Tech Talk: Downtown is the Place to Be

Summarizing some recent tech/innovation stories:

Boston Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • According to Brookings Institution research, downtown universities (compared to their peers) produce 80% more licensing deals, disclose 123% more inventions, receive 222% more income from licensing agreements and create 71% more start-ups.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Oversized Impact of Downtown Universities identifies the following as the top 10 downtown research universities: Rochester University, MIT, Columbia, Penn, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, Temple, Vanderbilt, Rice and the University of Washington.

“While research universities are of economic importance anywhere, they are particularly relevant to the economic vitality of cities because their geographic proximity to firms increases the interplay between companies and schools,” authors state.

  • Kiplinger reports on what it sees as the expansion of cellular service within the next year:

“Cellular service is headed to a slew of devices, via low-power chips that are cheap to make and easy to incorporate into larger products. Verizon and AT&T want to see them in security alarms, first aid kits, medical alert bracelets, collar tags for dogs, fitness trackers and more, adding new tracking and monitoring capabilities.

“The stand-alone cellular connections will help expand the Internet of Things. The LTE radio waves they use can travel long distances and reach deep into buildings so devices don’t have to rely on Wi-Fi or other networks.”

  • A complex formula involving 35 measures, developed by researchers at Xavier University’s Williams College of Business, comprises the American Dream Composite Index. The goal is identifying the extent to which people living in the United States achieve the American Dream.

With 100 being the national average, the following states and metro areas are reported in 2017 as achieving the American Dream to a greater degree than the rest of the nation:

States: Louisiana and Idaho (104 index score compared to 100 average); Washington and Colorado (102); and Ohio, Florida and New York (101).

Metros: Salt Lake City, Utah and Baton Rouge, Louisiana (107); York-Hanover, Pennsylvania and Toledo, Ohio (106); and Syracuse, New York, Boise City-Nampa, Idaho and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Florida (105).

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Online Sales Tax Collection; Indiana Poised to See Millions in New Revenue

The U.S. Supreme Court decision issued yesterday in South Dakota v. Wayfair has been awaited by many brick-and-mortar retailers and state budget-makers for over 25 years. In a nutshell, the Supreme Court’s decision (5-4) will permit states to move forward with sales tax collection from online retailers.

The Court overturned the Quill v. North Dakota decision (and Bellas Hess on which Quill was based) dealing with sales tax on mail orders – dating back to 1992, well before the internet boom. The Court found those old decisions to be “unsound and incorrect” and deemed them to be “an extraordinary imposition by the judiciary on states’ authority to collect taxes and perform critical public functions.” The old cases found that requiring the collection of sales tax, when the seller has no physical presence in the state, an undue burden on interstate commerce – a constitutional issue. The “physical presence” test effectively prohibited states from requiring an out-of-state business to collect sales tax from its customers. But now the Court has stated that it “can no longer support the prohibition of a valid exercise of states’ sovereign power”. To put it simply, times have changed. There is readily available software that online retailers can utilize to set up the sales tax collection; it’s no longer a big deal. Separately, the online retail market has become so huge in the last two-plus decades as consumer shopping preferences have shifted; that’s made it all the more imperative that the segment be on a level playing field tax-wise with brick-and-mortar stores.

The Court also addressed the widely-held notion that this issue needed to be resolved by Congress. The Court responded to that saying, “It is inconsistent with this Court’s proper role to ask Congress to address a false constitutional premise of this Court’s own creation.”  In other words, the Court created this dilemma, if you will, with the Quill case and determined it needed to be the one to then provide a remedy.

The new ruling essentially upholds the South Dakota statute that allowed the state to require online sellers to collect sales tax if they deliver over $100,000 in goods into the state, or have over 200 separate transactions with customers in the state. (Technically, the case was remanded to the South Dakota Supreme Court to issue a new determination without the Quill case serving as a controlling precedent.) The Court found that the requirement under other precedent – that the seller have legal nexus in the state – was clearly met by the sales thresholds of the South Dakota Act.

The Indiana Chamber has been a long-time advocate for online sales tax collection; it is one of the key goals in our Indiana Vision 2025 plan. State lawmakers, led by former Sen. Luke Kenley, were also attuned to these issues and quite wisely enacted legislation in 2017 that was modeled after the South Dakota statute. In fact, our law is essentially identical. This means that with a law that the U.S. Supreme Court has now found legally sufficient, Indiana is poised to begin requiring online sellers to collect and remit Indiana sales tax from their Indiana customers. Again, this is directed at those online sellers who meet the $100,000 or 200 transaction thresholds outlined above.

