Linda McMahon, the head of the Small Business Administration, thinks her agency is a hidden gem in the federal government — but she’s looking to change that.
“I think SBA is the best-kept secret in the country, not because there aren’t many businesses who think about loans with SBA, but they really don’t know about all of the mentoring aspects of what’s available,” McMahon said Thursday at the National Press Club.
Last May, McMahon embarked on a mission to visit all 68 SBA district office across the country.
“I made a pledge to do that when I became the administrator of the SBA, because I thought, how better to get to know all of my district offices than to go there, to see how they operate,” she said. “They are actually the people on the ground. They’re interacting with our lenders. They’re interacting with our customers. They are the voice in the face of SBA, so I wanted to see firsthand.”
Along the way, SBA’s district offices have set up local business roundtables visits where McMahon interacts with local small business owners. The meetings also help get the word out about some of the services SBA provides.
SBA bills the secretary’s travels to all the regional offices as her “Ignite” Tour.
“I tell everybody — I’m on fire, [and] I want them to be on fire,” McMahon said.
Last fiscal year, SBA loaned a record $30.5 billion, which helped create more than 650,000 jobs
In addition, McMahon said her agency now helps business owners defend against cyber threats.
“Part of what SBA is doing for small businesses is, first of all, making them aware that they can be targets for cybersecurity. Many of them don’t even think about it. ‘Why would they want to hack into me?'”
In addition to cyber mentoring and the counseling, SBA helps point business owners to trusted companies that provide the most cost-effective cybersecurity solutions.
“I think most importantly it’s making sure that they are aware that this is something they need to address,” McMahon said.
McMahon said SBA’s Office of Advocacy is also working with small business owners to ensure that federal regulation doesn’t disproportionately impact their operations.
“We don’t always get to have regulations not go through that we would like to see not go through, but the other side of the advocacy position is to then be out on the road listening to businesses who are then being affected by those regulations,” she said.
The Office of Advocacy reports to Congress about the implementation of federal regulations.
McMahon said agencies are on-track to exceed a governmentwide 23 percent small business contracting goal this fiscal year. The federal government also met goals for small disadvantaged businesses and service-disabled-veteran-owned businesses in 2017.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue have embarked on their own listening tours.
Last month, McMahon spent a day on the road with Perdue as part of his “Back to Our Roots” RV tour, where they spoke with members of the Ohio Farm Bureau and the local chamber of commerce.
“He is so fluent with the needs and concerns of the farming community,” she said.
McMahon also praised the SBA workforce for responding so quickly to the devastation caused by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
At the height of the hurricane season, SBA’s Disaster Assistance Program staff surged to more than 5,200 employees to support the economic recovery efforts, and processed more than 300,000 applications, approving more than $6.7 billion in low-interest disaster loans.
“It’s really important after a disaster that we get small businesses back on their feet and back in their homes,” McMahon said.
As the co-founder and former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, McMahon knows a thing or two about trash-talk and theatrics. But for all the negativity that’s aimed at the nation’s capital, she said lawmakers from both parties have been supportive of her tenure at SBA.
“Washington is frequently described as a dysfunctional town where nobody wants to work together, and I can tell you it is certainly not the case at SBA. It’s not the case among the various committees of jurisdiction in both the House and in the Senate. There is truly a bipartisan atmosphere focused on improving what this agency does every single day,” McMahon said.