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Can Cannabis Help Cure Government and Bank Revenue Shortfalls?

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Can Cannabis Help Cure Government and Bank Revenue Shortfalls?

By Andy Montgomery | Published July 1st, 2020

As COVID-19 again rises its ugly head amidst an opening of economies around the United States, it is becoming increasingly clear that a snap back of the economy is a naïve notion at best.  Americans will be living with this unwanted new normal for some period of time to come.  The aftermath remains uncertain, but the present is already having significant effects on our economy and way of life.  Government stimulus, which comes at a long-term cost, has provided a boost of adrenaline, but will eventually wear off. We are in the midst of a financial recession and there are no clear precedents to draw on which provide a guide to its severity or longevity. This means that both governments and banks need to find alternative sources of revenue.

SAFETY DRAINS REVENUES

Different from “the Great Recession” which began in 2008, this economic crisis will be far more impactful to Main Street businesses and not contained to an asset bubble.  Consumers just simply stopped all at once from popping into local businesses and, even with moderate openings, many retailers and restaurants have no chance to recover to pre-COVID conditions.  Add to that, virtual learning behaviors that are quickly being integrated as preferences in our daily lives. This lack in demand will work its way through various other supply chains and continue to wreak havoc on our economy for some period of time.

The impact of decreased tax revenues from Main Street economies is already being felt in municipalities and states around the nation.  It comes at a time in which they are already tasked with providing for the safety of citizens through extraordinary and costly measures.  This is quickly depleting the reserves of governments; most of which have no good alternatives to raise revenue.

BANKS HAVE AND WILL BE IMPACTED

Similarly, banks have only begun to feel the full impact of the crisis.  In the first quarter of 2020, bank revenues were down a whopping 70%.  Banks will certainly see some revenue boost as a result of the massive PPP effort, but the stimulus will wear off for them also.  Almost every commercial business in the country has been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and that will work its way into banks’ lending portfolios, earnings and liquidity.  The building momentum in the third and fourth quarters of credit contractions and bank layoffs could be as significant as 2008.

CANNABIS TAX REVENUES REQUIRE SAFE BANKING

One source of revenue that is yet to be adequately optimized in the 33 states that have approved some form of legalized cannabis is maximizing the tax revenue from this growing industry.  Most state and local governments are collecting a fraction of the tax revenue that they intended from cannabis.  That is mostly because the illegal trade of cannabis is in full supply and provides harsh competitive pricing pressure on businesses that want to comply with the laws and regulations.  Law enforcement will readily admit that they do not have the financial resources or public will to put a dent in the illegal trade.  This keeps legal cannabis from operating at their optimum potential and from paying the tax revenues that are increasingly needed by state and local governments.

During a press conference in April 2020 New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) stated that she wished the legalization of recreational marijuana would have passed earlier this year as it would have offered additional revenue for a state with limited resources and a large outbreak of COVID-19. “If there was ever a time for wishful thinking, I wish we had passed recreational cannabis because that would be $100 million.”

Also in April, the U.S. Virgin Island Governor Albert Bryan Jr (D) began the process of revisiting cannabis legalization stating, “We have taken the time to gather further public input as well as address the concerns of the individual legislators,”…“As the economic disaster, the last few weeks has created has affected the [Government Employees Retirement System] greatly it is our hope that we can have a greater sense of exigency in implementing all the things that can help us regain solvency.”… “Certainly, cutting the annuity of retirees by 30 percent cannot be the path,” he said.

IT IS A LAW ENFORCEMENT ISSUE

One way around relying on law enforcement to clean up the cannabis businesses is to have the banks do it.  That is why 34 Attorney Generals from states and territories across the country have signed a letter to Congress in support of the cannabis “Safe Banking Act.” But, as cannabis is still illegal federally, banks have no clear mandate or rules to follow from federal regulators to safely bank cannabis.  However, according to FinCEN data, approximately 525 banks and 185 credit unions knowingly banked cannabis clients in March 2020.  The Chairwoman of the FDIC, Jelena McWilliams, gave a clue as to how the federal regulator of banks would feel about their members banking cannabis as she has integrated the topic in all of her recent speeches and said that regulators would be okay with its members banking cannabis as long as they followed the FinCEN guidance and state regulations.

