Roadmap: Handbook designed to help state businesses

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By Mike Scott

Legal News

Mark Hilpert is going to be paying close attention to what happens with the Michigan Business Tax (MBT) for a number of reasons.

His clients will certainly want to know the outcome of a suggested plan by new Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to eliminate the controversial business tax. But any changes would also influence when he and his partners at Honigman, Miller, Schwartz, and Cohn will be able to update the fourth edition of the firm's "Roadmap to Business Success" handbook.

This free guide has been a valuable marketing tool for the Detroit-based firm since 2006 when Hilpert and a group of business lawyers decided that such a handbook would be useful for clients and local business leaders. Such timely information could help strengthen business opportunities and improve business knowledge in the region, they thought.

For that reason it is designed to provide the southeastern Michigan business community with a detailed overview of topics impacting them on a daily basis, from taxes and incentives to employment and corporate law, litigation and environment considerations. There also are sections that outline the local court structures and an overview of dispute resolution options. Other topics include employee benefits, gaming and hospitality, government policy, insurance, regulatory, real estate, and more.

"It didn't really start out as a marketing tool because we were thinking it was more of a resource to provide our clients as an added service. But that is one of the things that it has evolved into," said Hilpert, the pseudo editor of the handbook who also writes and chapters on tax and tax incentives.

The handbook was developed because it was the most effective way that Honigman could communicate the options for summary programs available to business clients in a comprehensive way, Hilpert said. With so many requests on available tax incentives and loan options, the handbook could answer most of the general questions that clients had. But as the first edition was being developed, more information was added to cover many other topics that impact businesses.

For the last five years it has been used on the firm's website, as part of conferences and seminars that firm attorneys have spoken at and as a way to develop a conversation tool with prospective clients.

"We quickly recognized some aspects of the handbook that could be added that go beyond economic assessments and the value that it could provide business owners, executives and entrepreneurs," Hilpert said. "It basically evolved into a formal document that gives high-level overview."

The third version was published early in 2010 and Hilpert has shepherded the creation of a fourth version with his partners that is expected to be released later this year. However, with Governor Snyder proposing the elimination of the MBT, the development of a final version of a fourth edition may be put on hold. A new tax structure for Michigan businesses would significantly change the overview of the handbook, said Hilpert, co-chair of the Investment Incentives and Tax Savings Practice Group at Honigman.

The current proposal to eliminate the MBT would be in concert with a shift toward a revised corporate income tax structure. However, this proposal also could eliminate some of the credits and tax incentives that currently exist, such as those relating to job creation.

"It's safe to say that would have a significant impact on the chapters relating to tax which is my area and would have an impact on the overall (messages)," Hilpert said. "It's not uncommon because the taxes and tax incentive chapters have always been the most fluid, but this would be an even more substantial change."

As the handbook has evolved, such topics as protections for purchasers of contaminated properties, various litigation issues, the advantages of incorporating a business in Michigan, and more have been published. Various real estate items have also been discussed. Client feedback also can help drive the discussion of a topic within the document.

It is difficult for Hilpert to estimate the number of hours it takes to update a version of the handbook. Many partners, more than 25 on average, are involved in updating the content for each edition. Hilpert likely spends the most time on it given his expertise in tax and role as a project manager and editor. But the hope is that the handbook will continue to be a good reference piece for business clients and local leaders in the year ahead.

"We want it to have a very positive impact on our clients and the local (business) community in general," Hilpert said. "It is a challenge to keep (some of the chapters) updated because of law changes and the impact of the economy but it's a labor of love that has some significant value."

Published: Fri, Feb 18, 2011

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