 It is worth mentioning that Hoosiers are already legally obligated to pay the online sales tax when they file their state income tax returns, but as a practical matter almost nobody does. Uncollected sales tax from online transactions has resulted in substantial loss of revenue to states, thus increasing the tax burden on those who do pay the taxes they owe. Estimates place the uncollected tax for the state of Indiana at more than $100 million annually, perhaps as high as $200 million. That number has grown exponentially with the popularity of online shopping and is only going to keep rising.

So here’s to the U.S. Supreme Court for rectifying this long-standing problem, leveling the playing field between businesses and placing the sales tax burden evenly.

Tech Talk: Scoring the Votes, Tallying Your Benefits

It seems so long ago that an up-and-down software-as-a-service legislative journey ended successfully with passage of now Senate Enrolled Act 257. The bottom line: Indiana put a definitive stake in the ground, becoming just the fourth state to clearly establish that it will not tax such SaaS transactions. (Summary on Page 2 here).

But with the 2018 Indiana General Assembly not wrapping up its work until a one-day special session in mid-May, an evaluation of the legislators’ work and a review of how members benefitted from Indiana Chamber advocacy have just recently been released.

The 2018 Legislative Vote Analysis, as the name suggests, grades lawmakers on their support for pro-economy, pro-jobs initiatives. Scores for 2018 range from 47% to 100%. Two Chamber priorities, however, are not included in the analysis as they did not advance to the floor for full votes due to leadership decisions. Those were efforts to raise the smoking age to 21 and reform the state’s smallest townships.

Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar notes, “For this exercise, it means that two critical pieces of legislation never came into play, so ‘tough votes’ weren’t taken and overall vote scores are higher as a result.”

View the full report or one-page summary of legislator scores.

Overall, the Chamber’s advocacy work resulted in savings for Indiana employers of $615 million – or $228 per employee. Major efforts included the following:

  • Tax savings, most significantly avoiding direct tax increases due to conformity with federal tax reform, and the SaaS sales tax exemption
  • Defeat of a variety of labor and insurance mandates

What do the Chamber efforts mean for your organization? If you have 10 employees, it’s $2,280; for 25 employees, $5,700; or 100 employees, $22,800.

View the 2018 Legislative Return on Investment.

Tech Talk: Entrepreneurship and the World

While innovators and entrepreneurs often exhibit a required laser focus on their own initiatives, there is a whole wide world of activities taking place. Here are three observations from the Kauffman Foundation after the recent Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC).

When 171 nations gathered in Istanbul, Turkey, to discuss the future of entrepreneurship, it showed that entrepreneurship has moved beyond the fringes of economic development planning. Each country was represented by some officials in the highest levels of their respective governments, emphasizing the importance of the role entrepreneurs play in building stronger economies.

We need to remember that many countries aren’t so fortunate. While at GEC, we spoke with two entrepreneurs from Venezuela. They work aggressively to infuse entrepreneurship into their homeland, and they believe entrepreneurship can transform communities. However, they are facing innumerable obstacles with an economy in disarray and a government not supportive of entrepreneurship, currently making Venezuela one of the toughest countries in which to start a business. For these two entrepreneurs, at least, conditions are so challenging, they run their activities from exile.

We in the United States face countless barriers to take an idea and make it an economic reality. However, we should also be thankful that we have the support of our governments – federal, state, and local.

In the U.S., systemic barriers have left women too far behind in starting and growing enterprises. In 2018, women are still half as likely as men to own employer businesses. That’s unacceptable.

In addition to advancing the Kauffman Foundation’s strategies in reducing barriers for women entrepreneurs, we as an organization have been working on being more aware of our own unconscious bias. One thing that was troubling throughout GEC was how representatives from some countries talked about entrepreneurship. To some, they believe entrepreneurship was a male-only venture. It was even more obvious when those same individuals were on more diverse panel discussions and attempted to dominate the conversation by talking over women panelists. It’s something that we all need to be more alert to and speak up on.

