Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fredericksburg Area Primed for Entrepreneurs

For those of you that know me, my morning ritual is to grab the paper on the way out to catch the train to DC. Last week, an article in the business section caught my attention after having some conversation with other business owners the week before.

The Free Lance-Star ran this article "Helping business owners SCORE" by Emily Battle on the SCORE organization wanting to have a Fredericksburg office. SCORE is a national organization that connects experienced retired business executives to new entrepreneurs, or anyone wanting some business advice. The idea is that these executives have fought many of the battles before, and can bring experience and invaluable advice to new business ventures.

Combine that with a new co-working concept based near Ukrops off of RT 3 called Business Playce, and you may have a way of getting started on that dream business you've always wanted to pursue. Co-working is the idea that a group of people can pay a little, yet combined provide a large professional office space. Email Paul and ask about his 'pink slip' special. The idea has been so popular, the owner is already looking to expand the amount of space. Several people share the area on a first come first serve basis, but with people needing desk space at different times, they are getting more for their money. There is even a conference space area for meeting with clients or investors. Try renting space anywhere in the Fredericksburg area for what you get with the co-working environment.

What we're getting are the beginnings of a business incubator environment. In some localities, there is an incubator group associated with the chamber of commerce. Such is the case in the Charlottesville area with the CBIC (C'ville Business Innovation Council). Fairfax has four incubators, including INC.Spire, part of the Reston area chamber of commerce. They provide resources such as active coaching, help acquiring small business loans or assistance in working with the SBA. Here in the Fredericksburg area, we have REDCO (Rappahannock Economic Development Corporation) which is a non-profit that helps get business financing using SBA 504 loans.

So is it time to branch out on your own? Or how about going into business yourself after getting that unfortunate layoff notice? Perhaps the time is now. Dust up on that business plan first, and see if you've really thought through the challenges. At least now locals entrepreneurs will have more options available.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Year in Review

I was doing an update to the blogs last night and noticed that my first article was just over a year ago. Has it really been a year already? Since then, there have been more than 290 articles. Wow, I'm even surprised that there was an average of more than five a week! Sure some of them might have been a short blurb or opinion, but largely I have tried to write detailed informative pieces.

Sometimes I get the question: why do you do this? Its at this time of year that i'm reminded. Some months it seems that there is little going on here in Fredericksburg. True, things do die down here in Feb, but usually there is much more going on. Through a connection of friends, and good old fashioned research, I want to share with readers these events.

The last year has brought me many new friends, a number of which are readers and commented either here, twitter, facebook or best of all in person. It has also personally been a fun and exciting year. The birth of our son, a close challenge for a city council seat, a company buyout (my real job), and the inclusion of and now in our suit of websites.

So thank YOU most of all for reading. The stats are steadily climbing. And head over to and subscribe to the feed to see many area writers.

And watch out for next month's feature - Bryan's Picks. It is my way of not having to do the work of a survey, and like always readers can just comment if they have a better pick.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Friends of the Rappahannock 2009 Calendar

The Fredericksburg area Friends Of the Rappahannock has posted their 2009 calendar of events. Please visit their website for full details. Their descriptions have backup dates and more information on contacts.

Here are the highlights of activities:

March 14 Lauck’s Island Tour & Picnic - $20 individual/ $60 family
March 28 Operation Spruce-Up 2009 - Free
April 4 Spring Wildflower Hike - $5 individual/ $15 family
April 11 Weed Warriors - Free
April 25 Spring River Cleanup - Free
May 14 Annual Meeting - Free
May 16 Embrey Dam-Fredericksburg Canal Tour - $10 individual/ $30 family
June 6-7 Celebrating the Rappahannock River - VA Outdoor Center
June 13 Civil War Canoe Float - $30 individual/ $75 family
June 20 Family River Safety and Tubing Trip - $15 individual/ $45 family
June 27 River Easement Hike and Float -$15 individual/ $45 family
July 11 Nighttime Canoe Float - $15 individual/ $45 family
July 18 Lightning Bug Canoe Float - $15 individual/ $45 family
July 25 Crow’s Nest Float - $30 individual/ $75 family
August 15 Sunset Canoe Float -$15 individual/ $45 family
September 19 Rappahannock RiverFest
October 9 Volunteer Appreciation Cookout - Free
October 17 Rappahannock Fall Colors Float - $15 individual/ $45 family
October 24 Fall River Cleanup - Free
November 7 Fall Birding Hike - $5 individual/ $15 family
December 11 Holiday Open House - Free

Business Management Fail

Sources that wish to remain confidential pointed out a major "business fail" this past week. During an all-hands meeting for Access Eye Centers here in Fredericksburg, the top manager (the one who is now lives with the boss after the boss got a divorce) was speaking about what I can only hope was supposed to be the topic of "professional appearance". She proceeded to tell the employees that they shouldn't come to work with a "skank bun".

