Its no secret that our nations corporate climate experienced some ups and downs this past year. We watched in disbelief as Enron collapsed, and thousands of its employees lost their retirement savings. We witnessed how a recession could make unemployment lines grow and incomes shrink. Even though there were negatives, we also saw some positives in business. When times got tough, some employers got creative in rewarding their employees.

When raises or promotions were out of the question, businesses had to provide incentives to employees in other ways. For example, some companies restructured job titles to boost employee morale. News stories tell us that a Receptionist could become a Head of Verbal Telecommunications practically overnight.

Although, thankfully, the economy is improving, it doesn’t mean that business-owners have to stop being creative when providing extras to employees. Incentives are a great way to increase productivity and reward employees for a job well done.

One incentive Louisiana employers may not have considered is opening START accounts for employees children. START is the state’s 529 college savings program that helps parents, grandparents, other individuals, even businesses pay for the costs of sending children to college. There are no fees for the program, and 100% of deposits go toward earning interest to maximize the return on your money.

It only takes $10 to open a START account, and the state will even match a portion of your deposits. If you are an employer opening an account for a child who is a Louisiana resident, the state will match your deposits by 2%. On top of that, START accounts have historically earned around 6% in interest.

START monies must be used for undergraduate, graduate or professional educational expenses, including fees, books, supplies, equipment, and room and board, at any eligible university, community college, state technical college or vocational institute.

So why should an employer open a START account? Besides the fact that its a great incentive to employees, it can also be beneficial to employers. For each START account opened, a business can exempt up to $2,400 in deposits per tax year from income reported on its state income tax return. If a company doesn’t take the full $2,400 one year, it can roll the balance over to the next tax year.

In closing, opening a START account for an employee is an incentive worth giving. It can make a real difference in the lives of employees and could enable more Louisiana children to get a college education.

If you know a business-owner (or if you are an employer) who is interested in opening a START account for a beneficiary, call 1-800-259-5626, ext. 1012. Information about START is also available online at www.latreasury.comor www.osfa.state.la.us. Employers should be sure to ask about the payroll deduction option that makes it even easier for them (or their employees) to make START deposits.