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Credit Card Delinquencies Are Rising. Here’s What to Do if You’re at Risk

NEW YORK (AP) — Seriously overdue credit card debt is at the highest level in more than a decade, and people 35 and under are struggling more than other age groups to pay their bills.

The share of credit card debt that’s severely delinquent, defined as being more than 90 days overdue, rose to 10.7% during the first quarter of 2024, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. A year ago, just 8.2% of credit card debt was severely delinquent.

READ: Strategies for Paying Off Debt and Boosting Investments — Should You Save, Spend or Invest? 

If you’re experiencing delinquency, or at risk of it, experts advise speaking with a nonprofit credit counselor and negotiating with your creditors directly. Here’s what you should know:

What should I do if I’m at risk of delinquency?

Bruce McClary, senior vice president at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says that anyone at risk of delinquency should reach out as soon as possible for help from a nonprofit credit counselor, some of whom can be found through his organization. The consultation is free, and a non-judgmental counselor can give guidance towards a long-term solution.

Nonprofits can also help create debt management plans that have lower interest rates, no late fees, and a single payment each month, McClary said.

These plans may come with maintenance fees, which vary, but the fees are offset by the overall savings on the debt. McClary urged borrowers to be careful of scammers and for-profit debt consolidation companies, which often charge much higher fees than nonprofit organizations. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a helpful breakdown comparing the two.

READ: Post-holiday Credit Card Debt — How To Dig Out and Get Ready for a New Year

Martin Lynch, president of the Financial Counseling Association of America, echoed this advice.

“Taking that first step and contacting a counselor is difficult for many people,” Lynch said. He emphasized that consumers in debt should do their best to “first, relax,” and then to be as forthcoming as possible about their circumstances with the counselor.

“You’ll be talking to someone for free, who will listen to you describe your situation,” he said. “You can share your concerns without being judged for falling into difficulty.”

What about negotiating with creditors?

Both Lynch and McClary urge borrowers to reach out directly to credit card companies to negotiate interest rates, fees, and long-term payment plans, noting that it’s in the companies’ best interests if you pay before the debt goes into collections.

“The best thing to do is to reach out, give an honest assessment of your ability to pay over time, and ask what options are available to you both ‘on and off-the-menu,'” McClary said. This kind of phrasing can give creditors an opening to offer more flexibility, he said.

McClary and other experts stress that most credit card companies and other lenders have hardship programs available for cases like these. Such options gained visibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, when more companies publicly advertised that consumers facing difficulty may skip or defer payments without penalties.

Why are delinquencies increasing?

The average annual interest rate on a new credit card is 24.71%, according to LendingTree, the highest since the company began tracking in 2019. That’s in part because the Federal Reserve has raised its key interest rate rate to a 23-year high to combat the highest inflation in four decades, which peaked at 9.1% in June 2022.

READ: What If the Fed Doesn’t Cut Rates in 2024? Implications for Stocks, Bonds, and the Housing Market

Simultaneously, pandemic-era aid such as stimulus payments, the child tax credit, increased unemployment benefits, and a moratorium on student loan payments has ended.

Wage gains haven’t all kept up with inflation, which hits lower-income consumers harder, and rent increases have eaten into savings some consumers may have built up during the early years of the pandemic.

Silvio Tavares, CEO of VantageScore, a credit score modeling and analytics company, said that delinquencies have now exceeded their pre-pandemic levels, and that renters are especially vulnerable to falling behind.

“Younger and less affluent people are experiencing challenges,” he said. “And high interest rates are having an effect.”

Tavares said the most important thing a borrower can do is to know their credit score and keep up with payments to avoid paying additional interest on revolving balances and debt. He cautioned consumers not to over-extend themselves with “buy now, pay later” loans, which are increasingly available “at every checkout.”

How worrisome is the increase in delinquencies?

Credit cards only make up about 6.5% of consumer debt, according to a Bank of America Global Research report, but the increase in delinquencies appears to be outpacing income growth.

According to McClary, there’s also likely a large group of consumers paying minimum balances and staying out of delinquency for now but who are too financially stressed to pay their balances in full. A worsening of the economy could push those consumers into severe delinquency, he said.

On top of increasing credit card delinquencies, retail spending stalled in April. Walmart has said its customers are spending more on necessities and less on discretionary goods. Starbucks lowered its sales expectations, and McDonald’s is offering more deals as people cut back.

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The Associated Press receives support from the Charles Schwab Foundation for educational and explanatory reporting to improve financial literacy. The independent foundation is separate from Charles Schwab and Co. Inc. The AP is solely responsible for its journalism.

Denver-Boulder Ranks in Top 25 U.S. Markets Across Three Subsectors of Life Sciences Industry Talent

DALLAS – Denver-Boulder ranks in the top 25 markets for life sciences talent in all three industry segments measured in CBRE’s annual U.S. Life Sciences Talent Trends report. The market ranked 11th for Research and Development talent, while ranking 16th for Manufacturing talent and 18th for Medtech talent.

