Linda McMahon, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, talks with participants during a panel at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Contributor

As I wrote here previously, by the time she resigned as chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment in 2009, Linda McMahon had expanded her company from just 13 employees to more than 500 in eight offices across five countries. In late 2016, President Trump appointed her to lead the Small Business Administration, a government agency with a $700 million budget, 68 offices and more than 3,000 employees. So, one year in, how are things going for the former business executive?

“I’m incredibly encouraged by the steps we’ve taken this year,” she told me. “But we still have a lot more work to do.”

Like any good CEO who takes a new job, one of McMahon’s first orders of business upon entering office was to get out and meet her team — and her customers.

So this past year was spent mostly touring the country, visiting dozens of district offices and breaking bread with hundreds of small business owners to hear about what’s working, what’s not and what more the SBA and the federal government can be doing to help them. Her biggest takeaway: small businesses owners like myself — and all those that employ more than half of the U.S. workforce and are responsible for two off every three new jobs — need to know more about her agency.

“My vision is to make sure the SBA is no longer the best kept secret in the country,” she said. “People think of us as loan guarantors, but we’re much more than that.”

Without question, the SBA’s core business is to provide federal guarantees so that banks can offer loans to small businesses that otherwise couldn’t get financing. To that end, business has been booming.

This year alone, the agency is on track to back more than $30 billion in loans which she says has helped create more than 650,000 jobs. Included in that number are $500 million in loans given to women entrepreneurs. Growth in some of its programs, like its 7(A) loans, where small businesses can borrow up to $5 million to purchase machinery, furniture, fixtures, supplies and other materials, has exceeded 20 percent this past quarter as compared to the same period last year.

The agency’s biggest “secret”, according to McMahon, is its growth — for better or worse — in disaster relief loans. During the last wave of hurricanes that hit the mainland U.S. and Puerto Rico, the agency made more than 96,000 loans to small businesses, nonprofits, homeowners and renters totaling more than $5.3 billion.

“It’s the only time that the SBA actually loans money,” McMahon said. “Normally, we’re just the guarantors.”

The agency has come a long way since 2005’s Hurricane Katrina disaster, when many were critical of the government’s slow response times. After last year’s storms hit, McMahon turned parts of their offices into an emergency call center and brought on more than 3,000 additional people to handle the added workload.

Beyond financing activities, McMahon has a point about the SBA: Most of my firm’s 600-plus clients are unaware of the broad range of services the agency can provide, particularly counseling from the experts at SCORE, Small Business Development Centers and other resource partners.

So this year her goal is to make sure that as many small business owners are aware of these resources available to them. She’s doing this by revamping the agency’s website, stepping up their social media presence and continuing to travel around the country, speaking to groups, attending roundtables and meeting with as many small businesses as possible. Also in the works is more outreach to small businesses in rural and farming areas and adding more online financing options for those that have fewer banking choices locally.

“From the beginning, President Trump wanted someone who actually built a business and understood what it’s like to run this agency,” she said. Only one thing was asked of her. “He told me, ‘just do a good job.’”

So far, so good.