ePac Flexible Packaging finds home in San Bernardino County; Q&A with Walid Boustani, VP of Operations
Interview with Walid Boustani, VP of Operations, ePac Flexible Packaging
Walid Boustani is the managing partner and VP of Operations of the Boulder and Los Angeles ePac locations. He is a mechanical engineer with an MBA from Drexel University. He has over 20 years of experience in flexible packaging, mainly in Operations ranging from start-ups, turnarounds, to expansions of existing operations. His work in the industry has taken him all over the world, including Europe, the Middle East, and Canada.
ePac LA will focus on regional food manufacturers and contract packagers throughout Southern California and the surrounding area. With a focus on small and medium size businesses, ePac is the only US company based on the latest in digital printing technology, providing brands of all sizes fast time to market, high-definition graphics, low minimum orders, and the ability to customize packaging to select target markets.
Since opening its first plant in 2016, the rapidly growing Delray Beach, Florida-based company will have fifteen locations across the US by the end of 2019, six of which are now operational. In addition, the company has announced expansion into Europe, with its first plant to open in the UK later this year as well. For more information visit ePacFlexibles.com.
Tell us about your site search – what was important to the company’s new location?
We started looking into opening a South California location about one year ago. We wanted to find a business-friendly community and within proximity to our customer base since our mission is to serve the flexible packaging needs of small and medium-sized businesses of local communities. Furthermore, we wanted access to a skilled labor workforce to recruit from. Our workforce needs ranged from machine operator, sales staff and customer service to computer technology workers.
What made San Bernardino County the right choice?
We considered three different counties: San Bernardino County CA, Riverside County CA, and Clark County, NV. The follow up by the San Bernardino Economic Development Agency was second to none. It really made our search easier and eliminated multiple hurdles. In addition, San Bernardino County checked off several items from our wish list: proximity to a large customer base, access to a skilled workforce, and as noted – very business-friendly.
Describe your experience working with the San Bernardino County economic development team:
If I had to rate the experience of working with the San Bernardino County Economic Development Team, I would give it a 5 stars rating. Our questions were acknowledged immediately and answered within 24 hours. We were referred to the right contact people and were given a half day tour of different cities in the County, where the local city officials met us, explained the permitting process and corresponding lead-time to expect. The team really made it easy for us.
What incentives and/or programs have been especially beneficial to ePac in its move to SB County?
We have benefited from the California Competes Tax Credit and we are planning on applying for training grants.
Can you describe your workforce? How does the County help you in terms of talent?
For our business to succeed, we look at a workforce that is a mix of skilled machine operators, sales staff, customer service, and computer technology workers. We expect a high sense of customer service, as the brands we serve are often SMB’s whose livelihood depends on our performance. We value our employees because our success can only be achieved if they are committed and given all the tools to succeed. The county itself has a database of candidates that they put at our disposal.
What would you tell another CEO when considering SB County?
South California, in general, offers one of the biggest markets that a business can hope for. San Bernardino County is well located within this market where business can have access to customers without overpaying for rent or labor. I find myself surrounded by large choices of candidates for every open position, diverse market segments that need my products, and encouraging officials that want my business to be within their city.
As a new resident of San Bernardino County can you share what your experience has been so far of the community.
I’m very pleased with how ePac is being received by the market. We have been selling in CA for about a year, with manufacturing being done out of our Boulder, CO plant, and our value proposition of 10 to 15 business day lead time, small order quantities with the ability to order to demand, is being well received. Our presence online, www.epacflexibles.com, has been well noticed by Southern California SMBs. I highly enjoy sharing my experience with start-ups, compare it to theirs, and listening to what they went through to get to where they are now. From a workforce perspective, so far, I am very happy with the commitment of each employee we hired and I am looking forward to continuing to grow the team. As a resident, San Bernardino County has provided my family and me with a high quality of life, access to relatively affordable housing, excellent education, and proximity to plenty of entertainment and opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. We are thrilled to call San Bernardino County our home.
About ePac Flexible Packaging
ePac Flexible Packaging is based on the premise that emerging digital technology will significantly disrupt the service and manufacturing models that have served the flex pack industry for decades. Founded in 2016, with a charter to serve small and medium size businesses throughout the United States, ePac is technology driven and built to provide our customers a fast and easy way to buy flexible packaging. Offering competitively priced short to medium run length orders, and 10-day turnaround, ePac is the first supplier in North America built entirely on the latest wide-web digital printing technology – the HP Indigo 20000. With our manufacturing platform optimized to provide industry leading customer service, ePac offers true high-definition custom printing with variable imaging and the elimination of plate fees, while enabling customers to print to demand and avoid inventory and obsolescence costs. With locations throughout the United States; our offices in Austin, Boulder, Madison, Miami, Chicago, Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles are open to serve local and regional brands of all sizes.