The report, released June 13, analyzes life sciences employment by subsector, mapping out the top markets and employment trends across the research & development, manufacturing and medical technology fields. CBRE also expanded its third-annual analysis to 100 U.S. markets from 74 in last year’s report, thus including up-and-coming markets such as Madison, Wis., and Trenton, N.J.

“Denver-Boulder has one of the most educated populations in the U.S.,” said CBRE’s Erik Abrahamson, a vice president with CBRE’s Life Sciences group in Boulder. “The life sciences ecosystem continues to grow in the Front Range, with a heavy emphasis in the chemistry and RNA therapy sectors.”

Denver-Boulder produced the 15th highest number of graduates in the 2022 academic year with a degree in life sciences. There were more specialty biological and biomedical degrees awarded than just general biology degrees, pointing to a highly specialized graduating class.

It’s not just the Denver-Boulder area that has a booming life sciences talent market in the state; Fort Collins was noted as an emerging market as well. In 2023, there was $51 million in NIH funding that came into the market. Fort Collins has placed in the top 50 markets for producing biological and biomedical sciences graduates in 2022, in part due to Colorado State University.

“Veterinary and agricultural focused occupations are the most prominent in the Fort Collins life sciences market layout,” Abrahamson added. “The Colorado life sciences talent pipeline has strengthened in the past year, with Fort Collins ranking within the top 50 markets for producing life sciences graduates without being a top 100 market measured in CBRE’s report.”

Research & Development

Denver-Boulder ranks as the 11th market in the U.S. for BioPharma Research and Development talent, boasting a marketwide talent pool of 12,450. The top professions in this industry in Denver are Data Scientists (4,960), Biological Technicians (2,240) and Medical Scientists, except Epidemiologists (2,020).

Along with this, Fort Collins ranks No. 1 in BioPharma Research and Development jobs of markets outside of the top 100, tying with Charlottesville, VA.

Manufacturing

The life sciences manufacturing subsector in Denver-Boulder, which includes drug manufacturing as well as cell and gene therapy, has a talent pool of 12,060 workers currently in the market, and is ranked 16th overall. Inspectors, Testers, Sorters, Samplers and Weighers count for almost a quarter of these occupations with 2,950 marketwide.

Medtech

The talent pool in Denver-Boulder’s Medtech subsector is 13,450, which includes designing and producing medical devices. Industrial Engineers lead this count with 3,510 workers, with Electrical, Electronic and Electromechanical Assemblers (except Coil Winders, Tapers and Finishers) coming in second at 3,240.

“The overall theme for the U.S. life sciences industry last year and this year is resiliency,” said Matt Gardner, CBRE Americas Life Sciences Leader. “We expect life sciences employment to hold steady over the next year and to perhaps decline in a few markets. But this talent is valuable – life sciences specialists who leave one job often find another quickly.”

CBRE evaluated the largest 100 U.S. life sciences labor markets against multiple criteria for each of the three specialties. For the R&D subsector, that included the number and concentration of life sciences researchers; number of new graduates, and specifically with doctorate degrees in that field; concentration of all doctorate degree holders; and concentration of jobs in the broader professional, scientific, and technical services professions.

Analysis: Day of Reckoning Coming for Debt-Laden ‘Zombie’ Companies

NEW YORK (AP) — An Associated Press analysis found the number of publicly traded “zombie” companies — those so laden with debt they’re struggling to pay even the interest on their loans — has soared to nearly 7,000 around the world, including 2,000 in the United States.

And many of them soon could be facing their day of reckoning, with due dates looming on hundreds of billions of dollars of loans they may not be able to pay back.

“They’re going to get crushed,” Valens Securities Managing Director Robert Spivey said of the weakest zombies.

READ: Renters in Colorado Worry That Renting Will Hurt Them in the Long-Term

Here are the key takeaways from the AP’s analysis:

What is a Zombie Company?

Zombies are commonly defined as companies that have failed to make enough money from operations in the past three years to pay even the interest on their loans. Their numbers have swelled because low interest rates for years allowed companies to pile up plenty of cheap debt, only to be whiplashed by stubborn inflation that has pushed borrowing costs to decade highs.

AP’s analysis found their ranks in raw numbers have jumped over the past decade by a third or more in Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the U.S., including companies that run Carnival Cruise Line, JetBlue Airways, Wayfair, Peloton, Italy’s Telecom Italia and British soccer giant Manchester United.

Many zombies lack deep cash reserves, and the interest they pay on many of their loans is variable, not fixed, so higher rates are hurting them right now.

Why are zombies a concern for the economy?

As the number of zombies has grown, so too has the potential damage if they are forced to file for bankruptcy or close their doors permanently. Companies in AP’s analysis employ at least 130 million people in a dozen countries.

Already, the number of U.S. companies going bankrupt has hit a 14-year high, a surge expected in a recession, not an expansion. Corporate bankruptcies have also recently hit highs of a nearly a decade or more in Canada, the U.K., France and Spain.

