SBA head talks international trade with Arizona exporters

Linda McMahon, known for her onscreen “feuds” with her WWE promoter husband, Vince, visited Phoenix this week as part of her real job: director of the federal Small Business Administration.

McMahon was in Arizona to promote President Donald Trump’s workforce development initiatives and trade policies, as well as listen to Arizona exporters’ concerns.

“It’s a great time for business,” said McMahon, who advocates for America’s 30 million small businesses. “The president’s tax cuts, regulatory cutbacks, and the new USMCA that we need to get ratified is certainly going to help small businesses.”

McMahon said the Trump administration is taking steps to expand global markets for small businesses, encourage public-private partnerships to produce more skilled workers, and push for the ratification of the new modernized NAFTA, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

The proposed agreement contains a new chapter for small businesses that provides protection for intellectual property, technology transfer, copyrights and digital trade, she said.

McMahon hosted a roundtable on international trade with Arizona business owners to discuss how their businesses are growing globally. In 2017, more than 6,000 Arizona small and mid-size businesses contributed to the over $20.9 billion exports to world markets.

Arizona executives voiced concerns about roadblocks to trade including high tariffs and retaliatory tariffs, labor shortages, ineffective guest worker programs, and needed infrastructure for transportation and trade.

Jennifer and Jeff Herbert, who own Superstition Meadery, an award-winning winery in Prescott, said trade duties are hampering their business.  

“There was 40 percent tariff. Now, it’s 50 percent,” Jeff Herbert said about trade duties on alcohol. “With all tariffs added, it’s 70 percent by the time it gets to the consumers’ hands. I’ll sell a bottle for $16 and it’s $100 by the time it’s in a wine shop in Shanghai.”

Zeferino Banda, Jr., President and CEO of Banda Group International, an environment, health and safety consulting firm based out of Chandler, said he sometimes has to go out of the country to find qualified employees. Then, there is a huge lag time as employees maneuver the worker permit process in the U.S.

John Boelts, president of Desert Premium Farms, LLC in Yuma, said ineffective guest worker programs make it difficult to hire Mexican workers, especially at harvest time when he needs 200 employees daily.  

“We’re losing market share,” Boelts said. “We take a lot of pride in making the safest most reliable food in the world. If we don’t import labor, we’ll import our produce. We’ll see some dramatic impacts, and not just in agriculture. If we can’t have affordable food, it’s going to hurt everybody.”

McMahon said President Trump is initiating programs to home-grow skilled labor in America including the President’s Council for the American Worker that promotes “affordable and relevant” career and technical training for students and workers.  

“We realize there are incredible gaps in the workforce,” said McMahon, who encouraged executives to forge partnerships with schools for training to meet industry needs. “There are 7 million jobs that need to be filled. We’ve become a victim of our own success.”

After the roundtable discussion, McMahon toured Zero Mass Water, a Scottsdale company that has utilized SBA services to expand and export globally. The SBA offers assistance to small businesses to enter the international marketplace including training, loans and grants like the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) Grant Program.

McMahon’s visit is one of many she has been making in all 50 states to promote and celebrate small business success.

While her wrestling days may be over, she fits the mold as a role model for small businesses on the path to the American Dream.

McMahon met her husband at age 13, married at 17, and together they built the multi-billion dollar wrestling mania empire, WWE. She was president and later CEO from 1980 to 2009, helping grow the company from a small regional business to a large multinational corporation.

For more information about the SBA’s programs to assist exporters go to SBA Arizona exports.

Victoria Harker

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