Our nation needs to take note. Other countries are approaching the work of supporting entrepreneurship with a passion and zeal. We can no longer take for granted that the U.S. is on the cutting edge of innovation and change. Countries like Estonia, Congo and the Philippines all see entrepreneurship as a pathway to a better future for their communities and nations. They are working aggressively to support entrepreneurs through coordinated strategies that enhance education, training and eliminate barriers to access of capital and the start-up process.

We need to keep moving forward, and quickly, or others will outpace us. We can do it, but we can’t be complacent in our approach. We must act with intentional urgency.

Tech Talk: Who Deserves ‘Dynamic’ Award for 2018?

A good sign of Indiana’s growing innovation and entrepreneurship stature is that it continues to get more difficult to select the winner of the Indiana Chamber’s annual Dynamic Leader of the Year award.

For 29 years, the Chamber has recognized business, government and community excellence. In 2015, the Dynamic Leader honor was added to the mix. The official definition:

This award honors a leader who is working toward achieving goals outlined in the Indiana Vision 2025 economic development plan, particularly the Dynamic and Creative Culture driver that focuses on entrepreneurship and new business creation/expansion.

In other words, it’s business success and helping grow the local/regional/state tech and innovation ecosystem.

Here are the first three honorees and their BizVoice magazine stories:

Nominations for the 2018 honor are due no later than June 15. It’s a straightforward process. Details and the online form are available at www.indianachamber.com/annual-awards-dinner/.

The awards dinner, taking place November 13 at the Indiana Convention Center, will feature keynote speaker J.D. Vance. Look for more soon on the author, venture capitalist and Midwest evangelist for business and economic growth. It’s not too early to secure your table or tickets.

Tech Talk: Revving Up the Engine at ND

The University of Notre Dame is known for excellence in many things – insert your own list here. One might soon need to add entrepreneurship and innovation to that roll.

We told you earlier about last month’s IDEA Week, featuring a number of regional partners but led by the university’s IDEA Center. In the current episode of the EchoChamber podcast, we chat with Bryan Ritchie, associate provost for innovation and leader of the IDEA Center.

Before sharing a few highlights, consider this brief synopsis of his background: software industry executive, start-up founder, private equity/venture investor, 15 years of academic experience (Michigan State and Utah) before Notre Dame and consultant for Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. Navy, among others. In other words, he knows of which he speaks.

By the way, at one point Ritchie says his wife referred to the various elements of his career as “a mess.” A year later, a student termed it a “brilliant career path.” No matter, he is bringing expertise and enthusiasm to the campus, community and region.

Listen in as Ritchie describes:

  • The process that led to the creation of an expected 26 companies this academic year; previously, the high was three
  • One hundred twenty student invention disclosures in the first 60 days of the year
  • The IDEA Center closing in on a $20 million investment fund
  • Development of a broader innovation community that could compare to the likes of Provo, Utah; Boulder, Colorado; Ann Arbor, Michigan; or Madison, Wisconsin

“In the next 10 years, South Bend could be the next big data capital or the venture capital capital of the Midwest,” he shares. While money is always a factor, the “trick is to create more opportunities. We’ve tapped into a latent and stored up pool of energy around entrepreneurship.”

Listen to Ritchie and check out our new episode (out today) with Becky Skillman, former Indiana lieutenant governor and passionate advocate for south central Indiana.

Tech Talk: OPT May Be Partial Answer to Talent Needs

Those in the talent attraction business – and who isn’t these days – probably know about the H-1B visa program and the cap challenges that come with it. Less well known in general, but surging in popularity among foreign students, is the Optional Practice Training (OPT) program.

OPT allows foreign graduates to seek temporary work anywhere in the country that is directly related to their field of study. According to the State Science & Technology Institute, foreign STEM graduates participating in OPT grew by 400% from 2008 to 2016. In recent years, OPT approvals outpaced H-1B visas.

The leading regions retaining foreign students graduating from local colleges are New York (85%), Seattle (84%) and Honolulu (83%). The metro areas with the largest share of foreign graduates coming from other metros are San Jose (71%), Kansas City (69%) and Peoria, Illinois (66%).

An in-depth story from the Pew Research Center explains it all. Below are a few excerpts.

More than half (53%) of the foreign graduates approved for employment specialized in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data.

Foreign students obtaining authorization to remain and work in the U.S. after graduation come from all corners of the globe, but the majority of them hold citizenship in Asia. Students from India, China and South Korea made up 57% of all OPT participants between 2004 and 2016.

