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8 Questions For Linda McMahon, Trump’s Small Business Chief

By Anna Marum The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Anna Marum of "The Oregonian" sits down with head of the Small Business Administration to discuss what issues she is tackling in her new job.

The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

Linda McMahon, the head of the Small Business Administration, toured a handful of Portland-area companies on Tuesday, including Bob's Red Mill, Salt & Straw and Coava Coffee Roasters. The visit was part of a two-year outreach effort that will take McMahon to more than 60 cities to engage with businesses and promote the agency's services.

McMahon is the former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment, the company she co-founded with her husband in 1979. She helped grow WWE into a $1.6 billion company whose shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

We sat down with McMahon on Tuesday after her tour of Coava's roastery and headquarters in Southeast Portland to ask about the priorities she's outlined for her agency and her conversations with Oregon business owners. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity; watch the full interview above.

Q: What have you heard from small business owners while you've been here? What do they want from the SBA?

A: I think they want the assistance that we've been giving. I've often said that the SBA is one of the best-kept secrets in terms of business development because you hear "SBA," you think primarily of loans.

But the emerging leaders programs, the mentoring that takes place with our source providers -- with Score, from our women's business centers, from our small business development centers -- it is so incredibly valuable, especially to small business start-ups who might need some direction about how to develop their business plan, have experts to look at their website, or help them develop a website.

I hear across the board what's helpful from SBA, whether it's navigating loan applications, whether it's understanding the marketplace, or whether they should be in business or not.

Q: If there's one thing that you want to accomplish during your time as administrator, what is that one thing?

A: We're working on a whole new marketing program called "SBA Reimagined." SBA has really been a well-kept secret. I want to make sure we have the best marketing, the best messaging, and we're going to roll that out over the next year, probably next April, when we have our next National Small Business Week.

Our programs are really sound. When I travel the country and talk about the different loan programs we have, we really are accomplishing a lot. (The SBA awarded nearly $29 billion in loans in fiscal 2016, including $456 million that went to businesses served by the agency's Portland office, which serves western Oregon and southwestern Washington.)

But I want to expand that base and make sure more people know about it. When I was first starting my business, I didn't know anything about SBA. I didn't know about the opportunity to have a loan and have more access to capital.

Q: Is the money going to be there for additional loans? (President Donald Trump has proposed cutting SBA funding by 5 percent, or $43.2 million.)

A: Definitely. SBA is going to have the necessary resources that it needs to guarantee those loans to the marketplace. It's one of the things I asked when I first came on board. But yes, those funds will be available.

Q: Our minimum wage just went up, and it's slated to go up every July for the next few years. Seattle's minimum wage is at $15 an hour. Is the SBA monitoring the effects on small businesses of these higher minimum wages?

A: I do hear from many small businesses around the country that it's very difficult for them to get to some of the levels of the minimum wage. A $15 minimum wage is really hard for small businesses to pay. What that does is limit the number of people they can hire, so we're not creating more jobs, we're not growing that taxable base. I do think it's an impediment in many areas of the country. It is something that we look at and we listen to and we advocate for on behalf of many business.

Q: What do you do when you advocate for small businesses in that area?

A: Well it's not just about taxes. What I'm doing on this "Ignite" tour that I'm on, I listen to what our small business owners have to tell me. What's in their way, what's helping them, what more do they need. Is it tax reform, is it regulatory reform, what are those issues we need to address?

I take that information back with me to Washington and I talk to our representatives, either in the House or in the Senate, and say, "Look, this is what I'm hearing. These are real people, real businesses, real jobs." And if we want to grow and make this different, and really contribute to this engine of our economy and our small business growth, then these are the things we need to listen to and be aware of and change.

Q: Are there any regulations or taxes in particular that Oregon businesses say they would like to see changed?

A: From a tax point of view, most small businesses I've talked to simply said, look, reduce the rate. In terms of regulation, I don't hear about specific regulations as much as I hear about volume of regulations, and having to comply. Just the cost to comply is pretty astronomical. And small businesses can't hire large staffs of accountants and lawyers to comply with regulation. (Trump has signed multiple executive orders aimed at slashing regulations.)

I was just at a brewery here in Portland, and I asked, what kind of regulations are tough for you? And he said, I was held up for about six months introducing a new product into the market because my label kept getting rejected. ... [but] there was no advice as to what we needed to do to change it. We finally found out that we'd left a comma out of the text on one area of the label, and that's why it was rejected.

Now, we need to do a better job than that in our regulatory environment.

Q: How are you going to improve access to capital for women who are trying to start their own businesses?

A: What we're doing in terms of helping women have access to capital is show them that process in our women's business centers. We help match entrepreneurs with our lenders, so the money they need is available in the markets where they need it. Sometimes it's just education, sometimes it's the introduction.

Q: Do you have any advice for those looking to start their own business?

A: Have a passion for what you're doing, because if you're an entrepreneur and you're going to get involved in your own business, it's a 24/7 job, and you'll be the CEO and you'll be the janitor. You'll make sacrifices to your family, to get your job going. But if it's something you love, it's not "going to work," it's just something you do it every day because you enjoy it.

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