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The Roundup August 5

Repair rather than replace.

While not recession-proof, small business contractors, electricians, plumbers and even car repair shops seem to be weathering the latest economic downturn somewhat better than other businesses. It may not be time for an employed repairman to strike out on his own, but those already established in business are finding ways to keep afloat. . . .

Eustace Kangaju, director of Temple University’s Small Business Development Center in Philadelphia, said that during recessions, commercial building stops abruptly, which mostly affects large contractors and individual crafts people. Smaller contractors, though, tend not to have that work to begin with, he said. . . .

Mr. Kangaju said his informal survey found there was actually an upsurge in small contractor activity in the late spring and early summer, which he attributed to people getting tax refund checks and deciding to get those little annoying things fixed. In any case, he said, if contractors are not greedy and willing to take those smaller jobs, they can probably weather the remainder of the recession.

(“Maintenance and Repair Weathering Hard Times,” New York Times, August 5) These contractors, of course, are well-positioned for the repair-not-replace logic of recessions. Add to that superior customer service and the willingness to negotiate lower rates, and you have a formula for weathering the recession. What’s particularly important about this article, however, are the opportunities it suggests for people who are not already well-placed as contractors. For instance, how-to home repair Web sites, marketing/design/advertising firms that target small contractors (and are willing to negotiate pay-for-performance deals). Keep in mind also that the recession is changing consumer habits — many consumers are learning the “repair-not-replace” ethos and are laying down a lifetime of habits. Just the other day, I had two wheelbarrows break. Rather than head out to Home Depot and fork over a hundred bucks or more for a new wheelbarrow as I would have done 12 months ago, I cannibalized working parts from the one broken wheelbarrow to fix the other one. A lifetime of new habits . . .

It’s the MySpace for adults and it’s now the number four Web site in the world.

the month of June alone it gained 24 million unique visitors worldwide, compared to the month before, for a total of 340 million unique visitors worldwide. It is now the fourth largest site in the world, trailing only Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo sites, according to comScore (see table below). Facebook itself only officially acknowledges 250 million active registered users (but you don’t have to be a registered user to visit some Facebook pages).

In the past year, it has grown 157 percent, gaining 208 million visitors. It long ago passed its rival MySpace on a global basis, way back in April, 2008. Since then, it has passing even bigger sites on its way up.

(“Facebook Is Now the Fourth Largest Site In The World,” TechCrunch, August 4) Now, if only they could figure out a way to turn all those visitors into profits. Seriously, however, it does look like a standard has emerged in the social networking chaos, making life considerably easier for entrepreneurs and small businesses with a social networking component in their marketing strategy.

California and Michigan learn the outsourcing gospel . . . with prisoners.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm would prefer that inmates from California help fill Michigan’s prisons rather than detainees from Guantánamo Bay. . . .

In the meantime, Granholm is awaiting California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision on whether he’ll ease California’s prison overcrowding situation by moving inmates to Michigan.

“We have some conditions we’ve placed on the table,” she said. “They have to take them back and we won’t take any IOUs.”

(“Granholm prefers that prisons hold inmates from California, not Gitmo,” Detroit Free Press, August 5) So, on the one hand, we have Michigan vying to go into the prison business — promising rich growth over the next decade! — and California trying to outsource its prisoners. Outsourcing, of course, only works when the outsource partner can do the work cheaper and at a profit. But with prisoners? Won’t that encourage California to send more people to prison when it’s probably smarter to stop putting so many people in prison in the first place? Where are states going to outsource prisoners next? China?

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