“Six or seven weeks later, the ships come in all at once,” Mr. Lynch said. “That doesn’t help.”

Early this year, as shipping prices spiked and containers became scarce, the trouble was widely viewed as the momentary result of pandemic lockdowns. With schools and offices shut, Americans were stocking up on home office gear and equipment for basement gyms, drawing heavily on factories in Asia. Once life reopened, global shipping was supposed to return to normal.

But half a year later, the congestion is worse, with nearly 13 percent of the world’s cargo shipping capacity tied up by delays, according to data compiled by Sea-Intelligence, an industry research firm in Denmark.

Many businesses now assume that the pandemic has fundamentally altered commercial life in permanent ways. Those who might never have shopped for groceries or clothing online — especially older people — have gotten a taste of the convenience, forced to adjust to a lethal virus. Many are likely to retain the habit, maintaining pressure on the supply chain.

“Before the pandemic, could we have imagined mom and dad pointing and clicking to buy a piece of furniture?” said Ruel Joyner, owner of 24E Design Co., a boutique furniture outlet that occupies a brick storefront in Savannah’s graceful historic district. His online sales have tripled over the past year.

On top of those changes in behavior, the supply chain disruption has imposed new frictions.

Mr. Joyner, 46, designs his furniture in Savannah while relying on factories from China and India to manufacture many of his wares. The upheaval on the seas has slowed deliveries, limiting his sales.

He pointed to a brown leather recliner made for him in Dallas. The factory is struggling to secure the reclining mechanism from its supplier in China.

“Where we were getting stuff in 30 days, they are now telling us six months,” Mr. Joyner said. Customers are calling to complain.

His experience also underscores how the shortages and delays have become a source of concern about fair competition. Giant retailers like Target and Home Depot have responded by stockpiling goods in warehouses and, in some cases, chartering their own ships. These options are not available to the average small business.

Bottlenecks have a way of causing more bottlenecks. As many companies have ordered extra and earlier, especially as they prepare for the all-consuming holiday season, warehouses have become jammed. So containers have piled up at the Port of Savannah.

Mr. Lynch’s team — normally focused on its own facilities — has devoted time to scouring unused warehouse spaces inland, seeking to provide customers with alternative channels for their cargo.

Recently, a major retailer completely filled its 3 million square feet of local warehouse space. With its containers piling up in the yard, port staff worked to ship the cargo by rail to Charlotte, N.C., where the retailer had more space.

Such creativity may provide a modicum of relief, but the demands on the port are only intensifying.

On a muggy afternoon in late September, Christmas suddenly felt close at hand. The containers stacked on the riverbanks were surely full of holiday decorations, baking sheets, gifts and other material for the greatest wave of consumption on earth.

Will they get to stores in time?

“That’s the question everyone is asking,” Mr. Lynch said. “I think that’s a very tough question.”

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Could This Covid Wave Reverse the Recovery? Here’s What to Watch.

The spread of the Delta variant has delayed office reopenings, disrupted the start of school and generally dashed hopes for a return to normal after Labor Day. But it has not pushed the U.S. economic recovery into reverse.

Now that recovery faces a new test: the removal of much of the aid that has helped keep households and businesses afloat for the past year and a half.

The Paycheck Protection Program, which distributed hundreds of billions of dollars in grants and loans to thousands of small businesses, concluded last spring. A federal eviction moratorium ended last month after the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s last-minute effort to extend it. Most recently, an estimated 7.5 million people lost unemployment benefits when programs that expanded the system during the pandemic were allowed to lapse.

Next up: the Federal Reserve, which on Wednesday indicated it could start pulling back its stimulus efforts as early as November.

OpenTable, for example, have fallen less than 10 percent from their early-July peak. That is a far smaller decline than during the last Covid surge, last winter.

“It has moved down, but it’s not the same sort of decline,” Mr. Bryson said of the OpenTable data. “We’re living with it.”

$120 billion in monthly bond purchases — which have kept borrowing cheap and money flowing through the economy — but it will almost certainly keep interest rates near zero into next year. Millions of parents will continue to receive monthly checks through the end of the year because of the expanded child tax credit passed in March as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion aid package.

That bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, also provided $350 billion to state and local governments, $21.6 billion in rental aid and $10 billion in mortgage assistance, among other programs. But much has not been spent, said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project, an economic-policy arm of the Brookings Institution.

“Those delays are frustrating,” she said. “At the same time, what that also means is that support is going to continue having an effect over the next several quarters.”

Economists, including officials in the Biden administration, say that as the economy heals, there will be a gradual “handoff” from government aid to the private sector. That transition could be eased by a record-setting pile of household savings, which could help prop up consumer spending as government aid wanes.