For the first few months of this year, hundreds of zombies refinanced their loans as lenders opened their wallets in anticipation that the Federal Reserve would start cutting in March. That new money helped stocks of more than 1,000 zombies in AP’s analysis rise 20% or more in the past six months.

But many did not or could not refinance, and time is running out.

Through the summer and into September, when many investors now expect the first and only Fed cut this year, zombies will have to pay off $1.1 trillion of loans, according to AP’s analysis, two-thirds of the total due by the end of the year.

Some experts say zombies may be able to avoid layoffs, selloff of business units or collapse if central banks cut interest rates soon, though scattered defaults and bankruptcies could still drag on the economy.

For its part, Wall Street isn’t panicking. Investors have been buying stock of some zombies and their “junk bonds,” loans rating agencies deem most at risk of default. While that may help zombies raise cash in the short term, investors pouring money into these securities and pushing up their prices could eventually face heavy losses.

“If rates stay at this level in the near future, we’re going to see more bankruptcies,” said George Cipolloni, a fund manager at Penn Mutual Asset Management. “At some point the money comes due and they’re not going to have it. It’s game over.”

How do stock buybacks hurt zombies?

The dangers of companies piling on debt has been warned about by credit rating agencies and economists for years as interest rates fell but got a big push when central banks around the world cut benchmark rates to near zero in the 2009 financial crisis and then again in the 2020-21 pandemic.

It was a giant, unprecedented experiment designed to spark a borrowing binge that would help avert a worldwide depression. It also created what some economists called a credit bubble that spread far beyond zombies, with low rates that also enticed heavy borrowing by governments, consumers and bigger, healthier companies.

What set many zombies apart was that their debt was not used to expand, hire or invest in technology, but on such things as buying back their own stock.

These so-called repurchases allow companies to “retire” shares, or take them off the market, a way to make up for new shares created for top executives to boost their pay packages. But too many stock buybacks can drain cash from a business.

That was the case in the zombie failure of Bed Bath & Beyond. The retail chain that once operated 1,500 stores struggled for years, but its heavy borrowing and decision to spend $7 billion in a decade on buybacks played a key role in its downfall. Pay for just three top executives topped $140 million, according to executive data firm Equilar, even as its stock sunk from $80 to zero. Tens of thousands of workers in all 50 states lost their jobs as the chain spiraled to its bankruptcy filing last year.

10 Essential Workflow Optimization Tips for Colorado Business Owners

In the competitive arena of today’s business world, staying ahead is not just a goal, but a necessity.

Achieving this requires a relentless pursuit of efficiency and productivity. Optimizing your workflow is akin to unlocking hidden doors within your business, revealing paths to growth and success that were previously obscured.

These actionable tips from ColoradoBiz offer a roadmap to transform your daily operations, propelling every aspect of your business toward greater productivity.

READ: Stand Out From the Crowd — 5 Must-Have Promotional Products for Small Businesses

1. Identify and overcome bottlenecks

The sensation of exerting effort but making no progress is often a symptom of bottlenecks within your workflow. Identifying these hindrances is akin to solving a puzzle where the reward is your business’s enhanced efficiency.

By pinpointing and addressing these bottlenecks, you set the stage for a smoother, more productive operational flow, ensuring that your business operations are as efficient as possible.

2. Streamline your marketing

You probably already know about the benefits of utilizing social media for marketing purposes, but you can also take your advertising to the next level by engaging in search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing. This means producing content that’s geared toward a specific audience with the goal of enhancing your reputation as a trustworthy expert in your field. This yields greater long-term results and builds up customer loyalty.

READ: Unlocking the Power of Keywords — A Comprehensive Guide to SEO Strategies

3. Embrace project management apps

For solo entrepreneurs and large teams alike, project management apps serve as an indispensable tool.

Acting as a digital personal assistant, these apps keep track of deadlines, tasks, and progress, centralizing operations in a way that fosters growth and scalability.

The organization provided by these tools is not just about order; it’s a foundation upon which your business can expand and flourish.

4. Automate to eliminate repetition

The modern business landscape offers technological solutions for nearly every repetitive task.

Automating these tasks saves invaluable time and allows you to reallocate your focus toward strategic growth areas. Automation tools, quietly working in the background, become the unsung heroes of your streamlined workflow, freeing up your time and energy for the work that truly matters.

5. Find a better home

Workflow optimization often involves locating businesses and employment centers strategically to minimize commute times for workers.

This can lead to increased demand for housing in areas close to these centers, driving up property prices and rents. Conversely, areas farther away may experience less demand, affecting housing prices accordingly.

If your current home isn’t giving you the space you need, maybe it’s time for an upgrade. Start by searching your local housing market for a rental you can afford. Don’t just check prices; check amenities and neighborhoods, as well. 

6. Design your own logo

Sometimes, upgrading your marketing strategies even further is a great way to enhance efficiency.

For example, you can use a logo builder to design an eye-catching image that you can then share via social media, as well as your website and business cards.

