John's unit was off by at least 30 meters every time. In the world of geocaching, that's a big no-no - thirty meters off covers a HUGE amount of ground, especially when you are hunting for something that can smaller than a film canister.

By the time we left Atlanta, I had gained a taste for it. On the long drive back to Virginia, we found a cache in each state to break up the monotony of the trip. It was exciting looking for a pill bottle, ammo box, film canister, or other type of container - each one is different - hidden in a unique location. With geocaching you never really know what exactly you're looking for. All you have is the coordinates and a brief description; it is up to you what you do with them.

Example of a cache. Unfortunately, not all are this big.

When I went back to work the following week, I couldn't help but see the parallels between geocaching and contracting with the government. We knew people had found the caches and completed contracts before, there is proof all around us, but we didn't know where to begin. Sometimes the tools we had didn't lead us to the correct area, leaving us way off the intended mark, feeling around and searching for something we couldn't identify. In time, we developed our 'geosense' - we got the hang of it, learning how to find bids and to contract successfully, but it took some trial and error. Gateway to the Government is a lot like We let you know when new caches are hidden in your area of expertise, send you the coordinates, and act as guides, giving the tools to give you a higher success rate. Gateway is your GPS unit leading you to government contracting.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What? Me Worry?

Retirement - what a beautiful word.
The first thing I think of is being able to wake up when I want, go where I want, and do what I want. Or, better yet, not getting out of bed at all. For me, though, it's far, far away. It's the pot o' gold at the end of the rainbow that I haven't found yet.

I was talking to my father the other day about his retirement. He's 60, a baby boomer like so many in this country, and on his desk at work he has an electronic countdown - a clock ticking down the days and hours until he retires. He doesn't really need that though; he has the date memorized: May 23, 2009. Sounds great, right? Roughly a hundred some-odd days away from playing with his dogs, gardening all day, or finally focusing on his side business. Boy, was I wrong. He's actually thinking of staying until he's 63, maybe even longer. I thought he was crazy - why would he want to do that? I asked my mother about her retirement and she's going to stay until she's 65!

Why are these baby boomers opting to delay their retirement? The impression I always had was that once you were perfectly aged (not old mind you!), the government rewarded your efforts with Social Security, your IRA, or the 401(k) plan. After further research, I now know that the chance of younger generations supporting retirement via Social Security is slim to none. According to, there are three main reasons why personal retirement funds are dwindling: failing stock market, decrease in home value, and few job prospects.

"Many baby boomers would like to scale back to part time, start a new business, or take an extended break from the workforce instead of retiring completely. But opportunities to try these creative forms of retirement could become scarcer. In 2006, 37 percent of employed men and 22 percent of employed women ages 65 to 69 worked for themselves, but the credit crunch could make it difficult for people to start and sustain small business."

Now, I have to argue against their logic. While jobs are becoming harder and harder to find for most college graduates, they aren't short. We're just picky about what we want to do with our lives. Everything has become digital, electronic, or involving computers. Our country has stopped manufacturing goods and contracted out to other countries for them. How often do we see "Made in the USA" stamped on things anymore? I know most of the things I buy come from China, Indonesia, or Thailand. Currently, China's economy is similar to how ours was in the 1920's and we are the ones in debt, unable to give our senior citizens the Social Security they've been promised.

A society that is not self-sustaining will over time inevitably lose ground in the global marketplace. If we stop buying cheaply and instead support the local businesses, we would keep the money within the country, stimulating the economy. It would decrease job loss, help people - even those without an engineering or other high-demand degree - get a better paying job based on their skills, and decrease the US debt.

Just because the life expectancy has increased to 78 doesn't mean we have to work until then. There is supposed to be something at the end of the rainbow, an incentive to keep working hard and pushing towards the end. Isn't that what this country is all about? Striving to be the best and to succeed so eventually you don't have to deal with a stressful job? To be your own boss?

It appears that most people, my parents included, will work longer than expected just to ensure everything works out. My father's logic is that since he's still healthy, why not keep working? It's not like he completely hates his job; he'd rather do something else, is all. Moreover, going to work keeps individuals healthier mentally and physically due to the daily social interactions. However, he has told me that once he decides to hang up his hat, he is going to upgrade his side business to full-time and do what he loves everyday. I think that's his pot of gold: working for himself while supplementing his nest egg.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Poker Night

This past Saturday night was a significant night for my roommate and I: it was our first time hosting poker night. The night before I left him alone for dinner and our apartment was how it always looked; by the time I got back, I thought I had walked onto a movie set. Our dining room table was in the middle of the living room with extra leaves already inserted, a second card table by the kitchen, hundreds of poker chips already placed in baggies, along with the house rules, explanations of the chip amounts, and hand explanations posted on each wall (we had several players just learning the game). I couldn't believe my eyes! He had even cleaned the kitchen in the process.

I couldn't help but comparing the novice poker players we had over with businesses having to take the same risks with government contracting. I know I had difficulty the first time I played. I didn't know what combination of cards were the best, I didn't know when to fold or place my bets, and I really couldn't tell if people were lying to me or not. When our contracting business first opened its doors, we had no idea how to read the contracts. In most, there were dozens of pages of instructions, and half the time we weren't sure which were worth bidding on. We also didn't have any contacts at the time and when we made friends in the industry, we weren't sure who we could trust. We've grown since then, having completed contracts and found trustworthy individuals within the contracting community and hope to help others grow as well through Gateway to the Government.

Now when I say the words 'poker night,' I'm sure the majority of people think of roughly the same thing: a night of boys sitting around a table, smoking cigars, placing bets, having a drink, and yakking about their jobs/girlfriend/whatever. Never does the phrase 'fiscal responsibility' pop up when mentioning poker. Neither does 'planning for the future.' I'm sure most people don't even find that the word responsible can be attributed to gambling at all.

One thing that I learned from my recent poker night, as I'm sure my friends did too, is that planning ahead makes everything better. My roommate had taken the precautionary steps: talked to everyone involved to find the best time to host, figured out what needed to be worked on, and set everything up ahead of time. Because of all of these steps, the night went very smoothly. No one was upset by the end of the night, nothing was broken or lost, several people had learned a new game, and there wasn't any confusion regarding who had won or why. I found out that my roommate had hosted many such friendly poker nights during his college days and knew exactly what needed to be done. Government contracting is the same way - having someone who has experience and knows what needs to be done can ensure that everything moves smoothly. Businesses can benefit from taking risks - just like a poker player - but until the player knows the rules, it can be a great way to gamble and lose, especially to the experienced players. A friendly contractor such as Gateway is willing to take the "gamble" out of contracting, allowing your business to use our winning cards.