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Small Business Administration Administrator Linda McMahon is seen in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, during an event for military spouses to discuss the problems they face with employment, as part of "American Dream Week." (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Alex Brandon

SYRACUSE — For an hour Monday, Linda McMahon listened. 

As administrator of the Small Business Administration, it's something she has done in several U.S. cities as she travels the country visiting agency offices and meeting with small business owners. She was in Syracuse earlier this week for a roundtable discussion with nine central New York business leaders. 

The meetings were part of McMahon's Ignite Tour. She is aiming to visit each of the Small Business Administration's 68 offices. (The agency has at least one office in each state.) After her trip to Syracuse, she has events planned in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. 

There is another reason for McMahon's travel. She is collecting feedback on a tax reform proposal spearheaded by President Donald Trump and congressional Republican leaders. During her meeting with central New York small business owners, the tax reform plan was one of the popular topics. 

During her stop in Syracuse, McMahon sat down with The Citizen to discuss tax reform, her Ignite Tour and the Small Business Administration's work. 

Here is the (lightly edited) transcript of the interview with McMahon: 

The Citizen: You're doing this Ignite Tour around the country. How does that help you in this relatively new role?

LINDA MCMAHON: I determined that I was going to do the SBA Ignite Tour because I made a pledge to each of our district offices that I would come and visit them in their place, in their locale, meeting with their people because I wanted to hear how the offices were set up. It's no different than a CEO that would come into any corporation and have branch offices. You want to visit and see what they're doing.

In addition to that, our district offices are the face of SBA. They are the people on the ground. They are the ones who are making the connections with our lenders from our different banks, working with our resource partners, our SCORE partners, our women's business centers, our (Small Business Development Centers), our veterans outreach programs. All of that, collectively, I wanted to see how it is operating and I wanted to conduct these business roundtables and visit small businesses themselves because that's how you really truly get a feel for a small business. When you're walking around a small business and the owner or the chief marketing officer or the COO is just telling you in your ear some of the things that are going on in their shop, you really do get a real feeling for that grassroots and what's happening on the ground. I learn something every day that I'm out.

I'm really appreciative of being able to come into our SBA offices and thanking the people who were there and working with them to make sure that what they are doing and what agency headquarters — that we're aligned, that everybody is on the same page, we're all working towards the same goals, we're sharing the same information, we have the right systems. So it's all beneficial.

The Citizen: In your conversations with small business owners, how would the tax reform plan benefit these companies?

MCMAHON: I believe this is a correct statement — if not, I will be corrected — but at the 25 percent rate, that this is the lowest corporate tax rate for small businesses since World War II. And just being able to put some of that money back into the pockets of those entrepreneurs who are starting these businesses and without fail, with all the states and towns and businesses that I have been to so far in my short tenure, every single one of those small businesses tell me they will put that money back into their company. They'll hire someone else. They'll put it through for another benefit or policy that they want to do. They might open a new location. It's a great benefit to these small businesses. In addition, so many of them are pass-throughs so they will benefit in the reduction of the marginal rates and the broadening of the tax brackets as well, the doubling of the standard deduction for single and marrieds and many parts of the (tax plan) that will be so beneficial as an individual as well as a small business owner with pass-through.

The Citizen: What's your response to the National Federation of Independent Business's concerns because they're saying outright that they oppose it. What's your reaction to what they're saying? (Note: The NFIB said it opposes the House tax reform bill in its current form because the group believes the existing pass-through provision in the bill won't benefit many small businesses.) 

MCMAHON: I think that any organization like NFIB wants to get the very best and get all it can for its member organizations. I think NFIB is pushing back a little bit saying that there's not enough on the table for small businesses, so the extent that they can continue to have that input to hopefully make some changes that they believe would then even benefit their members more, I think, is a good process. While NFIB is pushing back, I think we're in the process to hear what those concerns and issues are so that Congress can reevaluate.

The Citizen: Before we came in today, there was a protest outside. They're railing against the tax plan because they say it would just benefit billionaires. They don't see how it would benefit the middle class. 

MCMAHON: I think you have to take an overall view of what it is people are saying. It only benefits the rich? Clearly that's not correct. The top tax rate remains in place and there are a lot of loopholes that are being eliminated under this tax plan, which I think is going to make it much simpler for people to file their income taxes and their business taxes. But everybody will have some benefit across the board. If you go up to a million dollars there's a little more benefit for you. If you go over the million dollar mark, some of the bracket expansion might not work to your benefit at that particular point. But in terms of the middle class, keeping the earned income tax credit for lower-income families, being able to keep those in place, increasing the child care tax credit, keeping the benefits on for that dependent care, whether it's a grandmother or another source, really does help, I think, a lot of small businesses and middle class folks who are struggling. 

The president's framework that he put forth was with the goal of reducing taxes for everyone, but especially middle-income and small businesses so we could really spur the economy and get more people into the workforce. We're pleased to see the workforce numbers increasing and unemployment numbers decreasing. But we really have a long way to go. We want to not only stay at this 3 percent GDP we've hit for the last couple quarters, but we want to grow past that. It is reducing that regulatory environment and the tax burden and spurring that economy so it can continue to grow.

The Citizen: One of the concerns at the roundtable was workforce development. Even now, companies can invest but the quality of the workforce isn't there. How can SBA help with that now and into the future?

MCMAHON: One of the things that SBA does is work with our local businesses through our service providers, our SCORE chapters, our women's business centers, our veterans outreach, our small business development companies. I believe SBA is the best-kept secret in the country, and part of what I'm doing with this Ignite Tour and doing local press is to talk about a lot of the advantages of SBA. But what is really overlooked more than anything I find is that it's such a resource for mentoring and networking. In the space of being more of a mentor for that networking, we can help encourage programs for employee development and help steer them in the direction of where they might have access to some of that talent. And also to really just keep talking to our local businesses in our communities about how they can be more helpful in creating that workforce through their association with the educational environment. There are a lot of things that SBA does in its roundtables and its emerging leaders programs and its community outreach programs to help spread that message. And sometimes it's just listening to the businesses in the area and this business will say or 10 businesses will say 'We don't have this workforce.' That gets reported back to us. We can advocate more for those kinds of issues in Washington to help push the president's (executive order) that he signed. I think he committed $100 million through an EO that was for apprenticeships. We would like to see those programs get rolled out a lot more.

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