Bill Introduced to Curb Federal Prison Industries

(The following was reported by the Specialty Graphic Imaging Assn.)

Congressman Bill Huizenga (MI-02) has introduced H.R. 4671, The Small Business Protection Act. The goal of this legislation is to end UNICOR’s government monopoly and force it to compete with the private sector.

Currently, UNICOR, also known as Federal Prison Industries, automatically gets its choice of federal government contracts through a process known as mandatory sourcing. This provision prevents private sector businesses from even competing for a federal government contract. On top of this, UNICOR also possesses special status to poach contracts specifically reserved for small businesses despite being a massive government-run entity that maintains a “workforce” of over 12,000 prisoners.

“Small business job growth is critical to developing and maintaining a healthy economy,” said Congressman Huizenga. “UNICOR, which is owned and operated by the federal government, actively undermines the free market. The federal government does not belong in the manufacturing or services industries when there are private sector options available and law-abiding citizens are looking for work.”

Specifically, H.R. 4671 does four things:

  • Enhances free market competition by eliminating UNICOR’s mandatory sourcing provision
  • Promotes small business job growth by preventing UNICOR from bidding on small business contracts
  • Protects sensitive and personal information from being handled by criminals
  • Requires a study on the effectiveness of UNICOR’s impact on recidivism

To read the text of the bill, go to .

Several years ago, the International Sign Association successfully worked with a coalition on The Hill and with a small business-friendly Congress/administration that culminated in securing reform language in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 that broke up FPI’s monopoly by allowing the private sector, including the sign industry, to compete for Dept. of Defense contracts if they offered a comparable product, states David Hickey, ISA’s VP of Governmental Relations. The full report of the act spans nearly 700 pages.

In 1998,  Federal Prison Industries could only sell to the federal government. But Congressman Bill McCollum (R-FL) introduced HR 4100 “Free Market Prison Industries Prison Reform Act of 1998,” which would allow FPI to compete in the private sector. Conversely, in 1997, Congressman Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) introduced HR 2758 to repeal FPI’s 60-year-old monopoly. A report about this appeared in the March 1999 issue of Signs of the Times magazine.


What Does Amortization Mean for Signage?

Amortization concerns the compensation for a sign that is no longer in compliance when a sign code changes. The theory is that, if a sign is allowed to exist for a certain period of time, the owner of it will recoup their investment before the sign has to be removed, which is a way of circumventing the “just compensation” portion of the 14th Amendment. The fallacy of this is explained in the following article, written by certified planner Richard Bass, that appears in The Signage Foundation website’s Research Library.

An example of appropriate argument for just compensation occurred in Richfield, Michigan with regard to a Michael’s crafts store. Its rooftop on-premise sign, which functioned like a billboard, had been built in the 1950s by the prior tenant. In 1987, Richfield banned rooftop signs. A 10-year amortization was included in the sign ordinance, and the Michael’s sign was ordered to be removed in 1998.

For “just compensation,” three valuation methods were used: cost of replacement, the income approach and a market comparison. Estimates were that Michael’s would need to spend $825,000 annually to replace the advertising value of its rooftop sign. Factoring in a 10% annual return on investment, this would mean the cost of replacing the sign’s advertising value would be $8.25 million.

As for income, the sign was calculated to account for 20-30% of the store’s sales. Conversely, the loss of the sign would mean a 20-30% decrease in sales. This would account for $200,000 less profit annually. Given the additional loss of investment income, the potential loss was calculated at $2 million.

As for replacement cost, based on a square-foot lease rate for a different use, the loss was calculated to be $56,000 annually. With a 10% investment revenue, this would mean a los of $560,000. Faced with this evidence, the court determined Richfield would have to pay cash compensation. A settlement occurred out of court. A full report on these proceedings appeared in the December 1998 issue of Signs of the Times magazine.

Conversely, others have failed to show an economic loss due to amortization. One instance occurred in Ridgeland, Mississippi in 1999. The city passed a sign ordinance that restricted ground signs to 50 square feet and a height of 12 feet, with exceptions for signs located within 300 feet of the Interstate highway. The ordinance included a five-year amortization period, which meant that legally erected signs, which would now become illegal with the passing of the sign ordinance, could stay up for another five years. But then they would have to be taken down, and that time period would suffice as just compensation.

Five years later, numerous businesses — Shoney’s, Midas Muffler, Red Roof Inns — filed an appeal to keep their signs. They invoked the precedent case of Lamar Adv. of South Georgia v. City of Albany (1990). The appeal process lasted three years, but the sign ordinance was upheld. The appellants erred in not documenting the economic ramifications of their signs being taken down, which is something Lamar had done when it won its appeal. This case is detailed in the June 1999 issue of Signs of the Times magazine.

As of November 2016, exactly half of the U.S. states (and the District of Columbia) recognize amortization as a legitimate form of just compensation, and the other 25 do not.

Where Can I Find a Model Sign Code?

Several model sign codes have been published, and many can be viewed in their entirety. Here are a few of them.

