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Making Red Tape Less Taxing





Take 3 percent increases annually in the number of W-2 tax forms that Greatland Corp. in Walker has processed electronically over the past few years. Add 10 percent growth in the number of 1099s, as more people in America work for themselves now. Then throw in the Greatland's online wage-reporting tool launched last month, which divides the time it takes to process all those numbers.

Don't bother with any pencil-and-paper calculations.

It adds up to stronger local company that has used innovation to make the best of a bureaucratic situation: paying taxes.

Kyle Janssens, brand manager at Greatland with operations in Walker and in Green Bay, Wis., says Greatland never stops searching for more efficient ways to process those W-2 and 1099 forms that you hopefully received in the mail this month. Federal law sets a deadline of Jan. 31 for companies to file wage reporting forms that show the IRS how much you made.

Greatland has on average 175 full-time employees, including 90 locally. The number jumps to 220 when temporary workers join the distribution crew in Green Bay and sales staff in Walker prior to the Jan. 31 deadline.

It's an understatement to call this a busy time for Greatland: employees at the corporate headquarters off I-96 at 2480 Walker Ave. NW field more than 2,000 calls per day as the wage-reporting industry peaks before coming to a frenzied halt at the end of the month.

Local Ties that Bind
The company's local roots run deep. In a move that Janssens says further secured Greatland's future in Grand Rapids, the company's founder Robert Napieralski sold the company to employees a couple of years ago.

Formerly a sales representative for Moore Business Forms, Napieralski established Greatland in 1974 for "any kind of form a business would need," Janssens says. The company through the years dabbled in several markets before focusing its energy on serving the W-2 and 1099 reporting needs of small to medium-sized businesses.

Greatland in the late 1990s acquired Green Bay-based Nelco and ships paper forms and does technology development there now.

"All our employees are very tied to Greatland because it's employee-owned," Janssens says. "(Grand Rapids) is where we developed. All our business is done by phone and the Internet. There's no reason to go anywhere else."

Nor any reason to do anything other than W-2 and 1099 reporting, with increasing ease and efficiency.

"That's what we did best," Janssens says. "It's not what (our clients) do. They only have to do it once a year. Let us do all that work for you. We know all the answers.

"Since we shifted our focus, our growth in that product line has been steady. We're seeing growth in where we want to focus."

That focus now is on speedEfiler.com, a new service Greatland launched in December.

Dealing with Higher Volumes
Using Microsoft Silverlight technology, speedEfiler.com serves larger clients by offering a price break on higher volumes of filings. For some customers, the Web site is proving a handy alternative to the manual process of buying paper forms, printing them with data produced by internal software, stuffing them into envelopes and mailing them.

"For paper, there's a lot of competitors," Janssens says. "And there's a lot of people that have software programs.

For online, there's only a handful. Basically, our product (speedEfiler.com) eliminates the need for paper forms and you don't have to stuff 'em and mail 'em. It tries to automate the process for businesses to provide fast, easy filing."

Among the company's 221,000 clients are employers, tax preparers and small businesses. And while paper forms remain the core of the business, generating about 75 percent of wage-reporting revenue, the company believes electronic offerings such as speedEfiler.com is where the market is headed.

At a price ranging from 99 cents to $4.95 per filing, depending on volume, the software e-files the W-2 and 1099 forms to the federal government and also prints and mails hard copies to employees and contractors. Users can take payroll data from their internal software and drag it into the speedEfiler form. The process can save time along with the cost of a paper form and the labor involved in printing, stuffing and mailing, Janssens says.

"We estimate that while most small business owners now elect to e-file their personal and corporate tax forms with the federal government, they still spend a lot of time and money printing and mailing," says Bob Nault, Greatland's chief executive officer. "Once the forms are submitted online, we not only handle the e-file submission process, but we also handle the fulfillment of the forms to recipients. This comprehensive approach saves the small business or accountant a lot of time and hassle."

More of that hassle these days deals with 1099 forms, which are given to independent contractors (while employees get the W-2s), because clients "are using more contract labor," Janssens says.

Rise of the 1099
Though John Pridnia is not seeing a huge influx of 1099s among his clients, the managing principal of the accounting firm Rehmann's  Muskegon office says: "More individuals are going into a self-employment mode and that's going to drive up the amount of reporting to them for the services they're providing." And those self-employed people may hire their own subcontractors, too, he says.

"I think you'll see a continued slight increase in (1099s) with people who have that little bit of an entrepreneurial spirit," says Pridnia, treasurer of The Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants .

"I really don't see a shifting (away from W-2s) other than some people now who are being laid off and possibly being hired on a contract basis, on an as-needed basis. You may see from time to time in those layoffs where individuals are not returning to employment."

A higher proportion of 1099 forms also may result as West Michigan's labor force shifts increasingly from manufacturing into service sectors of the economy, Pridnia says.

"I am seeing a lot of those technology-driven companies hire service companies that are just for a specific project," he says. "They generally do hire subcontractors because they need such a technical person for that job."

If that's the case, Greatland's speedEfiler.com may be a valuable product. As one anonymous customer commented on the site: "I just had to correct a 1099, and it was ridiculously simple though your system. It would be a nightmare if I had to do it manually. THANKS."


Matt Vande Bunte writes about business, government, religion and other things. His work has appeared in newspapers including The Grand Rapids Press and Chicago Tribune and in assorted sectors of cyberspace.

Photos:

Kyle Janssens, a brand manager w/Greatland (2)

Greatland Corp (2)

Photographs by Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved

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