And best of all, you can use many of these tool for free. Simply browse the templates and customize them as needed. This is a great way to enhance marketing by using a new logo to represent your business. 

READ: How to Utilize Color Psychology to Boost Your Digital Marketing Efforts

7. Foster open communication

At the heart of every thriving business is a culture of open communication. Such an environment ensures the smooth operation of your business’s “engine,” fostering a workspace where collaboration and innovation flourish.

Encouraging open dialogue not only improves morale but also cultivates a team that is prepared to tackle challenges together and drive innovation.

8. Leverage cloud-based tools

Cloud-based tools offer a level of flexibility and efficiency previously unimaginable, allowing businesses to operate without physical constraints.

This technological leap forward enables you and your team to work seamlessly from any location, at any time, heralding a new era of business operations where the only limit is your ambition.

The integration of these tools into daily operations simplifies collaboration, ensuring that projects progress smoothly even when team members are spread across the globe.

READ: Cloud-Based CRM — An Essential Tool for Modern Businesses

9. Set clear goals and maintain focus

The establishment of clear, concise goals provides your team with a clear direction and purpose. These objectives act as a compass, guiding your team’s efforts in alignment with the overarching vision of your business. It’s the process of transforming lofty ambitions into achievable actions, ensuring that every step taken is a step toward success.

10. Prioritize employee development

The backbone of any successful enterprise is its people. Investing in the growth and development of your team is investing in the future of your business.

By equipping your team with new skills and knowledge, you’re not only enhancing their ability to contribute but also laying the groundwork for continuous innovation and growth. This commitment to development fosters a culture of learning and adaptability, crucial for navigating the challenges of the modern business landscape.

The bottom line

Workflow optimization transcends mere operational adjustments; it embodies a shift in mindset that can fundamentally change the trajectory of your business.

Adopting these strategies not only streamlines your current operations but also sets a foundation for sustained growth and success. The journey toward an optimized workflow is ongoing, demanding constant innovation and improvement. Embrace this path, and unlock the boundless potential of your business, paving the way for a future filled with achievement and prosperity.

Addressing Labor Challenges with AI and Automation — Where is the Line?

Colorado business leaders still face persistent labor challenges in 2024.

Compared to other states, Colorado’s workforce trends younger and more educated than most, but we also have a gap between the availability of and demand for skilled workers. Automation is an attractive option for many employers to bridge that gap. 

READ: Maximizing Efficiency, Minimizing Errors — Harnessing AI and Automation in Your Marketing Strategies

Automation can streamline work, ease labor challenges, create efficiencies and generate cost savings.

Improved accuracy that comes from automated systems can also help alleviate compliance/regulatory pressures, and improve productivity (e.g., reduced lead times or turn-around time), which is important in the current market given the shortage of skilled labor.

Examples of useful automation include robotic process (RPBA). RPBA bots can mimic human actions in digital systems like data entry to reduce manual effort and errors. In operations, AI-driven analytics can analyze datasets for insights and trends, helping businesses make data-driven decisions faster and with more accuracy.  

Forward-thinking Colorado business leaders who want to stay competitive in today’s market should embrace automation, but consider these factors before you invest in these solutions.  

Where will automation benefit your business?

These resources can be cheaper and more efficient, but they aren’t a direct replacement for human capital.

Look at automation and human capital as complementary resources — both are required for success and ideally, applied proportionately across your business.

To do so, think critically about aspects of your business that need humanized solutions (e.g., critical thinking, complex decision-making and judgments, social/emotional analysis, etc.) versus those where machine learning and automation could prove valuable.  

Finance is an area that is ripe for investing in automation. Business owners can alleviate the burden of administration tasks surrounding accounting, tax and treasury functions, enabling employees to use their time and skills on other tasks, to develop their skills, and to take advantage of continuing education programs benefitting employees and employers.

READ: Exploring the Evolving Role of Accountants — Embracing Technology and Shaping the Future

For example, I recently oversaw the integration of an accounts payable optimization and automation system. We were seeing how inefficient it was for our team members to manually manage these tasks. We invested in automation tools and saw improvements in terms of financial control, data consistency and timeliness since completing the integration.

We reduced the amount of manual data entry required of team members, which has also helped eliminate missing invoices and other errors. The project resulted in over 75% time savings, and our employees have also been happy to reallocate that time to higher-priority tasks.

Pair automated and human resources for long-term ROI

It’s a good practice to find intersections like this where people and machines can complement each other. Beyond the transactional wins and cost-savings that automated practices create, workforce development should be included in the integration process.

When we automate tasks, our employees find themselves with more time on their hands.

It’s important to direct them to areas where they should spend that time to create long-term value. From a finance perspective, you bank the cost savings created by automated processes and take it a step further to improve ROI by reinvesting time saved back into your workforce development goals.