A lot of that money is held by richer, white-collar workers who held on to their jobs and saw their stock portfolios swell even as the pandemic constrained their spending. But many lower-income households have built up at least a small savings cushion during the pandemic because of stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits and other aid, according to researchers at the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

“The good news is that people are going into the fall with some reserves, more reserves than normal,” said Fiona Greig, co-director of the institute. “That can give them some runway in which to look for a job.”

recent survey by Alignable, a social network for small business owners. Not all have had sales turn lower, said Eric Groves, the company’s chief executive. But the uncertainty is hitting at a crucial moment, heading into the holiday season.

“This is a time of year when business owners in the consumer sector in particular are trying to pull out their crystal ball,” he said. “Now is when they have to be purchasing inventory and doing all that planning.”

open a new location as part of a development project on the West Side of Manhattan.

Go big. If some aid ended up going to people or businesses that didn’t really need help, that was a reasonable trade-off for the benefit of getting money to the millions who did.

Today, the calculus is different. The impact of the pandemic is more tightly focused on a few industries and groups. At the same time, many businesses are having trouble getting workers and materials to meet existing demand. Traditional forms of stimulus that seek to stoke demand won’t help them. If automakers can’t get needed parts, for example, giving money to households won’t lead to more car sales — but it might lead to higher prices.

That puts policymakers in a tight spot. If they don’t get help to those who are struggling, it could cause individual hardship and weaken the recovery. But indiscriminate spending could worsen supply problems and lead to inflation. That calls for a more targeted approach, focusing on the specific groups and industries that need it most, said Nela Richardson, chief economist for ADP, the payroll processing firm.

“There are a lot of arrows in the quiver still, but you need them to go into the bull’s-eye now rather than just going all over,” Ms. Richardson said.

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100 Isn’t a Magic Number, So Why Is It Part of the Vaccine Mandate?

But if you want a small-business loan? There, the government’s definition is far more expansive. The Small Business Administration, which orchestrated the popular Paycheck Protection Program, generally considers any company with fewer than 500 employees a “small” one. Unless you’re in one of dozens of industries with exceptions, which are detailed in a 49-page document that can seem almost whimsical in its divisions. A company that mines gold ore counts as small if it has up to 1,500 employees, but the limit falls to 750 for iron miners and just 250 for those that extract silver.

One thing about tiny companies is clear: They vastly outnumber their bigger brethren. The government estimates that there are nearly 32 million small businesses in America. Most have no employees beyond the owner. Their ranks include practitioners of nearly every profession — solo lawyers and accountants, Uber drivers, tutors, gig-working delivery cyclists, artists and writers and musicians and millions of salaried workers with side hustles.

Weed out those businesses and you’re left with six million employer firms, each with a payroll ranging from a handful of people to a few hundred. Only 20,000 companies in the country, according to data from the Census Bureau, are truly large businesses, with 500 or more employees.

To entrepreneurs in that squishy middle, the line between being a little business and a big one can feel pretty fuzzy. Twenty years ago, Franz Spielvogel joined Laughing Planet, which was at the time a single-location fast-casual cafe in Portland, Ore. It was a hit, so he and his business partner opened another Laughing Planet. Then another. Today, Mr. Spielvogel runs 15 locations in three states, with 224 workers.

Mr. Spielvogel said his mini-chain feels like a collection of neighborhood spots, which he likes. “We’re not Sweetgreen,” he said. “We’re not saying, ‘Let’s do 100 stores in the next six months.’ That’s not our mission.”

Being a midsize company can have some pain points, like having a limited legal and human resources infrastructure to handle the thicket of regulations that come with employing hundreds of people. But Mr. Spielvogel enjoys running a company small enough that it is able to preserve that first shop’s ethos and corporate culture. He’s unfazed — and honestly somewhat relieved, he said — by the new vaccination-or-testing mandate. He has been trying to coax his staff to get vaccinated by offering paid time off for each shot, and he hopes a mandate will convince his last few holdouts.

Even some teeny companies are eager to embrace it. Aaron Seyedian, the founder of Well-Paid Maids in Washington, said he wished the mandate extended to companies like his, which has 17 people.

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The Battle for Digital Privacy Is Reshaping the Internet

“The internet is answering a question that it’s been wrestling with for decades, which is: How is the internet going to pay for itself?” he said.

The fallout may hurt brands that relied on targeted ads to get people to buy their goods. It may also initially hurt tech giants like Facebook — but not for long. Instead, businesses that can no longer track people but still need to advertise are likely to spend more with the largest tech platforms, which still have the most data on consumers.