While both programs give foreign workers temporary employment authorization in the U.S., they are different in a number of ways. For instance, only foreign students on an F-1 visa with a higher education degree from a U.S. college or university are eligible for the OPT program, whereas any foreign worker with a degree that is equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree or higher is permitted to apply for the H-1B visa.

Also, unlike the H-1B visa program, which imposes an annual cap of 65,000 visas to private companies sponsoring foreign workers, there is no cap on the number of approvals available under the OPT program; all F-1 visa holders are eligible to apply. Furthermore, foreign students do not require employer sponsorship to apply for OPT, while the H-1B visa program requires employers to directly sponsor the foreign workers they intend to hire.

A One Day Special Session (and More?) Preview

Today, the Indiana General Assembly reconvenes to pass five bills; four had been through the entire process during the regular session that ended on March 14 and were ready for final passage.

To use a basketball metaphor to describe the situation with these bills: The ball was still in the shooter’s hands when the shot clock went off. And the bills to be taken up in the special session will substantively be the same bills that were making their way down court in the final minutes of regulation. The only other bill is a technical corrections measure to reconcile inadvertent conflicts in language of bills that passed – i.e., two bills amending the same section of the code, but with slightly different wordage. Such technical corrections bills are routine.

As we reported last month, there are two tax administration bills. House Bill 1316 – the one to update Indiana with the federal tax reform changes – is both significant in effect and time sensitive. Failure to pass this legislation would greatly complicate 2018 returns and be of substantial consequence to Indiana and its taxpayers. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 242 includes a number of provisions the Indiana Department of Revenue sought to improve tax administration.

The remaining two bills are in the education realm: one addressing school safety issues and the other involving state oversight of financially distressed school systems – often regarded as the Muncie and Gary schools bill. There are lingering disagreements attached to the provisions of the latter legislation (testimony was heard earlier this week by the Legislative Council), and it will reignite debates that were had during the regular session. But it is expected that the time allotted for rehashing these debates will be limited.

Given the timeframe, there is little for legislators to do except formally act on the five bills. That leads us to the question: Will they in fact get all their work done in a single day? Probably so, once they suspend most of the rules that would, if applied, serve only to prolong the proceedings.

Separately, it appears there is some other significant business to be conducted by the Senate while they are all in town. Rumor has it that the following day (May 15) will be devoted to some serious internal politics. That would be the selection of a new Senate Pro Tempore to replace the retiring Sen. David Long (R-Fort Wayne). Talk is of a “binding straw poll” seeking to lock members into a statement of who they intend to support when a formal vote is taken in November, after the fall election. Senators Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) and Travis Holdman (R-Markle) are the acknowledged frontrunners for the Senate leadership post.

Much at Stake in U.S. Supreme Court Online Sales Tax Case

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will hear oral arguments in South Dakota v. Wayfair. Wayfair Inc., Overstock.com and another online retailer challenged a South Dakota law that calls for them to collect South Dakota’s sales tax on their sales to South Dakota residents, even though the companies have no physical operations or physical presence in the state.

The online retailers’ position is supported by precedent. Over 50 years ago in National Bellas Hess Inc. v. Department of Revenue of Illinois (1967), SCOTUS found, based on Commerce Clause protections, that Illinois could not require an out-of-state business to collect its sales tax unless the business had a “physical presence” in Illinois.
This “physical presence” test was affirmed in Quill v. North Dakota (1992) when the Court ruled that North Dakota could not require a mail order company to collect its sales tax, again citing the requirement as an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce. But the Court’s opinion seemed to acknowledge that different circumstances could yield different results.

And much has changed since 1992. Most notably, the internet was only in its infancy then and online retailers were unheard of. The application of Quill to a transaction and industry that barely existed when the opinion was issued has generated growing debate over the last 10 to 15 years. Pressure to overturn Quill has steadily grown as internet sales swallow up a larger market share each year, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers see their profits decline, states see their revenues decline and the “burden” associated with collecting the taxes has been steadily lessened by technological advances.

Congress has the authority to legislatively overturn Quill but countervailing political forces have impeded it from remedying the situation. Consequently, states have legislated an array of their own remedies, in the form of imaginative and constitutionally suspect laws. As part of a concerted effort across the country, advocates for overturning Quill began a campaign designed to present a new basis for testing the Quill holding.

It encouraged states to impose laws they knew would be challenged, in order to get a fresh case before the Supreme Court and give them the opportunity to argue Quill’s legal obsolescence. The laws would purport to establish legal nexus based on the level of sales that online businesses conduct in their state. This concept is referred to as “economic nexus”.

In comes South Dakota – the first state to pass legislation imposing the collection requirement based on a defined economic nexus. If an online seller has more than $100,000 in sales or more than 200 separate sales to South Dakota residents, then that retailer must collect the sales tax in those transactions. The South Dakota law served as the model as a few other states passed nearly identical legislation, including Indiana (in 2017). South Dakota fast-tracked the litigation and here we are with a potential landmark case before SCOTUS.

Will Quill be overturned? It seems very possible. First, the Court took the case which could be interpreted as a recognition that the issue needs to be revisited. Second, three justices have questioned the application of the Quill case. And many stakeholders have presented legal arguments to support and encourage the Court to reach an updated result. Forty amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) briefs have been filed since the Court decided to hear the case in January.

These include briefs filed on behalf of: various retail business associations, 41 states collectively, the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, four U.S. Senators (two Republicans, two Democrats) and the Solicitor General of the United States.

Numerous other organizations filed briefs, including: the Multistate Tax Commission, Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board and Tax Foundation. One was filed on behalf of “professors of tax law and economics at universities across the United States”. All these can be viewed here. Some taxpayer advocates argued against giving states the authority to require collection. But a majority favor overturning Quill. Typical is the argument of the Solicitor General, stating in its brief:

“In light of internet retailers’ pervasive and continuous virtual presence in the states where their web sites are accessible, the states have ample authority to require those retailers to collect state sales taxes owed by their customers. Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992), should not be read to bar that result, both because the Quill Court did not and could not anticipate the development of modern e-commerce and because Quill’s analysis was deeply flawed.”

The Tax Foundation, whose brief does not directly support either party, made some important points. It recognizes that the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause prohibits states from unduly burdening or unfairly taxing interstate commerce. But it also recognizes that the current hodge-podge of state laws is untenable. The Tax Foundation maintains that the South Dakota law is constitutional because it minimizes the burden on commerce by adhering to uniform and standard administration. Its brief sums it up saying:

“The Court’s guidance is needed before the states subject interstate commerce to death by a thousand cuts. (And it asks that) the Court reverse the decision of the Court below and uphold the South Dakota statute, but also resolve an almost universal lack of clarity about the proper scope of state sales taxation of out-of-state entities.”

The outcome of this case, 50 years in the making, will have a significant impact on many people. States and local governments care about this case because there is around $20 billion of state tax revenues at stake. (Estimates range from $13 billion to $26 billion and the number will only get larger as time goes by.) Indiana’s share would probably be in the $200 million range, so the state’s budget makers care.

Brick-and mortar retail businesses in Indiana care because they must compete with online retailers and having to charge their customers the 7% Indiana sales tax puts them at a price disadvantage to the online sellers who don’t collect it. Indiana businesses that sell online to customers in other states care because they must comply with the expanding spectrum of varying state laws. Taxpayers should care because they are legally already obligated to pay use tax on their online purchase, whether they presently do or not, and because dwindling/unrealized revenues can spur tax increases elsewhere.

SCOTUS hearings are not broadcast. However, a recording of the oral argument will be made available the Friday following the hearing.

The Court’s decision will be made sometime before the end of June when its current term expires.

Victory! Software-as-a-Service Bill Set to Become Law

This week, the Senate unanimously approved the House changes to Senate Bill 257 (Sales Tax on Software). This bill began as a top Indiana Chamber goal; it was embraced by the administration and made a priority of the Governor, the Senate got it introduced and rolling, then the House took good legislation and made it even better.

The Senate concurrence vote means the bill is on its way to Gov. Holcomb and there will be SaaS (software as a service) tax clarity in Indiana!

This is exactly what the Indiana Chamber has been working toward since last summer and it is good news for the SaaS industry. Senate Bill 257 is a straightforward piece of legislation that can reap very real economic benefits for the state. We thank legislators for listening to our members and taking this important step forward to demonstrate Indiana’s commitment to embracing the growth of the SaaS industry. The legislation puts Indiana in a very favorable position to attract more and more of this burgeoning business to our state.