READ: AI vs. Traditional — Which is the Best Approach in Recruitment

4 steps to effectively implement automated processes

  • Research the areas of business that are ripe for automation: Focus on profitability measures and ROI potential. Consider how much human judgment is required for success. Integrate automation with the intention to protect and preserve the human elements of your business that promote culture and create their own value.
  • Establish benchmarks and quantify the value created by automation: Test and monitor outcomes to ensure implemented solutions deliver a return within an appropriate timeframe. 
  • Communicate expectations when it comes to desired outcomes driven by automated solutions: If you remove the human element from the work, the people behind those tasks need to know where to reallocate their time and effort.
  • Re-evaluate automated processes based on measured outcomes: Continuously improve processes to optimize those outcomes.  

Strike a balance to avoid pitfalls

Although advancements in automation offer ample opportunity to streamline work and improve profitability, be mindful of pitfalls they present, which can threaten your business.

If you don’t give clear direction as to where employees should reallocate their time after automating a task, employees may feel undervalued and replaceable. As a business leader, your job is to ensure that real, live people always have a place at work; they are the life force of corporate culture, which is an important asset on its own. Don’t lean in so far on automation that you alienate employees and risk depreciating the value of your corporate culture.

Instead, use automation to enhance your company and create more value by integrating it with workforce development goals. Doing so will help your business capitalize on opportunities in a competitive landscape and demonstrate to current and prospective employees that their contributions are still vital to succeed. 

 

Jeff Smith is the CFO of Kodiak Building Partners. He brings an entrepreneurial mindset to his role and oversees finance, accounting, treasury, mergers and acquisitions, and capital formation for Kodiak and its operating partners, including dozens of companies within the building materials industry.   

Coloradans Not Alone in Property Tax Battles as Home Values Soar

Rising home values have led to higher real estate taxes around the U.S. Now many states are looking to provide relief to frustrated residents.

New laws enacted in Colorado, Alabama and Wyoming will limit the growth in tax-assessed values for homeowners. A Kansas special session on tax cuts is to start June 18. Nebraska also could hold a special session on property taxes. Proposals to curb property taxes also will appear on ballots this year in Colorado and Georgia. The movement comes as single-family home prices have risen more than 50% during the past five years.

READ: The Economics of Housing Inflation in Colorado — Exploring the Supply and Demand Imbalance

For retirees Tom and Beverly McAdam, the good news is the value of their two-bedroom home in Broomfield has risen 45% since they purchased it more than six years ago.

That’s also the bad news, costing them thousands more in real estate taxes and leaving less for discretionary spending.

“To pay the higher property taxes, it just means we’ve got to take more money out of our investments when it comes time to hit those big bills,” Beverly McAdam said.

She backs a Colorado ballot proposal that could cap the growth of property tax revenue. It’s one of several measures in states this year to limit, cut or offset escalating property taxes in response to complaints.

Over the past five years, single-family home prices have risen about 54% nationally, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.

That means higher tax bills for homeowners when governments don’t offset higher real estate values by reducing tax rates. And with offices seeing higher vacancies as people still work from home after the coronavirus pandemic, some commercial property values are declining, putting even more pressure on residential properties to deliver revenues.

“With assessed values skyrocketing over the past few years,” said Jared Walczak, vice president of state projects at the nonprofit Tax Foundation, “homeowners are clamoring for relief, and state policymakers are increasingly exploring ways to provide it.”

Colorado, like Alabama and Wyoming, also has a new law that will limit the growth in tax-assessed values for homeowners. Property tax relief will be part of a special legislative session beginning June 18 in Kansas, while Nebraska also could hold a special session to cut property taxes.

Georgia voters will decide in November whether to authorize a new law limiting increases in assessed home values for tax purposes to the rate of inflation, unless local governments or school boards opt out.

Five years ago, Lanell Griffith and her husband paid a little less than $2,700 in property taxes on their Topeka, Kansas, home in a historic neighborhood of tree-lined, brick streets. Their bill last year was more than $3,700.

“The government shouldn’t be able to arbitrarily just increase what they say you owe them without any sort of guardrails on that,” Griffith said.

READ: New Report Sheds Light on Workforce Housing in Mountain Communities

Kansas lawmakers this year passed three measures that would have reduced the state’s property tax levy for public schools. But each was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly because of concerns about other sections to cut income taxes. The special session will mark a fourth attempt at consensus.

In Vermont, Republican Gov. Phil Scott has vowed to veto a bill that would raise property taxes by an average of nearly 14% to provide more money for public schools. Scott said people “simply cannot afford a historic, double digit property tax increase.”

In many states, property taxes are primarily a function of local governments such as counties, cities, school boards and special districts for libraries, fire departments and water systems. Each entity sets its own property tax rate, which is added to the others to come up with an overall tax bill for property owners.

State legislatures can intervene in a variety of ways. They can establish statewide limits on how much assessed property values can rise, create partial tax exemptions for all homeowners or provide income tax credits to help offset property taxes for certain people, such as those 65 and older.

But any relief carries consequences.

Limits on the growth of assessed property values may provide a greater benefit to the wealthy. Exemptions for homes used as primary residences can shift a greater tax burden to rental properties and businesses.

