SBA visit

Woodbury Mountain Toys employee Frances Talbert talks about the Montpelier business climate Thursday with Linda McMahon, administrator of the Small Business Administration, during a tour of the city.

MONTPELIER — The top official of a federal agency that helps small business start-ups visited some successful Capital City businesses Thursday that received loan guarantees from the Small Business Administration.

Linda McMahon, administrator of the SBA, visited businesses in Burlington and Montpelier and met with officials of the SBA district office in Montpelier. McMahon is the 25th administrator of the U.S. SBA. As a member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet, she advocates on behalf of 30 million small businesses in America. She leads a team of professionals dedicated to ensuring entrepreneurs have the financial support and tools they need to start and succeed in business through access to capital and federal contracting opportunities, counseling, mentorship and financial assistance.

McMahon is the co-founder and former chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, based in Stamford, Connecticut. She helped grow WWE from a 13-person regional operation to a publicly traded global enterprise with more than 800 employees worldwide.

“President Trump asked me to take on this position because he said he wanted someone who had actually built a business,” McMahon said. “He knew of our company and we’ve known him for about 25 years.”

After her appointment in February last year, McMahon pledged to visit all 68 district offices in the nation. On Thursday, Vermont was the 60th SBA district she has visited in 47 different states.

During her visit, she met with other SBA loan customers in Montpelier at the Capitol Plaza Hotel & Conference Center, Chill and Woodbury Toys — all on State Street.

McMahon met briefly with Lilli Cain, the hotel’s chief financial officer, who noted that the SBA in Vermont helped the hotel group recover from the disastrous 1992 flood in Montpelier that damaged the hotel and the Capitol Theater across the street.

“That was our first loan, to repair the Capitol Theater,” Cain said.

All told, the SBA guaranteed loans totaling $831,000 between 1994 and 1996 for the hotel group. Cain added that the hotel group was about to seek an additional $4.5 million from SBA and the Vermont Economic Development Authority to help fund its proposed $15 million Hampton Inn & Suites hotel project behind the Capitol Plaza Hotel.

McMahon’s next stop was Chill, a gelato business on State Street started by Theo and Nora Kennedy with the help of two guaranteed loans totaling $125,000 in 2012.

“It definitely helped us to get this off the ground, and we’re going on seven years now,” said Nora Kennedy. “Some of these kids I’ve seen in the womb and now they’re here getting their own gelato.”

McMahon’s next stop was Woodbury Toys a few doors up the street, where she spent some time picking out small gifts for her grandchildren. The store received a $75,000 loan guarantee in 1999.

Store owner Karen Williams was out of state for an early Thanksgiving with family in Baltimore, but register clerk Francis Talbert was only too happy to tell McMahon how popular the store is in town.

“She (Williams) was really disappointed that she missed this,” Talbert said. “The kids love to come in here after school and look around and feel the toys.”

McMahon’s visit continued along State Street, passing Capitol Kitchen, which received a micro-loan of $24,079 in 2017. McMahon also walked down Langdon Street, where businesses to benefit from SBA loan guarantees included Onion River Outdoors ($100,000) and ROAM ($60,000).

Numerous other downtown businesses received a total of millions of dollars over the years, according to SBA records.

Speaking afterwards, McMahon said she was impressed by the rural entrepreneurial enterprise of Vermonters during her visit, and on previous holiday trips to Stowe.

McMahon said after she was appointed, she started the “Ignite Tour,” hitting the road to personally visit every SBA district office in every state in the country.

“I’m the chief advocate for the 30 million small businesses in our country ,and I’ve met with over 800 business owners, either through visiting their businesses or having them come and talk at roundtable discussions,” McMahon said. “So, I think it’s really imperative to be out visiting businesses, listening to what they have to say, what their issues are.

“This is my 47th state (I’ve visited) I have three to go and eight more district offices, so we’ll get those done by the end of the year,” she added.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

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