What!?!?! Ok, so I googled "skank bun". The only good result I found was this myspace photo, with a description. Wikipedia doesn't even have an entry for that.

First FAIL: Thinking some of your employees are skanks for any reason (or for putting their hair up a particular way). And using slang to define acceptable.

This was apparently followed by a statement that people shouldn't be trashy.

Second FAIL: Not giving measurable, quantitative, requirements for what is acceptable, and what is not. By trashy, do you mean skirts above the knee, or do you mean V-tops? What about slacks?

Lastly, in a supposedly frank discussion with all of the employees, this manager proceeded to state that women should wear make-up.

Third FAIL: Make-up should not be a measure of employee performance (unless it's a modeling agency). Being a guy, I would have been very tempted at this moment to stand up and ask if this was required for men as well, since otherwise it could be perceived as sexual discrimination.

In management, always keep this one statement in mind "Perception is Reality" for your audience. If the perception is one thing, you're likely to be held accountable, whether that was the intent or not. Repeated acts are often reviewed by courts, to see if a particular type of work environment exists. Regardless of courts, think about who you're alienating. Employees? Customers? Future business?

In full disclosure, a family member at one time worked for this business. When it was apparent that things weren't right, that the boss was dating a manager, and that management was run amok, a very timely move was made to another job. It's been years, and I've never mentioned this business by name, but this latest failure was too much. I couldn't hold back any longer.

Great Ski Vacation - Winter Park, CO

If you have a family, and like skiing (or someone in your family likes skiing), let me recommend Winter Park, Colorado. Why? Because there is something for everyone.

Unlike some great ski locations, Winter Park has a descent small downtown where you can find a variety of spas, rentals, snowmobiling, and best of all: a full grocery store. Winter Park resort has a HUGE kids building, so that when they get tired of skiing the parents can go back out and hit the slopes. Of course if you have teenagers, the parents are likely to call it quites while the teens explore the variety of slopes. In that case, might I recommend Doc's to get a nice adult beverage and unwind.

From the Fredericksburg area, you have several options for how to get to Winter Park. We chose to cash in some airline miles and take American out of Richmond. I love flying out of Richmond because of the security lines. The other recommendation is to go to Dulles and take one of the direct to Denver flight.
If you go:
- Drop by the visitors center/chamber of commerce in downtown Winter Park and get 2-for-1 lift ticket coupons.
- While there, pick up 2-for-1 rentals at Beavers Sports Shop.
- Rent a 4WD or AWD, because snow can pop up at any time
- Have a camera nearby at all times, while out in the hot tub, the local fox decided to cruise by several times.
- A couple of family radios will help with keeping track of people, but they may not work if you're completely around the mountain. We used them to figure out who was stuck in the woods.
- Call ahead and make reservations for the child care. (Ours got to spend a few days at the grandparents, thanks Mom&Dad!)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mocha Mo's Coffee Tasting

Looking for a way to excite the taste buds this weekend? Mocha Mo's next to the train station is bringing in their grinder and doing a coffee tasting from 10 to 12. This is by far my favorite morning stop.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Mary Wash Hospital Thanks

Sometimes it's one or two people that can really change how your stay in the hospital goes. Our son was admitted last Saturday to Mary Washington Hospital with low oxygen levels due to what we were to find out was pneumonia. We had been to the doctor earlier in the week, and had been giving breathing treatments for a respiratory virus, but then a followup visit indicated he was having more trouble we took him to the ER. Two nights stay and a few x-rays and treatments later he was released and is now improving every day.

Several of us have been having a discussion over at Fred2Blue about the interesting questions you get asked during the admitting process. This apparently has gotten back to management, as they changed the way they ask you religious preferences. (Instead of "what religion are you" it is now "do you have any religious preferences that would affect care".) Bravo MWH for listening to your patients.

