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Mississippi`s smaller companies tacking benefits issues in variety of ways

Small business, small benefits for its employees?

Small business owners tackle benefits, or a lack thereof, for themselves and their employees in various ways. While a few cross their fingers and vow to never get sick,

rarely take a vacation and work through retirement, others pool their resources with varying results.

“What’s a 401(k), sick leave or vacation? You’ve got to be kidding! My retirement plan is to have money withdrawn monthly from my savings account and put into a

Roth IRA, which is really what I use to pay income taxes,” said Kent Mummert, a graphic designer and owner of RiverWorks in Clinton.

“If I am ill, I work anyway and hope that a fax or a phone call will do the trick until I am well enough to go to my customer’s office,” Mummert said. “And taking a

vacation is never more true for me in that I have to take it or I won’t get it. I try to let my clients know ahead of time if I am going to be out so we can plan

accordingly. But even when I am gone, I check my answering machine and call those clients back offering whatever help I can long distance.”

Mummert established a medical savings account, from which he can draw money for small expenses, such as dentist and eye doctor visits, and has catastrophic health

care coverage with a high deductible, he said.

“Mine is a bare bones operation that relies heavily on the grace of God and word of mouth,” Mummert said.

To avoid the expense of health insurance, vacation pay and 401(k) plans for employees, Beth Taylor, owner of Letter B Productions in Hattiesburg, remains a

one-person operation.

“I use only contract labor – people with the skills to match a particular project, and give them an hourly wage,” she said. “At the end of the year, I give them a 1099.

That way I don’t have to worry about making payroll when times are lean, and I don’t have to worry about having people with a variety of skills on staff. I bring in the

person I need, when I need them, at a price that is affordable.”

Maggie Clark, owner of Maggie Clark Media Services in Jackson, also a one-person shop, contacted Ron Blackwood, a financial advisor with American Express

Financial Advisors, to establish SEP and Roth IRA accounts, and set up an individual medical insurance policy through Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“There is no such thing as sick leave, but if I’m really sick, I sound that way on the phone,” Clark said. “Fortunately, my clients are such good folks they just let me call

them back when I feel better.”

Vacation?

“Vacation is when you can take a day here or there. In 30 years, I have shut down for five days out of the office,” she said. “In 1985, I went to Europe. Last

November, I took five days off after the election and did Las Vegas.”

With health insurance costs skyrocketing, many small business owners are joining associations to participate in sponsored programs.

“These issues are great examples of why associations are so important,” said Mike Cashion, executive director of the Mississippi Restaurant Association. “I liken

association membership as the tires on a car. Education, services, government affairs and networking are the four tires that enhance the ability of businesses to

succeed.”

Even though sponsored health care programs are not singular pools, they provide reasonable rates based on the number of participants, Cashion said.

“Associations often offer their own workers’ compensation programs and property/casualty programs,” he said. “Sick leave, vacation, etc., are usually determined on

a store-by-store basis. Businesses that do not have access to association-endorsed programs will sometimes use people leasing services and take advantage of the

benefits of the service, 401(k)s being a good example.”

The MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce provides ChamberPlus, a health insurance program for small businesses with two to 50 employees. Approximately 371

member companies are enrolled in the program that covers 6,700 people, said Kay M. Maghan, director of public relations.

ChamberPlus was established in 1996 as a result of concerns from the business community about the high cost of health insurance, which is provided through Blue

Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi at a special discounted rate. Last year, the program was expanded to include five ‘voluntary’ products through BlueBonnett Life –

dental, short-term disability, long-term disability, life and cancer, she said.

To qualify for ChamberPlus, small businesses must be a member of the MetroJackson Chamber or various chambers affiliated with the ChamberPlus program, which

include the Ridgeland Chamber of Commerce, Clinton Chamber of Commerce and Rankin County Chamber of Commerce in the metro area, and the

Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce in north Mississippi, Maghan said.

“Other chambers across the state have expressed interest in affiliating,” she said. “In the works are the Cleveland chamber, Southaven chamber, Yazoo County

chamber and Starkville chamber.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lynne@thewritingdesk.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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