From The Signage Foundation

From the United States Sign Council

From the International Sign Association

Dynamic Digital Signage Market Estimated at 68.3 Million Units by 2019

Berg Insight states that, at the end of 2014, approximately 25.4 million connected digital screens were in use worldwide. The research strategy group forecasts this number will grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.2% to produce 63.8 million units, an approximately 150% increase, by 2019.

The 50-page study includes five-year forecasts. To read more about this, go to

Magazine Surveys Shows Positive Growth for Sign Industry

The annual State of the Industry Report, with regard to internally illuminated signs (cabinet signs, channel letters, outline lighting, etc.), conducted by Signs of the Times magazine, showed positive results for 2014 and a prediction of continued growth for 2015.

80% of the respondents said their sales volume increased from 2013 to 2014. Less than 7% reported a sales decline.

Respondents said they planned to invest $163,516, on average, for new equipment in 2015, which represents approximately a 50% increase over the $109,516 average for 2014. More than half anticipated buying software, as did a majority that expected to buy a crane.

The average profit margin nearly doubled from 13% in 2013 to 25% in 2014. Respondents predicted an average profit margin of 27.2% for 2015.  

For the full results of the survey, go to

As for the “commercial” portion of the sign industry — non-illuminated signs (banners, vinyl signs, etc.) — respondents reported an average sales-volume growth of 17.2% from 2013 to 2014. The stability of the sign industry is suggested by the average age of these sign companies: 23+ years.

The average profit margin reported increased from 32% in 2013 to 39.7% in 2014.

The average number of employees increased from 8.8 in 2013 to 11.6 in 2014.

The respondents included both independent sign companies and companies that are part of a sign franchise.

For the full report, go to

The magazine also conducted a third separate study that focused specifically on vehicle graphics. More than three quarters of the respondents (77%) reported  sales-volume growth from 2014 to 2015, and more than 30% reported growth in excess of 20%. More than 80% anticipated their sales volume would grow in 2016.

For the full report, go to

For a similar type of report from the International Sign Association, go to 

Black Enterprise Magazine Names DC Fastsigns(R) Franchise of the Year

Black Enterprise magazine named FASTSIGNS® of Washington, D.C., its Franchise Company of the Year at its 2016 Entrepreneurs Summit held in Miami Beach, Florida. The three-year-old award was granted to the sign business owned and operated by Howard James since 2007. His sales rank in the top 15% of the more than 600 FASTSIGNS franchises located in nine countries. For the full story, go to

Gemini Grants $100,000 Scholarships to Incoming Univ. of Minnesota and Michigan Students Wade Swormstedt May 12, 2016

Gemini Inc. (Cannon Falls, MN) has awarded two $100,000 Ross Wagner Engineering Scholarships. The four-year scholarships will go to Matt Moskal, a senior at Cannon Falls High School, who will attend the Univ. of Minnesota. Bjorn Pearson, also a Cannon Falls senior, will attend the Univ. of Michigan.

For the full story, go to

Can a $500 Sign Generate $1.9 Million in Additional Revenue for a Health Clinic?

A Sarasota, Florida health-care clinic had a great suburban location, demographically. However, due to its location at the end of a two-story complex surrounded by oak trees, its fascia signage simply wasn’t visible from the interstate (0.2 miles away) or the four-lane frontage road with a median. The owner had a dozen other clinics, so he knew something was wrong with the amount of business the clinic was conducting.

The owner subsequently placed a very simple 10 x 24-inch. sign in plain site, with only the clinic’s name and the words “urgent care.” Within 24 hours, the number of clients nearly doubled. Over the course of a year, this increase would equal nearly $1.8 million in additional revenue. To read the full story, go to

How Does the Americans with Disabilities Act Regulate Signage?

Undoubtedly, no aspect of any kind of signage regulations is more exacting, or likely to be altered, than those governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was originally enacted in 1990. Primarily, this concerned access for people with disabilities, such as wheelchair ramps, railings, handicapped parking, etc. But it also included stipulations for signage, specifically braille signage for people with limited or no vision. These regulations are outlined in ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). Most of these regulations have been contentious, and they are changed often. The most recent iteration went into effect March 15, 2012. The following article outlines some of these specifics.

Overall, on September 15, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice published “2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design,” a 279-page document. The most sign-specific section (703) begins on page 190. Here is a link to it. Note that the link is for all the 700 sections (700 – 708), but the sign-specific information is all in Section 703.

ISA Sign Expo Attendance is Second Highest Ever

The International Sign Association Sign Expo, held April 21-23, 2016 in Orlando, Florida, attracted more than 20,000 attendees, the association reports, which makes it the second-largest show in ISA history, and the largest ever held in Orlando.

For nearly two decades, the Sign Expo has alternated between Orlando and Las Vegas, and the latter show typically attracts more people. This year’s show included more than 600 exhibitors who filled more than 200,000 square feet of exhibit space.

ISA’s Sign Expo 2017 will be held April 19-22 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. The event will co-locate with the Collaboration in Packaging Production (CPP) tradeshow.

To read the full story, go to