From SBA Nominee’s Backyard, Voices Of Small Business

By Alexander Soule and Chris Bosak
The Hour, Norwalk, Conn.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) On Tuesday, Linda McMahon, the former CEO of Stamford-based WWE will field questions from the U.S. Senate Committee as she seeks confirmation for a spot in Trump’s cabinet.

The Hour, Norwalk, Conn.

If you had the ear of President Donald Trump weekly in addition to running a small business, what would you keep top of mind?

More than a few business owners in southwestern Connecticut would relish the opportunity to be able to do just that — with one of their own on the cusp of having that opportunity in the form of Linda McMahon, Trump’s nominee to head the Small Business Administration.

On Tuesday, the Greenwich resident and former CEO of Stamford-based WWE (NYSE: WWE) is to field questions from the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship as she seeks confirmation for a spot in Trump’s cabinet.

Created by Congress in 1953 to ensure small businesses get a fair share of government vendor spending, the SBA also guarantees bank loans in an effort to get lenders to extend credit in borderline cases where they might otherwise pass. President Barack Obama elevated the SBA administrator to a cabinet-level position in 2012. McMahon is slated to replace Maria Contreras-Sweet, who previously ran a bank in Los Angeles.

On Friday, local business owners gave their thoughts on what they would like to be able to ask McMahon during this week’s confirmation hearings and the response they would want to hear she plans to take to her own prospective boss at future cabinet meetings.

“For me, as a small-business owner, it’s simple: Taxes are killing us,” said Jim Ero, owner of Crown Prints, a screen printing, embroidery and custom apparel maker in Norwalk. “It seems that small businesses are expected to carry the economy.

Big businesses get tax breaks and incentives (and have) tax lawyers and accountants on staff that seek these out. Small businesses may have access to some of these breaks, but the red tape is an exhausting, full-time job that we don’t have time for, wearing as many hats as we have to wear as small-business owners. It’s stifling.”

In Danbury, Irene Rocha opened her dress and tailoring shop on Main Street 10 years ago, moving into her current ground-floor retail space two years ago. The increase in rent is just one expense that Rocha has taken on as she has grown her business. She has also hired three employees, which means additional taxes and insurance costs.

“The rent, insurance, security … it’s a lot,” said Rocha, a native of Brazil who is familiar with McMahon from her days working at a dry-cleaning business in Stamford. “We need support for small businesses and their employees. The health insurance makes it so difficult. I hope they can find a way to make it more affordable.”

Like Rocha, mindful of the nation’s health insurance crossroads and by extension red tape is Bruce Moore Sr., in his role as CEO of Eastern Land Management in Stamford.

“Health insurance costs continue to escalate with less benefits,” Moore said. “The small-business community is seeking relief from the increasing bureaucratic regulatory environment we have experienced in the past several years. Small-business owners don’t need the government to tell them to increase the minimum wage as we are forced to make these adjustments based on the market (and) economy to maintain a work force. Government needs to understand small-business ‘is’ the economy.”

If ever mindful of the bottom line, area business owners also want to see more attention paid on everything from incentives for growth to the SBA’s responsiveness to inquiries. The agency runs its Connecticut operations from an office in Hartford.

Allen Fedor, owner of Fedor Auto Body in Norwalk, asked McMahon and by extension Trump not to forget that “small businesses are truly the backbone of America.”

“I would ask Linda McMahon how she plans on making the SBA more accessible to small business,” said Fedor, whose business dates back more than 50 years. “I have personally tried to contact the SBA and after hours upon hours of phone calls never got through to anyone with any knowledge. Making the SBA available to truly small mom-and-pop businesses and giving them the help they need should be a No. 1 priority for her.”

David Lewis, a Stamford resident who is CEO of Norwalk-based OperationsInc, suggested SBA could pick up slack that has been created by Connecticut jettisoning programs, including a job-expansion tax credit that expired in 2014.

“What will she look at to do on the federal level to help small businesses in a similar way?” Lewis said. “The answer I hope to hear: ‘In my first year as administrator of the SBA I plan to submit to Congress a proposal that includes tax breaks, credits and incentives for all small businesses who make new hires, as well as extensive tax credits for those who invest in training of their workforce and the retraining of new hires to suit open roles.'”

Suzanne Stillwell, managing director of Jade Marketing Solutions, hopes McMahon will not lose sight of one of her pet causes of the past few years — women entrepreneurs.

“I would hope that she would promote the fact that many women-owned businesses are run women returning the workforce who have previously held high-level positions prior to starting their own companies and are highly valuable to the economy,” Stillwell said.

In two campaigns to represent Connecticut in the U.S. Senate, McMahon has defended her record against then-opponents Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, neither of whom sit on the Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship. Both plan to be on hand Tuesday, however, to introduce her to committee members.

All in all, McMahon can expect an earful Tuesday and beyond — but Rocha for one believes McMahon will be listening, and conveying what she hears in White House cabinet meetings going forward.

“I think she’ll be good for us,” Rocha said.

— Includes reporting by Dan Freedman.

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