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Gay CEO on navigating business challenges during pandemic

Embracing diversity, resisting ‘Old World’ thinking are keys to success for Chicago’s Skolnik Industries



Skolnik Industries President Dean Ricker. (Photo courtesy Skolnick Industries)

(Editor’s note: This is the first in a multi-part summer series of stories taking a closer look at how a group of diverse LGBTQ entrepreneurs survived and thrived during the pandemic. The series is sponsored by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.)

Walking his sparky chihuahua-mix Finnegan with his husband through downtown Chicago is one way Skolnik Industries President Dean Ricker relaxes while successfully guiding a multimillion-dollar corporation through a pandemic.

Ricker told the Blade that diversity was their key to success: diverse products and diverse perspectives.
Chicago-based Skolnik manufactures carbon and stainless steel drums for containing critical contents from hazardous materials to California wines.

While businesses across the United States and the world are experiencing inflation and other pandemic economic impacts, American manufacturing has also been on the decline for decades.

But Ricker finds it important to resist “old world” thinking when confronting current challenges. He explained to the Blade how listening to a variety of perspectives was Skolnik’s not-so-secret ingredient to surviving the pandemic crisis.

“We don’t have to think and operate like it’s 1950,” Ricker said. “As someone who is gay and a leader of a company, I bring a unique perspective to a table where people of all backgrounds are supported.”

National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) Co-founder and President Justin Nelson also told the Blade a commitment to diversity can be critical to economic recovery.

“As the economy regains its footing in the months ahead, leading with a commitment to diversity – as a business owner and a consumer – can help supercharge our economy and our community back to where we should be with our $917 billion purchasing power,” Nelson said.

Ricker added that what set Skolnik apart was “we’re quirky.”

The upbeat executive who describes Finnegan as “the cutest dog in the whole world” is proud that his company strives for a culture where “people of all backgrounds are supported.”

And this inclusive atmosphere proved critical during the COVID-19 crisis.

‘Supplies are down, prices are up’

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the “Rust Belt” — industrial manufacturing centers located primarily in the Midwest — began its long, downward spiral after 1950 and experienced a steep decline into the 1980s.

Across this 30-year period, Rust Belt employment fell around 28 percent while manufacturing jobs fell nearly 34 percent.

The Atlanta Fed notes this decline sharply impacted industrial centers across the country, such as in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Detroit, and Chicago, as well as across the U.S. economy as a whole.

While the current pandemic economic pressures such as labor shortages and supply chain issues were initially focused in the hospitality and food industries, Skolnik noted how challenges spread to the manufacturing sector as well.

In March they tweeted: “Historic trucker shortages, port logjams and labor strikes are just some of the elements that are bringing the wine industry to its knees this year. Supplies are down, and prices are up, across the board.”

And yet, while the pandemic forced many businesses to make tough decisions, Skolnik persevered and thrived.

Zoominfo reports more than $30 million in revenue for Skolnik and more than 200 employees, while Glassdoor, a website where current and former employees anonymously review their employers, states 64 percent of respondents would recommend Skolnik to a friend.

“What is important is the role that diversity plays in the organization,” Ricker said. “You’re not myopic in your thinking.”

LGBTQ inclusivity helps the economy

Ricker, a Crain’s Chicago Business Notable LGBTQ Executive for 2019, said having a “rainbow” of people at the table from different backgrounds and with diverse experiences helped diversify their thinking and their markets — a tactic critical to their survival in an otherwise challenging industry.

“When one industry goes down, like automotive,” he explained. “We saw a pick up in the pharmaceutical industry. During the pandemic we did a lot of packaging related to vaccines and hand sanitizer.”
And research indicates when businesses are LGBTQ inclusive, for example, it has a positive impact on the economy as a whole.

University of Massachusetts Economics Professor M.V. Lee Badgett, a Williams Institute Distinguished Scholar and author of “The Economic Case for LGBT Equality: Why Fair and Equal Treatment Benefits Us All” told the Blade that for an economy to perform well it needs everyone to contribute as much as they have to offer.

“The problem with exclusion is it holds LGBTQI people back,” explained Badgett, who was named one of the 20 most powerful lesbians in academia by Curve Magazine in 2008. “If they aren’t able to develop their knowledge, skills and creativity, then they are not able to contribute as much as they could potentially to the overall economy.”

Badgett said challenges faced by LGBTQ youth, such as bullying and discrimination in housing, employment, and health care, are barriers that keep them from full economic participation over time and can ultimately harm the economy as a whole.

She pointed to the current labor shortage cited by many businesses as a significant pandemic challenge, and explained how bullying in schools can lead to workforce exclusion.

“If LGBT students face bullying in schools, they have lower GPAs, drop out, and are less likely to go to college. A bullying environment is not a good learning environment, and that’s a key tie to employment,” Badgett said. “They will not have the necessary skills and knowledge to take into the world.”

