The start of a new year brings hope to many people, and area business leaders are looking forward to the possibilities 2013 can deliver.
"[There is] one thought that keeps coming to mind—essentially that much of 2012 was a lost opportunity [for the country]," Stephen Culp, founder of Chattanooga-based Smart Furniture and Delegator.com, said. "2013 is another chance."
Although leaders with Smart Furniture and Delegator have continued to hire people, and despite some economic recovery, Culp said he thinks optimum improvement was lost because of "the deficit, health care and overly partisan political dysfunction," he said via email.
He can't help but wonder how many Americans were not hired who could have been or how many investments were not made that may have happened if 2012's economic recovery had been stronger.
"Entrepreneurs and small businesses are doing their best to survive and innovate in the face of uncertainty," he said. "And while government cannot, and should not, try to solve all of our problems, it should not, at least, make things worse. Each political party has valid positions, but 2013 needs to be a year when those two parties stop acting like rival frat houses and start working to address the needs of the nation. In the meantime, whatever is happening in Washington, entrepreneurs and small businesses will continue to work our butts off."
Other local business leaders responded to two questions—discuss one high and one low of 2012 and explain what your company is looking forward to in 2013.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
Mary Danielson, director of corporate communications for BCBST, said the health care industry is rapidly changing and that BCBST is working to adapt.
High: "During the past year, we’ve worked hard to fulfill our mission of delivering affordable solutions for our customers and to ensure the quality of care they’re receiving. This work will continue into the coming year as we also focus on implementation of the health care reform law in 2013. Our ongoing efforts will center around developing and selling products for a new marketplace, engaging regulators on addressing issues and improving the law, driving quality innovations and controlling costs. Some of those innovations and initiatives include a new PBM contract with Express Scripts, expansion of our patient-centered medical homes, bundled payment pilots, establishment of an ACO and enhanced preventive outreach to our members."
Low: "Like many of our customers and other businesses, we've recognized we must operate more efficiently. Our sincere hope was to cut costs without impacting people, but the decision to eliminate 200 positions was something we could not avoid. The health insurance industry is undergoing tremendous change. It is growing more competitive by the day, and we are facing unprecedented challenges to keep all costs in line. Although difficult, we feel this decision is one that ultimately makes us better-positioned to serve our members."
2013: "There are many good things about the health care reform law; however, it does not address affordability—which will be key to its future success. Controlling costs is a concern moving forward as the entire health insurance industry is under multiple new cost constraints such as MLR and increased taxes, which will cause premiums to rise. It’s an issue we need to quickly and collectively work on."
Spokeswoman for EPB Danna Bailey said it is difficult to pick only one high because the company had several big milestones this year.
High: "That’s hard [to pick only one], but I’ll say our third-year anniversary of EPB fiber optics was a high—we took all of our 30 mbps residential customers up to 50 mbps, 50 to 100, 100 to 250, at no added cost to them. Having roughly 40,000 homes connected to 50 mbps or more is not only great for the individuals using that kind of speed, but it also serves to make Chattanooga a living laboratory for companies wanting to test products and services. All told, we have roughly 47,000 homes and businesses subscribing to at least one of our EPB fiber optics services, and we’re pretty excited about that."
Low: "We didn’t have many lows, but bad weather is always a challenge for electric power companies. After the July 5 windstorm, we had roughly 35,000 homes and businesses without power in the summer heat. While the smart grid was a big help (it automatically restored 42,000 homes and businesses), it took five days to get all of our customers back on."
2013: "We’re looking forward to several things—primarily seeing how our EPB fiber optics products help drive success for local businesses, whether they’re existing businesses, startups or businesses locating in Chattanooga. Also, as we put the finishing touches on our smart grid, we’ll be able to learn more about our power system and use that knowledge to plan for future improvements."
The Crash Pad
John Ying, operations manager of The Crash Pad, said 2012 was a "phenomenal" year and that leaders of the hostel are looking forward to the new year.
High: "The highs for us were plentiful, but one that really stands out was the Buy Your Own Boulderfield fundraiser that we held here. A benefit event for the Southeastern Climbers' Coalition, it helped raise over $6,000 to help purchase the Hospital Boulders, a climbing area in central Alabama. It was such a great event, and we love giving back to the climbing community that's very near and dear to our hearts."
Low: "Our low point and biggest learning moment of the year was our first overbooking. It put all of our customer service skills to practice. It was the moment we realized that we needed to step our game up to the next level with the increased exposure we were—and still are—receiving."
2013: "In 2013, we're really looking forward to the growth of the outdoor tourism industry here. With all the hype going on about Chattanooga's outdoor assets (i.e., Outside Magazine, NYT travel article, etc.), there's nowhere to go but up for this city. Also, we're psyched about Enzo's Market opening up. A very frequent question that we get from our guests is, 'Is there a grocery store within walking distance?' and we always have had to answer, 'Not really.' With Enzo's, it really increases the convenience for our guests."
Updated @ 3:25 p.m. on 12/31/2012 for clarity.