Trump meets with local business leaders

Ivanka Trump, advisor to the president, and Linda McMahon, administrator to the U.S. Small Business Administration, lead a roundtable discussion with local business owners and state representatives in Mt. Lebanon today.

Ivanka Trump, advisor to President Donald Trump, visited Mt. Lebanon today with Linda McMahon, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Association. In a glass conference room at Potomac Mineral Group, 615 Washington Road, several local business owners and a handful of state representatives discussed the recent tax code overhaul, the importance of local business and the challenges those businesses face.

“What you do each day takes tremendous courage and you are creating jobs. You are creating opportunity. You’re creating a community within your towns,” Trump told the business owners. “Forty-eight percent of American jobs are generated by small business owners. It’s the lifeblood of our economy.”

McMahon, former chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, is in the midst of a nationwide tour to speak with small businesses.

The business owners thanked Trump for passage of the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which lowers the corporate tax rate. But they weren’t all complimentary.

“Surgery centers need a better ear to the president,” said plastic surgeon Lori Cherup, who owns Radiance Surgical Center in Bridgeville. Cherup received a $3 million SBA loan for the building and another $1 million for equipment, but then had large legal bills to handle what she called unfair practices from larger hospitals. “We are hampered tremendously by the hospitals doing whatever they want,” Cherup said. She also citied lower reimbursements from Medicare as an issue for surgery centers. Trump replied that the administration is hoping to continue closing “the special interest loopholes.”

Plastic surgeon Lori Cherup, in the floral suit, explains problems of Medicare reimbursement and unfair competition from larger hospitals.

Susan Castriota, who owns the company that produces Cuchina Safe ceramic lids, said no factories in the United States make her supplies, forcing her to go out of the country for them and pay unreasonable tariffs.

Several of the owners described difficulties with cashflow and decried regulations that keep them from operating efficiently. Trump did not disagree. “The amount of needless regulation has been enormously stifling to business,” she said.

Corina Diehl, who owns car dealerships, said she is building a body shop but was overwhelmed with red tape. “It’s a horrendous process,” she said.

“It’s not any one particular regulation,” McMahon said. “It’s the volume of regulations.”

Some of the business owners said they were thankful for the new tax breaks, allowing them to institute pensions instead of 401Ks and give employees benefits and raises. Several said they feel a sense of optimism about the future.

Trump said the government has many opportunities to help, including opening Pell grants to highly accredited short-term education programs to make sure the workforce is trained for jobs that remain unfilled because the skills are not out there. Careers in science, technology, engineering and math also remain in high demand. “We need more and more women in the workforce doing those jobs as well so they don’t shy away,” McMahon said, noting we need to encourage more women to start their own businesses.

Trump, who touted the increases to the adoption tax credit and child tax credit, also said the administration understands that problem of inaccessible and unaffordable childcare, especially since women are the primary breadwinner in 40 percent of American families. Female-led businesses are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs.

She also touted President Trump’s plans for upgrading physical infrastructure, but did not go into detail.

“We just wanted to hear from you today,” she said. “We are grateful for your optimism. We’re doing our best. And out there swinging every day on a federal level.”

Images: Susan Morgans and Laura Pace Lilley. Video: Susan Morgans