But the real success of this visit isn't the doctors, or most of the staff. They did their job, but it was pretty average. What set this visit apart was an RN named Jeff, who knew how to crack a joke, or could wait a short bit if Bennett was sleeping, or would talk to us about treatment and find out our feeding schedule so he could plan certain medications. Jeff was there most days that we were, and was just the biggest help to us, the parents, who were going through their child's first hospital stay.

The second person who really went over and above was a respiratory guy named Coffee (pronounced Ko-fee). He gave us pointers on what's needed to get a good breathing treatment in. He also showed us how to pat the side/back to get more of the mucus out and relieve him of some congestion. He knew that we were going to be taking him home and wouldn't have the advantages of the hospitals suction equipment.

The rest of the stay was nice, but like any medical facility these days, it pays to listen and remember what each doctor says. More than once, it was one of us remembering something that had people going back into the chart and notes and going 'oh yeah, there it is'. Or remembering that we could get discharged after a last round of antibiotic shots - I wonder what time we would have gotten out of there if we hadn't asked if they were going to discharge us. The best one is remembering that up to 3 months, a natural pain killer is sugar water called sweeties. Had we not requested this bit of relief for our little guy, several rounds of IVs and shots would have been 'grin & bear it'. At least this time they should have the right insurance card.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

VRE shows it's best side

Sometimes you wonder just what the hell goes on with this enterprise. This email details just how bad it can be. What I don't understand is why with 40 minutes delay they don't just cancel the train. And what the heck are we getting for our 7% fare increase? Longer schedules and poor service. But hey, just wait for the 6% they plan on tacking on this summer.

According to commuter connections calculator, even with parking, it is now cheaper to drive than take VRE. Figure auto costs are sunk costs (I'm not getting rid of the car by taking vre).

From: April Maguigad
Date: Thu, 5 Feb 2009 11:55:12 -0500 (EST)
To: ;
Subject: VRE 11:53 AM

VRE Locomotive

Train Talk
Explanation of Fredericksburg Line Delays

This Morning's Service

We sincerely apologize to everyone who was inconvenienced by our delays this morning. Nearly every Fredericksburg Line train was affected in one way or another. We wanted to give you a breakdown of what happened.

Train 300: Train 300 experienced problems with the brakes on one of the cars. To give you a little more background, most everything in the rail industry is designed to "fail safe," which means that if something breaks, it defaults to a place of safety. For instance, when a highway-rail crossing gate has an issue of any kind, the gates will be lowered until the problem can be fixed. This prevents motorists from driving onto the tracks and possibly being hit by an oncoming train. When it comes to brakes, if they malfunction, they are designed in a way that will not permit the train to move. Unfortunately, it took some time to correct the brake problem so the that the train could move again. Train 300 was 40 minutes late.

Train 302: Train 302 was delayed as a result of the problems with train 300. Train 302 was delayed about 30 minutes following train 300.

Train 304: Train 304 was slightly delayed after Alexandria after following the previously delayed trains. Train 304 was about 10 minutes late.

Train 306: Train 306's original equipment was swapped in the yard with train 308's set as the result of an HEP problem, which provides power to basic passenger comforts, like lighting and the HVAC system. By switching the equipment, the delay was minimized for train 306 and our mechanical crews were able to continue to work on the HEP problem. Train 306 was about 15 minutes late.

Train 308: Train 308 used train 306's original equipment, which had another locomotive added to it to take care of the HEP issues that had been encountered earlier in the morning. After departing our storage yard, it experienced problems with the cab signal system. This is a system that reads a message sent through the tracks and allows the engineer to "see" what the next signal is before it can be seen along the tracks. Because of the earlier problems, a mechanical team was riding the train. They were able to correct the problems. Train 308 was about 20 minutes late.

Train 310: Train 310 experienced problems with an air system on the locomotive that some water had gotten into. As a result of the cold, the water froze and caused problems with the locomotive. The problem was corrected. Train 310 was about 30 minutes late.

During the service issues this morning, we tried to keep our riders updated through our Train Talk e-news service. Unfortunately, there was a problem between the Internet Service Provider and a process called Reverse DNS. Reverse DNS is the computer equivalent of taking a phone number and seeing which name is associated with the number. Many mail servers perform this check to validate connections during mail delivery as a tactic to combat spam. With the Reverse DNS not working as intended, many of our emails were not being delivered. Some of our messages were getting through. Once the problem was identified, it was like unplugging a bathtub drain and they all started flowing.

Stories From Other Blogs