David Cohen, chief executive of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group, said the changes would continue to “drive money and attention to Google, Facebook, Twitter.”

The shifts are complicated by Google’s and Apple’s opposing views on how much ad tracking should be dialed back. Apple wants its customers, who pay a premium for its iPhones, to have the right to block tracking entirely. But Google executives have suggested that Apple has turned privacy into a privilege for those who can afford its products.

For many people, that means the internet may start looking different depending on the products they use. On Apple gadgets, ads may be only somewhat relevant to a person’s interests, compared with highly targeted promotions inside Google’s web. Website creators may eventually choose sides, so some sites that work well in Google’s browser might not even load in Apple’s browser, said Brendan Eich, a founder of Brave, the private web browser.

“It will be a tale of two internets,” he said.

Businesses that do not keep up with the changes risk getting run over. Increasingly, media publishers and even apps that show the weather are charging subscription fees, in the same way that Netflix levies a monthly fee for video streaming. Some e-commerce sites are considering raising product prices to keep their revenues up.

Consider Seven Sisters Scones, a mail-order pastry shop in Johns Creek, Ga., which relies on Facebook ads to promote its items. Nate Martin, who leads the bakery’s digital marketing, said that after Apple blocked some ad tracking, its digital marketing campaigns on Facebook became less effective. Because Facebook could no longer get as much data on which customers like baked goods, it was harder for the store to find interested buyers online.

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Thomas H. Lee Partners Acquires House of Design

NAMPA, Idaho & BOSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Thomas H. Lee Partners, L.P. (“THL”), a premier private equity firm investing in growth companies, announced today that it has acquired a majority interest in House of Design LLC (the “Company”), a leading provider of robotic automation systems and software for the residential construction market. THL’s investment will strengthen House of Design’s existing capabilities and provide capital and resources for future growth investments. House of Design’s co-founders will hold minority positions in the Company. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Founded in 2012 and based in Nampa, Idaho, House of Design is a leading provider of automated solutions for the building components and residential offsite construction industries. The Company designs and engineers robotic systems that increase component manufacturers’ production output and capacity while reducing the challenges of labor shortages. Proprietary software makes House of Design’s system the only fully automated system that can produce complex variable trusses and wall panels without robot retraining or resetting.

THL’s investment in House of Design will accelerate the Company’s ability to build upon its leading robotic technology and software platform and accelerate new product innovation for its customers.

“Our partnership with THL is a monumental milestone for the Company,” said Shane Dittrich and Ryan Okelberry, Co-Founders of House of Design. “THL brings the expertise and sophistication needed to reach the next stage in our Company’s growth, and we have a shared vision for how to get there. We are excited to partner with THL and leverage their deep automation expertise and financial and operational resources to fuel House of Design’s growth strategy.”

“We are thrilled to partner with the House of Design team,” said Mike Kaczmarek, Managing Director at THL. “Persistent labor scarcity in the construction industry is driving greater need for automated solutions, and House of Design’s offerings help address labor shortage and worker safety challenges while providing an attractive ROI to the customer. THL is excited to support House of Design in continuously growing and innovating its product offerings to help customers increase production throughput and revenue.”

Stifel acted as financial advisor, Kirkland & Ellis LLP acted as legal advisor and PwC acted as accounting and tax advisor to THL. PEAK Technology Partners, a San Francisco based investment bank, acted as the exclusive financial advisor and Stoel Rives acted as legal advisor to House of Design.

About House of Design

House of Design has established itself as a thought leader and premier provider of robotic solutions, dynamic software applications, and system integration services. Through a multitude of successful automation projects across varied industries, House of Design is recognized as an innovative, collaborative partner committed to the success of the clients it serves.

Founded in 2012 by two engineers, House of Design has grown to 100+ employees and one of the largest robotic integrators in the West. Over the last ten years House of Design has been recognized nationally for its innovation in the robotics industry and as a small business leader in Idaho. The company’s vision is to ensure that execution matches strategy, emerging opportunities are captured, and team members grow, prosper and their work changes the world.

For more information, please visit www.thehouseofdesign.com.

About Thomas H. Lee Partners

Thomas H. Lee Partners, L.P. (“THL”) is a premier private equity firm investing in middle market growth companies exclusively in three sectors: Financial Services, Healthcare and Technology & Business Solutions. THL couples deep sector expertise with dedicated internal operating resources to transform and build great companies of lasting value in partnership with management. The Firm’s domain expertise and resources help to build great companies with an aim to accelerate growth, improve operations and drive long-term sustainable value. Since 1974, THL has raised more than $30 billion of equity capital, invested in over 160 companies and completed more than 500 add-on acquisitions representing an aggregate enterprise value at acquisition of over $210 billion. THL invests in automation companies through its flagship private equity fund and a dedicated automation fund. For more information, please visit www.thl.com.