“If you do this too much, you can now start tying the hands of your local government and cutting them off from the ability to raise revenue,” said Richard Auxier, a principal policy associate at the nonprofit Tax Policy Center.

While signing several property tax relief laws this year, Republican Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed one that would have exempted 25% of a home’s value from property taxes. He said it “jeopardized the financial stability of the state and counties.”

In 1982, voters in Muscogee County, Georgia, approved a local ordinance freezing assessed property values for homes used as primary residences. The result: longtime homeowners pay very little, newcomers pay more and businesses face some of the state’s highest property tax rates, said Suzanne Widenhouse, the county’s chief appraiser.

READ: How Real Estate Investors Can Survive a Market Downturn

Last year, two similar homes worth around $330,000 had dramatically different tax bills. One, whose assessed value was frozen in the 1980s, owed less than $8. The other, whose assessed value was frozen when purchased about five years ago, owed $3,236, Widenhouse said.

“Anytime you grant an exemption, you create an inequality,” she said.

A Georgia ballot measure would amend the constitution to allow increases in assessed property values to be capped at the rate of inflation. But it wouldn’t undo past increases.

In the eight years since Rob Romeijn bought a ranch-style house on 10 acres (4 hectares) southeast of Atlanta, Rockdale County has raised the assessed value of his property from $127,000 to $230,000, also bumping up his property tax bill, he said.

As a Dutch immigrant with permanent residency, Romeijn can’t vote in elections in Conyers, but he was so unhappy about the increase that he made a sign urging people to vote out Rockdale’s commissioners and protested outside county offices in April.

Colorado also has been at the center of the property tax debate.

The state has experienced decades-long growth in new residents, driving up demand for housing. Meanwhile, it has struggled to find a balance between providing tax relief for homeowners and sufficient funding for local governments.

READ: How Modular Construction Could Ease Colorado’s Housing Affordability Crisis

A 1982 constitutional amendment limited residential properties to 45% of Colorado’s total property tax base while also setting a fixed assessment rate for commercial properties. To keep the ratio in balance as home values rose, residential tax assessments were cut, leaving less revenue for essential services such as fire districts.

Colorado voters repealed that constitutional provision in 2020. Since then, assessed home values have risen rapidly and the General Assembly has responded. The latest law, signed in May, is projected to shave over $1 billion annually off future property tax revenue by reducing tax rates and imposing growth limits.

But that’s not enough to satisfy some residents. The conservative group Advance Colorado backed a citizens initiative asking voters in November to cap all property tax revenue growth at 4% per year and is gathering signatures for still another ballot initiative to lower property taxes.

“People are saying this is too much growth; government doesn’t need this much money,” Advance Colorado President Michael Fields said. “People are genuinely scared of losing their houses.”

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Associated Press writers Jeff Amy, John Hanna and Lisa Rathke contributed to this report.

 

Amazon Gets FAA Approval to Expand Drone Deliveries for Online Orders

Federal regulators have given Amazon key permission that will allow it to expand its drone delivery program, the company announced Thursday.

In a blog post published on its website, Seattle-based Amazon said that the Federal Aviation Administration has given its Prime Air delivery service the OK to operate drones “beyond visual line of sight,” removing a barrier that has prevented its drones from traveling longer distances.

With the approval, Amazon pilots can now operate drones remotely without seeing it with their own eyes. An FAA spokesperson said the approval applies to College Station, Texas, where the company launched drone deliveries in late 2022.

Amazon said its planning to immediately scale its operations in that city in an effort to reach customers in more densely populated areas. It says the approval from regulators also “lays the foundation” to scale its operations to more locations around the country.

Businesses have wanted simpler rules that could open neighborhood skies to new commercial applications of drones, but privacy advocates and some airplane and balloon pilots remain wary.

Amazon, which has sought this permission for years, said it received approval from regulators after developing a strategy that ensures its drones could detect and avoid obstacles in the air.

Furthermore, the company said it submitted other engineering information to the FAA and conducted flight demonstrations in front of federal inspectors. Those demonstrations were also done “in the presence of real planes, helicopters, and a hot air balloon to demonstrate how the drone safely navigated away from each of them,” Amazon said.

The FAA’s approval marks a key step for the company, which has had ambitions to deliver online orders through drones for more than a decade. During a TV interview in 2013, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said drones would be flying to customer’s homes within five years. However, the company’s progress was delayed amid regulatory setbacks.

Last month, Amazon said it would close a drone delivery site in Lockeford, California – one of only two in the nation – and open another one later this year in Tolleson, Arizona, a city located west of Phoenix.

By the end of the decade, the company has a goal of delivering 500 million packages by drone every year.

Average U.S. Vehicle Age Hits Record 12.6 Years

Cars, trucks and SUVs in the U.S. keep getting older, hitting a record average age of 12.6 years in 2024 as people hang on to their vehicles largely because new ones cost so much.

S&P Global Mobility, which tracks state vehicle registration data nationwide, said Wednesday that the average vehicle age grew about two months from last year’s record.

