Title Slide
Uncovering public information on private
companies
Chris Roush | croush@email.unc.edu
University of Wisconsin ...
Roush
Chris
•  Walter E. Hussman Sr.
Distinguished Scholar in business
journalism at the University of
North Carolina
•  S...
Public vs. Private
•  Business reporters spend a lot of time
writing stories about publicly traded
companies who file docu...
Private companies
n  Smaller companies are the backbone of local
economies.
n  22.9 million, according to the U.S. Small...
Private companies
n  Can sometimes be harder to find
information about private companies.
n  If you look hard enough tho...
Private companies
n  Don’t be afraid to
ask.
n  When someone
tells you no, keep
digging.
Photo by flickr user The Garden...
Some basic places to look
Photo by flickr user NEGameandParks
The beauty of checking up
n  A developer came to Nashville
and proposed an amusement park.
n  Annie Johnson of the Nashv...
State records
n  The Secretary of State’s office has
records on every business incorporated
in Wisconsin.
n  https://www...
Secretary of State records
n  You can also search Secretary of State
records to get similar information for
other operati...
What this will show you
n  Incorporation records
give you a listing of a
businesses officers, or
executives.
n  It will ...
Occupational Licensing Boards
n  There are regulatory boards that govern
dozens of industries in Wisconsin.
n  They rang...
Licensing board examples
n  The Monterey County Weekly paper in
California wrote about how the state
Contractors State Li...
County records
n  Before any sole proprietorship or partnership does
business in Wisconsin under an assumed name, the
bus...
The WARN Act
n  Employers who are laying
off or firing workers are
required to disclose such
moves 60 days before they
do...
The WARN Act
n  An employer must give notice if a plant will be shut
down, and the shutdown will result in an employment
...
Safety and health
n  Worker complaints about unsafe or unhealthy
working conditions should be made in writing
to the Occu...
Workplace injuries
n  The Occupational Safety and
Health Administration
inspects workplace deaths
and injuries.
n  http:...
Workplace injuries
n  The Fort Myers News-Press
reported about an OSHA
investigation into the drowning of
a worker at a c...
My favorites
Photo by flickr user jeffpearce
UCC filings
n  Who owes money to whom, and how
much?
n  These documents are available through
the Secretary of State’s O...
UCC filings
n  A UCC filing occurs when one business sells
something to another business on credit. The
business that sol...
UCC stories
n  When the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigated a
church that wanted to redevelop a shopping center, it
look...
Nonprofit organizations
n  Even though they’re not in operation to make
money, you can still find out financial
informati...
Some Madison nonprofits
n  The YWCA of Madison had $4.2 million in
revenue and $3.5 million in expenses in
2011.
n  The ...
Nonprofit organizations
n  Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
n  Form 990 is required to be filed by tax-...
Nonprofit resources
n  http://www.grantsmart.org -- A searchable
database for Form 990 filings with the Internal
Revenue ...
Nonprofit resources
n  http://www.give.org -- The Better
Business Bureau Wise Giving
Alliance maintains reports on
nation...
Small Business Administration
n  Federal agency created to help small business owners.
n  Virtually every small business...
Small Business Administration
n  http://www.sba.gov/content/sbic-
directory
n  I found this list of small-business
inves...
Credit unions
n  Many cities have dozens of credit unions. Yet
many newspapers don’t write stories about
them.
n  Credit...
Credit unions
n  The Dane County Credit Union had $130
million in assets. Net income in the first
quarter was $113,000, u...
Banks
n  Regulated by state and federal agencies.
n  Data on bank branches -- including private banks --
such as market ...
Banks
n  First Business Financial Services owns First
Business Bank.
n  Only has two branches – one on Charmany
Drive an...
Insurance companies
n  State insurance departments have tons of financial
information on privately held insurance compani...
Random Websites
Photo by flickr user Ronnnnnnn
Political campaign
contributions
n  How much did Aaron Rogers give to
certain local political campaigns?
n  http://www.f...