Denver, Colorado’s Audit Committee released a report stating, “The Treasury Division’s Audit Unit Is Not Effective or Efficient at Ensuring All Marijuana Taxes Are Reported and Paid.” The audit also lists specific findings and recommendations.

Recently, Colorado’s Attorney General Phil Weiser tweeted, “Crimes at #cannabis businesses are often driven by the fact that so many of them are all cash businesses. That’s why we led a coalition of State AGs to support @RepPerlmutter’s work on the #SAFEBanking Act, allowing such companies access to safe banking.”

COULD THIS BE A WIN-WIN?

The bottom line is that if banks capitalized on the nascent and growing cannabis industry it could add liquidity and profit at a time when they need it the most.  To safely bank cannabis they would need to vet the businesses and ensure they are complying with all of the laws and regulations, But, by integrating more cannabis related businesses into the banking system and migrating them away from dealing in an all cash world, the money goes directly into the economy and adds very inexpensive deposits and a new source of fees for banks.  It also makes those cannabis related businesses that are not legal and compliant,recognizable outliers that are easier to spot for law enforcement as they will continue to be forced to trade and live using all cash. 

Andy Montgomery is a former bank CEO with more than 25 years of experience in the financial services industry.  His experience includes founding community banks and working in executive positions for regional and money center banks.  He currently is the founder and CEO of HDCS, Inc., which provides consulting for financial institutions in engaging with higher-risk depositors.

Andy Montgomery is a contributing writer for Inland Empire Business Journal and former bank CEO with more than 25 years of experience in the financial services industry. Experienced Community Bank CEO and CEO and Founder of HDCS. Inc. and CBFS. HDCS (Higher-risk Deposit Compliance Solutions) provides comprehensive compliance solutions for financial institutions that engage with higher risk depositors including Cannabis Related Businesses and Cryptocurrency Businesses.

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From Goats to Soaps

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An Inland Empire small business journey to responsible, clean beauty products

By Jessica Anguiano, Southern California Outreach Manager, Small Business Majority

Of all the ways of starting a new business, one that included the purchase of a Nigerian dwarf goat named Barnaby was not on the mind of Michele Jimenez. As the owners of a ranch in Riverside, Michele and her husband wanted to teach their five young daughters about caring for and raising farm animals, and Barnaby would be a perfect way to do just that.

After learning about an Inland Empire 4-H youth development and mentoring organization, Michele enrolled her daughters, ages 2 to 15, to learn about responsibilities and appreciation for nature. During the training, the young girls focused on agricultural project-based learning and chose to launch a dairy goat breeding program as their project. But after their goat population began to grow, they faced an unimaginable challenge: what to do with 3-5 gallons of milk per goat on a daily basis? 

The children were quick to propose an avenue: cook and create recipes with goat milk. The idea seemed simple at the time, but they soon realized that goat food products are an acquired taste–which meant this wasn’t a recipe for success. By this time, the COVID-19 pandemic had paralyzed businesses in Riverside, and like everyone else, Michele’s daughters followed lockdown protocols and stayed home. Michele and her daughters began making soap with goat milk at home with not much to do and nearly 30 goats in stock.

At first, they gave away the soap to friends and family to see how their prospective customers would respond to this new product. And then after only [est. time], the Jimenez Sisters Ranch business was up and running, full steam ahead. 

The family-owned small business exemplifies the core values of the Jimenez family: resilience, entrepreneurship, sustainability, and a fond appreciation for eco-friendly, socially responsible, and ethically sourced practices and products. In addition to stylish apparel and accessories, the Jimenez sisters sell handcrafted goat milk soaps, lotions, and creams to consumers and wholesale retailers throughout California and across Wisconsin, North Carolina, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Washington. 

