U.S. Small Business Administration head and former pro wrestling executive Linda McMahon met Monday with about a dozen Maine small-business owners in Portland to discuss their concerns about taxes, health care, workforce development and other issues.

The meeting took place as part of a nationwide tour in which McMahon is visiting all 68 SBA district offices around the U.S. Maine was the 28th stop on the tour.

McMahon said her aim as SBA administrator is to increase the business-focused agency’s visibility and make entrepreneurs more aware of the variety of services it offers.

“My goal is to make sure that the SBA is not the best-kept secret in the country,” she said.

The meeting was attended by owners of 10 Maine small businesses, as well as state and national SBA officials. The participating business owners had filled out a questionnaire before the meeting and were prompted at various points in the discussion to talk about their answers.

McMahon mostly listened to their concerns, occasionally offering a bit of advice or sharing a personal anecdote.

Issues raised by the business owners included the uncertainty surrounding income tax reform bills in the U.S. House and Senate, and the ongoing struggle to pay for employee health insurance benefits as premiums continue to rise.

“When you don’t know what increases you’re going to get every year … it’s very, very tough,” said Beth Shissler, co-owner of Portland-based tote bag maker Sea Bags.

Joshua Davis, co-founder and CEO of Portland-based Gelato Fiasco, agreed. “It’s just very frustrating,” he said.

Heather Sanborn, co-owner of Rising Tide Brewery in Portland, said she would rather pay taxes for a government-run health insurance program than have to deal with the responsibility of choosing employee health care plans in an ever-changing insurance market.

“I would much rather just pay it in taxes and know what it’s going to be,” she said.

Evan Carroll, co-founder of Portland-based Bild Architecture, said he was concerned that the income tax reform plan would eliminate certain incentives for education and workforce development. Maine needs more incentives for workforce development, not fewer, he said.

“That’s a huge problem for us,” Carroll said.

Informal meetings such as the one in Portland will help McMahon get a better sense of what issues small businesses are dealing with, said SBA Regional Administrator Mark Hayward, who moderated the discussion.

During the meeting, McMahon expressed sympathy to the business owners and said she understands what they’re going through. As an entrepreneur, McMahon helped grow the former World Wrestling Federation, now known as World Wrestling Entertainment, from a small regional operation in the 1980s to a large multinational corporation.

Shissler said she appreciated McMahon taking the time to hear Maine business owners’ concerns.

“Thank you for coming to Maine,” she said. “Nobody comes to Maine.”

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jcraiganderson