SBA chief McMahon latest cabinet official to visit Alaska

  • Small Business Administration Administrator and former wrestling entertainment executive Linda McMahon shakes hands with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24 prior to her confirmation before the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. McMahon will be the latest cabinet official to visit Alaska in the first few months of the new administration. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The head of the U.S. Small Business Development Administration will be the latest cabinet official from President Donald Trump’s administration to visit Alaska with stops in Anchorage and Bethel.

As part of her nationwide SBA Ignite Tour, Administrator Linda McMahon will focus on listening to business owners and leaders as well as educating about SBA services for accessing capital during her July 20-21 trip, said SBA Regional Communications Director Melanie Norton.

Confirmed into office by the U.S. Senate in February in an 81-19 vote, McMahon was noted as a successful small businesswoman who co-founded World Wrestling Entertainment and formerly was its chief operating officer.

In Anchorage, her tour includes this year’s SBA Business of the Year Award winner, 49th State Brewing Co., and companies that grew after receiving SBA loans: the Ulu Factory, Heather’s Choice Meals for Adventuring and Kaladi Brothers Coffee.

Nancy Porzio, the Alaska Director of the SBA based in Anchorage, said her priorities for hosting McMahon are to show her the contrasting operations at work in Alaska’s biggest city, the hub town of Bethel and a small village, Kwethluk on the Kuskokwim River.

“We want her to see the cultural and rural areas to show how unique Alaska is, its vast countryside and the issues we face due to the lack of connectivity,” Porzoi said.

McMahon has a hands-on style for getting to know staff and small business needs, said Porzio, who has met her twice before.

“During a meeting in Leesburg, Virginia, she did something unusual for administrators: she spent a full day with us and held four different round tables so all the staff could have personal time with her,” Porzio said.

On her own Alaska agenda for discussion with McMahon, Porzio’s priorities are to work toward re-establishing a women’s business center to provide technical assistance to women-owned businesses.

She also would like to see more micro-lenders in the state involved with SBA programs and wants to increase awareness of government contracting opportunities for Alaska qualifying businesses.

In Bethel, Porzio organized portions of McMahon’s visit with the help of Anna Hoffman, president of the Bethel Native Contractors. They will go to a construction camp made from renovating an old Bureau of Indian Affairs school in Kwethluk, to hear first-hand the construction challenges on tundra in a changing climate.

Jon Bittner, the Small Business Development Center director, said he’s also excited for the opportunities presented by Linda McMahon coming to town.

“I’m hoping she can see the uniqueness of our entrepreneurial activity, some of our more interesting industries: seafood, our banner year in tourism, the newer industries in our economy, breweries and value added products,” Bittner said. “A lot is going on here right now as we move from the one-commodity focus to a more diversified economy.”

Also remarkable is the number of high-level cabinet officials visiting Alaska this early in a new president’s term, Bittner said.

“Usually, we see them on the last part of an administration’s time in office. Alaska seems to be receiving a lot more of these visits than we ever did before, and I suspect that it has to do with the fact our federal delegation is important to the president’s agenda,” Bittner said.

Sens. Lisa Murkowksi and Dan Sullivan are currently key votes on issues such as health care legislation. Alaska has also been a focus of Trump’s administration for its energy potential long touted by the pair and Rep. Don Young.

Add McMahon to the previous visitors: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke arrived for an energy tour at the end of May; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Alaska to preside over the Arctic Council in April. Bittner also said representatives of the Treasury Department are coming for a conference with the Municipality of Anchorage and SBDC.

“That’s good for us in the long term. It feels like Alaska has a lot more focus on it,” Bittner said. “There’s nothing but benefits to showing the reality of what’s going on in Alaska. It gives more time to get stuff done if it’s on the earlier end of a president’s term.”

Correction: The original version of this story stated Treasury Secretary Steve Mnchunin was visiting in July. It has been corrected to state that representatives of the Treasury Department will be part of the event.

07/12/2017 - 1:42pm