“My daughters have been the face of the Jimenez Sisters Ranch since its inception. I’ve encouraged them to take an active role in the business, despite their age. They deserve a seat at the table and I believe they can confidently shape their future as entrepreneurs,” said mom Michele. “Small business ownership comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities and for us, it has turned into a new source of income, inspiration and a great way to start building generational wealth.”

As the Jimenez family continues to navigate business ownership and with plans of scaling up, they are actively looking for ways to lower prices on low-volume purchases and sourcing raw materials ahead of the holiday season. Michele says, “We’re a solutions-oriented business, so we’re networking and connecting with leaders in the industry to get us in the front door. Although our competitors are beauty industry giants, we know what we offer and what sets us apart–our clean, beauty products.” This holiday season and ahead of Small Business Saturday, the Jimenez Sisters Ranch is offering a 25% discount on storewide buttercream purchases through the Small Business Majority’s holiday gift guide. 

With the support of their community and peers, Michele and her family have made a number of appearances on TalkShopLive, a live streaming, social buying, and selling platform. By showcasing her small business on this platform, Michele hopes to reach more customers to eventually set up her business as an international exporter. She believes in the power of supporting women’s entrepreneurship, which is why she’s advocated and spotlighted the need for funding Women’s Business Centers. Michele explains, “these centers provide the tools and resources that entrepreneurs like my daughters and I require to scale up businesses and are an important source of community building.

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20 Years of Spirit in the Making

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Inland Empire visionaries, innovators, problem solvers, and risk-takers have been celebrated center-stage at the Spirit of the Entrepreneur Awards black-tie gala for two decades.

The Spirit of the Entrepreneur Awards recognizes the accomplishments and resilience of local entrepreneurs who have strived to build businesses into major contributors to the Inland Empire’s economy. The program was founded in 2003 by Mike Stull, Director of the Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship (IECE) at California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB), and in the years since, more than 200 entrepreneurs have been honored with a Spirit of the Entrepreneur Award.

The IECE, established in 1999, has always been ahead of the curve and launched the Spirit of the Entrepreneur Awards eight years before President Barack Obama designated November as National Entrepreneurship Month in the United States. Dr. Mike Stull came up with the idea for the awards shortly after becoming director of IECE, when he discovered students in the CSUSB Entrepreneurship program couldn’t name any local entrepreneurial role models.

“Similarly, in my many conversations with leaders in the community, none could cite successful entrepreneurs that were key drivers to the local economy,” Stull said. “To me, this represented a significant gap — we have many successful entrepreneurs in the region, and our students and community leaders needed to know who they were. Thus, I endeavored to bring an event to life that would celebrate and honor local entrepreneurs in a format that would be inspiring, fun, and entertaining. Hollywood had the Academy Awards, so why couldn’t we have a similar event focused on entrepreneurs!”

The annual Spirit of the Entrepreneur black-tie awards program — held this year on November 17 at the Riverside Convention Center — starts with networking receptions, where mingling can often lead to deal-making. The main event is a mix of entertainment, with performances by acclaimed musicians and performers, heartfelt acceptance speeches from featured award recipients from categories such as General Entrepreneur, Service-based Entrepreneur, Social Entrepreneur, Emerging Entrepreneur, and The Mary Anne Fox Top Female Entrepreneur of the Year. At the end of the program, one recipient will also receive the Best of the Best Award, sponsored by Best Best & Krieger LLP. This honor goes to the person who best exemplifies what it means to be an entrepreneur.

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“We come up with award categories in two ways,” Stull said. “First, over the 20 years of the program, we have developed a large number of standard categories that capture just about every type or industry represented in the region. Second, each year we carefully review all the submitted nominee profiles and adjust or add award categories as appropriate. For example, in recent years we have added a Healthcare Entrepreneur category, and in some years we have so many great manufacturing company nominees that we segment them by focus area, such as consumer products manufacturing and industrial manufacturing.”