Lobbying
n  Does the company have a lobbyist, and how
much are they paying them?
n  http://www.opensecrets.org/lobbyists...
Hospital financial data
n  http://www.ahd.com/freesearch.php3
n  I found financial information for six hospitals
in the ...
Patents and trademarks
n  http://patents.uspto.gov/
n  Type in a company’s name and see what
they’re getting patents for...
The EPA
n  http://www.epa.gov -- Click on the docket to
the left on the home page to see Federal
Register notices, suppor...
Toxic waste
n  http://d1.rtknet.org/tri/ --
The Toxic Release
Inventory is a database of
information about releases
and t...
Activists
n  http://activistcash.com/ -- Profiles anti-
consumer activist groups, along with
information about the source...
Amusement parks/rides
n  http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/
amuse.pdf -- This file lists who regulates
amusement park ride...
EEOC
n  http://www.eeoc.gov -- The Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission
investigates charges against
businesses for un...
Consumer advocates
n  http://www.nasuca.org -- National
Association of State Utility Consumer
Advocates, which represents...
Consumer products
n  http://www.planetfeedback.com/ --
Search for complaints of
compliments about any product
and any com...
One last thought
n  Good business writers are hard to find.
n  Make a name for yourself writing business
stories, and yo...
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Uncovering Public Information on Private Companies by Chris Roush

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Chris Roush, award-winning professor and founding director of the Carolina Business News Initiative at the University of North Carolina, presents tips for diving into private company investigations during the free, full-day workshop, "Finding Your Best Investigative Business Story."

This training event was hosted by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism and the the SPJ Madison Pro Chapter at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sept. 28, 2013.

For more information about free training for business journalists, please visit http://businessjournalism.org.

For more tips on how to develop investigative business journalism stories, please visit http://bit.ly/investigativebiz2013.

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Uncovering Public Information on Private Companies by Chris Roush

  1. 1. Title Slide Uncovering public information on private companies Chris Roush | croush@email.unc.edu University of Wisconsin - Madison Sept. 28, 2013
  2. 2. Roush Chris •  Walter E. Hussman Sr. Distinguished Scholar in business journalism at the University of North Carolina •  Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Teacher of the Year in 2009 and the N.C. Professor of the Year in 2010. •  Author of Show Me the Money: Writing Business and Economics Stories for Mass Communication
  3. 3. Public vs. Private •  Business reporters spend a lot of time writing stories about publicly traded companies who file documents with the SEC •  Makes it easier to cover business, because lots of information is disclosed. •  Does it make reporters lazy? In some cases, I would argue yes.
  4. 4. Private companies n  Smaller companies are the backbone of local economies. n  22.9 million, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. n  Small businesses provide 75 percent of the net new jobs added to the economy and represent 99.7 percent of all employers. n  More than half of the private workforce is employed by a small business, which accounted for 52 percent of the private-sector output.
  5. 5. Private companies n  Can sometimes be harder to find information about private companies. n  If you look hard enough though, you’ll often find what you’re looking for. n  Many private companies will disclose the information somewhere, to someone.
  6. 6. Private companies n  Don’t be afraid to ask. n  When someone tells you no, keep digging. Photo by flickr user The Garden Smallholder
  7. 7. Some basic places to look Photo by flickr user NEGameandParks
  8. 8. The beauty of checking up n  A developer came to Nashville and proposed an amusement park. n  Annie Johnson of the Nashville Business Journal looked into his background. n  She found a trail of unpaid bills, bounced checks, evictions, troubled business associates and unfulfilled plans. n  She got to write: “In a 2006 letter related to the purchase of the San Diego property, Peterson said he received a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University. (Harvard’s MBA Registrar has no record that Peterson attended the school.)”
