KOHALA COAST — Small Business Administration administrator Linda McMahon had a goal when she first took office in 2017, and she was determined to meet it.
Less than two years later, McMahon announced Thursday that she accomplished her mark of visiting small business owners in all 50 states and visiting the 68 SBA district offices around the country when she gave her keynote speech at the Western Governors’ Association Winter Meeting at the Fairmont Orchid. The previous day, she visited the SBA district office in Honolulu, and her final stop in Hawaii was also her final mission to reaching her goal — visiting the Big Island small business of Kampachi Farms.
“I believe that meeting with small business owners on their turf helps me better understand their challenges and advocate for them in Washington,” McMahon said. “I am the chief advocate for the 30 million small businesses around our country, and I think the best way to know and understand their needs is to get out and to talk with them.”
Kampachi Farms co-CEO and founder Neil Anthony Sims and researcher Lisa Vollbrecht gave McMahon a tour of their facility at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority. From kampachi eggs to full-grown fish of other species, McMahon was able to get an up close and personal look at the aquaculture industry on the Big Island.
“It’s just very fascinating to see what they’re doing here. From those little babies up to the fingerlings and growing, I just find it all incredibly interesting,” McMahon said. “Because we really do have to look way into the future to see how we’re going to feed our people, whether it’s from crops that grow into the soil or it’s aquaculture. I think this is just an untapped market for us to continue to develop.”
Beyond raising commercially used kampachi, which are hatched from eggs at the facility and then transferred to the ocean once they reach a certain stage of development, the facility also works on a variety of research projects. One project is creating fishmeal and fish oil using agricultural proteins, such as soybeans, in fish diets as an alternative to traditional wild stocks. This alternative fishmeal and oil is considered more environmentally, and ocean, friendly.
For Sims, the work that is done at the facility is all done for that greater cause.
“Most of us that work here are trained as fisheries biologists or marine ecologists. If you work in the space of fisheries management or marine conservation, pretty soon we come to the realization that just trying to manage things out there the way they are, there’s not a lot of future with that,” Sims said. “We need to get into a more proactive, more productive and more nurturing relationship with the sea. Instead of just taking what we want, we need to be giving back.”
Kampachi Farms already has a working relationship with SBA, and they have received grants from the Department of Commerce, USDA and the National Science Foundation. During McMahon’s visit, Sims pleaded with her to consider the importance of aquaculture, and to pass on the message to her fellow politicians in Washington.
“People often say the U.S. has rough waters offshore and has its expensive labor rates, and aquaculture can’t work in the U.S. under those conditions,” Sims told McMahon. “And the answer to that is look at Norway. Norway is the biggest salmon producing country on the planet and they have built that industry up over 40 years, and they have one of the most expensive labor rates, and yet they dominate this industry.
“They’ve done it because they have phenomenal support from their government.”
McMahon said her visit to Kampachi Farms peaked her curiosity in their research, and she would take the lessons she learned there back to Washington to help better the facility and the growth of aquaculture in the U.S.
“The more we learn, the more of an advocate I can be in Washington for all of our small businesses,” McMahon said. “And, clearly, this is one of the small businesses we really want to help grow and to prosper.”
It’s not just Kampachi Farms that McMahon wants to support during her visit to Hawaii. In her speech, McMahon stated that right now is a great time for small businesses, who feel confident in the state of the U.S. economy.
Small businesses on the Big Island, however, have taken a hit because of the May 3 Kilauea eruption and the vog that enveloped Kona in the following months. McMahon stated the SBA has approved almost $40 million in loans for the businesses that were affected. She encouraged any businesses that had suffered to contact the SBA and discover their options not only for loans, but for counseling and locations of recovery centers.
“When a disaster like this is declared, many people are not aware that the SBA helps manage the area’s economic recovery,” McMahon said. “The SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance works closely with FEMA and other federal agencies as well as with our partners at the state and local levels to make that recovery happen as expeditiously as possible.”