This, in turn, reduces the pool of available workers, a problem further exacerbated by pandemic pressures on disparities already faced particularly by LGBTQ people of color.

“When we can [instead] reduce the level of exclusion, we make it possible for people to put their whole selves into their job and that has a positive impact on everyone,” Badgett said.

“It’s good for LGBT people to be more included economically for their health and long-term economic status,” she added. “We think that will pay dividends over time as the economy prospers.”

NGLCC provided sense of community in a crisis

As a gay business executive, Ricker also noted the important role the NGLCC played in helping Skolnik weather the COVID-19 crisis.

It provided a space where other queer business leaders could gather and problem-solve on a national level. It was also a chance to gain support and learn from each other.

“Just watching other companies going through the same thing we were and hearing their stories served as an inspiration,” he said. “One challenge right now is hiring people. Highlighting that we’re an NGLCC member and an LGBTQ-owned business helps.”

NGLCC’s 2017 economic report found companies that engaged in Pride activities saw an increase in diverse job applicants, new diverse supply chain applicants, and a deeper LGBTQ consumer loyalty.

Ricker added highlighting that membership lets LGBTQ job seekers know Skolnik is a queer-supportive place to work.

“There are a lot of businesses out there where you can’t be yourself,” he said. “I saw our company as an oasis for talented people where they can be themselves. In manufacturing there are unfortunately a lot of ‘old world’ attitudes out there.”

But despite the pandemic and historical challenges his industry faces, Ricker is still excited about the future and a possible resurgence in American manufacturing.

“Supply challenges have highlighted the importance of American manufacturing,” Ricker said. “We still need to make things here in the U.S. And it’s exciting that an LGBTQ-owned business can be a part of that.”

The idea of a recovering economy and the future opportunities it brings for his industry really “jazzes him up,” along with enjoying a nice glass of a California Cabernet aged in one of Skolnik’s barrels — the flavor sweetened from “knowing that we had something to do with its production.”

A group of Skolnik Industries employees (Photo courtesy Skolnick Industries)


Real Estate

City inspection codes: How easy is it to fail?

Be sure to check ventilation, smoke detectors, and more



Landlords are required to install and maintain smoke detectors in their rental properties.

In the District of Columbia, rental properties are required to meet certain health and safety standards. These standards are set by the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).

If you own a rental property in the District of Columbia, you may be required to have your property inspected by the DCRA to ensure that it meets these standards. The inspection process typically involves a DCRA inspector visiting the property and checking for any hazards or code violations.

It’s important to make sure that your property is in good condition and meets the District’s health and safety standards, as failing a rental property inspection can have serious consequences. If your property fails the inspection, you may be required to make repairs or upgrades in order to bring it into compliance. If you are unable to do so, you may be forced to stop renting out the property until the necessary repairs are made.

Overall, the likelihood of failing a rental property inspection in the District of Columbia will depend on the condition of your property and whether it meets the applicable health and safety standards. To minimize the risk of failing an inspection, it’s important to keep your property well maintained and address any potential hazards or code violations as soon as possible.

In the District of Columbia, landlords are responsible for maintaining their rental properties in a safe and habitable condition. If a rental property is not in compliance with the city’s health and safety standards, the landlord may be cited for code violations.

Some common code violations that landlords in the District of Columbia may be cited for include:

• Lack of adequate heating or ventilation: Landlords are required to provide sufficient heating and ventilation systems to ensure the health and safety of their tenants.

• Electrical or plumbing issues: Landlords are responsible for ensuring that their properties have functional electrical and plumbing systems. All plumbing fixtures must be properly sealed, in other words, no holes in the walls. All water heaters require pressure relief valves

Structural issues: Landlords must maintain their properties in a safe and structurally sound condition.

Pest infestations: Landlords are required to address and eliminate pest infestations in their rental properties.

Lack of smoke detectors: Landlords are required to install and maintain smoke detectors in their rental properties. Detectors must be placed 36” from ceiling fan blades and away from the path of the HVAC registers.

Proper locks: All exit and security gate locks must be easy to operate and must not require a key to exit.

It’s important for landlords in the District of Columbia to be aware of these and other code violations and take steps to ensure that their properties are in compliance with the city’s health and safety requirements.

Scott Bloom is senior property manager and owner, Columbia Property Management. For more information and resources, go to

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Real Estate

Top tax benefits of homeownership

Mortgage interest, property tax deductions, and more



Thinking of buying a house? Here are some of the many tax advantages that come with homeownership.