Beacon Economics Sets the Record Straight on the UCR Business Center Controversy
Beacon Economics Sets the Record Straight on the UCR Business Center Controversy
By Ken Alan, Forensic Business Journalist
A series of articles reported by the Los Angeles Times in February and April stated some University of California faculty members were “Raising the alarm about a research center affiliated with UC Riverside that they say uses corporate funding for reports ‘attacking proposals to improve the lives of working Californians.’”
The articles cite an “Open letter to the UC Regents seeking investigation of UC Riverside — Beacon Economics relationship,” signed by 56 faculty members at UC Riverside, Berkeley and Davis, along with 44 graduate students. Most signatories appear to be humanities studies faculty with credentials in media studies, music, history and political science. The Times failed to question why faculty with more relevant credentials in business, economics and research appear to have only three signatures.
The story states the letter to UC Regents was circulated by UCR Professor of Media & Cultural Studies Dylan Rodriguez, whose biography can be found here: profiles.ucr.edu/app/home/profile/dylanr.
No questions were raised about how the signatures were gathered at three participating schools and why closer Southern California campuses, such as UCLA or UC Irvine, weren’t included.
None of the articles explain why this petition was sent directly to UC Regents without first going through proper channels at UCR. “If there was some true complaint about the quality of our research, there is a system within UC Riverside to deal with that,” said Dr. Christopher Thornberg, principal at Beacon Economics. “There is an administrative office that handles complaints. And if they really thought that our research was substandard, they could and should have gone through that particular office. They didn’t. They went on this petition campaign. Most of the conversation is about how our answers are morally incorrect. And that’s a really slippery slope.”
The letter to UC Regents and ensuing negative press resulted in the UCR School of Business and Beacon Economics severing their partnership after seven years. “Obviously, the relationship between UC Riverside and Beacon was mutually beneficial. The school got a lot out of it,” said Thornberg. “UC Riverside is a fantastic institution. It is a reflection of what UC was built to be. Technically speaking, the center belongs to the school. It would be hard for me to see them continuing it. One of the biggest problems with these kind of centers is you have to have a motivated leader.”
Most of the controversy seems to stem from an August 2022 Beacon-UCR Research Report entitled “How Increases in Worker Compensation Could Affect Limited-Service Restaurant Prices.” In their letter to UCR Regents, the petitioners stated, “Beacon asserts that legislation allowing fast-food workers a say in setting their pay would mean fast-food price hikes of up to 20 percent or more. Fast-food companies are spending tens of millions of dollars to promote the findings of this report — which they funded. They are trying to convince voters that empowering fast-food workers — most of them women and most of them Latino, Black, or Asian — means a 20 percent ‘food tax.’”
“I’ve always been comfortable working with both sides as long as they’re comfortable with the fact that I’m going to give them the best answer I can on the basis of theory and data, not on the basis of some opinion of what’s morally correct,” said Thornberg. “For a very long time, we have dodged the culture wars. Not this time.”
The report clearly discloses that “This research was supported by the International Franchise Association.” Beacon Economics has prepared studies for both corporations and unions in the past. “We’re never going to sell answers. We’re never going to cozy up to one side or the other. Anybody who engages us in a contract will have to accept the results we come up with. It’s as simple as that. That is a rule we have gone by. I’ve had the opportunity of working, yes, with unions and with business organizations, with chambers and the United Way.”
Most of the conclusions presented in the report can be deduced by common sense, such as this summary statement: “If worker wages in the limited-service restaurant industry are raised, there is little doubt that workers who keep their jobs will be better off. But the change is not costless. Any increase in worker compensation will bring about an increase in prices for consumers, which could hurt lower income households who are already struggling with current inflation in food prices. It will also cause the industry to shrink, with fewer establishments and jobs.”
The report goes on to conclude, “Compensation increases in the 20% to 60% range will cause prices … to increase between 7% and 22%.” The petitioners argue other studies show “about a half percentage point menu price increase for every 10 percent rise in the minimum wage.” Whatever the real number, minimum wage hikes usually mean higher menu prices and fewer employee hours, according to Harri, a workplace management software company that works with more than 4,000 restaurants. Anyone who has visited a big box department store or fast food restaurant recently knows that self-serve kiosks are already displacing human workers to reduce labor costs.