But the growth in average age is starting to slow as new vehicle sales start to recover from pandemic-related shortages of parts, including computer chips. The average increased by three months in 2023.

READ: Inside the Colorado Semiconductor Industry Renaissance — CHIPS Act Sparks Manufacturing Revival

Still, with an average U.S. new-vehicle selling price of just over $45,000 last month, many can’t afford to buy new — even though prices are down more than $2,000 from the peak in December of 2022, according to J.D. Power.

“It’s prohibitively high for a lot of households now,” said Todd Campau, aftermarket leader for S&P Global Mobility. “So I think consumers are being painted into the corner of having to keep the vehicle on the road longer.”

Other factors include people waiting to see if they want to buy an electric vehicle or go with a gas-electric hybrid or a gasoline vehicle. Many, he said, are worried about the charging network being built up so they can travel without worrying about running out of battery power. Also, he said, vehicles are made better these days and simply are lasting a long time.

READ: Becoming a Zero-Emissions State — How Alternative Fuels Are Transforming Transportation in Colorado

New vehicle sales in the U.S. are starting to return to pre-pandemic levels, with prices and interest rates the big influencing factors rather than illness and supply-chain problems, Compau said. He said he expects sales to hit around 16 million this year, up from 15.6 million last year and 13.9 million in 2022.

As more new vehicles are sold and replace aging vehicles in the nation’s fleet of 286 million passenger vehicles, the average age should stop growing and stabilize, Compau said. And unlike immediately after the pandemic, more lower-cost vehicles are being sold, which likely will bring down the average price, he said.

People keeping vehicles longer is good news for the local auto repair shop. About 70% of vehicles on the road are 6 or more years old, he said, beyond manufacturer warranties.

Those who are able to keep their rides for multiple years usually get the oil changed regularly and follow manufacturer maintenance schedules, Campau noted.

The Rise of Sports Megapolises and Entertainment Complexes — What it Really Means for Sports Fans in America

I have seen the future of sports. It’s a $27 margarita.

Or a $36 “gourmet” hot dog.

Maybe a $120 parking tab, the sting eased by the fact that a nice-smelling valet just fetched your car. It’s about a lovely day at the Sports Megapolis, where you won’t even realize you just spent next month’s Xcel Energy payment because you were having such a good time.

Increasingly, the business model behind spectator sports fandom depends not so much on the playing of games — three-pointers, arcing TD passes, clutch home runs — but the surrounding ethos.

Nowadays we can twist a shopworn expression around: What if they gave a street party and a ballgame broke out?

An idea being advanced by sports impresarios like Marc Cuban is to use a sporting event not as an end unto itself but as a centerpiece for attracting big-spending fans to a Disney-esque pastiche of restaurants, bars, stores and gambling joints.

The thinking being: It’s difficult in these fractionalized, distracting times to amass any sort of consumer scale. If people are flocking to sports events anyway, why not … you know … milk them a little bit more?

READ: Is the Future of Luxury Sports Suites Less… Luxury? Or Just More Practical?

Cuban’s latest gambit offers a glimpse at what’s coming. Late last year, the Dallas Mavericks owner (and part-time TV personality) sold his majority stake in the team to new owners whose predecessors made their fortunes in the hotel and casino businesses. Although Cuban maintains control over the team’s basketball operations, the underlying asset is now in the hands of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., a company tied to the late-and-legendary casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

A true confession: I’ve been a Cuban fan ever since he politely took time to explain to me, over a couple of personal emailed messages, a key principle of the streaming media business back in the early days. (You nice to me, I nice to you.)

The guy has long been a few steps ahead of the game, meaning what he’s doing now probably … matters.

How so?

In the $3.5 billion Mavericks deal we see the contours of a new approach to sports ownership and management that will have big implications for the fan experience.

As Cuban told NBC News, the real money anymore isn’t about luxury boxes or jerseys or regional sports TV rights, but real estate: building and operating goliath entertainment complexes that use sports as a magnet to get people to open up their iPhone wallet apps.

READ: The Messi Effect — How One Player is Drastically Changing the Global Sports Media Industry

Big-money investors like the Adelson family understand they can leverage the appeal of live games to provoke much more spending than merely the cost of a pair of tickets in Section 207. Hotels, restaurants, shops and betting parlors are signature elements in an entertainment brew that’s designed to extract bigger per-visitor revenue numbers from fans.

A good way to understand what’s happening is to think about how things have worked historically: Sure, there are restaurants and merchandise stores ringing sports-centric locales like Denver’s LoDo neighborhood. But these tend to be owned independently, with entrepreneurs betting they can make a go of things by geo-aligning their restaurant-and-bar businesses with somebody else’s team and somebody else’s building.

The new model effectively says: Sorry, fellas. We’re riding in town to own it all. Or at least lease it back to you.

It’s hardly coincidental that the looming migration to mega-entertainment-and-sports complexes comes as shockwaves continue around media revenue.