  9. 9. State records n  The Secretary of State’s office has records on every business incorporated in Wisconsin. n  https://www.wdfi.org/apps/CorpSearch/ Search.aspx n  Here you can search by company name, new corporations or by registered agent.
  10. 10. Secretary of State records n  You can also search Secretary of State records to get similar information for other operations. n  These include nonprofits, limited liability corporations such as law firms and limited partnerships, and notaries public. n  Secretary of State offices in all states: http://businessjournalism.org/ registration/llc/
  11. 11. What this will show you n  Incorporation records give you a listing of a businesses officers, or executives. n  It will also give you a mailing address and a phone number. n  Has their license expired? If it has, that could be a sign of financial trouble. Photo by flickr user GHAVA
  12. 12. Occupational Licensing Boards n  There are regulatory boards that govern dozens of industries in Wisconsin. n  They range from acupuncture to X-ray technicians. n  These boards have websites where you can also find information about businesses in these industries. n  http://dsps.wi.gov/Default.aspx? Page=c5911537-5f34-46ec- a3bc-2a2bf770fb7e
  13. 13. Licensing board examples n  The Monterey County Weekly paper in California wrote about how the state Contractors State License Board was finding and fining unlicensed contractors in the county. n  In Massachusetts, the Falls River Herald wrote about the local liquor licensing board approving two new restaurants.
  14. 14. County records n  Before any sole proprietorship or partnership does business in Wisconsin under an assumed name, the business name must be registered. n  An assumed name is any name other than the real name of the owner or owners the business. n  Business names or partnerships must be filed with the Register of Deeds Office in the county or counties where it does business. n  https://www.wdfi.org/apps/TrademarkSearch/ Search.aspx
  15. 15. The WARN Act n  Employers who are laying off or firing workers are required to disclose such moves 60 days before they do it. n  This is a document filed here: http:// worknet.wisconsin.gov/ worknet/downloads.aspx? menuselection=da&pgm=p cml n  Regularly check for WARN Act filings. Photo by flickr user jonathanklinvex
  16. 16. The WARN Act n  An employer must give notice if a plant will be shut down, and the shutdown will result in an employment loss for 50 or more employees during any 30-day period. n  An employer must give notice if there is to be a mass layoff which does not result from a plant closing, but which will result in an employment loss at the site during any 30-day period for 500 or more employees, or for 50-499 employees if they make up at least 33 percent of the employer's active workforce.
  17. 17. Safety and health n  Worker complaints about unsafe or unhealthy working conditions should be made in writing to the Occupational Safety and Health Division. n  The division conducts investigations of complaints made by workers, investigations of work-related accidents and deaths, general schedule inspections of randomly picked firms, and follow-up inspections of firms previously cited for OSHA violations.
  18. 18. Workplace injuries n  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspects workplace deaths and injuries. n  http://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/ establishment.html n  This site allows you to look at accident-investigation reports and inspection reports for companies by industry. n  Found 13 open cases involving Oshkosh between 2008 and 2013. (Lots more closed cases).Photo by OSHA
  19. 19. Workplace injuries n  The Fort Myers News-Press reported about an OSHA investigation into the drowning of a worker at a country club. n  The Toledo Blade reported that a construction company in Ohio was fined $26,100 for failing to prevent worker-safety hazards.
  20. 20. My favorites Photo by flickr user jeffpearce
  21. 21. UCC filings n  Who owes money to whom, and how much? n  These documents are available through the Secretary of State’s Office. n  https://www.wdfi.org/ucc/search/
  22. 22. UCC filings n  A UCC filing occurs when one business sells something to another business on credit. The business that sold the tractor to the farmer, for example, filed a UCC form showing that the tractor is collateral for the loan. n  If the business that purchased the tractor fails to pay the loan, the other business can repossess the tractor. UCC forms can show whether a business is borrowing a lot of money to make purchases. n  This could be a sign that the company plans to expand its operations.
