SBA roundtable

Linda McMahon, administrator of the Small Business Administration, held a roundtable discussion in Syracuse Monday. U.S. Reps. John Katko and Claudia Tenney also attended the meeting. 

Robert Harding, The Citizen

SYRACUSE — A Cabinet-level official in President Donald Trump's administration heard from central New York business owners Monday about how the federal government can help them stay afloat and create more jobs. 

Linda McMahon, administrator of the Small Business Administration, held a roundtable discussion with nine small business owners at the Tech Garden in Syracuse to highlight the ongoing push to reform the tax code and hear concerns about other issues, such as regulations and workforce development. 

U.S. Reps. John Katko and Claudia Tenney also attended the hour-long meeting. 

Trump and Republican leaders in Congress are advocating for tax reform. A bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, was introduced in the House last week.

For businesses, the measure would reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent and slash the tax rate on certain small businesses to no more than 25 percent — the lowest level since World War II, according to the House Ways and Means Committee. 

Lisa Conway, co-owner of Pioneer Warehousing & Distribution in Liverpool, noted the impact of the current tax structure on her business. The company has to hire accountants and attorneys, which can be costly. 

"I spend a lot of time figuring things out," Conway said. 

Other business leaders at the table agreed. Sherry DePerno, president of Advanced Tool Inc., a Marcy-based company, said 2016 was the most profitable year for her business. But it "took a nosedive" at the beginning of this year. 

Some of the business is coming back, but challenges remain.

"It's absolutely getting harder and harder to compete," DePerno said. 

One issue mentioned by several panelists is the workforce development gap. Many of the companies have jobs available, but there aren't qualified people who can fill the positions. 

Katko, R-Camillus, said there's a stigma attached to not going to college and pursuing other opportunities, such as apprenticeships or attending vocational schools. 

McMahon acknowledged that the paradigm must be changed. 

"Not only can you then create more people for the workforce, but they then have skills that they can start their own small businesses," she said. "We are really lacking in the skilled workforce." 

While business owners addressed other topics, tax reform was a major theme throughout the meeting. Ken Morse, CEO of North Point Defense in Rome, lauded Trump for the tax reform proposal. He believes the changes could boost small businesses. 

In her travels across the country, McMahon said every small business owner she has talked to has told her that if they had more money, they would reinvest in their businesses. 

"They can grow," McMahon said. 

The roundtable discussion in Syracuse was part of McMahon's Ignite Tour. She is visiting each of the Small Business Administration's 68 offices. The agency, which provides support to small businesses, operates at least one office in each state. 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.