The decades-old sports-TV model is splitting apart as predictable cash flows from the fading pay TV tax vanish. (Explainer: For a long time, nearly every household in the U.S. that maintained a cable or satellite TV subscription was subsidizing everything from Kris Bryant’s contract to Nikola Jokic’s haircuts. Now, with streaming video decimating the pay TV trade, the oxygen is being depleted fast.)

READ: Altitude Vs. Comcast — The Changing Economy of Sports Media

Team owners, recognizing they need to replace a reliable cash spigot, are certain to emulate what Cuban and Co. are doing in Dallas, which is to turn sports into the fulcrum of an overarching real estate play. With, of course, a good dash of gambling money coming in on the side from partnerships with betting giants.

In Colorado, at least the early glimmers of this sort of thinking are visible in the form of something called the “Ball Arena Vision Plan” promoted by Nuggets/Avalanche/Rapids owner Kroenke Sports & Entertainment.

Attractive renderings (when have you ever seen an architect’s rendering that wasn’t attractive?) describe a fetching constellation of bridges, bike lanes, pedestrian routes and parks that would unite the River Mile and downtown Denver neighborhoods, with Ball Arena and Empower Field serving as anchor attractions.

It’s all perfectly wonderful-sounding, as development plans tend to be. I mean: Who doesn’t get gooey reading descriptions about “a biophilic human amenity” that will “provide open space and habitat, and also reduce the urban heat island effect.” Sign me up, Stanley!

Behind the sprightly language, though, is the same ideal Marc Cuban sees: building business opportunities that spring from the forthcoming sports-meets-entertainment mind meld. KSE describes it as the grand plan for “a new destination in downtown Denver.”

Destination, for sure.

But let’s all remember that biophilic human amenities and urban cooling don’t come cheap. Here’s betting that inexpensive Nuggets tickets and affordable parking aren’t part of the plan. But that a $27 margarita just might be.

 

Stewart Schley writes about sports, media and technology from Denver. Read this and Schley’s past columns on the Web at cobizmag.com and email him at [email protected]

Red Lobster Closes Dozens of Locations Across the U.S., Including Colorado

NEW YORK (AP) — Dozens of Red Lobster locations across the U.S. are on the chopping block.

Restaurant liquidator TAGeX Brands announced this week that it would be auctioning off the equipment of over 50 Red Lobster locations that were recently closed as part of the seafood chain’s “footprint rationalization.” The locations span across more than 20 states — cutting back on Red Lobster’s presence in cities like Denver, San Antonio, Indianapolis and Sacramento, California.

Restaurants in Lakewood, Lone Tree and Wheat Ridge were also among the Colorado closures.

It’s unclear if Red Lobster plans to shutter any additional restaurants in the near future. The Orlando, Florida-based company did not immediately respond to The Associated Press’ requests for comment.

On Red Lobster’s website, a handful of impacted locations were listed as “temporarily closed” or “unavailable” Tuesday morning.

Red Lobster has been struggling for some time. With lease and labor costs piling up in recent years, the chain is now reportedly considering filing for bankruptcy protection. A potential Chapter 11 filing could help Red Lobster exit from some long-term contracts and renegotiate many of its leases, unnamed sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News last month.

Maintaining stable management has also proven difficult, with the company seeing multiple ownership changes over its 56-year history. Earlier this year, Red Lobster co-owner Thai Union Group, one of the world’s largest seafood suppliers, announced its intention to exit its minority investment in the dining chain.

Thai Union first invested in Red Lobster in 2016 and upped its stake in 2020. At the time of the January announcement on its plans to divest, CEO Thiraphong Chansiri said the COVID-19 pandemic, industry headwinds and rising operating costs had impacted Red Lobster and resulted in “prolonged negative financial contributions to Thai Union and its shareholders.”

For the first nine months of 2023, the Thailand company reported a $19 million share of loss from Red Lobster.

And then there’s been the problem of endless shrimp. Last year, Red Lobster significantly expanded its iconic all-you-can-eat shrimp deal. But customer demand overwhelmed what the chain could afford, which also reportedly contributed to the millions in losses.

TAGeX Brands’ auctions for the more than 50 closing Red Lobster locations it’s handling liquidation for began Monday and will run through Thursday. The sales are “winner takes all” — meaning that one winner will receive the entirety of contents for each location. Images on TAGeX Brands’ website indicate that includes ovens, refrigerators, bar setups, dining furniture and more.

TAGeX Brands called the liquidation “the largest restaurant equipment auction event ever.” In a statement, founder and CEO Neal Sherman said that the goal of such online auctions was to “prevent high-quality items from being discarded in landfills” and instead promote sustainable reuse.

As of Tuesday morning, auctions for 48 locations were still live after another four sales closed Monday, TAGeX Brands said via email.

Red Lobster’s roots date back to 1968, when the first restaurant opened in Lakeland, Florida. In the decades following, the chain expanded rapidly. Red Lobster currently touts more than 700 locations worldwide.