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The Cutthroat World of $10 Ice Cream

At the time, the upstarts of the borough’s anti-industrial food revolution were looking for any category they could disrupt through local ingredients or handmade production. Brooklynified beer, chocolate and pizza were gathering hype as well as space on store shelves. Yet frozen dessert remained a maltodextrin wasteland.

“We were like, ‘Why is there no great artisan ice cream in New York City?’” Ms. Dundas said.

Ms. Gallivan said there was a “eureka moment” when the women started craving the kind of ice cream that existed in Boston, “where there’s this amazing ice cream tradition.” In New York, “there was like Tasti D-Lite and Baskin-Robbins — nothing worth the calories, as my mom would say.”

Blue Marble’s overarching concept, like that of so many Brooklyn brands, was lofty and vaguely European, featuring “elemental” flavors sourced from upstate farms with unimpeachable organic pedigrees and no candy or breakfast cereal. If the flavorings leaned pious rather than juvenile, crass marketing it was not: Ms. Gallivan, leveraging her expertise in international aid, set up ambitious satellite projects in Haiti and Rwanda, the latter of which continues 10 years on.

And the ice cream was good.

“It’s in the chew,” said Thomas Bucci Jr., a fourth-generation ice cream maker whose Rhode Island factory “co-packs” pints for Blue Marble and other brands. Good ice cream, he said, “has a certain bite, as opposed to the big guys, where it’s just air — it doesn’t even melt.”

To get that texture, Mr. Bucci said, “you can spend $20-30,000 a week on milk and cream alone.” He added — emphatically — that there were no shortcuts.

Compromises beckoned, however, as Blue Marble began racking up successes in its early years, including partnerships with JetBlue and Facebook.

“It’s really hard in a place like New York to not start compromising, because things are expensive and they eat into your margins,” Ms. Gallivan said. Blue Marble refused to cut corners, she said, in the belief that “ultimately quality ingredients and the best ice cream will prevail.”

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How Two Start-ups Made a Fortune in Fees on P.P.P. Loans

Also in late February, Blueacorn and Womply got an unexpected tailwind from a major rule change by the Small Business Administration, which oversaw the loan program. Concerned that women and minority-led businesses were being disproportionately left out, the Biden administration overhauled the loan formula to award sole proprietors — a group that includes contractors and gig workers — loans based on their reported revenue rather than profit. Overnight, millions more qualified for help. Drawn in by the marketing campaigns, they stampeded toward the two companies.

By early March, “we were overrun with demand,” said Blueacorn’s Mr. Calhoun, a private equity veteran who joined the company that month to help manage its growth. “We had a 24-hour period where we went from 15,000 new customer service tickets to 27,000,” he recalled. “Those are Amazon-like levels.”

Blueacorn rented call centers and trained hundreds of temporary workers to troubleshoot. Womply redeployed nearly all of its 200 employees to work on loan issues. Both companies still struggled to keep up. On Reddit groups and social media sites, thousands of borrowers complained about delays, poor communication and problems resolving errors.

Louis Glatthorn, an Uber driver in Boone, N.C., who goes by Bob, applied on Womply’s website on April 7 and signed the paperwork two weeks later for a $7,818 loan. But the money — which is listed in government records as approved — has not been paid by Benworth Capital, one of Womply’s partners. Mr. Glatthorn’s attempts to reach Womply for help have been unsuccessful.

“You can never talk to a person or actually make contact,” he said. A Womply representative declined to comment on Mr. Glatthorn’s experience.

Others had a smoother run. Dan Bourque, an Uber driver in San Francisco, saw Womply’s ads and applied for a loan in mid-April. Seventeen days later, he had a $10,477 deposit — funded by Fountainhead SBF, another of Womply’s partner lenders — in his bank account. For that loan, the process “was flawless,” he said.

The millions of tiny loans the two tech companies enabled, coupled with Congress’s decision to make small loans more lucrative, led to gigantic payouts for small lenders. Last year, Prestamos made $1.3 million for its lending. This year, it will collect nearly $1.2 billion, according to a New York Times calculation of lenders’ fees based on government data.

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Hong Kong Has a New Type of Prisoner: Pro-Democracy Activists

HONG KONG — A half year after he got out of prison, Daniel Tang has made a habit of going back. He waits in spare, crowded corridors. He greets familiar faces among the fellow visitors and guards. He brings books, postage stamps, writing paper and packets of M&Ms.

