The Tri-Counties has developed a reputation as an incubator for small business and it was a natural fit 15 years ago when the Business Times and the U.S. Small Business Administration teamed up to launch the Spirit of Small Business Awards.
That partnership has lasted through good times and recession, disaster and recovery, and when I spoke with SBA Administrator Linda McMahon on June 22, it was clear the Trump administration’s commitment to the SBA and to our region is something that hasn’t changed.
“It is a little known fact that we have a role in economic recovery and a disaster response force that’s able to deploy quickly,” said McMahon, who was making a West Coast tour when we talked by phone.
Indeed, the SBA gets high marks from organizations for quickly getting loans to affected small businesses and homeowners in the Thomas fire burn area in December and then pivoting to help the dozens of homeowners and businesses affected by the deadly January debris flows that shut Highway 101.
In addition to advocating for some 30 million small businesses, most of them very small, the SBA’s main activity is guaranteeing loans that are made by financial institutions.
But in the case of disasters, it provides funding directly. “It is the only time the SBA actually loans money,” she said. The SBA’s site inspectors are very good at assessing the borrower’s ability to repay the low-interest loans and online applications streamline the approval process.
McMahon, who co-founded and served as CEO of the entertainment giant World Wrestling Entertainment, is the 25th administrator of the SBA.
She brings to the job the determination of a business owner who has faced adversity and knows what it is like to meet a payroll. She also recognizes the growing role of women as business owners, especially the small companies that employ more than half of the nation’s workforce.
As administrator, she provides funding to 109 Women Business Centers, including Women’s Economic Ventures in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. She also knows the importance of mentoring, a topic that area executives, including WEV founder Marsha Bailey and Montecito Bank & Trust Chair Janet Garufis, talk about in terms of a successful career.
“Sometimes mentoring is as important as funding itself,” said McMahon, who sees mentoring as a way for startups to get off the ground. Mentoring is also a way for organizations like SCORE to contribute to small business success. She has a feel for the culture of Main Street, where the goal is to “do good business and give back,” and she told me she’d already visited 49 out of 68 SBA district offices.
The headline on the day of our talk was a Trump administration initiative to reorganize government, and McMahon said that as a small, nimble agency she thought it might make sense to bring “lending pockets” that are dispersed across several agencies “into one area.”
Part of the SBA portfolio is something called the Small Business Innovation Research program that helps small companies get federal research funding for technology that has commercial potential.
One SBIR funding participant is Wyatt Technologies in Goleta. A manufacturer of advanced instruments and measuring devices, Wyatt is a former Spirit of Small Business winner, and its founder Phil Wyatt and I have kept in touch over the years. By coincidence, I had toured his plant in early June.
When I mentioned the visit, McMahon said she was taking the SBIR program on a national road show to showcase the work of American scientists and technologists.
“We have incredible researchers at our small businesses,” she said.
Our theme for the 2018 edition of Spirit of Small Business is “Rising to the Challenge,” and I think we can all agree the past year has thrown us plenty of challenges.
We will be announcing our winners on July 27, and our Spirit of Small Business Awards luncheon will be held at the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara on Aug. 23.
You can find out more about tickets and sponsorship via email to Marketing Director Romi Ramirez at [email protected]
• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at [email protected]