Sunday, June 30, 2013

Trenton Entrepreneurship

TRENTON--A big part of what I want to do with this blog is share insights about topics that have piqued my interest over time. One of those interests include entrepreneurship and the unique world of small business. You maybe wondering what makes this topic so interesting to me. Well, I'm glad you asked, allow me to elaborate.

Since moving to Trenton, New Jersey in 2005, I have found that entrepreneurship and small business creation is very much needed in this community since this city is saddled with entrenched poverty and joblessness. All one needs to do is look at some of the recent closings of small businesses like Cafe International, Can Do Errands, Delorenzos, and historic Amefikas to see what I am getting at here. All of these individual entrepreneurs gave people a nice place to go to, quality products and services, and most importantly, they created jobs that people in the city could possibly take.

Now lets be quite clear, entrepreneurs do a number of things, but I want to focus one of the main things they do, that is, create jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, entrepreneurship and small business play a vital role in the US economy. And looking at Trenton's staggering 10.8% unemployment rate, it seems quite evident that entrepreneurship and small business creation can do our city some good.

According to Google, an entrepreneur is an individual that "takes the initiative to create a product or establish a business for profit". Indeed, the city of Trenton needs more initiative, and less complaint. Instead of moaning and groaning about all the potholes in Trenton, why not create a small businesses that specializes in paving streets? Instead of criticizing Trenton Mayor Tony Mack and the failing public school system, why not do what individuals like Baye Kemit did when he created an African-centered school that sought to address the problems facing public schools?

These examples strike me as the heart and soul of the entrepreneurial mindset. This type of mentality constantly seeks to solve issues instead of complaining or criticizing the powers that be. In short, entrepreneurs don't see problems, they see opportunities.

So I invite everyone to take something from the playbook of entrepreneurs by first of all being creative. Think outside of the box. Take calculated risks and step outside the comfort zone. The best entrepreneurs don't settle for the routine and get complacent. They push the envelope.

However, don't get me wrong, I am not saying that one should go stark-raving crazy by making reckless decisions. Rather the idea is to take moderate well-informed risks and be creative when looking at the stark realities that face communities like Trenton. Instead of seeing hopelessness and desolation, why not see promise and possibility? That's the question I wrestle with everyday and leave with you to ponder.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Trenton Mayoral Debate Shows Need For More Engagement

TRENTON-- Just last week, Patrick Hall, Jim Golden, and Paul Perez sat down at the Big Easy Restaurant downtown to have a talk.

These individuals were not at the downtown eatery just for the food or the ambiance, the purpose of their gathering was to show the people of Trenton what they are made of as the city's mayoral election quickly approaches next year.

Two candidates appeared at the question and answer session in person: former Trenton police director Jim Golden and businessman Paul Perez. Patrick Hall, a local entrepreneur was not physically located at the downtown eatery, he participated in the talk via video conference.

This discussion was organized by citizens Scott Miller and Jacque Howard, who launched Trenton Elections on Facebook to help Trentonians learn more about the candidates.

Golden, Perez and Hall answered questions that were solicited on the Trenton Elections Facebook page and supplied by residents.

During the 2 hour Q & A session, the mayoral candidates were asked things like:

What do you want Trenton to be known for?

What qualifies you to manage a 200 million dollar budget? What experience do you have?

What executive experience do you have? Were you successful? How many people have you managed?

What are your plans to be more transparent?

With regard to transparency, former police chief Jim Golden said that directors need to be present at council meetings. He also mentioned that he wants to make sure taxpayers have access to a power-point presentation that would come directly from the city's directors that would outline their proposals for improving the city.

Businessman Paul Perez said that he would create a system of oversight so that people are held accountable because "City Hall is dysfunctional". He went on to say that "it shouldn't be a surprise that we need money at the last minute".

Hall went on to say that he would bring in qualified people to address the transparency issue. He said that he believed in zero-based budgeting and that "just because you got $14 million dollars last year does not mean you will get it again this year".

The question that was running through a number of people's mind was what are these candidates going to do about crime or public safety day one if they are elected since news reports indicate 18 homicides this year so far.

Former Police Chief Jim Golden said that we need to deploy officers where and when they are needed most.

Patrick Hall said that we need more lighting and surveillance while Paul Perez said that he would look at violence reduction plans that were successful in other cities.

Indeed, as the city of Trenton awaits next year's mayoral election, I think these sorts of forums are very much needed. These forums engage and encourage others to take part in the political process, something that is desperately needed today where there is so much apathy, ignorance, and cynicism toward our elected officials and the overall political process. Its like what Trentonian blogger Michael Walker said. In one of his blog posts, he states that "Trentonians won't start paying attention to the mayoral candidates until early next year". Sadly enough, I think Walker's comments are correct, but I think that's all the more reason why we need to do things to encourage and foster a well-informed citizenry that is active in the political process.