In order to be nominated, a person must meet two requirements: they need to have been in business for at least two years and have a minimum annual revenue of $400,000. Beyond that, they should be an innovator with a solid character known for having an entrepreneurial mindset and a record of strong leadership and performance. Judges, who are selected based on their business experience and integrity, work independently of one another to evaluate the nominees, with almost all being previous winners of a Spirit of the Entrepreneur Award.

Several notable names have received the signature Spirit Award — Garner Holt, founder of Garner Holt Productions, the late Stater Bros. CEO Jack Brown, and the late Baker’s Burgers founder Neal Baker all were honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards. Looking back on the last 20 years, Stull has countless fond memories of ceremonies past, including performances by Eddie Money and Troy Clarke & His Big Band Orchestra, but his favorite just might be when Holt was recognized with this Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. “We completely surprised him, and his emotional speech was one for the ages,” Stull said.

When the winners are revealed, Stull hopes they feel “all the great positive emotions at once. Surprise, joy, excitement, happiness, pride, gratitude — all those we tend to see from the moment their name is announced to the completion of their acceptance speech. It gives us no greater satisfaction than to see entrepreneurs be overwhelmed at that moment and realize that their hard work and commitment are being recognized in front of their families, team members, the business community, and their peer entrepreneurs. As one past award recipient told me, ‘Mike, this is the pat on the back and recognition that we hardly ever get as entrepreneurs.'”

To celebrate the 20th anniversary, there will be a few surprises during this year’s ceremony, with the biggest being the announcement of the Spirit of the Entrepreneur Legacy Awards. Two previous Spirit of the Entrepreneur Award recipients — one from the first ten years, and one from the second — will be selected by a judging panel for this special, one-time-only honor.

“The Spirit of the Entrepreneur Awards has reached an incredible milestone, and we hope that everyone comes out to join the celebration,” Stull said. “Our last full-scale event prior to the pandemic had over 1,000 attendees, so we’d love to see a record turnout in 2022.” Starting with the very first ceremony in 2003, “the event wouldn’t be possible without the incredible nominations we get each year, and of course, the fantastic support we get from our sponsors,” Stull added. “We have nine sponsors that have supported us for more than 10 years, and two that have been with us for 16 of our 20 years.”

The Spirit of the Entrepreneur Awards isn’t solely about recognizing the ingenuity of Inland Empire business leaders. Proceeds from the event go to the IECE’s Spirit of the Entrepreneur Scholarship Fund, which provides grants to the next generation of entrepreneurs. Since 2003, more than $225,000 worth of scholarships have been awarded to CSUSB students with measurable needs who are studying entrepreneurship.

CSUSB students also have the opportunity to participate in the Garner Holt Student Fast Pitch Competition. Every year, the IECE holds this innovative semi-final qualifying competition at the event’s named sponsor’s headquarters – Garner Holt Productions a week prior to the Spirit Awards gala. Up to 15 student entrepreneurs have the chance to give a 90-second pitch of their business idea to local investors. The students are judged by the panel, and the top five student pitchers move on to the finals at the Spirit of the Entrepreneur Awards. There, they deliver their pitches in front of the live audience, where the audience will vote to determine the winner who will receive the $4,000 cash prize. In years past, students who presented especially impressive pitches have dazzled investors in the crowd and secured funding for their ventures.

Purva Taur is a graduate assistant at IECE and enrolled in the Master of Science Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MSEI) program at CSUSB. An international student from India, Taur grew up in a family where many of her relatives owned businesses, and she knew that one day, she would follow in their footsteps. By working at the IECE with Stull and Assistant Director Stacey Allis, Taur has already noticed a change in how she approaches situations.

“I’ve learned how to be on my toes all the time,” she said. “If there’s a problem, you have to be quick with a solution and back up.” Taur is now working on a business plan to present in front of investors and feels that the comprehensive education she is receiving will give her a boost over her peers. “Being in this program has given me a lot of confidence that not every 22-year-old would have to begin their start-up, or any business,” she said. “I’ve learned how important it is to cultivate your business mindset.”

While Taur is preparing to launch her career, one CSUSB student-led venture named AxoTech is already commercializing technology developed by the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Corona.

