BizVoiceExtra: Small Indiana Town Helps Villagers Thousands of Miles Away

Toward the end of my telephone interview with Bob Gabrielse for an article in the July-August issue of BizVoice magazine, he politely asked if he could quickly take another call, apologizing for the interruption.

A trucking company was on the other end of the line, hoping to deliver 200 parts about an hour later. The vehicle wasn’t heading to Gabrielse’s law office in DeMotte, but to a production shop where he devotes several hours each week overseeing the work and building hand-pedaled mobility carts through Mobility Ministries (https://mobilityworldwide.org/affiliates/indiana-demotte/our-shop/).

The sturdy three-wheeled carts travel from Indiana to rural areas in Africa where adults and children who can’t walk gain the freedom that comes with independent mobility – the ability to leave a hut or village without relying on another person to carry them. Unlike canes or walkers, these units also have an area for goods or packages.

Since opening the first facility in 2011, DeMotte Mobility Ministries has become a bit of a leader among the affiliate Mobility Worldwide locations, says Gabrielse, who is currently working to develop a prototype that’s lighter than the current model, making it easier to pedal. He and Arla, his wife of 45 years, manage the shop.

Both have played a major role in the DeMotte facility from the start after Bob read about this type of work in a magazine from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, where his kids had gone to school.

He tells me how he got involved, which also reveals a connection to previous overseas charity work.

“I saw an article in there from somebody I had met in Central America who was now retired and living in Florida near Jacksonville, and they had a shop that was building these mobility carts. They had a picture of him in there with one of them, and I thought, ‘You know, this town is small here. We’re not very big in DeMotte, but they (residents) have a good heart. They’re generous people with a good work ethic. We can do that here.’ ”

And they do.

With a schedule of seven or eight units a week, volunteers at the Indiana location now produce 350 to 400 a year in the current 7,200-square-foot production space.

“We have 55 to 60 retirees that volunteer at the shop. They work about four hours a week, and these are people from all over here, not just DeMotte,” he stresses. “They come from 20, 30 miles away to work, and they are very devoted to this. They love the camaraderie that the shop gives to a retiree.”

He adds that the working conditions are nice – cool in the summer and warm in the winter. In addition, “They just really enjoy the ministry.”

It is a ministry, especially for Gabrielse.

“As a Christian, I feel it’s very important that we serve others,” he shares. “We shouldn’t be taking. We should be giving.”

The Indianapolis-based Malawi Project (http://malawiproject.org) is currently the distribution partner for Mobility Worldwide, of which the Indiana Mobility Ministries is one production location. (The nonprofit also worked with the Luke Commission for distribution.)

Reading about and listening to Gabrielse talk about this project spotlighted two points for me:

  1. The latest and greatest technology is not only sometimes unnecessary, it may even be unhelpful.

Not only does it take better infrastructure to support technological solutions, but simpler, cheaper options may be more practical. For example, these basic carts may be more rugged and easier to repair than a motorized chair would be, even if it could withstand the roots and uneven surfaces. It’s a good reminder that when looking for a solution or result, be sure it’s sustainable and suitable.

  1. Don’t underestimate what you – with the support of your community – can do.

In this case, one person read one magazine article that offered a solution to a problem. Through hard work and commitment, that led to a team of retirees joining together to improve the lives of hundreds of others 8,000 miles away. That’s pretty amazing.

For Gabrielse, helping others is a calling, and he also brings that dedication to his legal practice in a small town of 4,000.

He isn’t alone.

The other attorneys I talked to about practicing law in small communities also stressed the ability to help others – especially where they lived – as a gratifying part of their work.

Find out what it’s like to practice law in a small community in the July-August BizVoice article, “Doing What It Takes: Attorneys Serve Community Needs.”

BizVoiceExtra: All Sides of the Law

Bill Barrett heads the litigation group at the Williams Barrett & Wilkowski law firm in Greenwood. He says his background after graduating from Indiana University Law School (Bloomington) is invaluable in his current role.

Barrett was a clerk for both the Indiana Court of Appeals and the Indiana Tax Court. He followed that by becoming a prosecutor in Johnson County and then serving as magistrate for the Johnson circuit and superior courts.

“I’ve worn so many hats over the years that the system of advocacy that our legal system is based on is almost second nature to me,” he says. “I’m able to see things from another perspective, which is always handy. Young lawyers tend to be too committed to their positions. … When somebody says there are two sides toe very story, I say there are at least two sides.”

Barrett does appellate, campaign and election work, among other areas of focus. He also represents a variety of law enforcement agencies.

“I find that those (past) experiences have given me a breadth of perspective that have let me work in different areas, which is part of what makes us nimble and able to get along at a level of 10 lawyers – and not down to two or three, or have to jump up to 40 or 50.”

Barrett was joined by Chuck Baldwin of Ogletree Deakins and Heather Wilson of Frost Brown Todd for a roundtable discussion on the legal profession in our current BizVoice® magazine. You can read the full story at www.bizvoicemagazine.com.

BizVoiceExtra: A Day to Remember

From the moment I heard about Phyllis Gratz Poff’s career, I was intrigued. When I met her in person, I was awestruck.

BizVoice® magazine profiles Poff (at age 87, she’s Indiana’s longest-practicing female attorney) in our current issue, which features a special law firm section. I traveled to her downtown office in Auburn, which she’s occupied for 45-plus years.

During an impromptu lunch, we ran into attorney Eric Weber who affectionately proclaimed, “She’s a legend around here!” At least a handful of others acknowledged her with a hug, a wave or chat.

Young attorneys in the area starting their careers often seek guidance from Poff. “Just as I did (in her early days),” she observes.

In addition to knowledge and experience, what makes her such a vital part of the community is her spirit:

  • Grit: In 1953, she graduated from The John Marshall Law School in Chicago (she was the only female in her class.)
  • Civic service: Between 1960 and 1964, Poff served as the attorney for DeKalb County and Watlerloo, her hometown. In addition, she presided as Auburn city judge (1967 to 1979), among other roles.
  • Resilience: She refuses to surrender to cancer and other health issues. Three weeks after having back surgery, for instance, she returned to work. My jaw dropped upon learning this! Poff didn’t bat an eye. Why? Devotion to clients is a way of life.

During our chat, she tells childhood stories, shares legal lessons and imparts words of wisdom: “You can never give up on the human race,” she reflects.

I was so inspired, I asked her to take a photo with me to commemorate my visit. It’s one I’ll cherish.

Read more about Poff in BizVoice.

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.

Tracking How a Bill Becomes Law

For anyone who wants to learn more about how legislation turns into law in the Hoosier state, the Indiana Chamber has a handy guide free of charge.

Among what’s included: a diagram of the bill process, a glossary of often-used terms and a look at where bills commonly get tripped up. We encourage you to download the 11-pager and follow along with what’s going on at the Indiana General Assembly.

The Indiana Chamber will be providing updates and issuing pertinent documents throughout the session at www.indianachamber.com/legislative.

 

Bush Signs Great Lakes Compact

Obviously, the Great Lakes Compact has been far from the front page of most newspapers lately. However, the Chamber-supported bill that was put forth by bipartisan efforts in eight states and two Canadian provinces is a big deal for the Midwest, and is now officially a law.

Negotiations leading to the compact began in the late 1990s after an Ontario consulting firm obtained a provincial permit to ship 158 million gallons of Lake Superior water to Asia each year.

It later was withdrawn, but the case sent a shudder through the region and led the governors to investigate whether they had sufficient legal authority to reject similar attempts.

Supporters noted a United Nations estimate that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population would lack ready access to clean, fresh water.

The compact drew bipartisan support and was endorsed by presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain, as well as business and environmental groups in the region.

In this year’s state legislature, the passage of SB 45 made Indiana the first state to adopt the Great Lakes Compact and implemenation language. Prior to the session, the Chamber, in cooperation with environmental interest groups, hosted the Indianapolis public meeting on the compact. In testimony, the Indiana Chamber expressed its support for the bill, noting that nearly 20% of the world’s fresh water is contained in the Great Lakes and that we must do what we can to preserve and protect this valuable resource that is critical to many Indiana businesses, industries and residents.