With a well informed citizenry, democracy can flourish and help make our elected officials accountable for their actions. The question becomes: how do we engage and encourage others to be a part of the process, I say we need more community forums to talk about these things, and I plan to help make that possible through blogs like this and through forums in the community.

Click below for video access to some of the debate or discussion:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Buyer Beware

In today's world, where there is so much information out there, it seems as though it is becoming all the more important to be an informed consumer.

I make this comment in large part not just because of recent scandals surrounding Enron and Bernie Madoff but rather because a few a weeks ago, I was in the market for a new vehicle, but approached the situation in a way that was anything but well-informed and believe you me, I learned the hard way.

I went into the car dealership not having a clue about the financing process or what to expect, but somehow I thought I was going to walk away from the dealership a happy customer. Boy, was I wrong, ladies and gentlemen. I had no idea about how financing worked or what to expect. 

Yet, even though my experience wasn't too pleasant, I recognize that this doesn't necessarily mean I don't have some words of wisdom to share with others that may help them, below you will find some tips and insights I have gleaned from my experience, I hope this can be of assistance to you:

Know what you want (cost, mileage, reliability, fuel efficiency)
If you don't know what you want, how will anyone else? So first thing first, define what you are looking for before you get onto the lot.

Have a list of questions/ concerns
After you determine what you want, now is the time to prepare some well-thought out questions or concerns that you can  pose to the sales person upon arriving at the dealership. For instance, if you have questions about financing the process, then now is the time to raise these concerns.

Understand the role of the salesperson
The salesperson's role is to sell cars, point blank, plain and simple. So be mindful of that in your dealings with them.

Bring someone with you
Two heads are better than one as the saying goes. When all else fails bring along a friend or third party that can see things you may have missed had you gone to the dealership solo. 

Be realistic and bluntly honest as it relates to your expectations (budget)
Its no use in pretending to be something you are not. If you're not a Rockefeller, I advise being honest and realistic in your expectations with the sales person so they can put you in something you can afford. 

Be aware of your credit score as this can impact interest rates
Your financing options and interest rates will be determined in large part by your credit score, so be aware of it. To get a free copy of your credit report visit Annual Credit Report's website

Be aware of or take into consideration auto insurance costs that will go along with your monthly premium

Carefully review any customer contracts/ loan agreements before signing the dotted line
Indeed, as the saying goes, 'the devil is in the details'. In other words, read your contract carefully as these documents are binding.

Properly file a report or complaint if you become the recipient of a lemon with Consumer Affairs

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Poets Show Lighter Side of Trenton

TRENTON-- The week before last, I had a great opportunity to visit an open mic poetry event at First Baptist Church in Trenton, New Jersey. The event was hosted by Neikel Butler, the director of a poetry program at the Boys and Girls Club.

During this event, poets, young and old, recited their work. One in particular, Raul 'Polo' Cortes, took the stage and provided the audience with words of wisdom by saying that we need to renew the mind and keep the candle lit, metaphorically speaking. Another poet did a piece on 'pride' and recognizing the importance of practicing humility. Another poet said that it was important to be who you are, reminiscent of Shakespeare when he said, 'to thine own self be true'.

Another bard went on to chime in with a refrain, "I'm going to the bank, the bank, to invest in MY PEOPLE", something that is needed in a community like Trenton where people that 'make it' financially leave or flee instead of giving back.

All in all, it was a great Friday night that inspired me to keep fighting. Alas, living in a place like Trenton, I recognize that the city has seen better days and needs more events like this one that show its lighter side. All too many times, when people think of a Friday night in the state's capitol, they automatically think 'its gon' be some trouble'. And to be honest, who can blame them, when we hear stories from the Trentonian that report that there were eight (count them) eight people shot during Memorial Day weekend alone, it seems as though people's fears may be justified. Yet, I say that's only one side of Trenton.

There's a lot of positive things going on in Trenton. From Union Baptist Church's Quick and Clean Car Wash today to the Comedy Show they are having at the War Memorial, the people here in the city are moving and making things happen. I, for one, want to build upon that momentum and see more positive things happening. I am presently working on a Book Fest that is scheduled for sometime in July.

I think there is a real need to encourage people to read and imbibe in the written word, especially in the city of Trenton where the literacy rate is dismal according to the Times of Trenton. So I will keep you posted on this special event in July as new developments arise, so stay tuned...

Please see videos below: