Administrator of the Small Business Administration, Linda McMahon, admires the interior of Rosenberg's Bagels with the locations general manager Michael Lavery, Sept. 28 at the Stanley Marketplace. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel
Administrator of the Small Business Administration, Linda McMahon, left, squeezes a felt hand-made cactus with Trunk Noveau co-owner Stephanie Shearer, Sept. 28 at the Stanley Marketplace. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel
Administrator of the Small Business Administration, Linda McMahon, examines a cocoa pod with co-owner David Lewis at his French patisserie, Sept. 28 at the Stanley Marketplace. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel
AURORA | Since it opened its doors in 2016, the Stanley Marketplace in northwest Aurora has seen a flurry of activity, from art shows to mini horse races to live music.
Last week, the hub of dining and shopping at East 25th Avenue and Dallas Street welcomed one of its higher-profile visitors: US Small Business Administration chief and former World Wrestling Entertainment head Linda McMahon.
McMahon, who toured Stanley and met with business owners there Sept. 28, stopped by Aurora as part of her “Ignite Tour,” which includes McMahon visiting with several small businesses.
The tour came as the White House is in the early stages of pushing comprehensive tax cut legislation through Congress, a push McMahon has come out in favor of.
“I built a business from the ground up, so I know first-hand how challenging the current tax code is for entrepreneurs,” she said in a statement a day before her Aurora visit. “One of the first things I hear from the business owners I’ve met in my travels around the country is the urgent need for tax reform. They want to see lower rates and a simpler tax code to level the playing field.”
But at Stanley, McMahon said the business owners didn’t talk about tax cuts or a complicated tax code.
Instead, the business owners she met with — many of whom have received SBA assistance in the past — were more interested in talking about the still-new marketplace, which transformed an old aviation equipment factory into a bustling bazaar.
She said the business owners were focused on how excited they are about the space and how it allows them to be innovative.
“They weren’t talking so much finance as they were how proud they were of their environment here,” she said.
After her stop at Stanley, McMahon was slated for a roundtable meeting with other business owners. Those meetings, McMahon said, usually see a lot more discussion about taxes or healthcare policy than the Stanley stop did, she said.
“In that setting I hear more about tax reform, regulatory reform, high costs of health care and the labor shortage, which is becoming more and more of a thing,” she said.
That labor shortage goes beyond the “skilled labor” shortage that many sectors have long complained about, she said. Today, business owners are often worried about finding a workforce in general, regardless of their specific skill set.
Mark Shaker, who founded the Stanley and owns Stanley Beer Garden and Hangar event space there, said the SBA can provide critical assistance to small businesses. While Stanley itself didn’t lean on SBA for funding when Shaker and the other developers behind the marketplace launched their project, Shaker said SBA loans were crucial to the Hangar and Beer Hall.
“Other lenders weren’t interested in us,” he said as McMahon strolled out of Rosenberg’s bagels during her visit.
McMahon said that message — that the SBA can help small businesses get the funding they need to launch a new company — is one she thinks the agency has done a great job of spreading. Small businesses are well aware that the SBA is there when they are looking for loans, but she said the agency hasn’t always done a great job spreading the word about its other efforts, including job training and other programs.