Since its founding on July 30, 1953, the U.S. Small Business Administration has delivered millions of loans, loan guarantees, contracts, counseling sessions and other forms of assistance to small businesses, but President Trump-appointed Administrator Linda McMahon is working to take the agency to the next level.
Calling it “one of the best-kept secrets around,” McMahon has launched a two-year SBA Ignite Tour across the country in her efforts to get the word out.
According to the White House, the SBA Ignite Tour is “a listening tour where Administrator McMahon will travel to the 68 SBA district offices and meet with local small business owners to hear their experiences and concerns.” In addition to making its benefits more widely known, she also expects to come away from the experience with real issues that she can bring back to Washington as she advocates on behalf of the 30 million small businesses in America, which employ nearly half of all American workers and account for 56.8 million jobs.
An entrepreneur and business executive herself, McMahon is the co-founder and former chief executive officer of WWE, based in Stamford, Connecticut. She helped grow WWE from a 13-person regional operation to a publicly traded global enterprise with more than 800 employees in offices worldwide.
McMahon stepped down as CEO of WWE in 2009 to run for the U.S. Senate and was the Republican nominee to represent the people of Connecticut in 2010 and 2012.
As she goes about her fact-finding mission, McMahon has learned that the general public tends to think of the agency as primarily loan-driven, rather than understanding the full breadth and scope of its full business assistance programs.
In her efforts to improve the SBA, McMahon is planning to increase public awareness of the agency and its offerings with an updated brand and marketing plan to better reflect today’s entrepreneurs, due to be introduced by Small Business Week in April 2018.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 17, 2017
Focused on creating an efficient and effective SBA that is responsive to the needs of today’s busy entrepreneurs, McMahon has already improved services, such as the expanded online HUBZone map and Lender Match.
The new online HUBZone map helps small businesses in urban and rural communities determine if they are eligible for participation in HUBZone’s program. Lender Match, which was recently updated to create a more user-friendly experience, is an online referral tool to connect small businesses in need of small-business funding with participating SBA lenders.
Six months into her tenure as head of the Small Business Administration, McMahon says that she’s seeing a divide among small business owners. Some are increasingly optimistic, but many are held back by their inability to get loans or find the right workers for jobs that are staying open.
“Entrepreneurs are willing again to be bigger risk-takers than they have been over the past eight years,” McMahon said, noting there are also lingering effects of the Great Recession. “I think there is still a caution.”
According to self-assessment surveys of business owners released by Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management, Dun & Bradstreet Corp., and the National Federation of Independent Business, McMahon is on target with her own observations. Many owners have blamed stumbling blocks such as a scarcity of loans and workers, in addition to regulations, taxes and the cost of health care. All are issues that President Donald Trump has pledged to address.
Since she was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence, McMahon has been traveling around the country, meeting owners at their companies and attending forums and round-table events.
While it’s true that small businesses are hiring more now than during the recession, many conservative-minded owners are still reluctant to add staffers unless they have enough new business to justify expanding their payrolls.
And then there are those owners who want to hire but are finding it an impossible challenge to find workers who possess the kinds of skills that would match their companies’ needs.
McMahon has found that jobs for skilled workers like carpenters, electricians and welders are going unfilled, and so are technology positions, such as computer programmers. Companies that provide services like heating, ventilation and air conditioning are also having problems finding employees who are capable of installing and repairing equipment.
“There’s a lack of interest, or there is not a trained workforce to come in,” McMahon said, adding that at many companies, skilled workers range in age from 50 to 55. Owners are telling her, “I don’t have that next group that’s going to take over these jobs.”
According to an article in the Denver Post on Friday, today’s low unemployment of 4.3 percent is a major factor behind worker shortages. And Trump’s immigration reform, which will restrict immigration, probably won’t help. A study released by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School projected that if the bill becomes law, domestic workers won’t fill all the jobs that have been held by immigrants who would no longer be allowed in the U.S.
McMahon believes that training will lead to entrepreneurship: “When you get those skills, you can start your own business.” To that end, companies of all sizes have been donating money, equipment or expertise to community college and high school students to train them for such jobs, McMahon said, noting that it’s been a decades-long trend. In 1988, the Commission on the Future of Community Colleges recommended that community colleges work with companies to train students with the aim of their getting jobs upon graduation, and schools across the country subsequently began working with employers on training programs.
President Trump signed an executive order in June that roughly doubled to $200 million the taxpayer money allocated to learn-and-earn programs under a grant system called ApprenticeshipUSA. The money was to come from existing job training programs rather than a new line in the proposed federal budget, which would slash funding for the Labor Department’s job training programs by a third.