As we are closing out 2023 and getting ready to start 2024, now is a good time to review what tax benefits most homeowners are getting. There are several categories that you can look at to see if you will benefit from being a homeowner. According to, here are some of them:

  • Mortgage interest.  Most newer homeowners are paying more on the interest in their monthly mortgage payment than on the principal, so this could be a big tax benefit.
  • Home equity loan interest – HELOC (home equity line of credit) loans are like a 2nd mortgage on your home. Many homeowners can use it to make upgrades to their house and interest on these loans is deductible if you used it for that purpose.
  • Discount points – for those of you that purchased in the last year or so these may apply, as these are the price paid to lower an interest rate on a loan.
  • Property taxes – depending on where you live, your state and local property taxes may be a big source of tax deductions for you.
  • Necessary home improvements – even if you did not use a HELOC to improve your home, some of your expenses in this category may be deductible.
  • Home office expenses – as more and more people are working from home, this should not go unexamined in your search to find tax deductions.
  • Capital Gains – a capital gain is the difference between the value of a home when you sold it versus when you borrowed it. So, if you sold your home for a significant profit and did not roll over those gains into a new property within a short period of selling the old property, then ask your tax professional up to which amount of these profits are not taxable.

We asked Tina Del Casale ([email protected]), a DMV-area lender with Sandy Spring Bank, what she thought about the tax benefits of homeownership, and here is her answer:

“Most homeowners wish they knew sooner that most every major home improvement can reduce your future capital gains when you are ready to sell your home. While the deduction for a single person is $250,000, and for married couples is $500,000, the DMV has seen property appreciation that outpaces those numbers. So keep ALL your receipts for replacement items like your HVAC, windows, doors, roof, major landscaping and updating bathrooms and kitchens. You will thank me later! Of course most importantly consult a tax adviser for up-to-date information!”

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to either of us if you have more questions and happy holidays! Let’s get you home for the holidays.

Joseph Hudson is a Realtor with the Rutstein Group of Compass. Reach him at 703-587-0597 or [email protected].

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The Importance of Offering Inclusive Family Planning Benefits

How one company helped two dads create their family.



JPMorgan Chase employee Don Jackson (far right) with his husband, Chris, and their two daughters.

Don Jackson has worked for JPMorgan Chase for more than 30 years. He attributes this longevity in large part to the company’s long-standing support of the LGBTQ+ community. 

When Jackson and his husband were looking to adopt in 2008, and then again in 2009, the firm helped them navigate the complex process and legal requirements. Given the cost of family planning, finances were also a big concern. 

“We had tons of support from family and friends, and thankfully from JPMorgan Chase,” said Jackson, a senior leader in Chase’s Home Lending business. “But outside of that, we were on own.

“Knowing JPMorgan Chase was willing to subsidize many of our expenses toward adoption took a lot of the stress out of our situation. We had enough stress in other aspects, but it meant everything to us to place some of the financial stress to the side.”

A supportive environment

JPMorgan Chase has been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ workplace inclusion for decades. This year marks the 21st year in a row that JPMorgan Chase has scored a perfect 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index. The firm is one of only a few companies to receive a perfect score every year since the CEI’s inception. 

As one of the first Wall Street firms to offer same-sex partner benefits in the U.S., JPMorgan Chase continues to provide a wide range of LGBTQ+ inclusive benefits for employees in the U.S. This includes comprehensive health care, insurance and wellness support, family planning, and transgender healthcare coverage. 

Beyond inclusive benefits, JPMorgan Chase has established networks of support for employees to connect with one another and access opportunities to grow and advance in their careers. 

The company’s PRIDE Business Resource Group has more than 37,000 employee members across 39 countries. PRIDE hosts events and delivers personal development opportunities for LGBTQ+ employees and their allies. Other support networks for LGBTQ+ employees and their families include a Bi+ Council, Gender Expansive Council, Allies Council and LGBTQ+ Families Community. 

For Jackson and his family, the LGBTQ+ Families Community has been pivotal. The group provides support and resources for parents, caregivers, and family members of LGBTQ+ children, as well as LGBTQ+ employees who are parents or are looking to build their families. 

“What I’ve always been most proud of throughout my 30 years [working here], is the support and guidance I’ve received across all levels and teams,” Jackson said. “I have never once hidden a single detail of my family, and I’m constantly amazed at how everyone accepts us.”

Culture comes first

In 2022, JPMorgan Chase enhanced benefits for employees enrolled in the U.S. medical plan to include more robust gender affirming healthcare. The firm also increased family-building benefits and created a dedicated LGBTQ+ health concierge service, powered by Included Health. 

Brad Baumoel, JPMorgan Chase’s global head of LGBTQ+ Affairs, says this commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusive benefits goes beyond just checking boxes. 

“These resources actually create a workplace culture where all employees feel valued, respected, and are able to bring their authentic selves to work,” Baumoel said. “This in turn fosters a sense of belonging, which has a profound impact on employee satisfaction, productivity and overall well-being.”

For the LGBTQ+ workforce, knowing your employer has your back can alleviate the stress and anxiety associated with potential discrimination or bias, Baumoel said. “It allows you to focus on your work and thrive in your career.” 

Visit JPMorgan Chase’s website to learn more about the firm’s commitment to the LGBTQ+ community.

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