“This entire episode truly saddens us. In a university environment, academic freedom and debate should be a cherished and protected norm, as should well-conducted empirical research, even if the conclusions of that research conflict with certain ideologies,” wrote Thornberg in an email to clients and business associates. “The ending of this partnership and the excellent work CEFD has done over the past decade for the community is not a win for the University, Beacon Economics or the Inland Empire region as a whole.”
The LA Times story also failed to fact check the letter’s claim that “Thornberg’s name doesn’t appear in school faculty or other directories.” Christopher Thornberg’s listing can be readily found in the UCR Profiles directory under “Affiliate – Research Associate” at profiles.ucr.edu/app/home/search;name=thornberg;org=;title=;phone=;affiliation=Affiliate
“When [UCR] first invited me to do the center, they asked me to come on campus and be a full-time faculty member and run the center. I was what they call an ‘unpaid faculty member.’ So I was basically nominated and approved by the business school to get a faculty position as an adjunct professor. But I wasn’t paid,” said Thornberg.
Beacon Economics will continue to operate in the Inland Empire without the affiliation of UC Riverside. “We’ll probably look for another partner at some point,” said Thornberg. “I’ve got nothing but support from our clients. All of our work that was being run through the university has been converted over to Beacon work. The only thing that’s really changing in terms of our efforts in the Inland Empire is the logo on the top of the page.”
Dr. Christopher Thornberg will be presenting on May 19th for the San Bernardino Council of Governments in Lake Arrowhead.
Thoughts on Financial Literacy Explained through the Experiences of a New, Immigrant Small Business Owner
By Josaline Cuesta, California Program Director, Small Business Majority & IEBJ Content Contributor
Women entrepreneurs have driven new business growth and job creation for the past two decades. And despite having to navigate a shecession in 2020, women persisted. However, despite their persistence, this community continues to face unique challenges in accessing capital and connecting with the right financial networks. As such, Small Business Majority has partnered with the Women’s Economic Ventures and FOUND/LA on a Back to Basics Cohort Series developed by women and geared towards better supporting women business owners to grow and thrive in the face of financial challenges.
During Financial Literacy Month, we implore women entrepreneurs to check out this interactive cohort series that will give small employers the tools they need to take charge and understand their finances.
Alma Beaty is a real-life example of an entrepreneur working to take charge of her financial future, overcome barriers and pursue her American dream. Alma is based in the southern California area and owns “Relat-Able” – an online boutique with merchandise geared toward supporting: life stages, living with disability/disabilities, hanging out with family/friends, overcoming adversity, dating, you know, Relat-Able life stuff. Alma is not a seasoned business owner with staff. She started her business two years ago, but found the courage to go public in December 2022. She is a self-employed immigrant who is also deaf. But, like many innovative entrepreneurs, she had an idea(s) and strived to see it to fruition, working through the nuances of accessing and managing capital with limited resources. Through five short questions, Alma shares advice on what she has done to strengthen her financial wellness.
Why is financial literacy important for small business owners? “It teaches us to not only make wise decisions on what we spend/invest in (regardless of the industry we are in), but it also helps us to calculate our wins and losses. Thereby helping us see whether or not a business is profitable.”
What have you done recently to strengthen your long-term financial plan? “I have been allowing myself to get into the habit of making spreadsheets. It felt weird at first, like in a mature-responsible kind of way. But in a fun and positive way as well.”
Which do you find easiest to obtain and manage? Business credit cards or small business loans from a traditional bank? “If we can be responsible with it, and we should, business credit cards will quickly increase our business credit and make it much easier for banks and lenders if we ever need to apply for a business loan. But ask me again six months from now. My answer may change depending on how much I have in the bank.”
What was the most significant financial mistake you made when just starting? “Spending so much money on things to get Relat-Able started only to realize I didn’t need all the stuff I bought later. And hiring graphic designers, only to realize these are things I could do myself. But despite realizing later that I could do graphic designing on my own, I didn’t regret hiring these designers. If anything, it taught me the importance of patience. And if I were ever to hire a graphic designer(s) again (and I will), it would be done with intention.”
Have you found the “Back to Basics” series helpful? Can you share another “go-to” financial literacy resource? “I find the Back to Basics series to be extremely helpful! I can’t say this enough. Being able to sit at a table (virtually) and have access to a sign language interpreter with other women to learn about financial literacy taught by women is the kind of empowHERment we (women and young girls) will always need. In honor of Women’s History Month, I would love to give a shout-out to my other go-to financial literacy resources. Such as: Melody Hobson, Dash Kennedy, and Tori Dunlap.
Will The U.S. Economy Fall Into Recession In 2023?
