While the Economy Struggles, Profits Can Be Made

The New York Times - Deborah L. Jacobs
May 21, 2008

WHILE the slow economy has left many small businesses scraping to get by, some enterprises are finding opportunity in the carnage. They include an entire industry devoted to distressed companies. When things are booming, this sector is like the lonely Maytag repairman, who doesn’t have much work to do.

Other businesses are not as clearly countercyclical, but they offer products or services that are increasingly in demand. And those that are really nimble can capitalize on the sudden needs of consumers or fellow businesses.

Here are stories of five small businesses that are thriving in hard times.

STANDING UP FOR WORKERS Outten & Golden, a New York law firm that exclusively represents employees, will add three lawyers to its staff of 28 professionals this year to accommodate business attributable to the economic downturn.

Contributing to the increase is what Wayne Outten, a founding partner, calls transactional work helping employees who are moving into and out of jobs to negotiate with their employers.

For those who have been laid off, there may be opportunities to enhance severance packages for instance, perhaps their employers could be persuaded to keep them on the payroll long enough to qualify for retirement, medical or stock benefits.

Employees also seek legal help when they voluntarily change jobs, rather than being forced to leave. Not only should they get job details in writing from their new employers, but they must also comply with commitments to the old ones. Potential considerations include agreements with former employers not to compete with their former companies, solicit their customers, clients or vendors or take other staff members with them.

Mr. Outten said that mass layoffs accounted for a drastic increase in another part of the firm’s practice that is, lawsuits under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, a federal law that requires companies to give employees at least 60 days’ notice of a plant’s closing or reduction in force. The firm is pursuing about a dozen cases against businesses that have not complied with the law.

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