  23. 23. UCC stories n  When the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigated a church that wanted to redevelop a shopping center, it looked at its UCC filings and discovered that banks and other lenders had given it seven loans despite the fact that it had fallen behind in paying its taxes and other debts. n  When USA Today researched former WorldCom leader Bernie Ebbers, it pored through UCC filings around the country to get a detailed list of everything he’d invested in or purchased in the past decade. That helped show the reader where the money he’d made from WorldCom had gone.
  24. 24. Nonprofit organizations n  Even though they’re not in operation to make money, you can still find out financial information. n  www.guidestar.org is a website with information about nonprofit organizations across the country. n  Found the financial information for more than 3,312 nonprofits that mention Madison, Wis., on this site. Some of them look like businesses to me.
  25. 25. Some Madison nonprofits n  The YWCA of Madison had $4.2 million in revenue and $3.5 million in expenses in 2011. n  The Catholic Diocese Charities had $9.6 million in revenue and $9.1 million in expenses. n  The Madison Community Foundation had revenue of $8.6 million and $10.8 million in expenses.
  26. 26. Nonprofit organizations n  Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service. n  Form 990 is required to be filed by tax-exempt organizations with more than $100,000 in annual receipts or total assets of at least $250,000. Form 990-EZ must be filed by smaller organizations, with at least $25,000 in annual receipts and total assets of less than $250,000. n  The forms are public documents that reveal income, expenses, assets and liabilities; expenditures by program category; program accomplishments; names of officers, directors and key employees; compensation paid to officers, directors and key employees. Most religious organizations are not required to file Form 990.
  27. 27. Nonprofit resources n  http://www.grantsmart.org -- A searchable database for Form 990 filings with the Internal Revenue Service for more than 60,000 foundations. Can search by name, location or assets. More than one year may be available. n  http://www.charitynavigator.org -- Has independent evaluations of more than 2,500 charities. Database can be searched by category, region or keyword.
  28. 28. Nonprofit resources n  http://www.give.org -- The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance maintains reports on nationally soliciting charitable organizations that are the subject of donor inquiries. These reports include an evaluation of the subject charity in relation to the voluntary BBB charity standards. n  http://wisconsin.bbb.org/Find- Business-Reviews/
  29. 29. Small Business Administration n  Federal agency created to help small business owners. n  Virtually every small business is private. n  Millions of companies registered with SBA to receive benefits or to qualify for contracts and business.
  30. 30. Small Business Administration n  http://www.sba.gov/content/sbic- directory n  I found this list of small-business investment companies in Wisconsin on the SBA website. (Can do a lot of other searches here.)
  31. 31. Credit unions n  Many cities have dozens of credit unions. Yet many newspapers don’t write stories about them. n  Credit union financial information is available online from the National Credit Union Administration. n  http://www.ncua.gov/ Click on “Credit Union Data” on the left-hand menu to find specific information about any credit union. There are 16 credit unions in Madison.
  32. 32. Credit unions n  The Dane County Credit Union had $130 million in assets. Net income in the first quarter was $113,000, up five times from the same quarter a year ago. Loan-loss reserves down 11 percent. n  The St. Mary’s Credit Union had $32.7 million in assets in the first quarter. Net income of $31,200, up 100 percent.
  33. 33. Banks n  Regulated by state and federal agencies. n  Data on bank branches -- including private banks -- such as market share is available online. n  http://www.fdic.gov. Go here and click on “Bank Data” to get market-share info. n  http://www3.fdic.gov/idasp//. Find any bank holding company or location insured by the FDIC. Search results will tell you the bank’s total deposits and assets, as well as financial performance. n  Found five small, private banks based in Madison.
  34. 34. Banks n  First Business Financial Services owns First Business Bank. n  Only has two branches – one on Charmany Drive and one on University Ave. n  The one on Charmany Drive has the most assets -- $848 million. n  Bank had net income of $3.4 million in the first quarter, up from $2.8 million in the first quarter of 2012.
