SBA has approved $1B-plus in Harvey-related disaster loans

U.S. Small Business Administration chief Linda McMahon examined tubing as it was heated to 1,700 degrees, cooled and

U.S. Small Business Administration chief Linda McMahon examined tubing as it was heated to 1,700 degrees, cooled and then reheated, a process that strengthens the steel. She was in a portion of a Tejas Tubular Products plant that had reopened after Hurricane Harvey. Other areas, however, remained unoccupied following the historic flooding.

One forge, the lab and some offices were inundated with three to four feet of water. The company, after years of a weak energy market, had to stop making tubing for oil and gas wells for about two weeks at its northeast Houston facility.

Tejas Tubular didn't stay down.

"It is so typical of entrepreneurs. They're not ever defeated," McMahon told the Chronicle after the Wednesday morning tour. "They just keep finding ways to get back in business, to build themselves back up again."

The SBA has so far approved 12,319 disaster loans worth more than $1 billion to homeowners and businesses affected by the storm and its historic flooding. All but 876 of those loans went to homeowners.

Tejas Tubular is waiting on approval for its loan application. Maximo Tejeda, whose family owns the company, said he was honored to show McMahon around the plant.

"It's not the prettiest thing out there, but it's very functional," he said during the visit.

Tejas Tubular was one of many stops McMahon made during her whirlwind trip to Houston. At the Governor's Business Forum for Women, presented by the Greater Houston Women's Chamber of Commerce, she discussed her experience creating WWE, the professional wrestling enterprise.

She recalled sharing a desk with her husband and questioning if they could afford the $12 monthly payment to lease a typewriter. Ultimately, WWE grew into a publicly traded global company with more than 800 employees.

But she's known failure, too. McMahon recalled an early business venture that caused the family to declare bankruptcy, lose their home and watch her car be repossessed in the driveway.

"Early in our lives we made some big mistakes," she said. "Trusting people we shouldn't have, and investing in an industry we knew nothing about."

McMahon, who said she is bringing an entrepreneurial perspective gained from successes and failures to Washington, said the Trump administration's small business initiatives focus on tax reform, regulatory cuts and workforce development.

She also said it's important to change the way people think about education. Not everyone has to go to college. For some people, it could be more beneficial to learn a trade or go into technology.

McMahon said it's a paradigm shift. She went to college and her children went to college. But what about her grandchildren?

"I look at my grandchildren and I'm wondering, you know, I don't know that this is the path they need to go down," she said.

Tejeda, with Tejas Tubular, also discussed difficulties finding skilled workers. He's exploring robotics to reduce the company's dependency on manual labor and to boost safety, though Tejas Tubular would need workers with higher skills and pay to operate the robotics.

Tejeda opened the northeast Houston facility in 1990 with $68,000 that he was saving for his children to go to college - they ultimately earned scholarships - and has since expanded to five plants with more than 350 employees.

During Harvey, the company paid employees a stipend for the three days they didn't work. Practices like that, McMahon said, keep talented, loyal employees with the company. Arturo Ruiz, for instance, has been with Tejas Tubular since it opened in 1990, and he previously worked at the same plant before the Tejeda family owned it.

"I have a feeling he's not going to let you go," McMahon told Ruiz as they shook hands. "He says you're the best in the business."

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Article SBA has approved $1B-plus in Harvey-related disaster loans compiled by www.chron.com