8(a) Program Opens Doors

U.S. Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon recently visited Kansas City on her Ignite Listening Tour.

McMahon is visiting SBA districts across the country to check in with small businesses and gather information about how the SBA can help them succeed.

“What I’ve learned at each area of the country that I go to is this passion that entrepreneurs have for what they do,” McMahon said. “They are the backbone of the community. Small businesses are the glue in communities, and it’s an incredibly rewarding job for me to be able to do that.”

In March, she visited Lenexa’s Firelake Construction, an MBE and WBE company that specializes in providing building automation systems, security solutions and general construction. The company has 72 employees and a satellite office in Huntsville, Ala.

CEO Jackie Foley started the business with her brother, Bill Slavin, in 2011 after a career in banking. The siblings combined Slavin’s expertise in security systems with Foley’s understanding of business finance; the company’s name reflects their Potawatomie heritage.

In 2015, Foley was referred to the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program.

“I really attribute a lot of our success to the SBA program,” Foley said. “The 8(a) program has been phenomenal for us in opening doors, building relationships and teaching us how to train and develop our company so that we are successful when we grow out of the 8(a) program.”

Foley said Firelake was a second- and third-tier subcontractor before taking part in the 8(a) program. The program helped to develop the company’s skills but also made it better known among government agencies that needed Firelake’s services. It has landed contracts nationwide, including with NASA and Fort Riley.

“The 8(a) program has opened all the doors for us,” Foley said.

Foley advised other small businesses to take advantage of the SBA.

“You need to utilize the SBA because they’re out there to help you instead of you trying to recreate the wheel and doing it all on your own,” she said. “You’ve got mentors out there, people who are there for you to help you succeed in running your small business.”

“And at no charge,” McMahon added.

McMahon said an additional purpose of her Ignite Tour is “to achieve one of my goals: to make sure the SBA’s not the best-kept secret in the country.”

It’s so much more than loans, McMahon said.

“SBA really has such a vital role not only in helping access to capital, but also from the entrepreneurial and business development side,” she said. “So few people know about the extent of what SBA does.”