  35. 35. Insurance companies n  State insurance departments have tons of financial information on privately held insurance companies. Can get revenues, profits and regulatory action. n  Many insurance companies set up subsidiaries for each state because of varying insurance laws. Can get Allstate and State Farm results for your state. n  Rate increases make great stories. They affect everyone. Regularly check with your insurance department about rate requests. n  Find state insurance department websites here: http://www.naic.org/state_contacts/sid_websites.jsp
  36. 36. Random Websites Photo by flickr user Ronnnnnnn
  37. 37. Political campaign contributions n  How much did Aaron Rogers give to certain local political campaigns? n  http://www.followthemoney.org/ n  What about federal campaigns? n  http://www.tray.com/cgi-win/ indexhtml.exe?MBF=NAME n  The last database goes back to 1980. Can search company names as well.
  38. 38. Lobbying n  Does the company have a lobbyist, and how much are they paying them? n  http://www.opensecrets.org/lobbyists/ index.asp n  The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin spent $10,000 in lobbying last year. n  The University of Wisconsin spent $310,000 after spending more than $500,000 in 2010. n  The Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers spent $40,000 in 2010, $10,000 in 2011 but nothing last year.
  39. 39. Hospital financial data n  http://www.ahd.com/freesearch.php3 n  I found financial information for six hospitals in the Madison area on this site, including University of Wisconsin and St. Mary’s Hospital. n  Found financial information for Mendota Mental Health Hospital, Meritor Hospital, Select Specialty Hospital and the Middleton VA Hospital as well. n  This is a subscriber site.
  40. 40. Patents and trademarks n  http://patents.uspto.gov/ n  Type in a company’s name and see what they’re getting patents for. n  Johnson Controls has 1,168 patents. The most recent one is for a “Adjusting device, in particular for the seat of a motor vehicle.” n  I read the application, but have no idea why this is so important. n  Information in the patent application goes a long way in explaining what a business does – or is planning to do.
  41. 41. The EPA n  http://www.epa.gov -- Click on the docket to the left on the home page to see Federal Register notices, support documents and public comments for regulations the agency publishes and various non-regulatory activities. n  Also a nice search engine of environmental information available by ZIP Code, which lists EPA-regulated businesses.
  42. 42. Toxic waste n  http://d1.rtknet.org/tri/ -- The Toxic Release Inventory is a database of information about releases and transfers of toxic chemicals from manufacturing facilities. n  Facilities must report their releases of a toxic chemical if they fulfill four criteria. This can be searched by geographic regions as well as by facility, parent company and industry. Photo by Flickr user Public Domain Photos
  43. 43. Activists n  http://activistcash.com/ -- Profiles anti- consumer activist groups, along with information about the sources of their funding. n  Breaks them up among activist groups, foundations, celebrities and major individual players in the activist community.
  44. 44. Amusement parks/rides n  http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/ amuse.pdf -- This file lists who regulates amusement park rides on a state-by-state basis. Photo by flickr user awlyons
  45. 45. EEOC n  http://www.eeoc.gov -- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigates charges against businesses for unfair employment practices or discrimination. n  “Litigation” section on the left side of the page has a link to a monthly report on all of the actions taken by the agency.
  46. 46. Consumer advocates n  http://www.nasuca.org -- National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, which represents the interest of consumers before state and federal agencies in 40 states and the District of Columbia. n  Nice list of its testimony and filings.
  47. 47. Consumer products n  http://www.planetfeedback.com/ -- Search for complaints of compliments about any product and any company at this site. n  If you’re writing about consumer- products companies, the postings might provide some story ideas.
  48. 48. One last thought n  Good business writers are hard to find. n  Make a name for yourself writing business stories, and your career will take off. n  A knowledge of how to write business stories about private companies can be applied to any beat at a newspaper or any publication. n  Private-company coverage will make your reporting stand out.

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