Will The U.S. Economy Fall Into Recession In 2023? Only If The Fed Intensifies Current Tightening Policies; Consumers To Make Up For Weakness In Other Parts Of The Economy
California On The Verge Of Recovering All Jobs Lost Since Pandemic; Investors Buying Up Larger Share Of Homes In The Inland Empire
The U.S. economy has little chance of falling into a recession this year or next unless the Federal Reserve raises interest rates more than they are currently projecting, according to a new forecast released yesterday at the 13th annual Inland Empire Economic Forecast Conference, hosted by the UC Riverside School of Business.
“Although there are signs of stress in parts of the economy, the wealth created by the excessive fiscal stimulus enacted in 2020 and 2021 continues to drive a consumer consumption binge that will propel the economy forward,” said Christopher Thornberg, Director of the UCR Center for Economic Forecasting & Development and one of the forecast authors. “The only possible thing that could tip things downward in the near-term is if the Fed applies even more aggressive quantitative tightening to control inflation than they’re now projecting.”
If the Fed stamps out inflation in the near-term by forcefully reducing its balance sheet, it will drive up interest rates, cool financial markets sharply, and possibly create a modest recession next year led by consumer cutbacks, according to the new outlook. However, in the longer term, if Fed action is inadequate, the United States may be looking at several years of very weak growth, with consumers in a relatively poor financial position at the end.
“This is now a balancing act,” said Thornberg. “Functionally speaking, policymakers went from maximum acceleration – the stimulus – to maximum braking – tightening by the Fed – over a single year, something that would create turbulence in even the healthiest economy.”
Although the new forecast is predicting economic growth to continue in the nation, California, and the Inland Empire in the short run, albeit at a slower pace (“we’ve cooled from white-hot to red-hot”), in the longer term, the major economic wildcard comes from the growing Federal deficit. According to the new forecast, much will depend on how long bond markets are willing to tolerate the excessive level of today’s U.S. government debt.
In California, the state is on the brink of a milestone: recovering all the jobs it lost during the pandemic-driven downturn and mass retirement. While many states have already reached full recovery, as of this writing, California still has a 47,300 job deficit. However, it’s increasingly likely that the state’s job count will be above water by the end of this year, according to the forecast.
- In the United States, inflation is moderating and may have peaked, but it won’t decelerate rapidly. Expect price growth and interest rates to remain elevated in the near term.
- Consumer spending now accounts for the highest share of U.S. GDP since 2006. This consumption is also apparent in the rapidly growing U.S. trade deficit, which accounts for the largest a share of GDP since the runup to the Great Recession.
- There is a massive amount of equity in the current U.S. housing market driven by a decade of low mortgage debt accumulation. The industry also has very low inventories of existing homes for sale and vacancy rates are still at a record low level. This is not a market that is due for a collapse—at least not yet.
- The major problem for new housing is the ultra-low mortgage rates homeowners currently enjoy. Anyone who sells now will have to go from a sub-3 rate to something in the 5+ category. That is not a move most homeowners make—unless they have to. The ‘move-up’ market is all but frozen.
- California’s employment recovery has been uneven, with inland communities faring better than coastal areas. The Inland Empire has 5% more jobs today than it had prior to the pandemic, while at the other end of the spectrum, there are still 3% fewer jobs in Ventura County.
- California’s labor force contracted during the pandemic and employers have struggled to find workers, especially in coastal communities. The primary reason behind the labor force changes is population growth. From 2019 to 2022, population grew in inland communities and declined in coastal communities, driven by affordability.
- After two years in which California’s housing market went gangbusters, and home prices increased an average 43%, the rising interest rate environment, in addition to stretched prices, has led to a major slowdown in 2022. A price crash in the market is nowhere in sight, although a slowdown in price growth is expected.
- The share of homes purchased by investors in the Inland Empire is at record highs. This parallels the nationwide interest by private equity in purchasing large swaths of residential real estate. This forecast expects the share of homes purchased by investors in the region to increase.
- Current sale price cuts for homes in the Inland Empire are more of a reality check than a price decline warranting concern. The rate of bidding wars has only dipped to levels seen in the early part of 2020.
- The Inland Empire has experienced a tremendous boom in Transport and Logistics employment (16.6% of all jobs in the region are now in this sector). The Information sector has also grown, but lags other employment categories, highlighting the relative underrepresentation of knowledge workers in the region. This forecast expects employment in the Inland Empire to continue expanding, although at a tapered pace.
The 13th annual Inland Empire Economic Forecast Conference was held on October 5th. A copy of the forecast book can be downloaded in its entirety here.
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