Throughout the day, we are repeatedly asked, “How are you?”
It’s become a common greeting which is seldom taken literally. Despite the meaning of the words, the question is not viewed as an invitation to share.
Yet real change happens when we stop, ask and listen, something we take very seriously at the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Recently, SBA Administrator and Cabinet Member Linda McMahon completed her SBA Ignite Tour. In just shy of two years, she visited businesses in all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico and in all 68 SBA districts nationwide.
A cornerstone and primary objective of her tour was listening. She sampled coffee and craft beer in Oregon, she toured businesses in and around Pike Place Market in Washington, she visited manufacturing plants and bike shops in Idaho, and she even traveled to remote villages in Alaska to talk face-to-face with small business owners. In fact, she met with more than 800 small business owners nationwide.
During her meetings with small businesses, she heard a lot of the same things I hear when I visit and talk with local owners. Topics like taxes, financing, service access in rural areas and workforce development, among others, are often part of the conversation.
Only through frequent, active and sincere listening can we be the voice and advocate for small business in “the other Washington.” Listening to small businesses and entrepreneurs led to real policy changes like the Tax and Jobs Act of 2017. It also led to the SBA partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to connect rural entrepreneurs with the financing and certifications they need to start, grow, expand and recover.
It is of paramount importance we hear directly from business owners and meet them at their places of businesses so we can understand their challenges and experience those challenges firsthand. For example, it’s good for me to hear about a transportation issue in a rural part of the state. However, I’m a stronger advocate when I take that trip with a business owner and see the effects it has on her business, her customers, her employees and her community.
While Administrator McMahon’s Ignite Tour has concluded, our job of listening never ends. Every business, every industry, every state, every neighborhood has its own unique needs. And those needs change and evolve at a faster pace than ever before.
The diversity of our economy and the innovation of our small business owners prove the entrepreneurial spirit of this country is alive and well. So every time you hear me or one of my colleagues ask, “How are you?” — tell us. And show us. We’re listening. And as your business ally, we will make real and relevant change.
Jeremy Field is the regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration Pacific Northwest Region. The SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small businesses with resources to start, grow, expand or recover.