“The company is innovating the diagnostic technology space, and is currently a part of the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) Foundry program,” Stull said. “Overall, the impact to the region is tangible — over 40 percent of our more than 1,000 entrepreneurship alumni have created one or more ventures since graduation, and a large number of our graduates are intrapreneurs: managers and leaders in existing organizations who are innovative changemakers.”

IECE HAS IMPACT

The IECE has been leading the charge since it first opened its doors at CSUSB, with the mission of inspiring, developing, and nurturing up-and-coming entrepreneurs in the Inland Empire. It is the largest organization in the region supporting small business and entrepreneurial growth, and its staff is there every step of the way as people learn the ins and outs of starting and running a business, meeting with investors, finding mentors, and developing business models.

“We have an incredible team of professionals in the IECE — more than 60 — that are in the community every day having an impact on startup and existing companies,” Stull said. “The IECE has been recognized many times for its growth and impact, most recently by AACSB International, the accreditation body for business schools worldwide, as a Top 35 Program for Fostering Entrepreneurship and Innovation.”

There is always something in the works at the IECE, and in 2021, the center collaborated with the CSUSB School of Entrepreneurship to produce the region’s first-ever State of Entrepreneurship Report, which examined the trends and challenges of entrepreneurship in the Inland Empire. This year, the IECE has launched several new initiatives, including the Catapult Business Growth Network. Over the course of this intensive six-session program, entrepreneurs learn how to position their businesses for measurable growth.

The IECE is a driving force behind the economic expansion in the Inland Empire, and the proof is in the numbers — through its counseling, mentoring, and training programs, the IECE has served more than 150,000 entrepreneurs, supported the creation and retention of nearly 40,000 jobs, assisted with the startup of almost 2,000 new ventures, and had an economic impact in excess of $400 million.

“We are very proud that the IECE has grown to become one of the largest university-based Centers for Entrepreneurship in the world,” Stull said. “Since entrepreneurship is such an important driver of our local economy, having such a vibrant and impactful program such as the IECE is critical to supporting local businesses and their startup and growth.”

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Saybridge Technologies’ Board of Directors Announces Byron J. Paul as CEO

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The SyBridge Technologies’ Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Byron J. Paul has joined SyBridge Technologies (“SyBridge” or the “Company”) as Chief Executive Officer and will also serve as a member of the Board of Directors.  Mr. Paul will build upon the Company’s strategic vision of becoming a global technological leader in value-added design and manufacturing solutions ranging from design and prototyping to production-as-a-service and aftermarket services for customers.  Mr. Paul brings extensive experience in industrial technology and a 20+ year track record of driving profitable growth in complex, global enterprises.

Mr. Paul was most recently Group President at Signode Industrial Group where he led a global portfolio of businesses focused on end-of-line packaging technologies and warehouse automation solutions.  He previously served as President of Destaco, a leading designer and manufacturer of precision engineered components for industrial automation and robotics applications. Mr. Paul has also held senior leadership roles at John Crane, a leader in rotating equipment solutions, and at the Boston Consulting Group.  Mr. Paul holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He also attended the University of Western Australia where he earned a Bachelor of Commerce with first class honors in accounting and finance.

Mr. Paul stated, “I am thrilled to be joining a world-class team at SyBridge Technologies. They have done an outstanding job expanding SyBridge Technologies’ global reach, growing from three sites in 2019 to 16 locations today. I look forward to partnering with the Board and Crestview Partners as we embark on the next phase of growth to build an unrivaled leader in digital manufacturing.”

Jason Luo, Chairman of SyBridge Technologies and Crestview Operating Executive noted, “Byron is a committed leader with a proven track record of successfully growing businesses and we are excited to partner with him as we plan to execute on the Company’s next chapter of growth.”

Mr. Paul succeeds Tony Nardone who has departed the company to pursue other interests. “We appreciate the many contributions Tony has made to SyBridge and wish him well in his future endeavors,” said Mr. Luo.

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