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SBA Administrator McMahon has Ignited the American Dream across the Nation and here in the Great Lakes Region

By Rob Scott
U.S. Small Business Administration’s Great Lakes Regional Administrator, serving Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota & Wisconsin

When Linda McMahon, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration and advocate for the nation’s 30 million small business owners, visited our region last year, she was full swing into her nationwide listening tour to ensure she heard from them directly and understood their concerns.

Her “Ignite Tour” featured visits to SBA’s 68 district offices, including the seven here in the region, in 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. She met with more than 800 small business owners – a fly fishing company in Montana, craft brewery in Oregon, and several manufacturers and restaurants here. She also met with small business champions, including those powered by the SBA, to get a full picture from those assisting entrepreneurs every day and listen to local concerns, knowing that every business, every industry, every state has its own unique needs and those would have to be understood to drive economic growth.

Along the way, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act became law – giving these entrepreneurs and the rest of America’s small businesses some welcome relief. The TCJA also designated Opportunity Zones, to encourage investment, development and job creation in economically-distressed areas. The Department of Labor has made it easier for small businesses and sole proprietors to provide health insurance with Association Health Plans that provide economies of scale and lower administrative expenses. In the same vein, the DOL is also exploring how small employers can band together to offer retirement plans for their employees. And, regulations and red tape, which, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, had been a top concern for small businesses through 2016, have been reduced.

Small business creation and expansion truly has been ignited in the last two years and there couldn’t be a stronger ally for them than the SBA. Stories like those we heard from real entrepreneurs and real businesses, with real successes and challenges, inspire action. Take, for instance, several stories here in this region, including that of:

  • Tony Stankus who started Willowbrook, Illinois-based RND Exhibits in 1998 after a career in the trade show industry. With the assistance of SBA-backed loans and export advising, his company has grown to 40 employees and $8 million in sales. Its primary focus is the design, construction and installation of trade show exhibits and production of special events and approximately 60 percent of RND’s customers are international companies. By tapping the international market, he is supporting work right here at home.
  • Brandon Jaegerat of Shagbark Seed & Mill in Athens, Ohio, which has grown through his ingenuity and with help from the SBA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Brandon is supporting local farmers by processing their grains and beans to make products such as tortilla chips and grits. It is a true example of a small part of the ecosystem required to help grow and expand small businesses, including farmers.
  • Ed Ryan, co-founder of the Big Woods family of companies, which began in 2009 in Nashville, Ind., and now includes restaurants, craft brews and distilled spirits. With the support of SBA-backed loans, it has expanded to several locations and made a name for itself with its Quaff ON! beer brand and famous pulled pork BBQ nachos. Via its expansion, the company has become one of Brown County, Indiana’s largest employers, supporting job creation throughout the area.
  • Ralph Bruno, inventor of the world-famous Cheesehead® hat, and owner of Foamation, Inc., based in Milwaukee. He started the business in 1987 and now employs 15 and can claim that Cheesehead products have sold in all 50 states and more than 30 nations around the world. Since the first day Ralph carved-up his family’s sofa for his first creation, he’s developed some strengths on the manufacturing floor as well.
  • Cindy Siewert, who founded Minneapolis-based Wood from the Hood back in 2008 with her husband, Rick, with a mission to repurpose discarded urban trees and have turned their idea into a nearly seven-figure business, with the next potential step being franchising. With the help of SCORE, an SBA resource partner, she wrote her first business plan and accessed accounting assistance and continues to use a SCORE mentor.

These are just a few of the many stories the Administrator and I have heard here in the Great Lakes Region. And, it is important that the more than 800 small business owners the Administrator has met with know they were heard, and the President has heard them, because of her advocacy. We will continue to listen to America’s small businesses and to work toward their continued success.

I encourage small business owners and their champions to continue igniting the region and to tap the SBA for information on how we can help them to start, grow, expand and recover after a disaster. Visit and follow us on Twitter @SBAGreatLakes for more detail.