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November 28, 2017

Maine business owners air concerns with SBA chief

Photo / Renee Cordes
Photo / Renee Cordes
Linda McMahon, left, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, hosted a roundtable with Maine-based small businesses in Portland on Monday. Next to her is Amy Bassett, district director of the SBA's Maine district office.

About the U.S. Small Business Administration

The U.S. Small Business Administration was created in 1953 as an independent agency of the federal government to aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise and to maintain and strengthen the nation's overall economy. It provides assistance in four areas: access to capital (business financing), entrepreneurial development (education, information, technical assistance and training), government contracting (federal procurement) and advocacy.

The SBA's Maine District Office, which has an online resource guide for Maine small businesses, is based in Augusta.

Linda McMahon, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, hosted a roundtable in Portland on Monday during which Maine-based entrepreneurs shared challenges they face in running their businesses in areas such as hiring, health care, capital costs and taxation.

Portland was the latest stop on the "SBA Ignite Tour'' to all 68 SBA District Offices and small businesses from each region.

Maine businesses represented at the event included Sea Bags, Wayside Publishing, Bild Architecture, Gelato Fiasco, Black Dinah Chocolatiers, Rising Tide Brewing, Maine Music & Health LLC, Flowfold and Maine Dye & Textiles (formerly known as the Saco River Dyehouse). Amy Bassett, district director of the SBA's Maine district office, also took part.

McMahon, who has visited more than two dozen offices so far, told Monday's gathering that that "she was pleased to be here in Maine."

She opened by declaring her love for small business and citing her own experience as a small-business owner with all of its ups and downs, including filing for bankruptcy. "I know what it's like to put it all on the line," she said.

Confirmed to her cabinet post in February, McMahon is the co-founder and former CEO of Stamford, Conn.-based World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (NYSE: WWE), which she helped grow from a 13-person regional operation to a publicly traded global enterprise. She stepped down as CEO of WWE in 2009 to go into politics.

The SBA Ignite Tour aims to raise awareness about the agency, and "to make sure it is not the best-kept secret in the country" and the many ways it can help small businesses, McMahon said. She underscored that the SBA is "so much more than loans" and said she wants to see more small businesses get started and employ more people.

The awareness push includes social media, like snapshots posted on Twitter's #SBAIgnite hashtag showing McMahon's visits to Wicked Joe Coffee and Sea Bags before the hour-long afternoon discussion at the historic U.S. Custom House in Portland.

Health care and workforce development concerns

Roundtable participants represented a large cross-section of industries, with some owners mentioning support they had received from the SBA before going into substantive topics.

Regarding health care, Beth Shissler of Sea Bags, the rapidly expanding Portland-based tote bag maker that recently hired its 100th employee and signed a lease in Annapolis, Md., said there were "few" options to offer employees during open enrollment.

Greg Greuel of Freeport-based Wayside Publishing spoke of the number of hours spent trying to figure out different insurance plans and of rising costs "for no extra benefit. It's crazy."

Workforce development was another hot topic.

Evan Carroll, co-founder of Bild Architecture in Portland, expressed concern about disincentives to continuing education and graduate training, while music therapist Kate Beever of Maine Music & Health said regulatory hurdles have forced her to hold off on hiring.

"It's a really tough place to be in," she said.

Taxation was another sticking point, with a number of participants noting that they reinvested everything back into their business — echoing what McMahon said she has heard from small-business owners all over the country.

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