Business Columns & Blogs

Bill Virgin: September is the beginning of the year in many ways

Happy New Year.

No, you didn’t pull a Rip van Winkle and doze all the way to Jan. 1, missing four months, the fair, Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Election Day, most of football season and enough rain in November to sink a floating bridge.

Jan. 1 is still, for such calendar-based endeavors as tax reporting, a significant landmark. Officially, at least, it’s the first day of a new year.

Unofficially, instead of on the calendar page in the way we live our lives, the real start of the new year is the day after Labor Day.

Let’s think about this: Most kids, including college students, are back in school and on campus. Vacation season is largely done. The pools have been drained. The weather is turning from dry days that run for weeks uninterrupted to days of mist, drizzle, steady rain and downpours.

September has long marked the culmination of summer and the start of a new year, a holdover from our agrarian heritage when harvesting began. Most of our agricultural endeavors these days are limited to backyard gardens, which will awaken from the late-summer dry spell to one last burst of productivity before settling in for the winter.

Those readers who are of the columnist’s dotage will recall that September marked the start of football, the end of baseball, the launch of the three TV networks’ new programs and the introduction of new car models. It also was the traditional start of political season, since no one wanted to pay attention to politics when there was good weather to enjoy.

Some of those traditions have been eroded. Sports seasons are now so extended, in both directions, that they overlap to the point of blurring the distinctions. The four broadcast networks (five if you want to include PBS) still roll out new programs in September, but they do so in an environment of hundreds of channels and technology options that allow viewers to select what and when they’ll watch. New-car season isn’t close to the phenomenon it was when it was just the Detroit Three’s models people paid attention to.

As for politics, it used to be said that a presidential campaign really didn’t start until the last out of the World Series. With the “Fall Classic” threatening to become the “Christmas Classic,” that axiom no longer works. Washington used to sensibly hold its primary in September, thus reducing the voters’ suffering until the general election, but now holds it in August, when people care even less than normal.

But a lot of the business world still runs on a September-to-August calendar. People return from vacation with renewed vigor and a lengthy to-do list. Emails are no longer answered with the automated response of “I will be out of the office until ...” The federal government runs on an Oct. 1-Sept. 30 fiscal year. And while we may not do much Big Ag on this side of the mountains, drive over to Eastern Washington and feel the heightened activity as hay bales are packed into storage structures and fruit boxes are dropped in orchards.

So if it’s tradition to start the calendar new year with “what to watch” stories, how about some trends and stories to watch in the real-world new year.

For example, let’s watch what happens with the launch of tourism season here in Tacoma and Pierce County. Yes, we just got done saying that vacation season is largely done, but that’s for the long-distance, overnight-stay travel. There’s a huge component of the travel industry, especially for markets like this, for day travel (according to numbers posted in a recent Tacoma Regional Convention + Visitors Bureau report, the average day-travel party size is two people each spending $112 a day). Tacoma just got the spotlight treatment from Sunset magazine as a day-trip destination. Let’s see if that’s enough enticement to get more people to drop some money here.

Or, with the launch of the school year, let’s watch what goes on in education. We might see moves and experiments to deal with such issues as the cost of higher-ed, the need for trained, skilled workers to replace retirees and the goal of improving math, science and technology knowledge.

Microsoft might make some news (already has, and there’s the matter of picking a new CEO). Boeing too. It’s not a rich year for election news in a supposedly off-election cycle, but there are still some races to watch, not to mention the elbowing for position for 2014. Government always bears watching, at all levels, for how it intends to raise and spend money (a gas-tax hike in this state for highway projects such as state Route 167 from Puyallup to the port) and how it intends to deal — or not — with growing debt levels and liabilities.

Heck, you could even watch the debate over what you’re watching — or not — on your TV, tablet, mobile phone, PC or device yet to be invented. The industry’s business model has a “this can’t go on” feel to it; viewers are already saying they don’t want to pay for stuff they don’t watch, and if they have to they’ll construct their own delivery channels.

The nice thing about launching into a new year now is that the weather is still decent, we’re refreshed from vacation instead of feeling wrung out from the holidays, and there’s no list of resolutions to write and ignore. So power up, everyone. Time to get to work.