Mr. Tang is visiting people like him who were imprisoned for their role in the pro-democracy street protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2019. He travels three hours, round-trip, for a 15-minute chat through a thick plate of glass, sometimes with a total stranger. He summons a cheery, chatty demeanor, when he feels anything but.

“You owe them your best face,” he said. “If you’re not feeling right, don’t even bother going.”

Mr. Tang and many of those he meets with represent a new breed of convict in Hong Kong: activists who opposed the Chinese Communist Party’s growing power in the city. This group — often including college students or white-collar professionals — rose up two years ago in a historic campaign of public disobedience that led to clashes with police on the streets and focused the world’s attention on the future of the Asian financial capital.

tough new laws imposed by Beijing, mass arrests and the hazards of the coronavirus. Now, with dim job prospects, a fraught political future and the unending threat of another arrest, those protesters are emblematic of the uncertainties facing the city’s stricken democracy movement.

about 7,000 people. Beijing’s imposition last year of a national security law gives prosecutors greater powers to target even more.

Many of the activists are contemplating a future in exile. Others struggle to stay committed to the cause for which they sit behind bars.

“Being sentenced to jail fractures people,” said Alex Chow, a 30-year-old activist who spent a brief time in jail for his role as a leader of protests in 2014, a precursor to the 2019 demonstrations. He now lives in exile in the United States.

as well as veterans. Those sentenced to prison so far include Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, young leaders of the 2014 protests. Wong Ji-yuet, 23, and Owen Chow, 24, activists who participated in a primary election that was organized by the pro-democracy camp, are awaiting trial in solitary confinement after they were charged with endangering national security.

For many young people in jail, the sentences have redrawn their lives.

Jackie Yeung, a 23-year-old university student serving a three-year prison sentence, said she had abandoned the “typical ambitions” she used to harbor — getting a good job and an apartment in a family-friendly district.

statement ahead of her sentencing. “And I have no way of comforting them through the glass in the visitation room in prison.”

She dreams of opening up a small business importing Taiwanese pineapples after she and a Taiwanese cellmate are released. With the profits, she would support other young people by helping to pay their legal fees and living expenses. “To do anything, you need money,” she said.

To make things easier on prisoners, Mr. Tang and some other activists have banded together to provide support. They write letters and gazettes to catch people up with protest news and raise funds to pay for better meals in jail while protesters await trials.

Mr. Tang frequently sees Ms. Yeung. During one visit to her prison near the border with the mainland city of Shenzhen, he brought pens and stamps. He left the stamps, but was unable to give her the pens, as it would have exceeded her monthly allowance of two.

For all of his dedication, Mr. Tang, who spent more than a half-year imprisoned after pleading guilty to arson charges, says it doesn’t feel like it’s enough.

“Many Hong Kongers have moved on and moved away and don’t think about how there is a group of people sitting behind bars for the movement we all fought for,” said Mr. Tang, who is in his late 30s. “It seems many have forgotten.”

Far from radicalizing during his time on the inside, Mr. Tang now struggles with cynicism and meaning in a city that suddenly seems unfamiliar. He has been disheartened by the protest movement’s stagnation and by the waves of migration out of the city. The camaraderie of protest has been replaced by dread of ever more targeted arrests. He sees it all as an abandonment of values and believes that escape is a privilege unavailable to many.

Mr. Tang’s protester friends from prison also seem to be moving on. A group chat they kept, called the “Lai Chi Kok Prisoners,” after the facility where they were detained, still lights up occasionally with holiday greetings and vague laments. But few want to talk politics. Sometimes those in prison that do speak out seem to be exaggerating their place in the movement. He rolls his eyes at one prisoner, who has taken to calling himself Mandela 2.0.

“All that we have left is our relationships with one another,” he said. “Some seem ready to let that go.”

Yet, for Mr. Tang, there is no road back — not that he’d take it. His former employer was understanding, but let him go when his absence stretched on. He has been unable to access his life savings, he said, after his bank account was frozen over automated donations he made in 2019 to a protester bail fund that police placed under investigation.

He has applied to managerial jobs like those he had worked in the past, only to be turned away because of his criminal record. Now, he’s mulling applying for a taxi license or working in construction.

He still faces four charges related to the protests that were filed just days before his release from prison. The thought of officers at his door has kept him away from the apartment he shares with his mother. He tells her he now works a night shift, and she doesn’t press him.

“I’m really tired,” Mr. Tang said. “The government has left us no room to resist and nowhere to go.”

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